Marius on Strategy and Communication

What it says on the tin

The Culture of Great Brands

Following on from my post last week, I’m really getting into the idea of cultural innovation, and I think this is something Australian brands need to aim for to a much larger degree. In the book Cultural Strategies, Holt and Cameron perfectly articulate what great brands have in common. They dedicate a chapter each to the case studies of some of the world’s most successful brands in order to demonstrate the value of cultural innovation. For example:


Nike inspired those for whom the American dream was out of reach by redefining it and building their own mythology around this new ideaology. In a period with massive social problems in America, they expanded the concept of competition to life itself, featuring immigrants, African-Americans in the ghettos, and other oppressed minorities. Nike celebrated the tenacity, dedication and willpower with which they overcame life’s obstacles, and showed how these qualities can lead to success in sports.

Jack Daniels championed a revival of the frontier ideology. At a time when the suburban suit-clad organisation-man had become the ideal, Jack Daniels recognised that many felt alienated by this idea of masculinity. While all the other brands collectively positioned whiskey as a sophisticated drink to which the successful middle-class man should aspire, Jack Daniels took a more rugged and rural approach to masculinity and associated the drink with the traditional values which corresponded with the company’s own roots


Ben & Jerry fronted environmentalism and sustainability to counter mass-production and consumerism under Raegan.

Starbucks recognised the an increased appreciation for cultural capital and emulated Italian coffee-culture with quality beans, baristas and other cultural codes to suggest a more sophisticated brand. While initially mirroring the tastes of the cultural elites they later democratised the cultural experience by creating a watered-out, yet aspirational, version for the masses.

These brands have become part of our (at least American consumers’) collective consciousness by playing an instrumental part in the constant evolution of culture and society. They have transformed commodities into cultural symbols by making themselves relevant to consumers on an ideological level.

Looking at an infinite number of brands with similar strategies these days, it is easy to forget how innovative these (and many other) brands were. It may seem that these brands could only have been successful at a specific time and place, but that is missing what they have in common, which is a genuine understanding of the culture and society they are part of. However, while Nike has managed to remain relevant by always evolving, Starbucks has moved away from the core values which made them successful and are now little more than an over-priced fast-food chain.

Can anyone think of any Australian brands who are successful cultural innovators? Not necessarily on the scale of the above examples, but who have followed similar principles. What brands are the cultural innovators today, and why? Do the great technology brands today rely too much on innovation or have they managed to make themselves culturally relevant as well?


PS. So what movements or phenomena can be leveraged by brands today? What macro-cultural trends can brands help evolve? I need to have a think, but will get back to this in a feature post…


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This entry was posted on May 26, 2013 by in Cultural Strategy.
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