On the first evening of Advertising Week 2012, brand developing and marketing firm Translation hosted a discussion at The Times Center in New York focusing on the power of brands aligning their marketing efforts with contemporary culture.
The panel, “The Currency of Culture in Marketing,” was moderated by Translation founder and CEO Steve Stoute. It was comprised of an eclectic mix of brand innovators, including Paul Chibe, VP of US marketing at Anheuser-Busch; Pam El, VP of marketing at State Farm; Naomi Campbell, model and entrepreneur; Luke Wood, president and COO of Beats by Dr. Dre; Eric Hirshberg, CEO at Activision Bilzzard; and Kimberly Paige, assistant VP of African-American marketing at Coca-Cola.
Topics ranged from celebrities in marketing campaigns and the success of culture initiatives leading brands to social media sharing among fans and how some businesses don't know how to incorporate culture into marketing. Yet one theme kept coming up throughout the conversation — risk.
Chibe explained that marketers need to take risks in order to maintain authenticity.
“If you don't accept the risks, you don't play; and if you don't play, you won't win,” he said.
Adding to the conversation on risk-taking, Campbell talked about how Vogue Italia launched its “All Black” Issue: A Guided Tour in July 2008, which challenged the race barriers that still affect models today.
State Farm's El mentioned that some businesses may not take risks with culture because they don't know how to incorporate it authentically into their brands.
“The advertising business has not stepped up to the point of teaching brands what to do and how to do it,” she said.
El added that it's not that these brands “aren't accepting culture,” they just “don't know how.”
Coca-Cola's Paige also said that “a lot of brands don't know how to effectively tap into culture.”
She brought up how Coca-Cola has always tried to be a part of culture, like how Sprite has embraced the hip-hop movement for decades by incorporating rap music and urban fashion in is advertising.
From the gaming perspective, Hirshberg said Activision Blizzard has been “transitioning from acting like a [game company] to an entertainment franchise” for specific games, such as Call of Duty, to engage a larger consumer demographic. He said that by creating various conversations about the game, people who don't normally play will want to know about it so that they can be up to speed with pop culture references. However, he added that it's important for the brand to “retain authenticity and core” for its niche audience.
Beats By Dr. Dre COO Wood said the company has always focused its “core values around sound” and kept it authentic by connecting to the culture of co-founders Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine.
Wood explained that the brand “thinks about creating culture around a product,” rather than figuring out “how to connect with consumers through culture.”