How brands are tapping into the cultural zeitgeist

Brainwave Communications Ltd.

Source: Think with Google

Everyone wants to be a part of the cultural zeitgeist, but that’s easier said than done, especially for brands. Whereas in the past, brands were in tune with and even influenced culture, today it can feel like they’re constantly trying to “catch up”.

So how can brands engage in cultural conversations in a genuine, authentic way? By teaming up with YouTube creators who are immersed in relevant subcultures and contributing to popular trends. Here’s how three YouTube Works award winners did just that — and three lessons for those looking to do the same.

1. Put a new spin on trends

Sometimes the best way to connect with people is to surprise them with something unexpected.

As an organization that focuses on the underreported issue of modern day slavery, the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) wanted to connect with people on an emotional level to raise awareness about forced labor. Often hidden in the supply chains of the fashion, beauty, and tech industries, over 40 million people are trapped in conditions of slavery around the world, more than in all of recorded human history combined.

To highlight the realities of modern slavery for a younger audience, TRF teamed up with TBWA\Chiat\Day New York to launch “Unboxing the Truth,” a powerful campaign that hijacked the phenomenon of unboxing videos to expose the hidden human price of popular products. TRF and TBWA knew that one in five consumers watches unboxing videos as part of their purchase journey. So it sent three symbolic, custom-designed products to well-known unboxing vloggers.

2. Build on existing cultural momentum

As marketers, it can be tempting to want to move on to the next big idea or jump into something new after launching a campaign. But if the campaign yields success, it can be better to build on and evolve it.

That’s what the team at Liquid-Plumr, a drain cleaner, discovered in its recent campaign. After noticing the rise of influencers performing grossly intriguing and humorous experiments, the brand collaborated with Vat19, a popular YouTube channel known for producing outrageous challenge videos, to showcase the disgusting and captivating process of unclogging pipes.

Using YouTube’s popular “Will It” format, which looks at whether seemingly impossible or unlikely things are indeed possible, the team created a video series that asked “Will It Clog?” Staying true to the formula, the videos featured down-and-dirty depictions of extreme clogs, while also evoking a sense of relief when the clog was cleared.

3. Show, don’t tell

What better approach to help potential customers understand your product’s value add than to show the product being used by real people in everyday situations?

Instead of creating a traditional ad, Samsung created an entire video series called Make. The brand enlisted famous YouTube creators to show Gen Zers that its Galaxy smartphone is the best one for creating video content. The resulting series paired the established creators with newer up-and-comers and showcased them doing things like reviewing scripts and shooting footage — all on their Samsung Galaxy smartphones.

“At the core of Make was photography and videography,” said Lyle Underkoffler, vice president of digital at Samsung Electronics America. “The campaign felt organic between our brand and the creators because our product was only part of the story, not the story itself.”

According to Samsung, 17% of those who were exposed to the ads were more likely to purchase the Galaxy as their next phone. “We wanted to break away from traditional ad formats and lean into the best content for the platform,” said Underkoffler. “This campaign allowed us the flexibility to learn what resonated and continue to improve.”