(Sub) Culture Marketing

Brands seek cultural capital by aligning themselves with underground talent

The use of celebrity endorsement has been a long established technique for brands looking to expand, create a buzz or gain some level of fame. However, an obvious disparity between the values or interests of the chosen endorser and those of the brand may lead to public cynicism. In addition a misjudged communication strategy can lead to infamy rather than fame, highlighted by Snickers’ promoted tweet campaign which received an unfavourable response.

Avoiding these concerns, many brands are focusing instead on investment in culture rather than on any one particular individual to endorse their brand or product. Colin Drummond of Ogilvy West argues this approach is ‘established by a brand looking to be a facilitator of culture, broadening the horizons past simply focusing on the benefits of the product alone’. Red Bull have been the pioneers in the way of culture led marketing, establishing a music academy in 1998, involving participants from across the globe and notable artists running seminars every year.

There have been other notable examples of brands looking to connect with consumers in a broad cultural landscape. These include the Smirnoff nightlife exchange project featuring Madonna and Garnier’s pop up salons at summer music festivals. However, recently some brands have been directing their activities outside of the mainstream, as an alternative strategy in pursuit of cultural relevancy. Here are some examples:

In promotion of a new Sportswear range, Nike’s ‘Always On’ campaign included a multitude of vignettes featuring up and coming unsigned artists, creating original tracks to accompany visuals that starred athletes of varying degrees of popularity from a number of sports. The video below focuses on the annual Dyckman basketball tournament in Harlem, New York which is organised by the community and features amateur stars within the sub culture of streetball. The soundtrack is provided by Harlem artist Vado. It features no overt product messaging and integrates the brand into the storyline. The focus is on cultural relevance among a sub-genre and, in a broader context, support of local community.


 

Moving further away from any kind of product placement (besides a not-so-subtly worn baseball cap), Reebok have recently partnered with unsigned New York artists Action Bronson & Party Supplies. Part of Reebok’s classic sessions campaign. They financed an entire project available for free download, establishing Reebok’s investment in music and the creative process. Again, there is an absence of any product messaging, besides casual references dropped into conversation in the below video. As you will note, the only overt branding is the Reebok logo at the beginning and end of the video. The focus is on entertaining the consumer’s cultural interests, creating a greater possibility of sharing the content.


 

Besides simply investing in the normal activities of an artist, some brands are looking to involve cultural figures as creative directors. Expanding on the role of simple endorser and providing a platform to put their talents to work on behalf of the brand. Again, there are examples of this on a grander scale, such as Lady Gaga designing a product for Polaroid or Jean Paul Gaultier for Diet Coke.

Contrastingly, Sony, in their bid for cultural relevance, has looked towards underground personalities enlisting Prodigy (New York rapper), Mike Posner (singer/songwriter) and Steve Aoki (electro house musician) to curate a cover for their new Sony S Tablet, in a social media tie in with fashion magazine Complex. The interviews featuring each artist involve both the product and personality in equal measure; the value created is in the selection of those individuals, helping to leverage cultural respect and authenticity. It will be interesting to see if other brands follow suit and value cultural marketing as a key component of brand promotion in the U.K.

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March Madness: inspiring cross-platform campaigns from the U.S.

The month of March ushers in the closing period of the Premiership and commencement of training for all cricketers of the country. However, across the Atlantic it means one thing: March Madness, the annual College basketball tournament which continues to garner huge interest, captivating a TV and, increasingly, a social media audience. This provides an opportunity for brands to get in on the action as official sponsors or otherwise. To put the scale of March Madness in perspective, the TV deal with the governing body the NCAA is currently $10.8 billion over 14 years (bear in mind that’s just 14 months’ worth of coverage!). Although all current activity is primarily for the U.S. market, I thought it would be interesting to run down some of the innovative campaigns over this period, as brands look to integrate their promotions across of forms of media.

Coca-Cola has introduced a multitude of platforms to encourage engagement via social media, including texts for prizes during live games, and is also the sponsor of the official social arena, which allows fans to share game content and discuss games with others, accessed via the Coke Zero website.

It has also used the opportunity to invest in the marketing of its energy drink Powerade, launching a commercial alongside a Facebook page which offers the chance to win tickets to the Final Game. In addition, they have also teamed up with convenience store chain 7Eleven to produce souvenir cups which hold a QR code providing a link to the Powerade website and a video of a selected memorable moment of the tournament, hosted by former players.

The Nissan-owned car firm Infinity has launched a campaign involving social marketing and philanthropy. Announced via a promoted tweet, it promises to donate money to the American Cancer Society for every correct tournament bracket pick made via its website. 

Other sponsors Dominos, Reeces and UPS find their Facebook pages now dominated by March Madness, with opportunities for prizes, encouraging engagement with the brands page during games.

Unilever launched Dove’s ‘Journey to comfort’ campaign featuring stories from former and current basketball players. The ad is accompanied by a Facebook page where people are encouraged to share their own stories, a dedictated website and also an app which allows you to send a personal message to Shaq (featured below), interacting with the brand and the personality.

As you can see, these ‘corporate champions’ have come up with some original ideas, enabling them to engage the consumer by idenfiying shared values and or interests despite there being no immediate connection to basketball itself. They provide inspiration for future campaigns focused on cross platform engagement.

“The whites of their eyes”

I am now trained in asking people what they think; and actually listening. Many of my fellow employees and I learnt this valuable skill during two days training at the esteemed qualitative agency The Nursery, where they taught us how to run qualitative groups, and tease out the vital information that can determine key decisions for an ad campaign.

I learnt these key skills – active listening, controlling a conversation, understanding group lifecycles, enabling questions, projective techniques, evaluating emotionally rich responses – because Walker Media believes that the role of an effective media agency employee involves being equipped to fully understand the relationship between a client’s brand and their consumers.

Media agencies have a wealth of quantitative data on consumers, but too often fail to head out into the bright, non-London, non-professional (and non-white/arrogant/middle class/tech savvy/shot drinking?) world of media, and actually meet them.  We rely too often on clichés (Vicky Pollard is about right, yeah?) and rational questionnaires. But consumers are not clichés and often do not act as they rationally believe; they have rich complex emotional relationships with media and brands, that often operate on an unconscious level (as being increasingly explored in advertising literature and conferences). If we want to be experts in communicating with them, we need to understand them, in depth, and using methods that get beneath the surface.

During a qualitative group on desserts I heard a mother describe how she shared a brand of ice cream with her teenage daughter every Thursday night (while they talked about life and boys – mainly boys). I heard the tremor in her voice, I saw the smile on her face, and I picked up on what this comment really meant. I then asked follow up questions to delve into the relationship, and asked others to describe if they related to it. This was not cold hard data, but an un-replicable organic insight into her (and others) relationship with a brand. From that and many other comments we were able to draw a full picture of how our brand fitted into their lives, why they would want to hear about it, and when they would want to hear about it.

Using this sort of information we can make planning decisions that will be more insightful, accurate and ultimately effective. As such I am looking forward to asking many more questions on behalf of brands, and actually listening to the answers.