News & Views

A Cultural State of Mind

by Contagious Contributor

Leila Fataar, founder of Platform13, argues that all brands should reserve 25-30% of their marketing budgets to ensure long-term cultural relevance


We are in the biggest political, societal, cultural and technological transformation since the industrial age. It is not ‘coming’, we are already in the storm. Brands, products and spaces we didn’t imagine could EVER disappear, will – and fast. Because if a brand is not culturally relevant or doesn’t add some value or contribute to the world, it can become redundant very, very quickly. Remember Nokia or shopping malls or even, in the near future, petrol stations?

We live in a post-truth world, at the behest of the algorithms. This hasn’t helped consumers’ already strong distrust of brands, big establishments and even their governments – and who can blame them?

Politics, the Harvey Weinstein effect, global activism against discrimination (race, gender, religion, everything) and identity becoming more and more important, means that brands who do not represent this new world, and/or are not vocal about global issues, are not attractive to the new ‘woke’ consumer. It is no longer acceptable for brands to sit on the fence, or even separate corporate comms from consumer comms – staying silent is almost worse. This new ‘human’-focused consumer and employee speaks the language of meaning, not only profit, and they will work for and buy brands that share those values.

One of Platform13’s first jobs was for Smirnoff. We were their cultural filter and advisor for their ‘Labels are for bottles, not people’ campaign. We created a committee made up of key and vocal spokespeople from the gender non-conforming community and identified the primary and credible talent like Honey Dijon, Lucy Fizz and Kiddie Smile. These cultural voices from nightlife meant that a relevant but sensitive subject was successfully landed with respect to and in collaboration with the community it was representing.


In this time of transformation, brands must play a crucial role in helping their consumers navigate this insane world we live in. This doesn’t always have to be overly worthy or purpose-led, but it should be a way of being, not a buzzword. 

A key cultural shift at the moment is the speed of advancement of technology. If brands do not start understanding and experimenting with what machine learning can do for them by 2020, they will be left behind. The reality of tech culture is that Blockchain, AR and mixed reality marketing will soon also be mainstream, and brands need to be prepared. Not to mention the democratisation of voice search, which is exploding already. How can brands ensure they are optimised to be found, when search becomes conversational, not keyword driven?

The future belongs to the relevant

So how can brands stay relevant in this culture of transformation? How can they ensure that they’re still around in 2020? It’s quite simple: make cultural relevancy and contribution a key business growth driver.

Big brands need short-term, profit-driven goals to stay BIG business. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making money. And this should be the tried-and-tested growth drivers and strategies that have worked and continue to work.


But in this new world order, a budget must be allocated to ensure that big brands are agile enough in the short term to stay relevant and survive. Around 25-30% of the overall pot is fair, because the long tail of a budget can usually be ineffective (after all, a consumer seeing your digital ad for the millionth time is not effective) and there is always a scramble to spend excess budget at the end of the fiscal.

We think that budget should be put to work at the beginning of the fiscal, to explore these fast moving changes in a proactive, not reactive, manner. There may not be a sale directly linked to it and there has to be an experimental mindset attached to this budget. Category leaders don’t suffer from brand FOMO, they lead the charge by being relevant in people’s lives, no matter the global seismic changes. This does not mean that brands should simply jump on the next new bandwagon, but they must be prepared to react quickly to shifts. Knowing your ‘reason for being’ is the anchor in identifying what you should be reacting to.

While at Diageo, the culture and entertainment team, in close partnership with the Captain Morgan brand team, created one of Diageo’s most successful culture-first campaigns – #onlyonecaptainmorgan. We identified an opportunity with Leicester City Football Club, and the wonderfully named Captain Wes Morgan, and within two weeks had created a multi-platform activity to drive the brand purpose around bringing the ‘fun into rum’.


Even Zuck is investing in cultural relevance with the recently announced Facebook algorithm change. For brands, this is a good case in point, really emphasising the need for short-term agility to ensure long-term cultural relevance. From our understanding, passive consumption (eyeballs / views) of branded content is deprioritised. This has been THE ‘reach’ metric brands have strived for, so it will be very interesting to see how the usual measure of ‘success’ plays out in the next few months. Consumer advocacy is now and in our opinion, always has been, key, where friends and family posts and content that sparks meaningful interaction are ranked higher on the newsfeed.

Any way to get better quality brand activity and content, compelling enough that people want to talk about, in the way they want to receive it, gets a massive thumbs up from me. This will mean that we marketers MUST step up and create activity that resonates, that matters to communities. Building and rebuilding that trust will take time, but if done properly, should ensure a brand’s longevity and relevance.

Leila Fataar is the founder of Platform13 – which was founded in August 2017 to answer challenges faced by brands in the ever changing world of creative innovation and the swiftly moving cultural landscape.