By Taylor Ward, Research Manager, Twitter and Kara Manatt, SVP Group Director, Magna Intelligence.


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For as long as mass media has existed, brands have had a seat at the table during major cultural moments. As viewers, we’ve come to expect to see our favourite sporting events and concerts brought to us by brand sponsors. It is common practice for the ads we watch to feature celebrities and be in touch with the latest popular trends. More recently, we’ve even begun to see brands support and help drive social issues that are important to their audience. In 2019 Twitter and MAGNA interviewed 505 people in the UK for their research on “The Power of Connecting with What’s Happening,” where they looked at how brand involvement in culture impacts consumer perceptions and what it means for a brand to be culturally relevant.

Forty-one percent of those surveyed felt it is important for brands to be involved in social issues and movements, while 36% consider it important for brands to be involved in live events (such as the BRIT awards) and trends like organic and clean products. Young adults (A18-35) feel even more strongly, not only about culture in general, but also the importance of brand involvement in it. And all signs point to that sentiment growing over time.

For brands, aligning with and reflecting culture is key to staying relevant and top-of-mind; and for those that do it best, integrating with culture is truly part of their identity. However, what impact do these efforts have on their business objectives? As it turns out, a sizeable one. Almost one-fifth (18%) of a consumer’s purchase decision is based on a brand’s cultural involvement. This is good news for marketers who have little control in the short term over the other factors that drive purchase decisions—price and quality (55%) and brand perceptions (27%)—but who have direct control over how their messaging reflects culture.

Brands who have established themselves as more culturally relevant in the eyes of consumers also benefit in other ways. At a high level, consumers are simply more likely to identify with them; 2.5 times more likely, to be exact. It establishes a personal connection, which is no small feat for an advertiser. Culturally relevant brands also have the added perks of being seen as “authentic,” “innovative,” “inspiring,” and “thoughtful”–all attributes that can be difficult to convey in an ad. Instead, these attributes are implicitly communicated through actions and campaigns aimed at making those connections (e.g. giving back to local communities, sponsoring the Latin Grammy Awards, etc.).

So what are the best ways for brands to be involved in culture? In our current uncertain times, some brands have taken quick action to adjust and respond. Take Spotify, for example. While involvement with culture is nothing new for them–they have always supported events that are important to consumers–they’ve recently sought to play a positive role in the current global crisis. This includes conveying messages of support for key workers on the frontlines, and matching donations up to $10 million USD to provide COVID-19 relief for the music industry globally. These efforts align with the actions that consumers consider important—giving to the community (52%) and supporting social issues that are important to everyone (48%).

While “giving back” is at the top of the list for consumers, that’s not the only impactful option available to brands. They can get into consumers’ good graces by being inclusive, transparent, and of course “sponsoring cultural events”. This is good news for all brands. With so many options available, it means they have the ability to get involved in ways that are truly authentic. While the research shows that being a culturally relevant brand pays off in a myriad of ways, it is important to focus on the issues, trends, and events with which they genuinely align.

By asking consumers to rate the cultural relevance of brands across a range of industries, (including those that are often thought of as less “exciting”), we confirmed that they have the ability to stand out as relevant regardless of their category. Even more traditional verticals such as financial services have wide variation in cultural relevance from brand to brand. This demonstrates that every industry has room for competition and growth when it comes to cultural relevance.

While this research demonstrates that playing an active role in culture is critical to brands’ business objectives, COVID-19 has put the spotlight on something more personal; corporations no longer exist simply to drive sales. Now more than ever, it’s important for brands to stay engaged and be there for their customers. Making donations, giving thanks to frontline workers, and being a resource for information and support not only has a positive impact on-brand, but also helps serve a greater purpose.

For more recommendations on how your brand can effectively communicate during this difficult time, see Twitter’s blog post ”Brand Communications in a Time of Crisis.”