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How to make pop culture part of your marketing strategy.

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

What is pop culture? Should it be part of a strategy? Why is it so important now more than ever? Sounds simple enough … let’s dive in. The definition of pop culture depends on who’s defining it and the context of its use. “Popular culture consists of the aspects of attitudes, behaviours, beliefs, customs, and tastes that define the people of any society. Simply, Pop culture both reflects and influences people’s everyday lives and is also informed by the mass media”. Brands can attain pop iconic status for e.g the “Nike swoosh or McDonald’s golden arches” ( Popular culture examples can be drawn from a number of genres including:

  • Music

  • Sports

  • Film & TV

  • Celebrity news

  • Holidays

  • Cultural moments

  • Viral trends, challenges, and memes

There are a number of examples of pop culture marketing success stories i.e: product placement, endorsements and capitalisation of brands with societal trends, sport, art and celebrities as well as the bad examples from the ones that missed the mark completely (… Pepsi x Kendall Jenner). While pop culture marketing still encompasses all things big and bold, there are unique opportunities to make using them more authentic and suitable for your brand, we’ll get to that later…

A very well-known example of pop culture trends-turned marketing efforts include the “Dunk in the dark” tweet from Oreo during the 2013 Super Bowl power cut. Oreo used the opportunity to own the moment and develop its brand image ( Oreos have since then had a number of successful campaigns and have recently partnered with pop sensation, Lady Gaga on a line of cookies, inspired by her album, Chromatica, and her “Little Monsters”. Fun! Another example of pop culture in marketing is, UK high street bank Halifax collaborating with iconic entertainers such as Top Cat, Flintstones and Thunderbirds to demonstrate the ease of transacting with the bank. Understanding that people are familiar and relate to these characters provides a platform for Halifax and brands alike to connect on a much easier level. You could compare it to a cold call vs a warm lead. With a warm lead the receiver has some affiliation to the caller so will be more receptive. It’s the same for audiences. Nostalgia is a powerful way to connect with your audience as it ties them back to emotions — after all, marketing is about connection.

Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart designed EZ Reach

To celebrate the official launch of the new special edition lighters, BIC called on Snoop and Martha Stewart, where Snoop talks cooking with herbs and Martha discusses thirst trap secrets.

The lighters draw inspiration from Snoop, an American entertainment legend—and someone who uses a lighter almost every day—and lifestyle innovator, Martha’s, homes in the country, the farm and at the beach.

28% of the most successful businesses have pop culture featured somewhere in their marketing campaign ( At VisitBritain, I manage brand partnerships: strategically aligning British brands with popular culture across lifestyle and entertainment verticles. Film and TV is one of the main focus areas: Bond movies, The Kingsman, King Arthur and Downton Abbey featuring as examples. All very British properties that audiences are talking about internationally. A less conventional example of brands in the portfolio includes: VICE, Boiler Room and LADBible, in no way quintessential or stereotypically aligned with brand Britain at first glance. But very well suited for delivering core messages and reaching the target audiences. Why does it matter? — Context. It puts the brand in view, in the minds of the audience by moulding it around something relatable that they already have an opinion on and interest in. ROI’s are consistently high across the board as again — audience have an affiliation to the pop culture brands we partner with, an effective vehicle for delivering a brand message.

Popular culture references can boost the entertainment value of your content in a way that will help your brand reach new audiences and better engage the existing ones. Memes are made up of only pop culture references, whether nostalgic, current affairs, or trending topics. They are a cheap, easy way to get involved with current trends or events. Use with caution — make sure it suits your brand’s tone of voice. Newsjacking is great as it challenges you to know your audience better — choosing what to contribute to means (commentary) you have to know them deeply and understand their lifestyle too. See Audience article. If you want to take part in pop culture trends on social media, it’s imperative that your teams are monitoring the conversations online & it makes sense for you to be a part of it. Invest in social listening tools and be mindful of what is in the news. In the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger writes, “what’s top of mind it top of the tongue”. Despite not wanting to miss out because your audience is talking about it… consider whether it is suitable for your brand. Is this a place for your brand or could this backfire? Newsjacking and making pop culture references in your content isn’t a tactic that every brand should use. Understand your brand, what works and take calculated risks.

“Collaborations done right, create new space”. Damon Morris, The North Face.

It is very important to understand that brands no longer lead the conversation — culture leads the conversation. Brands merely find their place and can use it to their advantage if done well. Marketing strategies are being adapted to reflect this change and help brands to stay relevant and bring in customers. It is important — it is fundamental — that brands work with people within the culture/communities they are targeting or promoting so as not to offend or miss the mark completely. You should have diverse teams anyway … but we know this is not the case across the board. It is ok not to know everything — it is not ok to ignore it and ignore the people you are serving. Work with the communities so that the connection you have is authentic, built on lived experience therefore relatable and accurate. Imagine a room of white middle-aged men devising a campaign to target black millennial women. Excuse me, how?! What is missing? Understanding, emotion, data and experience. Work with people that will give you insights, nuances and experiences that the stats won’t provide. Leverage this and your campaigns will resonate well. Tips:

  • Humanizes your brand: Pop culture ads relatability to your brand and can enhance your brand kudos.

  • Deepen connections: Pop culture takes you to new and closer to existing audiences. Enables you to explore different areas that are well aligned with your brand.

  • Work with people from the cultures you want to represent to avoid being tone-deaf, tokenistic and cringe

  • B2B can do it too — How? Simple. Tap into emotions, too often businesses are extremely formal. Bringing in some pop culture references makes you seem less robotic and more relatable.

  • Make sure it is 100% true to your brand — the synergy should be so easy to spot.

  • Be relatable — if you sell chocolate bars for pre-schoolers, what is the point of a partnership with a Harley Davison?

  • Black culture is the sum total of cultural contributions to the mainstream by the black subculture. Working with people from this culture, the community will elevate what you do, bringing an accurate perspective to what you are trying to portray — it’s rooted in who we are. We are the culture. More on this soon…

Pop culture holds a distinct and important value in marketing and will continue to grow. Brands are now establishing new connections within local markets, communities by using culture as the tool of connection. ( The bottom line is that understanding the culture in a region, can prove to be a gateway to getting inside the customers’ head–and in their preference list as well. ( Make pop culture part of your strategy. Interested in exploring how pop culture can work for your brand marketing, get in touch.

Pop culture can help you to connect with your audience and talk about your products in a way that is interesting and relatable.

“Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.” — Andrew Davis


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