The UK is a nation with a lot on its plate.
The taste for mediocre brands has soured.
Amidst the UK's cost of living crisis, consumers are keeping a tight grip on their wallets and they’re demanding more from brands. Items they might have once tossed into their trolley without a second thought are now vying for space on the shelf.
Sitting back and relying on old strategies is a recipe for stagnation. As people seek more bang for their buck, brands must prove they're worth the investment.
It's about delivering more than just a product; it's about being in tune with the cultural zeitgeist, creating genuine connections and being a positive force in the lives of customers.
Anything less isn’t going to cut the mustard.
As a nation, we’re riding some rough waves. From geopolitical concerns, environmental worries, and anxiety about the economy, everything feels tense right now.
Women, especially, are feeling it. According to YouGov’s weekly Mood Tracker, almost half of British females say they are stressed each week, and almost a third feel sad. Compare that to 34% and 20% of men, respectively. (In 2023, 45% of women said they were stressed each week; 27% sad / In 2023, 34% of men said they were stressed; 20% sad. YouGov, 2023.)
The iconic World Happiness Index Report backs this up. Britain ranks less happy now than it did during the pandemic.
We know in times of uncertainty, we turn to things of comfort. We indulge in small, frequent luxuries over huge splurges - aka ‘The Lipstick Effect.’ And, we revert to our inner child. We calm anxiety with play and the warming brain hug of nostalgic pursuits. Both insights are deeply driving the direction of our client work across the board.
And as for Fleet Street, they’ve whipped us all into a frenzy.
Scared sells and the media has upped the ante on doom-mongering. Our collective consciousness is in flight or fight. With a nation of cortisol levels at an all time high, culturally cognisant brands that give that feel good factor, sense of relief and comfort are becoming the go-to.
Why are some brands more mouthwatering than others?
Once, we talked about 'challenger' brands – those daring to be different. Today, every brand, regardless of size or legacy, must consistently prove its worth; always ready to adapt and appeal to a diverse and fickle audience.
They must integrate, play into, and - at their most powerful - create culture.
Culture, though, is a nebulous entity – and highly personal. It means different things to different people. The digital landscape is a mosaic of overlapping demographics, from TikTok-savvy Gen-Zs to just-as-digitally-adept over 50s. Disregarding any one segment can leave brands adrift in a sea of indifference.
- Ages 10-19 are 25% of users.
- Ages 20-29 are 22.4% of users.
- Ages 30-39 is 21.7% of users.
- Ages 40-49 is 20.3% of users.
- Ages 50+ are 11% of users.
Case-in-point, today's over-50s are not just dabbling in the digital realm; they're thriving in it, and it's crucial for brands to recognize and adapt to this reality.
Every choice we make, from the coffee to the caviar, is a micro-expression of our personal culture. Brands that stand out are those that identify and align with these nuances, finding their tribe and weaving themselves into the narratives of their consumers' lives. They reflect shared values, amplify common aspirations, and in doing so, become more than just brands – they become cultural touchpoints.
As communicators we need to create the signals that our audiences are tuned into and use them to mark our brands’ place in the cultural tapestry.
Finding The Right Cultural Signifiers.
Back in 2010, a new soft-drink literally cracked open the UK food and beverage industry.
Enter, Vita Coco.
In fridges dominated by Diet Coke, the saline-sweet-stillness of coconut water was a culture shock to the British palette. To encourage trial, the right cultural signifiers were essential to make Vita Coco cool.
They needed to be subtle. No billboards or big stars. The essence of building cultural capital can’t just be a badging exercise. Authenticity might be a buzzword now, but it’s always been relevant.
We found the places and the people driving cultural change and behaviour from the inside, up. We gave it to models, make-up artists and fashion workers, until it became a front-row favourite. In sport, we gave it to yogis and the runners, marking it as a sign of their tribes.
And, when it came to the media - we made sure that every news desk had a hangover-ready crate the morning after their industry parties.
