(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.

Under the Influence: Klout scores and their role in marketing

Many advertisers in the US have partnered with Klout to offer free perks to influencers

How influential are you on the web? Tools such as Klout and PeerIndex, which assign scores based on analysing your social media activity, cropped up a few years ago, but it is only recently that advertisers are beginning to notice. In the US, Chevrolet, amongst others, partnered up with Klout to offer free test drives to those with high scores.

At face value, this feels like an efficient way of targeting and influencing those consumers who are not only the most likely to be talking about brands, but the most likely to be listened to. One tweet from them about a brand will not only be seen by their thousands of followers, but there is a higher likelihood that the tweet will be retweeted or replied to.  This endorsement will have the added weight of not be coming from a faceless brand but a trusted voice. Further to that, the desire to get free perks will in theory encourage other people to strive to be influencers. They will make the effort to increase their score, by increasing their followers and improving their technique for getting retweets. They will themselves tweet about brands and their new followers will see (and hopefully engage) with them. A few free perks will in theory result in a huge number of impressions for a brand, all coming from trusted sources.

Unfortunately, at the moment the reality is (as Monty Munford, among others, has already pointed out), these tools are not always accurate. The algorithms differ between the tools: someone with a high score on Klout may do incredibly poorly on PeerIndex. True, they are constantly amending their algorithms, but there nevertheless seems to be large room for error, and worse, manipulation. People who want a high score know how to play the system: fake accounts spamming their followers can achieve higher scores than a real person giving less frequent, but genuine (and genuinely interesting) opinions. Even the topics of influence on Klout don’t always make much sense. Sample size of one: My personal Twitter has a tiny Klout (I keep my tweets private so my pride will survive), yet apparently I am highly influential when it comes to shopping. I have no idea how this has happened. Most of my tweets are about me making a fool of myself in airports or talking about Whoopi Goldberg yet somehow the algorithm decides that I am influential about shopping.

Even once the algorithms get sorted (or people learn how to read scores with the required pinch of salt), it all comes back to that much-quoted statistic that 90% of word of mouth is offline. It may come as a surprise to some, but not all influential people have a Twitter account (Whoopi only has hers as a way to avoid Twitfraud). Certainly, digital influence must play a large role in many brand campaigns, but Klout and PeerIndex are not tools that are relevant for all brands. Those whose core audience use social networks as an intrinsic part of their life should of course learn about these tools and how best to use them. Others, whose most influential exponents may be voicing their opinions outside of the online sphere, should not fall into the trap of assuming that unleashing a Klout campaign ticks off their desire to engage with influencers.  It is tempting to get over-excited by the prospect that there is a quantifiable way to measure influence on social media. When that measurement is still flawed, and not even relevant for many brands, we should not fall back on these measurements. We should instead continue to  use creativity and common sense to make sure these campaigns are working at their most effective.

2012 – The Year of Brands as Publishers, Second Screen Advertising, and Flawsomeness

At the end of the year, a lot of advertising and media professionals start to think about the year ahead and make their educated guesses about what the next big things will be. I’ve searched far and wide for all the predictions I could find, and picked out some that are interesting and important to anyone working in advertising.

Mashable predicts that 2012 will be the year of interactive ‘second screen’ campaigns. A huge number of consumers are already using their mobiles and tablets while watching TV, and startups like Into Now and Shazam are busy creating platforms for engaging with the second screen audience. Pepsi, Gap and Starbucks have been some of the quickest advertisers to jump on board. They also predict that we will see a proliferation in cars being connected to the Internet, resulting in a rise in streaming music in the car instead of listening to the radio and “an Internet-powered overhaul” to radio advertising.

One of Trendwatching’s 12 trends for 2012, ‘Flawsome’ (self-admittedly their “worst-named trend ever”), captures the idea that “to consumers, brands that behave more humanly, including exposing their flaws, will be awesome”. Signs of this trend include Domino’s use of a billboard advertising space in Times Square: they used the high-profile billboard to publish customer feedback given via Twitter – both the good and the bad. They also predict that in 2012, trading in will be the new buying as consumers hope to make an extra buck by reselling or trading their past purchases.

SocialMediaExplorer writes about the importance of content as the role of brands becomes closer to that of publishers; no longer can brands get away with uninteresting or purely self-promotional website content or social media updates. For instance, a Facebook page for a brand targeted at stay-at-home mothers shouldn’t be managed by a middle-aged male marketing manager with no idea about the types of topics that that their audience wants to read about. Late 2011 already saw many brands investing in editorial talent that can capture their target audiences, for instance Topman hiring editorial staff from Dazed & Confused to launch its new multimedia magazine for fashion-conscious men.  They also predict that 2012 will see marketers increasingly using influence ranking tools such as PeerIndex and Klout to seek out the individuals that are the most influential about their category and brand in social media.

Many of the trends identified by JWT Intelligence have to do with how consumers and companies are dealing with the prolonged recession. They think brands will start creating more affordable alternatives for consumers, such as Heinz’s smaller 99cent ketchup in the US. On the other hand, consumers are starting to live a little and splurge once in a while despite financial worries and a low confidence in the economy. They also believe that as the content and experiences we are exposed to have become more personalized and narrow, a desire for experiences that are random and unexpected will emerge.