WHAT IS CULTURAL BRANDING?
Consumer brands use conflicts and cultural tensions — but try to buffer them for mutual benefit, not to kindle like politicians.
Baby-boomers, people born shortly after World War II, were the most revolutionary generation in the whole history of the United States. In the 1960s, they actively participated in many protests against the Vietnam War, cultivated and propagated free love and had the feeling they are able to change the world and trigger the revolution, as did their superheroes — Dalai Lama or John Lennon. They have turned the world of values of their parent’s upside down. After the hippies’ revolution, nothing stayed the same.
In the 1970s, the same people were already in a completely different situation. Many of their peers were already dead — they were overwhelmed by “the great wave of LSD”, as summed up Hunter Thompson, the author of the iconic “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (1972). Those who survived, in a better or a worse condition, now had to face a completely different reality than the one they knew the decade earlier. They fell into the routine of the prose of normal life — boring and monotonous work, care about small children, living in standardized houses in the suburbs of cities. They were perfectly aware that they are no longer able to realize their youthful aspirations and that they will never become heroes changing the world. That was the reasons of disappointments, frustrations, depression and even suicide attempts. Another strokes for an already hard experienced generation.
The rescue came from an unexpected side — the underground company Blue Ribbon Sports, which, at that time, was distributing and placing Japanese sport shoes to domestic American market. The brand was founded by two man, professional runner Phil Knight and his trainer Bill Bowerman. The early 70s for them were times of rapid increase of popularity and fame because they decided to step forward and rebranding their business.
Obviously this brand was Nike. Why I am writing about rescuing? The brand in spontaneously and intuitive way offered to mature, frustrated baby-boomers not only a good quality jogging product, but also the entire life philosophy and idea based on individual strength to fight against own physical and mental weaknesses. All those concepts were served with super powerful slogans such as „Find Your Greatness” „There’s No Finishing Line”. This philosophy turned out to be the perfect answer to problems and limitations of life former hippies. Nike persuaded them that heroism is a struggle with your own weaknesses and personal change, not a revolutionary change of the whole world. “You do not have to be John Lennon to be a hero, all you have to do is run 5 kilometers in your shoes every morning to feel like a hero.” Just do it. It worked and the continuation of this history is a case of great success, probably one of the largest in the history of modern marketing.
The Nike philosophy is perfect example of the „cultural branding” approach to brand strategy. The term “cultural branding” (or if you prefer “cultural strategy”) is not newness in the marketing world. This concept is already known, well-absorbed and well-prosperous in global market. Its creator, guru and pope is Douglas Holt, the author of iconic work „How Brand Become Icons” from 2004. A bit time has passed but the idea of cultural branding is still often misunderstood by people from marketing industry — especially in Poland, where it is not so popular to apply it by marketers and agencies.
The main idea of this concept is based on convenient that brands have a chance for spectacular successes always when they solving crisis and conflicts appearing in society. Holt points here tension between social reality and aspirations, ideas, visions about decent life in which believe representatives of respective social group
In the 70s baby-boomers’ situation was defined by this kind of tension between youthful ideals and monotonous, prosaic life. This kind of high pressure can be moderated by commercial brands which offering above all the new philosophy and new system of values (according to Holt „new ideology”).
The Nike ideology was close connected to the target group ideals (like „being a hero”) but the brand was changing concepts according to customers needs. Nike’s consumer believed in vision of individual, private heroism, not necessarily social or public.
Resolving social conflicts is, of course, not only the domain of commercial brands. The same scheme is visible in popculture — music, literature or cinema. Think about unpretentious, escapist Lucas’ and Spielberg’s films, which just draw focus away from the problem of everyday life problem; or about the Marvel world of X-Men who despite of idiotic names and outfits (Wolverine, Cyclops), for many years they have been helping to survive young people suffering from racial, national, gender or sexual discrimination.
When brands start to play similar role as the cultural contents — and nowadays content marketing and storytelling is way much easier than in times when was domination of paradigm of 30 seconds long TV commercial — they achieve more relevance and vitality than when man thinks about them in a standard way.
HOW BRANDS USE “CULTURAL BRANDING MODEL”?CURRENT AND HISTORICAL EXAMPLES
AXE — „Find Your Magic” (2016)
Cultural tension: The crisis of masculinity — the image of a man in culture is no longer based on strength, aggressiveness, being “macho” or sexual attractiveness. Men do not know who they should be, they are lost and confused.
Brand Ideology reducing the tension: There is no one universal pattern, everyone “has something special”, whether it is cooking skill, a nice beard or a big nose.
VOLKSWAGEN — „Drivers Wanted” (1995,1997)
Cultural tension: Everyone would like to feel a little like an artist, bohemian, someone special — but work, lifestyle, and society make us feel anonymous, subjected to be social cliché patterns, deprived of individuality.
Brand ideology reducing the tension: The uniqueness derive from unpretentiousness, freedom from the ideal of a modern tpe man of success — “usual” is unique.
ŁOMŻA -”Łomżing” (2013)
Cultural tension: Commercials and media force us to being “cool”, doing mad things, crazy partying — only even we copy this scheme, we can feel good. Lot of people do not want and do not feel to follow this pattern, they feel rejected, somewhere outside the world of “cool” people.
Brand ideology reducing the tension: You do not need to be “king of the party” for who toasts rise, cool people relax by do nothing, they just chilling out in the bosom of nature.
Written by: Karol Milczarek email@example.com www.tgth.co