Thought Leadership

Are brands doing enough to consider cultural context within the work?

In an age of uncertainty and crisis we asked industry leaders if brands need to have more cultural awareness.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


As organisations and individuals, we operate in a state of perpetual crisis. Conflict unfolds in real-time across social media channels. The climate crisis underlines the extremes in which people fight to exist and have their opinions heard.

For marketers, this constant change and challenge provides more than just the backdrop to their work. It underlines the chaos, contradiction and challenges that their consumers have to live with every single day of their lives. With consumers exposed to so many sharp edges in their lives, marketers need to think harder about the cultural context within which their work appears.

The advertising industry has long been criticised for existing in a London-centric bubble. Cushioned from the economic and emotional realities of the cost of living crisis. Yet beyond the surface-level analysis of media-fuelled ‘culture wars’ often completely disconnected from the reality of consumers' lives, there is clearly a universal need for brands to embrace both sensitivity and inclusion in their communications. With this in mind we asked industry leaders: are brands doing enough to consider cultural context within the work?

Jeremy Page

Jeremy Page KWT.jpeg

Executive Vice President, Global Director of Creative

KWT Global

With all the tools we now have available for insight, the time for guessing what motivates consumers is over. Tools using AI to aggregate consumer behavioural insight coupled with robust social listening tools can give us real-time data that we can use to inform strategic creative. This can then be used to go beyond individual campaign cycles to create overarching brand narratives or aligned affiliations, which helps brands build authenticity and maintain success. Listening has always been essential, and brands that fully understand the zeitgeist and accurately predict trends and on-coming headwinds can be agile in preparation and precise in response. Meeting the right person with the right product at a competitive price point at the right time to elicit the best possible reception has long since been the foundation of fundamental marketing best practices. What’s exciting in the current climate is that the answers you need to find to reach this foundation are easier to reach than ever before – at least they are with the proper guidance.

Stefania Paolini

stefania, clockwork.jpg

Strategy Director


It’s 2024 and the ideology of monolithic cultures has been merrily swept away, dissipated in a TikTok chuckle. However, when it comes down to cultural effectiveness, the advertising chasm to be bridged is still yawning.

A significant blocker is the preconception that cultural strategy is somehow a luxury while it is of paramount importance because consumers appreciate brands that demonstrate an understanding and respect for their cultural backgrounds. As a report by Edelman found, 81% of consumers believe that brands must "know, understand, and reflect their culture" to gain their trust.

It is good for business, too, a McKinsey study revealed that companies with diverse cultural perspectives in their marketing strategies were 35% more likely to have above-average financial returns.

Strategies to promote cultural effectiveness are indeed readily available and more intuitive than expected. We know that all too well at Clockwork, with 45+ markets across five continents to take care of within the Xbox International account alone.

Some impactful tactics we have adopted to help us be more culturally effective span from straightforward, operational changes – like establishing monitored feedback loops for local teams to advise in real time – to some more strategic processes like never skipping the research stage when planning campaigns or activations.

Most importantly, at Clockwork we enjoy an inherent and unshakeable agency culture of representation and inclusivity that is the bedrock of anything we do and stand for.

Lara Ferris

Lara Ferris, Spring Studios.jpg

Senior Strategist

Spring Studios

In a specific corner of the internet where I like to hang out, audiences are bombarded with diverse and emergent trends daily, from “mob wife” to “red tights”, “bows” and “corecore”. The ever-lengthening list creates pressure for clients working in fashion, or wanting to position themselves as appealing to tastemakers. It creates a feeling of panic: should we be responding to these cultural shifts with a new campaign, product drop or stunt?

Yet these conversations happen in isolation, with little to no awareness of socio-political contexts, not to mention the carbon impact of “buy more, buy new, buy now”. As well as this, the frenzied switching between trends results a flattening of individual voices. Fashion critic Marjon Carlos called this out in her February Substack: “why did we all look alike all of a damn sudden?” And if that’s true for people, it’s also true for over-reactive brands.

At Spring, we encourage our clients to take a brand-centric approach to culture: what is going on in the world that’s connected to brand values, and which also matters to our audience? We use this question to identify relevant progressive cultural themes, and create meaning around them that lasts.

