The era of culture-led brands

Cultural relevance must be brought upstream in brand and brand strategy, writes Platform13’s Leila Fataar

Leila Fataar

Founder, CEO & CSO Platform13


Recently there have been a multitude of posts on Linkedin about AI, the future of ‘the agency’, that ‘brand’ and ‘creativity’ are dead. There have been debates around brand vs performance marketing, data vs media; and for me, once again, adland is misunderstanding what cultural relevance is.

Here’s a secret - it’s all connected.

Cultural relevance as a growth driver

So, let’s start with my definition of a culturally relevant brand. Having worked with, and for, some of the world's biggest global brands for just under 30 years and been told by people I respect that my type and body of work consistently resonates, I feel like I have some expertise here. I have always seen “culture” as the stuff of life, a reflection of reality, a global connector of communities and intersectional audiences. This rhythm of life has always intertwined heritage, identity, lifestyle, politics, technology, unspoken codes and so on. It’s what we see, what we do, what we wear, what we listen to, how we act, how we communicate, who we connect with.

I refer to a brand being “culturally relevant” when a variety of people (internal and external audiences) engage with, advocate for, work for and/or buy that brand’s products or services at any time (this may or may not be only your target audience or in your traditional campaign cycle). Culture-led brands do this because they deeply connect with intersectional audiences within the cultural context of what is happening in their own, and the wider world, credibly. It’s emotional, it makes people feel something. It doesn’t always have to be worthy, but it pushes things forward. For brands, this means consistently being in conversation positively, but not necessarily always on or in the places that can be ‘measured’. This means that adland has for the longest time considered cultural relevance a marketing nice to have.

But, done right, cultural relevance fosters curiosity and a possibilities mindset. It breaks the traditional formulas and pushes creativity in the places and spaces where the audiences are. Externally, a culture-led brand attracts and engages existing, latent and new audiences (both from a talent, advocate and consumer perspective) and can drive sustained growth beyond its category and target consumers. To do this, cultural relevance must be brought upstream in brand and brand strategy.

On the future of agencies

Throughout my career, I have always curated a crack team of specialists, assembled according to lived experience and discipline expertise from the brand category and the culture it's trying to be part of. In-house, I was able to tweak traditional hiring and procurement processes, to usher in the diverse voices and perspectives I needed to work with.

What Adland doesn't understand is that cultural relevance has and will always be about this input. This, in turn, delivers culturally relevant output across whatever medium is relevant for your audience, in the spaces, formats and in the creative language (and I don’t mean slang) of that generation. And yes, it could include traditional OOH and TV too. What it’s never been is about just putting a culturally relevant person in your ad or campaign.

I created Platform13 to answer challenges faced by big brands in the ever-changing world of consumer behaviour, technology advancements, creative innovation and the swiftly moving cultural landscape. I saw a gap that big brand agencies back then did and (still) cannot deliver. And I knew this because I was brand side. First, as Global PR, Social and Content Director for Adidas Originals then on the leadership team at Diageo, creating and heading up their first Culture & Entertainment department across Europe, working across their portfolio of big brands: Guinness, Baileys, Smirnoff, Gordons, Johnnie Walker and Tanqueray. Before working for these global heavyweights, I launched and ran a boutique agency focused on youth culture, integrating online, social and traditional comms for 10 years, learning on the job with no formal education in ‘marketing’.

This unique mash-up has helped to make me fluent in three languages - culture, corporate and entrepreneurial with curiosity my superpower, guerilla-style marketing my training and a global network of cultural voices, creators, creatives and experts who shape, represent and influence culture.

Evolving the playbooks

Culture, in the sense that I used it above, is living and breathing, always changing and evolving. All our work starts with finding a brand's cultural positioning using a methodology that unlocks the credible role that only a single brand, product and/or service can play for its audience. It sounds simple, but it's not easy.

We answer audiences, communities and fans needs’ through real world insights and collaboration with and from our diverse and global network. Our ongoing cultural intelligence service continues to read and analyse relevant shifts specific to the brand's cultural positioning. This empowers us with our clients to flex their brand plans, create audience resonate content and experiences, innovate products and services, explore new media and platforms, experiment with emerging commerce and even evolve their business models accordingly. The right insight and actions helps to mitigate risk internally and to creatively drive reach and relevance, hype and depth, numbers & nuance externally.

I have noticed that brands continue to use the demographics of Boomer, GenX, Millennial, GenZ, Alpha, Beta and so on, but for me, it's always been about mindsets affected by era-defining politics, societal norms and technological adoption, no matter your age. These cultural shifts impact us all, and for brands, their response to these shifts is reflected both through the business and out to its consumers. In this era, with uncertainty, the only certainty, monumental global political and societal dynamics and the threat and promise of an AI-powered future, a new approach to brands and business is needed. For me, it feels like a culture-led approach.

Guest Author

Leila Fataar

Founder, CEO & CSO Platform13


A renowned brand builder and business innovator, Leila Fataar has over two decades of senior leadership experience at the intersection of culture, creativity and commerce, underpinned by a commitment to authenticity and advocacy for inclusive representation throughout the advertising, marketing and communications industries. A pioneer of the cultural branding blueprint with her rare ability to speak the languages of culture, corporate and entrepreneurial, she has spearheaded an approach from the boardroom to the billboard that positions cultural relevance not only as a marketing nice-to-have, but also as a key business growth driver. Working globally both brand-side, in senior positions at adidas and Diageo, and through her owned companies across multiple categories, her expertise lies in the ability to read the cultural zeitgeist and signals and translate it into compelling brand strategies that resonate with diverse audiences. Early 2025 sees her unique perspective distilled in her first book “Culture-Led Brands".

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Culture brand strategy