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Memes Brand Strategy Agency Culture

Forget memes, here’s how marketers create real cultural impact

By Scott Floyd, Chief Collaboration Officer

April 21, 2023 | 6 min read

In an era where online fads go stale fast, brands should nix them from their marketing strategies. Scott Floyd of Acceleration Community of Companies shares how marketers can create lasting cultural impact.

woman dabbing

Like dabbing, many online trends go out of style fast / Credit: Adobe Stock

Cultural trends change faster than you can search them on TikTok. Yet, some brands will continue to chase them down in hopes of reaching today’s nanosecond attention-spanned consumer. This is not the best strategy and can end up being a complete waste time for your marketing team or PR agency.

However, there is a smart and efficient way to leverage true cultural moments and, perhaps, even a fast-moving consumer trend. The essential grounding of effective, real-time marketing lives within a brand’s purpose, personality and an honest understanding of where that brand fits within today’s culture. The biggest hurdle for brands to clear is the fact that most real-time marketing actually involves planning and forecasting. That’s not to say a brand couldn’t strike gold chasing the next TikTok challenge, but there are more strategic ways that will lead to more lasting effects.

The following are three considerations, with some brand examples, to help you create your own cultural strategy.

1. Is the cultural moment real and can your brand have fun with a ‘perceived negative’?

Cultural moment: Dry January.

The consumer insight and moment are indeed real and Tito’s Vodka found an unconventional way to get involved. Tito’s developed an authentic, humorous way to participate in Dry January by teaming up with Martha Stewart to launch a month-long ’DIY January’ campaign, lending support to sober consumers with tips on how the vodka brand can lend a helping hand around the house at the end of the holiday season.

To complement the partnership, Tito’s released a DIY January Kit that included a line of bottle toppers that turn Tito’s bottles into household products suitable for cleaning and cooking tasks. The products, coined ’The Deodorizer,’ ’The Flavorizer’ and ’The Cleanerizer,’ have since sold out, with profits donated to charitable causes.

Taking a lighthearted approach to a cultural moment that can have negative reactions from people uninterested in Dry January (let alone an alcohol brand) ended up being a major win for Tito’s.

2. Is there a cultural tension that your brand can embrace?

Cultural tension: artificial intelligence.

The consumer tension around AI is relevant and Heinz Ketchup found a way to demonstrate very simply how its brand is synonymous with the product itself.

A recent example of successfully taking a topic that has cultural tension, flipping it on its side and having fun reinforcing the power of the brand comes from Heinz Ketchup’s ’image challenge,’ which used artificial intelligence.

Heinz tapped into Dall-E AI to create images of what it perceived to be ’ketchup’. The resulting images overwhelmingly bore a resemblance to Heinz’s signature bottle, reinforcing that, like humans, even AI isn’t immune to the brand’s ubiquity.

This campaign looped Heinz into a timely cultural conversation in a not-so-serious manner, while steering clear of the controversy associated with emergent AI technology.

3. What’s your brand purpose? Are you being true to it?

There have been many examples of brands trying hard to fit in or be something they aren’t. Or worse: trying ever-so-hard to be the image they want consumers to perceive them as, especially when it comes to cultural marketing.

This is the area that requires discipline and the right amount of brand awareness. If it feels forced to your internal team, your trusted brand advisors and brand stewards, it likely is and ultimately won’t work. The most successful marketing and communications teams are able to balance this, formulate a risk matrix and execute upon that plan.

Pepsi has mastered the process of creating ’culture bombs’ by showing up in an organic and impactful manner. Ideas like the recently launched March Madness Zero Bracket Challenge are perfect examples of this. For the Pepsi Zero Bracket Challenge, Pepsi partnered with DraftKings to run an actual bracket challenge. However, instead of attempting to guess everything right on the bracket, fans tried to get zero picks correct. The brand’s unapologetic attitude and challenger brand shines through, as does the reinforcement of the product’s attributes.

Following the latest fleeting trend in a time where memes change by the hour isn’t going to move the needle with consumers. Instead, your brand is better off finding a way to tap into cultural moments in a way that’s fun, and often, more simple, while also finding a relevance to what your brand is all about.

Scott Floyd is as chief collaboration officer at Acceleration Community of Companies (ACC), a conglomerate of various advertising agencies. Sign up for The Drum’s daily US newsletter.

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