Cultural Connections

Culture determines how to market

Culture determines how to market“Donate tonight,” said the actress at a local community theater, using a shrill and fake British accent to warm-up the audience for the evening’s production of Spamalot. “After all, it is the arts. Our culture. Just the very basis of civilization as we know it!”

As uncultured as advertising often is, it connects to culture or it fails (and if uncultured advertising works, then the culture needs an upgrade). The antiseptic dictionary definition of culture is “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group.” It is the sum of the social fabric in which individuals wrap themselves, typically from indoctrination or attraction (the latter explaining why red-headed proto-yuppies sing gangsta rap tunes).

Culture includes things that are familiar, and thus comfortable. Advertising that attaches to specific cultural beliefs is more rapidly accepted. It is little wonder that billboards for American political candidates are almost always red, white and blue, because it attaches to almost universally shared cultural dispositions (in Berkeley, California the signs tend to be red only, because Berkeley has a different culture).

Likewise, elements of other cultures can make buyers uncomfortable because the unknown and unfamiliar generates fear, a normal survival instinct. Less than 50 years ago, having anybody but white people in television advertisements was practically unknown because white America had lingering fears about cultures attached to anything not white American. Today, white-only advertising is openly mocked because the desire to understand other cultures has taken root in our culture.

Two problems confront advertisers. First is that there is no such thing as universal cultural elements. Attempting to find one is an attempt at making everybody like you, which is guaranteed to fail. Secondly, one cultural element may be repugnant or inane to another cultural group (I suspect prom dresses are not sold into many Hell’s Angels households).

The question then devolves to:

  • What is your market?
  • What are their cultural elements?
  • Which elements are safe to associate with?

Nail those three questions and you grease your way into the buyer’s wallet.


Speak up! What are your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.