Another sign of the greater embrace of culture by the marketing world came this week, as media agency Carat’s global president Doug Ray penned an op-ed in AdAge titled “Marketers: Culture Is Critical To Customer Engagement in 2015”. In it he offers seven ways brands can use digital media to tap into culture, which include:

  1. The connection economy
  2. Trading in trust and transparency
  3. The science of sharing
  4. Shoppable media
  5. Strategic use of programmatic
  6. Creative search
  7. Luxury gets less showy

As you know, I’m always happy to see more people and organizations getting on the “culture-matters-to-brand-building” train.  However, the question is this: Should your media agency run your brand’s efforts to align with culture?

First, I get what he’s doing. He’s positioning his agency as being ahead of the curve.  If I were him, I’d do it too, since the coming inflection point is obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention.  That said, I’m not sure a media agency is the best positioned to help brands integrate with culture.

Some thoughts on each of these points:

  1. The connection economy. I’m not clear as to how an old-media approach (and business model) will be able to effectively compete against these newer, disruptive business models. It’s that like printing an expanded classified ad section in a newspaper to fight Craiglist.
  2. Trust et al. “A major focus of media agencies in the year ahead will be building trust through communications, and helping brands engage in a trusted dialog with consumers.” Maybe, but efforts like this will have to be originated and managed by the brand, and not through a media agency intermediary.
  3. Science of sharing. I’ll be surprised if anyone can backwards-engineer virality. Of course, it’s the holy grail, but I’d say it will remain out of reach. Things change too quickly. Virality depends on the an alchemy of content, time and context, the latter of which changes at hyperspeed. The fact is, as the Mondelez example has show, organizations have to build a muscle for speed, and a media agency’s reliance on tools like programmatic isn’t the way.
  4. Shoppable media. This is the most realistic item on this list. I think the social platforms will figure out how to enable purchase without leaving their confines. It’s in the best interest and the best interest of their brand advertisers that they do so. Enabling purchase is really what people mean when they say “seamless”.  Twitter is experimenting with a “buy now” feature, and Target and Nordstrom figured out a way to leverage Instagram for a “like 2 buy” capability.
  5. Programmatic. Yes, shifting ads around based on trending conversations and news events is smart. But it only get’s you in the stadium, not actually in the game.  Which doesn’t help with trust, his point #2.
  6. Creative search. Yes, there’s some promise here. Algorithms already exist to track search trends, so this isn’t much of a stretch. But what this point forces brands to confront is the need for an even greater inventory of content that they’ll must be at the ready in order to be competitive in order to be contextually relevant. What will it mean for a brand’s content strategy? Maybe it means that everyone’s going to have to get serious about content. Only a handful of brands are currently ready to play that game.  And the ones that do–Red Bull, Virgin, Marriott–handle that in-house.
  7. Luxury. How does a media agency help when the consumers are redefining luxury? I’m not sure what the “digital media” play is here.

It’s encouraging to see media agencies twisting themselves to be the service provider their clients need. It means that culture’s importance to brands is increasing. But media approaches won’t be a brand’s best means of aligning with culture. Maybe the best we can hope for is that newer, media-driven approaches function like TV did in the old days: As brand reinforcement.

Posted by Rob Fields

Observer. Curator. Marketer. Dot connector.

  • In fairness, I didn’t read Ray’s piece, but that we’re still impressed by articles suggesting “Hey everybody, I just had a real insight, culture is important” speaks volumes to the slow movement of ideas in the marketing world. I was probably a little late to the party when I started focusing on culture about four or five years ago.

    • Probably more like the slow movement of ideas that aren’t getting funded. The problem is, for many, culture is still this amorphous thing that doesn’t directly solve business problems. Thing is, that’s all starting to change, I think, as evidenced by this piece and a few others. Besides, given the social age we’re all in, there’s no where to hide from culture and its impact on business and communications.

      Thanks for stopping by, Rick!

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