Harriet Tavener

Harriet Tavener, Strategist at Mr. President.jpg


Mr. President

No matter how much cultural context is in a brief, it’s human nature to draw upon our own lived experiences when making decisions. I know this because of my frequent screeching of "LONDON HATS OFF" in creative reviews. Marketing and agency folk alike need to operate outside of our own bubble. We need a broader perspective to understand our audiences. One way that we as an agency ensure that wider cultural context is considered within our work is through a game where we spot the "bullsh*t" trend among three legitimate ones - from male birth control pills to Shamanism as Britain's fastest-growing religion, you name it. This exercise keeps us creative and grounded beyond the confines of our own lifestyles.

When it comes to working with brands, it's critical to hone in on whose cultural context we want to play a role in. For example, a campaign by Mr. President for Bumble zoomed in on pandemic daters who were dealing with the challenges of lockdown dating and navigating emerging social sensitivities. Responding to this seismic shift required our ears to the ground and constant input from a diverse range of people to ensure it landed. It’s a planner's job to keep close to the audience, to truly understand what can best resonate with a particular audience amidst the volatility.

Niki Hunter

Niki, Splendid.jpg

Group Impact Officer


Brands should spend time figuring out what they stand for and if purpose has a role to play in their brand. They should build guiding principles that steer what conversations they will or won’t get involved in, rather than trying to react as and when world or local incidents happen.

But even with strong guidelines in place, there may be times when they need to adapt or pull comms if it would appear tone deaf or insensitive. I believe that PR is the best channel to give consultancy on this as we are firmly rooted in the real world and not the brand world.

It always amazes me how many people in marketing don’t follow the news agenda. But most PR experts follow the news daily - to look at what opportunities there are for earned coverage but also to see if there is anything in the hard news agenda that we need to consider in our pitching, either reactively or as guardians of a brand’s reputation. We never want to look tone deaf – to journalists or consumers.  This real world thinking provides valuable insight into what messaging is or isn’t ok to put out across all channels.

Wendy Tang

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Business Director

The Ninety-Niners

In the real world, people don’t care about brands or advertising. They care about their lives, their communities and their culture. Over the last decade or so, we’ve seen too many campaigns focussed on the brand’s own interests or lofty, purpose-driven initiatives, rather than day-to-day, broader areas of cultural interest.

However, we are now starting to see a shift, and we believe 2024 will be the year that many marketers put mainstream culture back at the heart of their strategies. It’s not easy to get under the skin of what is culturally relevant as it’s ever evolving. Only by listening, observing and speaking with real people can you create authentic work that resonates with them. Some great examples of this are EE’s ‘Learn has tools to help every kid on any network’, JD’s ‘The Bag of Life’ 2023 Christmas advert and our own Dole ‘Add some WOW to your Full English’ campaign.

Allan Blair

Allan Blair, Senior Vice President, Head of Strategy & Post Creative Strategist - VaynerMedia EMEA.png

Senior Vice President, Head of Strategy & Post Creative Strategist

VaynerMedia EMEA

Brands play a significant role in shaping cultural narratives, and in today's rapidly changing world, they must consider cultural context in their work. But what does culture truly mean? Some believe that hiring a cultural strategist to advise them on the hottest rapper, street style influencer, or hipster chef to adorn their campaign is enough. But a true understanding of culture goes much deeper. There is a difference between culture and appropriation. Not understanding that is reflected in the work, which ends up being a crass ad being wedged into people’s feeds and ruining their scrolling experience.

Our focus and expertise on Platforms and Culture (PAC) is vital to what we do. It underscores the importance of the nuances of different platforms and the conversations happening on them. We study the real conversations people are having around your brand, your competitors, and your category and then combine it with our knowledge of how the platforms, their features and algorithms can influence those conversations.

We do this by living in social media - absorbing the conversations and conducting deep quantitative and qualitative analysis. It enables us to get a better understanding of who the audiences are, how they’re fragmented, where niches are, and how we can authentically augment and influence existing conversations.

Culture is about participating - being part of something, bringing value to your audience - and too many brands still want to be the star of the show. It’s about understanding that in a fragmented media landscape, different sub communities exist on different platforms, all having different conversations. That means making content for each of them that resonates with what they are already consuming and sharing. They are the judges of what makes your brand relevant and authentic, not what happens in a boardroom. Real culture means listening and letting go - it’s not just a badging exercise with the latest influencer.