Within a year, Vita Coco was the fastest selling SKU in Tesco. It had gained its cultural capital and everyone wanted to be seen with the pack.
During this time, disruptive brands were having their moment. But what about FMCG brands with heritage and an established place in our kitchen cupboards? How do you create cultural signifiers and become ‘cool’ again when everyone already knows your name?
Take Baileys, once a dusty annual treat at the back of Grandma’s liquor cabinet, now an icon of indulgence. Diageo turned to TASTE to connect this grand old dame of drinks to a fresh, fun-seeking audience through the power of culture.
From starting Pumpkin Spice season early, championing the LGBTQ+ community and owning Hallo(queen), to giving vegans the sweet treats they usually miss out on, Baileys has become the ultimate indulgence for all (over 18, of course).
"TASTE is a great team to work with. They really specialise in inserting brands in culture, always ensuring there is a strong story at the heart of comms and that it feeds through all elements of activation. The team drives really strong visibility in the media, something that's key in measuring success and ROI for us.” - Diageo - Culture and Entertainment Manager.
Why we believe in a culture-first approach to comms.
In today's world, where everyone has a platform, the goal isn't to be the loudest. It's about speaking with clarity and purpose. How? By truly listening.
We pay attention to those subtle voices, the quiet innovators at the grassroots. They're often the ones shaping culture, setting trends, and championing their passions.
We're genuinely interested in understanding choices. Why did someone pick this? What does it reveal about them? We listen, analyse, and grasp the values at play. This isn't a cursory look—it's a genuine interest in understanding culture's finer details.
But understanding is just the start. The next step is meaningful dialogue. We aim to engage in conversations that matter, respecting the nuances of each culture we touch. We strive to add something valuable rather than just echoing what's already out there.
Finally, we present stories—brand stories that people genuinely want to hear, share, and stand behind.
This is our approach, our promise. We’re not just about sending messages; we're about starting real conversations. Conversations that create appetite.
6 Steps to creating appetite:
🔍 1. Dive into Cultural Insights
All brands face challenges. Whether it's flagging sales or creating awareness in a new category, the process starts with truly understanding the cultural nuances that influence our target audience's worldview. We immerse ourselves in the macro-trends of society, as well as the micro-moments in their digital spaces, to genuinely understand their daily lives, fears, joys, and habits.
🎯 2. Carve Out the Brand’s Territory
With insights in hand, we distil our findings into core territories that align with the brand's mission, address the specific challenge at hand, and resonate with the audience's behaviour. These territories are crucial as they provide a solid foundation for discussions, brainstorming, and alignment with our brand teams.
⚖️ 3. Authenticity is the Stress Test
Understanding 'why' a cultural element resonates is key. Before venturing into a cultural territory, it's vital to question:
Should we? Is it in line with the brand's ethos?
Can we? Are the resources and backup plan in place?
Will we? Can we genuinely commit for the long haul?
Being true and authentic when engaging in a cultural dialogue is non-negotiable.
💡 4. Create Appetite
Armed with insights and a chosen territory, the spotlight shifts to the story.
The importance of a sticky creative platform cannot be underestimated. Walk in your audience’s shoes, speak in their voice, be aware of the things that they love, hate, and dream about. Understanding what your brand and idea gives back to them is essential.
Celebrating deliciousness is only possible by painting the most mouthwatering of narratives, and backing it up with thumb-stopping imagery and content that will make your audience ravenous for more.
🌟 5. Championing the Superfans
While developing channel strategies and considering budgets, it's essential not to lose sight of the brand's superfans. These dedicated followers and advocates provide a unique cultural currency, making brands more relatable and authentic in their communities.
🔄 6. Stay Agile and Ready
Being culturally relevant doesn't follow a set formula. It's essential to understand the evolving cultural currents and the brand's unique place within them. Flexibility is key. Always have a backup plan, be ready to pivot, and continue the conversation even when the campaign is over.