I recently started re-watching ‘Suits’, the legal series on Netflix; and in episode one, Harvey said something to Mike that caught my eye. “Threatening sanctions is better than filing sanctions”. It’s interesting how much research goes into these shows because I had a strong sense of empathy. I once consulted a client involved in a legal matter where the plaintiff never actually went to court but kept sending letters threatening to sue; the letters evoked a range of reactions: anger, panic, negotiations, counter-threats, etc. This continued until the matter was finally settled. Both parties knew going to court would be a long and expensive process that neither side wanted, but the plaintiff knew the defendant wanted it much less, because an action by their marketing team had exposed them. The whole situation got me thinking about the work needed to achieve marketing growth.
We live in a rapidly changing world that requires a deliberate, calculated effort from brands to capture the attention of their audiences, and more than ever ‘cultural relevance’ is essential to brand communication. It goes beyond Twitter trends or influencers; it’s about building relevance by becoming a big part of conversations that hit a cultural nerve in a way that’s consistent with the brand’s personality.
Culture breaks down into a number of different elements such as language, beliefs, social organization, art, etc. It informs the shared heritage, meaning, desire and vision of a community that serves as a differentiator for its members. Consider comedy, the majority of Nigerian comedians perform in pidgin/Nigerian languages. Their individual reasons can range from reaching a wider audience to deliberately spreading and preserving culture to the fact that sometimes the joke just doesn’t have the same impact in English. The same goes for music; Nigerian music wins worldwide awards and is on worldwide charts, but you can never miss our unique beats, language and style; elements of our culture, #NigeriaToTheWorld.
However, it is important to note that culture is much more than its individual elements. A common mistake I’ve seen while working on international brands is the idea that simply changing the language spoken in a creative or adding a few pidgin phrases “localizes” the material. Language in itself is an element of expression; we know from the study of psychology that behavior change involves a series of mental processes. Context, resonance and evoking emotion is the goal. Coca-Cola understood this when they created their ‘share a coke’ campaign. They evoked powerful emotions, and by extension, consumer action as they brilliantly used consumer names on Coke bottles, making consumers feel “seen” and also giving them the opportunity to share a “personalized” Coke with a loved one. . The campaign delivered approximately 2.5 percent revenue growth, over 18 million media impressions and many more growth figures.
What do you do if you can’t put your customers’ names on product bottles? First of all, remember that it goes beyond names. It is about striking deep emotional connections and meaning. Many brands do this by taking advantage of music and popular trends. Both are excellent tools that resonate with audiences on a deep level and when used properly, they can help a brand capture the hearts and minds of their audience.
One aspect of properly exploiting music and trends is realizing that these tools are the intellectual property of their creators and that using them without legal authority puts you on the wrong side of the law. When a piece of content (usually an audio clip or dance routine in this case) is catchy enough and starts to attract a lot of attention on social media, sometimes the owner of the work realizes that there is an opportunity to monetize the material. They may not fully understand the science behind it, but from experience working with influencers and signing endorsements with established artists, they know that once they’ve created something the market appreciates, brands are likely to want to use it as a point of contact for the public. , so they partner with a lawyer to brand their work. Then they wait, and like flies to honey the brands come. Brand managers are often not given legal scrutiny because they see it as ‘just’ a trend on social media, not realizing that they have ‘merely’ infringed on the creator’s intellectual property rights and have fallen for the trap set by the creator of the content and their lawyers. Lawsuits are threatened, settlements are made, payments are made and the team of creators/lawyers is waiting for the next prey.
I remember a debate about the ethics of the team of creators/lawyers. One side in support, one side against them. For me, the problem is that as marketing professionals we would be remiss to only think about the creative and consumer psychological aspects of what we do. We also need to consider the risk environment and the potential ways your creative idea could expose the company to lawsuits and other risk factors. In the example of the ‘Share a Coke’ campaign used earlier, the Australian Coca-Cola team was the first team to conceive and implement the Share a Coke campaign. They allegedly held 25 risk assessment meetings, conducted 225 trademark searches, ensured that more than 5,000 swear words and vulgar words were never printed, and a host of other non-creative tasks.
In short, marketing growth is not a linear activity. It’s a lot like making music; different keys, instruments, techniques and skills working together to produce one coordinated, beautiful sound.
Ayotunde is a marketing consultant based in Lagos.
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