Understanding Culture

Many brands are using anthropologists to help them identify and understand the forces and themes impacting their customers’ lives and mindsets. And one of the main areas of observation for an anthropologist is culture. Understanding culture helps brands predict and capitalize on upcoming trends.

I personally have an interest in culture especially when I hear it bandied around often without an understanding of what it is, what makes up culture, how it is created and what influences it.

So this post is my attempt to understand culture and how brands can be part of it.

What is Culture?

Culture is fundamentally about meaning and expression. It is how and where we derive our meaning from the world and people around us.

Societies function via written and unwritten ‘rules’ that people ascribe to willingly or unwillingly. The rules that we follow without noticing, and the rules that some people break willingly. This is culture.

But these rules are constantly changing and evolving, in fact, most of the time, we don’t notice them until they are broken. For example, the act of ‘gathering people to eat’ is draped with cultural meaning – otherwise, the pictures below are just people having lunch. But a family lunch, team lunch and quiet romantic getaway are draped with different traditions, meaning and emotional attachments - this is culture.

What meaning do you derive from these images?

Artists, Musicians, Comedians, Journalists often bring to light or challenge culture in their work. They make observations and statements about culture in their music or writing.

How can we get better at Cultural Understanding and Culture Spotting?

In order to understand culture and cultural meaning, we need to investigate the meaning behind certain rituals and phenomena.

As we observe and become curious about events around us, we should be asking: what does this symbolise? why is this important? what is changing? where are we going?

Can you think of some cultural rules that have recently been broken in MENA? Here are a few:

  • The resurgence of artistic expression? What does this mean about how people are expressing themselves?
  • Women driving in KSA? What does this mean about the way society is changing?
  • Cinema in KSA? What does this mean about entertainment in the region?

Brands that wish to be more culturally relevant could choose to follow either of two directions:

  • How can we be part of the cultural conversation?
  • How can we challenge cultural assumptions in a way that attracts people to our brand?

The main goal of producing brands and their branded content is to ensure they resonate with their audiences so that they connect with them and provide solutions to their life, making the brand more salient. Being culturally relevant helps achieve this goal.


Cover Image: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-group-of-men-wearing-assorted-scarves-holding-sticks-667200

Telling your brand story.

Originally posted on Not another dinosaur.:
Previously, I’ve written about the progress of Marketing and Communications over time (Marketing Era’s; From-functional-to-aspirational-to-meaningful-economy). One might argue that such definition of trends and cycles is outdated even irrelevant, since the pace of change in society and culture today is so fast, things move on before we can even discuss…

I’ve written about the evolution and development of Marketing and Communications over time (“Marketing Era’s“, “From-functional-to-aspirational-to-meaningful-economy“). One might argue that such a discussion of trends and cycles is outdated even irrelevant, since the pace of change in society and culture today is so fast, things move on before we can dissect them.

But, I believe it is worthwhile to scope out the landscape we are working in, if for nothing else, just to know its modus operandi. Once we dissect and understand changes in people’s attitude and behavior, we will be better able to respond  – to inform policies, product development and even brand conversations. It is also important to understand the impact of these changes and how to navigate and inspire the future. After all, the intelligent brand | corporation | individual is one who can adapt and be ready for the future.

With that in mind, I believe that the current brand / communication cycle is one of conversation | experiences. It is one where stories shine. If we consider the rise of Micro-blogging sites WordPress, tumblr, Wordpad and even Pinterest and Instagram, I believe one thing they have in common is the idea of sharing our ‘stories’ with people. Even when we tweet we are sharing a ‘story’ of sorts.

Thanks to (as a result of) the digital revolution, people have become accustomed to giving more media more of their time. People spend short – sometimes long – chunks of time engaged in watching videos (Vimeo, youtube), reading (slideshare, blogs, facebook and twitter links), playing games (with all the emotions they involve). Only an interesting ‘story’ makes people do that.

If you look at the print ads below (source: Archive magazine vol.3 2012), you will see that they tell interesting stories. They engage people with an introduction, main plot and conclusion of sorts.

The notion of stories in marketing is not new. But what I believe is important is the way we look at stories from a brand viewpoint.

A brand story is not just a manifesto. Everything the brand does is part of its storyline. Unlike in the past, the ‘storyline’ doesn’t need to continue identically through all communication touchpoints. In fact, we can consider all touchpoints and all aspects of the brand as having unique stories with unique sub-plots, characters and settings across all touchpoints. They don’t all need to look or feel or sound identical. As long as they tell the story in total! At different points in time, one may outweigh the other.


So, next time you’re briefing your agency, make sure they understand and have a plan to tell your brand story though various touchpoints. And make sure each touchpoint has its own engaging story. That’s what we do for our brands ☺ It’s what keeps our work fresh, intriguing and interesting.

Hello Flo

Just when you thought advertising for Feminine Hygiene products couldn’t get any more interesting (Ha!) Hello Flo went and created a highly entertaining film using a fictional young girl’s first period as inspiration to tell a very amusing story!

And their website http://helloflo.com is a highly engaging site as well focussed on everything to do with Females and Female issues.

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Nice to see a brand breaking free from  the mould of the “happy girl running carefree along the beach” cliche.

Qantas gives people a blank canvas.

A fun initiative by the Australian Airline Qantas. The initiative encourages travellers to get creative and design their own travel art using the inflight bag in their seat pocket, napkin, or boarding pass, and share it online using the #qantasblankcanvas hashtag.

Watch the Qantas Get Creative case study.
Watch the Qantas Get Creative case study.

Chance Favors The Connected Mind.

I believe a link exists between creativity and the environment that surrounds it, and there are crucial processes that foster creativity.

For starters, ideas take time to mature into something useful and accessible. Breakthrough ideas take a long time to evolve and may even spend a long time dormant in the background. Environments that foster patience and are comfortable in the grey zone of unanswered questions will be more likely to develop creativity.

Ideas start off as small ‘hunches’ that evolve over time, but good ideas usually come in the form of smaller collisions between smaller hunches. Side projects need to meet and other people’s ideas need to collide.

Ideas need time to incubate and they spend a lot of time in ‘hunch’ form.

The Impact of an Always-On World

Our internet lifestyle means we are constantly distracted, always connected, multitasking and over-thinking. This state of being does not seem conducive to the slower pace necessary for creativity.

So, will our shift away from slower, deeper contemplative states lead to less sophisticated ideas? In our distracted reality, how can we create infrastructure and systems that foster patience and allow ‘hunches’ to collide together?

Coffee Houses were for a long time engines of creativity because they allowed ideas to collide and develop into new forms.

For starters, we have many new ways to connect and reach out or stumble serendipitously on new ideas. Certainly, the driver of scientific and technological innovation has been our hyper-connectivity and ability to reach out to others who help turn hunches into something new.

Chance favors the connected mind.

This lovely stop motion film unpacks the creative process in a post analogue world and shows that just as the days pre-internet, creativity is about making connections.

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Ultimate Content Tool | Periodic Table of Content Marketing

Often clients confuse Platforms with Formats and Goals with Triggers. This 7 step guide to generating content clearly frames each element in its consideration set and helps navigate the different areas to think about.

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