Staff Writer
Jul 4, 2023

“One-offs do not work”: How brands can play in culture

With culture evolving faster than ever, how can brands and artists work together to tap into the Zeitgeist?

“One-offs do not work”: How brands can play in culture
“I want to align with brands that are authentic to my message,” said the musician, SVP, director of music & culture at Arnold NYC, Damien Escobar. 
How, when culture is evolving more rapidly than ever, can brands tap into cultural trends in a way that is effective and rings true with fans? This was the core of an industry-leading panel session called about brands and their role within culture. There’s one word that’s essential…
“The key to engaging with culture in a way that works, is authenticity”, explained UMG’s Naomi McMahon. “The worst thing you can do is look out there and see things that are inauthentic,” explained Keurig’s Becky Opdyke.
Like what?
Keurig identified that cold coffee occasions are growing among a younger audience. Working with Havas and UMG, Keurig decided to tap into Gen Z's love of nostalgia and pursue a surprising brand partnership with the Rolling Stones as a way to promote its new iced coffee offering.
Keurig collaborated with the Rolling Stones to develop a new blend of iced coffee. It also branded its new ice-coffee machine with the Rolling Stones famous Tongue logo. And it created marketing and advertising content using the Stones song ‘Start me up’.
“The campaign works because the band has an authentic passion for coffee,” Opdyke explained. “We worked with the Rolling Stones to develop the Start Me Up iced-coffee blend. If that connection wasn’t there, it just wouldn’t work.”
Flexible friends
Relevance is incredibly difficult in a culture that’s constantly changing at an ever-faster pace, said Havas Play’s Jez Jowett. Brands and artists can’t rely on old-style sponsorship deals any more, with content created up front for two years. There needs to be a more flexible and organic collaboration between the two, to allow them to respond to developing trends.
“At Havas Play, working with UMG and other partners, we’re incredibly lucky to have everything from social to ticket data,” said Jowett. “We can work with the brand and our partners to develop a deeper understanding of who the audience is, what their behaviours and passions are. We can spot developing trends and tap into them.”
Passion and purpose
“Superfans can be a superpower for brands,” said UMG’s Naomi McMahon. “For a brand like Keurig that listens and uses the data and the insights, superfans can help them galvanise that audience at scale. You need to tap into that audience community. You can spot trends you can tap into, before those trends turn to frenzies.”
UMG, McMahon explained, does this by using data to identify fan trends and fan cultures as these are forming. It can do this, because it has unique access to data from right across the fan experience. It works with partners to understand which creative behaviours are driving new trends. And then it finds ways for brands to organically insert themselves into this process: “If you can research and understand fans, you can target them.”
With this depth of understanding, the panel explained, brands can unlock their fans’ passion – whether it’s for music, gaming, movies or something else – and then use that to create a real connection with the target audience, one that delivers against brand goals.
To succeed requires conviction
For the kind of returns brands are looking for, Opdyke said, it requires not a one-off engagement with a particular culture-maker. Rather, it requires a commitment to being in that cultural space for the long term. “One offs do not work. They will not build your brand equity. You need to create a programme of being culturally relevant through time.”
“It really starts with a client that’s willing to take a risk,” agreed Arnold NYC’s Damien Escobar. “That’s really the biggest thing. Be willing to take a risk and understand that this can’t just be a one-off. But once you hit those key attributes for the brand, it’s a home run.”
On the panel…
  • Becky Opdyke, senior vice president, Keurig Systems Marketing 
  • Damien Escobar, musician and philanthropist
  • Jez Jowett, managing partner, Havas Play
  • Naomi McMahon, SVP head of strategic marketing & partnerships, UMG
  • Alexis de Montaigu, managing director & head of strategic planning, Havas (moderator)
Campaign UK

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