Pop Notch Marketing: Spicing Up Your Marketing with Pop Culture

Tricia Lim

Tricia Lim

What comes to mind when you hear pop culture? 

Is it meme culture, references to the Oscars 2022, or trends on TikTok? 

If you look at our entertainment choices, the memes we laugh at, and the conversations with friends and colleagues, it’s undeniable that pop culture has an unwavering presence in our lives.

From the recent Wordle hype, to chatting about the Netflix show references, the phenomenon is prevalent everywhere! No wonder it’s becoming more common for marketers and brands to adopt pop culture into their marketing strategies.

As someone who falls into the Gen Z or Millennials’ category, you’ll likely get this reference as to what pop culture is. If you aren’t familiar with the term, that’s also okay! We’ll be diving into more detail of what it is and its relevance in the marketing world like ours.

Table of Contents

What is pop culture?

Pop culture can be defined in a variety of ways by different people, in different contexts. One definition states that it is the modern popular culture transmitted via the mass media and aimed particularly at younger people. 

Simply put, it’s considered as the ‘culture of the people’. Why? Because it’s determined by the interactions between people in their everyday activities and are informed by the mass media.

But, what role does it play in marketing?

Though this blend of pop culture in marketing isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, it certainly has a way of playing influence on our attitudes towards certain brands, topics, people, and issues. 

Some of the well-known examples of pop culture trends turned marketing efforts include the successful tweet from Oreo during the 2013 Super Bowl power outage. Nearly a third of the most successful marketing campaigns included some form of pop culture reference.

If a brand is able to identify the right opportunity at the right time, the results would be significant.

How can businesses benefit by using Pop Culture references?

1. To increase brand awareness, content visibility, and traffic

It’s a known fact that our attention span has markedly decreased over the years. The average attention span now is 8 seconds—that’s shorter than a goldfish’s which has a 9-second attention span

Although it might be hard to keep our attention these days, we’re definitely not immune to eye-catching hooks from pop culture references. Thankfully, most pop culture references are based on trending topics and current matters that people love to discuss. 

The key to increasing visibility for your brand and content is to build a bridge between these popular topics and your brand, where it’s applicable to your brand, of course!

2. To understand your audience better

This comes without saying that you need to know who your target audience is. Though pop culture is based on widespread similar tastes, brands should take this opportunity to better understand their target audience better. Find out what are their preferences, topics of interest, lifestyles, and more. That way you’ll be able to make references that they’ll understand and appreciate!

3. To form a close bond between a brand and its community

Gone are the days where consumers are happy with having a mere transactional relationship with brands. Nowadays, we have higher expectations. Apart from expecting brands to positively contribute to society, 64% of customers expect brands to connect with them

Pop culture speaks a language that most people understand. By embracing it in your content, you can build a strong connection with your customers. The more customers feel connected to your brand, the more they’ll trust the brand. 66% of consumers surveyed said that they equate feeling connected with trust. 

You can use pop culture references to open doors to conversations with your target audience and community! Showing this side of your brand will help them establish a bond with you and perhaps they’ll be more apt to listen to what you have to offer too.

4. To prove brand authenticity

Consumers are very aware these days. They’re not going to tolerate brands that focus on nothing but making profit. Harnessing the power of pop culture through movie or TV show references, or memes, will humanize your brand and show that you’re not just a business.

 

It also adds flavor to your brand personality whom they can relate with and trust. 

Secondly, by responding to central issues and significant events on social media, it helps to make your brand down to earth, reliable, and authentic too.

5. To increase brand relevance and help your brand to stay current!

Studies have also shown that 25% of consumers make purchasing decisions based on a brand’s cultural involvement. Being involved in culture is nearly as important as having positive brand perceptions. 

Incorporating pop culture into your marketing strategies helps to boost your brand relevance. BUT you also need to be current. Know and understand the latest buzzwords, trending topics on Twitter, binge-worthy series, and social or political issues. That way you can participate in the hottest conversations happening during that time. Let that inform your marketing campaigns and corporate social responsibility projects and you’ll surely make headlines.

The red flags to avoid when using pop culture in marketing:

1. Being culturally insensitive.

When you’re considering the use of pop culture in your marketing efforts, it’s equally important to understand the implications and consequences involved. How will it fit with social issues happening during that time? Will it offend readers or users? If the social context doesn’t fit with the social issues happening at the time, it’s best to steer clear and not make way for controversial debates. One way to do that is to stay up to date on the socio-political issues around the time of your launch.

2. Being slow to viral trends

They come as quickly as they go. You need to be on the pulse and ready to identify ever-changing consumer trends if you’re planning to stay relevant with pop culture elements in your marketing campaigns.

Examples of how brands used it in their marketing strategy

Pepsi's Squid Game Take

In 2021, the Netflix show, Squid Game, became a viral hit all over the world. And with any hype, it opened doors for brands and marketers to jump on the pop culture wagon. Many brands joined the hype and decided to incorporate it into their social media strategy. One of them was Pepsi:

Later inspired by Wordle

This recent hype revolved around a simple word game that got the whole world wrapped around its fingers. Even if you didn’t partake in this game, chances are you would still understand the context of the game based on the people around you who play it. 

There was a boom with the hashtag wordle and all memes related to it. Latermedia was  witty and creative enough to design a graphic for their social media with the Wordle design as well as a blog post leveraging on the hype. By doing so, it catches the attention of their followers, attracts engagement, and paints them as a relevant brand with authority.

KitKat joined the conversation on the Friends reunion

In May 2021, the much anticipated Friends Reunion finally aired on HBO Max. Here’s an example of how KitKat, the chocolate brand, took the chance to talk about it on their social media. Using a quote by a character from the show which happens to fit their branding, they manage to drive content visibility to their social media profile. Though it’s unlikely that KitKat directly benefited from Friends: The Reunion, they definitely caught people’s attention.

Spotify Wrapped

Every year end Spotify releases their Spotify Wrapped campaign. It gives users a rundown of their music taste and data from using the streaming service all year. Since their first launch in 2016, it has become a successful viral marketing technique for Spotify.

In 2021, Spotify took a whole other approach using pop culture references in their latest marketing campaign–––it really paved the way for internet users to participate in the trend albeit whilst showing some self-deprecating humor. Here are  some snippets below:

Netflix

With an abundance of scenes and references to choose from, most of Netflix’s social media content revolves around pop culture references. 

Since their debut on the streaming platform, Netflix combined several iconic scenes from Inventing Anna, Bridgerton, and Grey’s Anatomy to make a cross reference only their viewers would understand.

Fun facts of how pop culture influences us

Pop culture certainly has a way of influencing our attitudes towards certain topics.

 

These waves of pop culture trends just goes to show our craze for viral topics happening during that time. Whether you’re stuck for content ideas, or looking to increase your brand relevance, pop culture references are great stepping stones to boost brand relevance.

On the flip side

Although using pop culture in marketing can be beneficial to capture the attention of a target audience, it might not be applicable for every brand. Consider how it may affect the credibility, authenticity, and authority of your brand. Is it strictly corporate? Then perhaps, meme culture might not resonate as well with your target audience. 

Here are some prompts to ask yourself before using pop culture for your marketing:

  • What kind of value do you want to create for your customers? 
  • What do you think will resonate best with them? 
  • What is the marketing objective that you would like to achieve in your marketing campaigns?

Wrap Up

Content becomes more attractive and engaging when it isn’t purely business or sales-focused. Instead, it will make your brand feel more human and personable, which can tighten business relationships too. Using pop culture references in your content can help to drive brand awareness, traffic, engagement, and conversions.

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