Does your brand have ‘cultural traction’?

Marketers are taking a new route to connect with consumers – culture. Many of the world’s largest brands are infusing themselves into or shaping culture, in a bid to achieve ultimate relevance with consumers and a platform for sustainable growth.

A study from WPP-owned research firm, Added Value, measured the cultural vibrancy of 160 brands across 15 sectors to establish which brands are winning the race for ‘cultural traction’. The research found the usual suspects, like Google, Apple and Coca-Cola, ranked highly, while uncovering a huge slide in traction for Facebook, a diminishing relevance of alcohol brands and the social responsibility success story behind Dove.

Culturally vibrant brands are those perceived to have the best ‘VIBE’ – a measure built from the brand’s performance in being ‘visionary’, ‘inspiring’, ‘bold’ and ‘exciting’. Great brands know culture is the currency of our conversations and invest in marketing to stay ahead of the conversation, Maggie Taylor, chief executive of Added Value, North America, says.

“Today, more than ever, it is critical that brands stay apace of culture,” Taylor explains. “Why? Because as much as consumers can tell you about how the world is changing, the world can often tell you a lot more about the consumers of tomorrow. It’s one thing to be a culturally vibrant brand in one part of the world; it’s another to maintain that vibrancy at high amplitude across the whole world.”

In Australia, technology giants Google, Apple, Sony and Microsoft took out the top four spots. eBay emerged as the top ranking retail brand, followed by Coles which outperformed rival Woolworths. BMW was the highest ranking auto brand, while Red Rock Deli beat Coca-Cola to the title of strongest VIBE for an FMCG brand. Facebook made the list at number 18.

Top 20 culturally vibrant brands in Australia

Most Culturally Vibrant Brands in Australia

Globally, tech titans Google and Apple dominate the VIBE terrain – Google emerging as more inspiring and exciting, Apple as more visionary and bold. They’re joined by other industry innovators, Samsung, Microsoft and eBay, auto brands BMW and Audi, the 130-year old Coca-Cola brand, which proved age is no barrier to cultural relevance, and surprise entrant at number four, Ikea.

Top 10 culturally vibrant brands globally

Most Culturally Vibrant Brands Globally

While Google and Apple clearly dominate, signs of ‘tall poppy syndrome’ are seeping into consumers’ mentality with both starting to lose traction, particularly in the US. The two brands’ VIBE scores have slipped by 8% and 10% respectively in the US compared to last year.

Meanwhile, Apple’s main rival Samsung, fresh off a year as the world’s largest technology company by sales, ranks just behind Apple’s global VIBE score but is more stable across countries. Apple’s VIBE is being pulled into the stratosphere by the devotion it has earned in the US, Western Europe and Australia, the study found.  However, it’s a bumpier road for the brand in Asia, and more tempered in Brazil too.

Facebook suffered the biggest fall in VIBE score out of all the brands surveyed – down 20% in the US – partly as a result of its troubled public listing and outcry over privacy concerns.

The study also found alcohol brands, despite having big budgets, sales and visions, are losing their ‘mojo’ around the globe. Whilst there’s no denying the size and power of the category’s leading brands, the study shows they’re traction diminishing as they face serious challenges to remain culturally relevant. Absolut Vodka was the highest ranking brand globally, at number 26, while Smirnoff, Heineken, Budweiser, Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal also ranked in the top 40.

Dove, which soared clear of main rival Nivea and into sixteenth place overall, was called out as a success story in the report, ranking as the eighth most inspiring brand in the world thanks to its decade-long campaign to build self-esteem.

“At the heart of the top 10 is a belief in the freedom and opportunity to drive the human race forward,” the report concludes. “These brands inspire us to dream. They promote the art of clarity and simplicity. They use creativity to look at things differently. And just because they’re big, doesn’t mean they can’t down with the street.”