Culture as a “next” brand experience.

The web has recently exploded with articles about brand experience, and the process of creating an emotional connection with your consumers. One of the core emotional connections a brand can create is when it touches or communicates an experience that is seen as important, not for the brand alone, but for the world.

Social responsibility, cause-marketing, and sustainability fall easily into this mandate of caring for what matters. So does the Super Bowl or World Cup. But there’s another area of social relevance that is often forgotten: culture.

Where does culture play a role – from music and dance to art and heritage, fashion and film, even craftmanship and archaeology?


Music is often refered to as a “cultural universal” wiuthin anthropology, meaning that it is one of the more common and shared activities across cultures. A 2018 Harvard study confirmed that people could recognise the genres of songs from completely distant cultures, after listening to only 14 seconds of a sound clip. Again, it shows the common human cultural value.

Brands engaging with culture is not a new trend per se, but it is becoming more institutionalised – with the pioneer perhaps being Red Bull.

Red Bull is a big players in cultural marketing, and their approach has officially recognised the role of culture in their marketing strategy. Building from their somewhat legendary “extreme sports” association, Red Bull Media House has also built a newer strength around music, festivals, and dance over the past decade. The image from their site of the Loolapalooza festival showcased live on RedBull TV is just one example.

Partying all-night or all-day festivals are a clear terriroty for the notorious energy drink, so its not a surprisie to see their forward thinking in this arena.

Loolapalooza Red Bull.PNG

Photo credit: Red Bull Content

… and art?

Slightly less obvious is the world of art engagement and creative collaboration where Red Bull also made headlines. In July 2018, Red Bull also expanded an “arts initiative” offering grants to artists in Detroit, as report in Art News:

The expansion in Detroit follows a successful run of exhibitions in New York, where Red Bull Arts has staged shows by artists Mel Chin, Bjarne Melgaard, and Rammellzee, among others.

This is a field typically financed by museums or governments and universities yet here the brand is stepping in to help initiative creativity. One could argue, it’s a way for the brand to show it cares about culture… or even to define itself as a cultural leader.

As a brand that is seen at the lead in extreme sports marketing, Red Bull now also now looks ripe to take leadership in culture and events marketing. The opportunities for artistic collaboration, residencies, and creative commons all suggest a changing tide in the way Red Bull is thinking about culture and it’s value to potential users.

Another niche support – intangible cultural heritage.

BMW is another notable big-name player with a very different approach grounded in its CSR strategy. The automobile company been a long-time sponsor of world heritage sites across China, organising an annual tour of (cultural and natural) heritage locations as part of its social responsibility program. This program has been running for over 12 years.


Last month in a conference BMW discussed how the BMW China Culture Journey would now focus not only on culture, but culture and tourism with a new emphasis on poverty alleviation for its 2018 tour.

“As the iconic program of BMW strategic corporate social responsibility, BMW China Culture Journey has constantly upgraded its vision, and leverages BMW’s brand influence to build a bridge between traditional culture and modern society”.


Agencies for cultural marketing

Taking a further look, it’s not just the brands where we see this trend, it’s also marking the rise of cultural marketing agencies. For example, AGW is a media house focused on cultural marketing and seeing huge growth in the past year.

“Founded in 2013, the Brooklyn-based cultural marketing and communications agency has quickly emerged as a trailblazer in the space, credited with spearheading award-winning initiatives for a decorated roster of clients that includes Red Bull, HBO, Conde Nast, Armani Exchange and MTV”.

And although they were founded only 5 years ago in 2013, they have made headlines with Forbes in 2017 for their focus on the cultural space and myriad accompanying awards.

If their success is anything to judge by, this is a human insight and emotional reality that is here to stay, and almost without limits.

Whether it is within a party-all-night, a travel message linked to a social cause, or simply shared intercultural understanding, there seems to be something changing in the world of commercial advertising & cultural support.

Whilst “Cultural Marketing” as a formal branding strategy and focus is still niche, it has the potential to blaze its way to the forefront of brand-building in the near future.

As it dominoes, it will be interesting to see which brands are the fastest to adapt it into their communication.