Why cultural vibrancy is the essential new partner for growth

Izzy Pugh, cultural insight director, Added Value
Izzy Pugh, cultural insight director, Added Value

Ahead of an Added Value Cannes Lions seminar, Izzy Pugh, the cultural insight director at the marketing consultancy, shared her thoughts on how brands must tap into cultural vibrancy to stay relevant.

Technology has become a catalyst for change. We connect differently, we share more freely, our eyes are open to the world in a way they never could be before and 1.8bn millennials are collectively defining their future - our future - across geographies and across culture.

Today people have the power to be activists, citizens, entrepreneurs, owners – they are creators, collaborators and contributors. The old idea of a consumer has been left behind.

People don’t care about brands, so make yours an authentic champion of something they do care about. Cultural vibrancy is the essential partner to drive meaningful brand growth. To cut through in an increasingly cluttered landscape requires brands to contribute to culture (and even to create it) in a way that is meaningful beyond their category. This means that businesses need to think about connecting with culture as a core part of the marketing day job.

The first step

Open your eyes to the changing landscape around you. Added Value’s work with Diageo proves the value of this mentality. It has big ambitions to make its brands cultural icons that transcend their categories. For Diageo, understanding the shifting culture of socialising has been essential. When people now socialise they are looking for experiences that make their lives feel richer, that broaden their horizons. Diageo has had to expand its thinking to understand how its brands can still play a part here.

Next, turn this cultural understanding into strategy by developing a brand purpose that is driven by your brand’s cultural mission. It’s not about jumping on the back of a cultural movement, but playing a part in one, or even better starting one.

Sport England is picking up where Dove left off to encourage women back into sport without being worried about the way they look. Its #thisgirlcan campaign has understood the cultural reasons getting in the way of women exercising and it’s busy rewriting the rules. Meanwhile, Uber and Airbnb are changing how the world works. These are not niche challenger brands; they have, in a short space of time, become global cultural icons. These brands are united by one thing – they have all looked outside their category at the wider world to understand the contribution they should be making to people’s lives.

Activate your cultural strategy

To move from identifying a cultural mission to really contributing to culture and changing the world in a tangible way, you need to activate your brand’s cultural strategy.

Diageo did just this by identifying cultural spaces it could play in with Smirnoff’s cultural mission to move people to be more open, based on the insight that the brand’s biggest purchasing power lies with millennials, the most networked generation for whom inclusivity is a way of life.

So how does Diageo seek to make the world more inclusive through vodka? By taking inspiration from the music category and the most inclusive genre that anyone can create in their bedroom, electronic dance music. It set up the Sound Collective, which not only showcases music, but also brings people closer to artists, contributing to a cultural space that is fundamentally linked to openness.

The final step

Show it's working and change your perspective to think of culture as meaningful data and setting your brand up for future growth, giving a third dimension to traditional tracking or brand health studies. Over the past five years, brands have improved their cultural traction as they embrace technology. Jaguar’s #goodtobebad campaign gave the brand a delicious dark side, and showed it was in sync with culture; it surged past its rivals, with US sales rising by 20%.

To fuel growth, businesses need to think about culture first and their brands second. This means creating a culture of culture within the organisation, identifying a cultural mission that will allow your brand to make a meaningful contribution to the world, and then activating it. Lastly, turn culture into data to see the brand world differently; deeply connecting businesses to what is happening today and consciously driving what will happen tomorrow.

Click here to read the Campaign@Cannes blog


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