How Brands, Not Institutions, Can Drive Culture
It’s no longer enough to make the best product and push it out to consumers; brands are expected to stand for something more.
For most of human history, public institutions have shaped, if not controlled, the building blocks of culture – the language, arts, conventions, beliefs and knowledge that bring meaning to our social lives. That influence is on the decline; now, commerce and our collective spending patterns play an increasingly important role as consumers voice their beliefs and values through the brands they choose to buy. At the same time, trust in and expectations of traditional institutions are declining, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.
This shift has great implications for brands, as their ability to sell products and services is no longer an introspective look at what makes their product the fastest, lightest, cheapest or best looking and pushing that out to consumers. Rather, it reflects a new reality in which brands are expected to meaningfully participate in broader cultural conversations – a role once filled primarily by institutions like government, religion and academia. This is in addition to being additive community members, as 75 percent of global consumers now expect brands to contribute to their well-being and quality of life.
There are a multitude of ways in which brands are doing this, from preserving and promoting art, as textile company Kvadrat and Korean eyewear brand Gentle Monster do, to intentionally creating social hubs that serve as “third spaces” offering cultural programming that drives how a city or community sees itself, as Apple’s Town Squares and Mini’s A/D/O are designed to do.