WRITTEN BY MediaMonks
In recent years, the focus in marketing has shifted from a product-based approach to a more consumer-centric one. This shift has prompted a significant portion of brands to turn to “value-based marketing,” a strategy in which they position themselves to better reflect the ethics or values of their clientele.
“As brands get better at satisfying this level of consumer demand, they all begin to look alike and fail to serve the fundamental human desire for uniqueness,” according to a 2017 Forrester report on value-based marketing. “By seeking brands that reflect their core values, consumers imbue their purchases with that missing specialness.”
Typically, this type of marketing is discussed in the context of taking a stand on a controversial issue or participating in solutions to society’s ills, though imbibing your brand with a resonant message of cultural significance doesn’t require rocking the boat. It can be as simple as celebrating the culture that your brand embodies, whether that be a national heritage, tradition, the values of a subculture or other community values.
“Producing something meaningful and culturally significant brings meaning to a brand beyond its products.”
Victoria Beer, recognized as the most traditional of parent company Modelo’s brand portfolio, does this each year with its annual celebration of Mexico’s Day of the Dead. In 2018, the brand wanted to do something truly special by going back to the holiday’s roots, retelling a classic myth of a journey to Mictlan, the Aztec underworld. Rich in Aztec symbols and beautiful choreography, the film is narrated in Nahuatl and is significant for being the first TV ad in the language.
Regina Cardenas, a Digital Solutions Specialist at MediaMonks MX who served as Executive Producer of the project, touched on the benefits that a culturally relevant campaign can have for brands. “When you’re producing something meaningful and culturally significant it goes further than what consumers see every day,” she said. “It brings meaning to the brand beyond just its products, and consumers pay more attention to and appreciate what the brand represents.”
Whenever you make an appeal to a specific culture, it’s of utmost importance that your message is authentic. Because the goal is to strike a meaningful connection with an audience through shared values, a tone-deaf campaign can have an opposite effect than the one you’re looking for. Consider, for example, that Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad, which remains a classic example for how even messages of unity can ignite backlash due to cultural misunderstanding.
On this note, something that was very important in producing Victoria’s film was to retain historical accuracy. While themes like a journey to the underworld are universal and timeless, putting the finer details in place required an intimate knowledge of the ancient society’s culture. To ensure a high level of accuracy, we brought on a cultural advisor with experience in the industry to approve all the visual cues: the body paint, statues and art used on the walls and the design of the underworld itself. “Most people might not have noticed some of these details,” says Cardenas, “but we wanted to back everything up with sources so the imagery would remain authentic.”
While Journey to the Underworld serves as a good example of a campaign that largely celebrates a culture shared with its audience, other campaigns seek to raise awareness or educate about a culture’s traditions or values. This strategy requires organizations to ensure their messaging is legible and relatable to audiences who may have never before been exposed to the culture’s traditions.
For example, Panda Express’ House of Good Fortune is a pop-up installation that celebrates the lunar New Year through a tour of five rooms, each highlighting a different ritual or tradition surrounding the holiday. As visitors engage with the props and activities that fill the symbol-rich environment, they learn about their cultural significance.
In a room filled with large, inflated oranges, a host invites visitors to playfully toss and pass them around like beach balls. As they do, the host informs them that the practice of passing oranges is said to bring prosperity. Visitors take part in other experiences as well, including releasing a wish into a paper lantern, catching fleeting red envelopes symbolizing good fortune and warding off bad luck by beating drums. The added context provided by the installations’ hosts ensures participants understand the significance of the amusing, modernized rituals they are taking part in.
The result is a vibrant environment that not only teaches visitors about the traditional Chinese holiday, but also lends some immersive storytelling that highlights Panda Express’ commitment to promoting Chinese-American culture. It can be tough for a chain restaurant to maintain an air of authenticity, but by making Chinese tradition accessible to an American audience by asking them to participate, the brand gets close to what Forrester calls “tangible evidence of your values commitment” that reinforce their efforts in making a cultural impact.
Developing a socially significant campaign is something to take seriously, but above all else it should be fun. Whether you seek to educate your audience about a societal situation or hope to unite, crafting an authentic message can help consumers recognize your brand’s place within the culture. “Essentially, it’s everyone’s history, and the product wasn’t even in it,” Cardenas said of the Journey to the Underworld film. “It was like Victoria was giving something back to the people.” Likewise, any campaign should strive to make that level of contribution.