by Jabulani Sigege (@papa_action) Every marketer’s dream is to be able to influence pop culture or ride the wave and turn it into a thriving social campaign. If a brand can recognise the right opportunity at the right time, the effects can be immense.

Keep it real

Over the past decade, brands have come to realise that they can no longer talk at people — they have to talk to them (think Pepsi with Kendall Jenner vs Nike’s “Dream Crazier”). That said, pop culture isn’t something that can just be marketed as if you’re selling a can of soup. People are creators of pop culture by liking the things they see and sharing that with their friends. You can market a product but you can’t market the notion of pop culture.

So how may marketers use something that they didn’t come up with and that can’t be marketed to their advantage? By harnessing the influence of pop culture for social good by looking at five key areas:

  • Representation: encouraging diversity in pop culture both on- and off-screen
  • Authenticity: supporting the profile of sincere, genuine voices
  • Normalisation: inserting messages in our social circles over time that change the narrative and move society forward
  • Relationships: creating points of intersection beyond and within sectors
  • Novelty: tapping into the zeitgeist and leveraging (not merely using) influencers

Getting it right

Tapping into the latter can go horribly wrong if a brand forces an issue that isn’t aligned with its values and guided by its mission statement. A brand that certainly got it right was Jungle Oats after the season finale of the last season of Game of Thrones.

Second nature

What’s clear is that brands don’t need teams who necessarily dip in and out of pop culture but rather those who are already immersed in it. Pop culture must be second nature to them. But that doesn’t mean the creative teams should simply jump on the bandwagon — they must have a solid understanding of the brand’s strategy. When the creative team is clear about the brand’s philosophy and values, it’s easier to come up with tactical ideas that are appropriate and impactful.

The thing with pop culture is that it moves so fast, it’s almost like hopping onto a moving train (ukulathaza, for those who grew up in Cape Town). If you try to hop onto the train in the wrong way, you’re going to take a tumble. A hard one which you may struggle to recover from. But, if you time it correctly and you have the right technique, you can get on and have a smooth ride with minimal effort.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself (and your brand)

So, before you jump onto the bandwagon, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do your brand values align with what it is you want to ride? Can you join the conversation credibly?
  • When you speak, do you sound authentic?
  • What purpose does it serve for your brand, or do you simply want to be part of the conversation?
  • Does it help you elevate that aspect of the pop culture you are talking about and amplify it in a positive way?
  • Does it allow your brand to be relevant and resonate with the topical issue?

At the end of the day, culture will consume your brand if you don’t have the capital to be part of the conversation and you think you can manipulate it to your own end.


Jabulani SigegeJabulani Sigege (@papa_action) is executive creative director at Hero, a full-service advertising agency based in Cape Town. He’s picked up a few tricks while working at some of South Africa’s most-iconic agencies, plus a few accolades along the way, including Cannes Lions, Loeries, Bookmark, Pendoring, One Show and APEX awards.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

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