Culture, its conflicts and dealing with it in advertising.

- By Pari B | 05mins read

As advertisers, we’re often confused about every step we take. We don’t resonate with each other on many levels, but we do want to do something that moves universal public opinion. Dealing with all the advertising conundrum, it often leads us to be tensed. But we also have to put our best foot forward and embrace ourselves for last minute changes...

Amidst this chaos, the essence of the campaign gets diluted. We listen to our clients, seniors, colleagues and ourselves too. Then where do we go wrong?

As Stephen King once said, “We believe that all insights spring from tension between or within ‘human truths’ (i.e. Maslovian needs that transcend cultural or geographic boundaries) and ‘cultural truths’ (i.e. motivations that differentiate).”

We are the product of our environment around us that reflects our thought process and outlines our school of thought. This defines how we perceive different opinions.

UNESCO defines culture as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, that encompasses, not only art and literature, but lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs (UNESCO, 2001).

Cultures are formed by collective social behaviors. Various groups emerge to build communities based on mutual cultural backgrounds - building community also depends on cultural tensions.

Cultural tensions are consumer insights that resonates on a broad level. So, it might not be right for everyone, but has the potential to popularize opinion.

Tensions are the grit, which have true potential to construct a beautiful brand narrative. For example, how fairness creams decided to change their narrative when #BlackLivesMatter started spreading around like wild fire.

Tensions bring unforeseen opportunity to pick up untouched topics and initiate conversations about it. Tensions/topics that are broad, unique and relevant opens a Pandora’s box for brand(s) to explore and create commotion by giving people something of value and helping them achieve a part in “the job to be done”.

How will these tensions reduce yours?

Well, here’s your answer...

92% of Gen-Z and 90% Millennial respondents said they would act in support of a purposeful brand. (Forbes)

People are at the heart of a cultural tension. When a particular tension is brewing, that’s the moment of suspense, ambiguity and murkiness when the brand needs to capture them. Brands need to be in sync with people and make a poignant cultural point.

The most sacred C-word “Cultural Content” should be at their crux of marketing to sell an idea in order to sell their product.

Culture by nature keeps evolving. Previously, I’was defined by what society thinks of me, my values, status, etc. Now, it has become self-centric. I have the power to define myself and decide who I am. Hence, it is important for brands to be up-to-date in order to create campaigns that addresses the contemporary issues.

Imagine you want to ask a friend for a movie – but you don’t text, call or even meet them. How will they know what you want? You will have to go where they are, know their availability & schedule, likes, dislikes and then finally book tickets for two.

Similarly, now consider a brand in your shoes and audience as your friend. Brands need to act on what the audience is talking about. If brands don’t step into the culture circle and get its hands dirty with audience, they will not pay attention to you. Out of sight, out of mind.

Cultural tension gives brand the unique and unprecedented opportunity to capture the underlying antagonism, turn it into a zeitgeist, and elevate it to a topic of a conversation.

> Toyota went to great lengths to integrate cultural differences and motivations into their communications, with their six-version TV ad for the Camry in the United States.

> On the other hand, Pringles in the United Kingdom appeared to have merchandised bacon crisps on point-of-sale units celebrating Ramadan, managing to offend when the aim was quite the opposite.

While opting for cultural tensions, it is crucial for brands to NOT focus on profit but PEOPLE. It becomes less about tension solving, and more about tension setting, amplifying the brand to align their campaign and brand values.

Do social listening, learn what your consumers are talking about, stand shoulder to shoulder with them – through your brand create a platform for your consumers to talk about their concerns.

Say this to the apt cultural tensions:

And find them like Liam Neeson - with immense zeal and dedication :)

Being an advertiser, I feel responsible for what conversations are revolving around the globe and I’d like them to be transformative. By understanding cultural tension, brands can go beyond storytelling and tie it to their brand values - this allows me to take the matter in my hands and change the narrative to explore the white space to be an active part of people’s conversation. Knowing, researching and planning campaigns around cultural tensions also helps us to stand out and chill out!

Here are some brands that used cultural tension to their advantage -

Vivel by ITC – Voice of Art campaign: (2020)

ITC Vivel with its philosophy of Ab Samjhauta Nahin brought together one of India’s largest collective of young artists to weave a new-age narrative of equality through Art; through Voice of Art. This artfully expressive initiative garnered more than 400 entries that touched upon themes like stereotyping on the basis of gender or attire, pay gap or gender roles

AXE - Find Your Magic (2016)

Cultural tension: The crisis of masculinity - the image of a man in culture is no longer based on strength, aggressiveness, being “macho” or sexual attractiveness. Men do not know who they should be, they are lost and confused.

Nike - Find your Greatness (2016)

Cultural tension: Everyone faces a personal internal tension between the active you and the inactive you. They feel the need to rebel, to push against stereotypes and accomplish their dreams. The need to win the battle between the hero and villain inside you.
Brand Ideology reducing the tension: It is not just the championship athlete or record breaker that aspires to push their limits. It is also the everyday athlete who strives to excel on their own terms, to set and realize personal goals and achieve their own defining moment of greatness.