A decade ago, most companies welcomed the new era of technology with inserting themselves throughout this new digital universe. The new strategy was to create what’s known as branded content, whereby social media would allow you to skip traditional media and connect directly with customers and this real time connection could allow for your brand to become a hub for a community of those customers. This was something that businesses invested billions into, but in fact, social media may have made brands less significant. Brands succeed when they breakthrough in culture and digital technologies not only create new social networks but have also influenced how culture works. The users of these digital technologies have become the innovators of culture in a phenomenon unofficially titled ‘crowd culture’ which has changed the rules of branding.
Earlier forms of branding were implemented as ads in places like theatres, magazines and between tv programmes. This meant there was more competition to be one of these ads featured in the limited amount of pages in a magazine or a 60 second short story before a movie played. Branding was also culturally relevant when attached to successful content such as sponsoring fast food chains, blockbuster movies, sports competitions or bands and festivals. Brands were able to buy the attention span’s of their customers when that attention was focussed on a single cultural phenomena such as Friday night television. The addition of new technologies allowed audiences to opt out of those ads found between those very same Friday night shows by switching over to streaming services such as Netflix.
Social media also redefined what qualified as a fast response from a company. Instead of speaking at customers, companies could speak with them and listen to what they wanted, stepping up the competition. For example, YouTube only gave subscribers the ability to listen to music after you closed the app after Spotify arrived. BMW pioneered the practice of creating short films for the internet with businesses beginning to hire top film directors to deliver Hollywood-level content at internet speed, believing that this would engage audiences around their brand. This began the push towards branded content.
However, although companies have put their faith in branded content, evidence supports the fact that it does not always work. Lists of the top 500 Instagram and Youtube channels by subscribers shows that only 3 traditional brands have made the list amongst a sea of entertainers that you may not even heard of. These 3 brands broke through because they implicated cultural branding which highlights cultural discourse in gender, sexuality and environmental issues and promote an ideology that appeals to mass audiences.
Dove was a mundane, old fashioned brand that resided in a category that followed the trends set by the fashion industry and media. By the 2000’s, feminist began taking to traditional media and critiquing the use of starved size 0 models being force fed to the public. Today, Dove leads a body positive crowd and tap into the emerging crowd culture of celebrating real women’s physiques in all their diverse glory and highlighting issues such as heavily photoshopped images in fashion magazines. This is ‘crowd culture’ success at its finest.
A decade in and companies are struggling to come up with a branding model that works in the modern age of social media where Facebook, Instagram and YouTube reign king. The only way that brands will be able to break through is to once again move towards cultural relevance with cultural branding and tap into the power of the crowd.
Click this link to read my medium Article: How social media has affected branding