Brands that shape culture

Culture has always reflected the relationship between people and brands, with brands finding inventive ways to stay culturally relevant. But more recently brands have started to shape culture.

These ‘culture brands’ have a mission beyond themselves: they’re looking to champion a societal need, change a social attitude or behaviour, and make the world a better place. For brands to succeed, it’s no longer simply enough to communicate what the brand does; also, and more importantly, it must convey what it stands for, it’s values and what it calls us all to do.

Many companies have recently looked to define their purpose as a way of stretching beyond their own needs, and combining this with doing good in the world. Now brands have taken on this mantle, whether it be challenging female stereotyping, standing up for workers’ rights or creating a new vision of balance in health and wellness.

In order to better understand how brands can shape culture, we have put cultural understanding at the heart of our newest research methods. We have done this by working with the biggest cultural phenomenon of our time: the sharing of photography via smartphones.

Our inventive projects rely on ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’. People show us how they experience the world and brands. The result is fresh profound truths. It provides a real-time window to people’s lives. Instead of analysing people’s behaviour by reflecting what they ‘think’ they did, we analyse what they actually did. Instead of telling us after the event, they show us during it.

Mobile has embraced people’s love of taking photos, and empowered them to share images instantly and in unprecedented numbers. Visual content has become – through technology – a key indicator of people’s loves, hates, aspirations, experiences and, sometimes, fears.

Photography is, more than ever, becoming the story of people’s lives. Not the story of what was but what is. Not what they once cared about but what they care about now.

Culture is something you sense unconsciously from everything around you. We’re moving away from research methods that are out of context, reflective and framed by our language, not theirs.

We’ve found four major advantages in putting culture at the heart of our understanding of brands:


Discovery moments, surprising competitive contexts, behaviours people couldn’t explain, things we didn’t even know to ask


Which is often very low conscious, and easily forgotten about when asked retrospectively


People are prepared to share the things that are most personal to them


Using photography as our frictionless gateway into people’s lives generates thousands of pieces of content from just a few hundred people

Tapping into cultural behaviours puts us closer to the culture that’s being shaped and, in turn, helps us guide our clients’ cultural strategies in new and surprising ways.

Culture brands shape the experience. Cultural research understands it.

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