The importance of culture in advertising

Earlier this month our Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships APAC Greg Fournier, and P&G’s Associate Brand Director Dominique Touchaud took to the stage at FUTR’s Asia Summit in Singapore. They delivered a brilliant presentation on the role of culture in advertising, and how it can define success or failure in marketing campaigns in Asia.

The presentation was delivered to a packed room, and the pair received great feedback from a number of audience members on their theories, insights and examples.

Over the next few paragraphs we’ve pulled out some of the key messages and takeaways from their presentation, with a number of ad examples, including one of our all time favourite ads from HSBC.

Why does culture matter?

Culture is informed by a society’s customs and traditions. It’s revealed through a society’s artistic and intellectual achievements, and is maintained by a series of behavioural codes passed down from generation to generation.

Paying attention to culture in advertising is extremely important for brands that work on a global scale, especially if your brand is working in markets that are culturally different to where they are based. Messages, symbols, rituals and even colours can have significantly different meanings and messages across cultures.

We’ll let HSBC break it down for you…

Head & Shoulders in Israel

P&G did a great job of leveraging culture in their 2015 campaign for Head & Shoulders that ran in Israel. In the Jewish tradition before Passover, Jews search their homes for any crumbs of bread which, according to tradition, must be eliminated. By leveraging this insight P&G made the search for flakes of dandruff a new addition to the tradition!

They did this by sponsoring Passover kits, which included Head & Shoulders samples, and made them available for free. P&G achieved a seamless brand association which fitted both the cultural moment and the brand truth. After this campaign market share for the shampoo grew 35% year-on-year. As a result, sales of Head & Shoulders in Israel have remained high as consumers recognise the purpose of the product and become familiar with using it as part of their daily routines!

Storks and peaches

The above is a great example of how P&G used cultural knowledge to grow sales. There have however been times when the company has got it wrong. One famous campaign which P&G ran for Pampers in the mid-1970s completely flopped in Japan as the nappy brand hadn’t paid attention to the country’s culture. The ad in question saw a stork fly through the air to deliver nappies to a mum.

While the image of a stork delivering newborn children is understood in the US and Europe, it’s not a universal idea. Unfortunately for P&G, the idea of storks delivering babies doesn’t exist in Japan.  Instead Japanese folklore tells of newborns arriving courtesy of a giant peach floating down the river, which seems a far safer method than stork-powered air travel. Peaches, not storks, bring the babies in Japan, and consumers responded by ignoring the ad. 

Seeing things differently

Assumptions about different cultures vary greatly depending on where in the world you’re from. In one study a group of people from Japan and Mexico were asked what they thought of Americans. The Japanese said they were relaxed, friendly, spontaneous, uninhibited, emotional and impulsive. The Mexicans said they were hurried, serious, reserved, restrained, composed and methodical. Researching your target market is extremely important before you run an ad campaign. Even if you think you know about the market you are targeting.

Another thing to remember when looking at different cultures is that their perceptions of the world and what they see can vary vastly. This can be seen through the Michigan Fish test (yes, this is an actual thing). Take a look at this image…

How would you describe it?

Americans referred to the attributes of the target fish saying they saw; ‘three big fish heading left’. The Japanese referred to the background and contextual information as well as the target fish attributes saying; ‘there is a pond where you see some seaweed, there are big and small bass swimming, and a small frog and snail are at the bottom. This test shows the broad spectrum of interpretations that are possible when they’re shaped by culture.

Culture connections

Unruly recently partnered with Mediacom to carry out research around culture connections to reveal insight into the national psyche that underpins consumer attitudes. We categorised the research into nine dimensions, split between how people feel and how people act. This research allows us to see the correlation between emotions and culture in advertising.

If we look at the ‘Identity’ dimension as an example, it measures the strength of a nation’s self-image. ‘Fixed’ societies have very clear identities rooted in tradition; they see no reason to change or evolve. Examples include Venezuela and Colombia. ‘Flexible’ countries, however, are always looking to adapt and improve. They might have traditional values, but they are interested in moving with the times. Examples include Japan and Taiwan.

1 Cannes Winner… 3 Territories

Our UnrulyEQ team recently analysed the following P&G Libresse Blood ad which was a winner at this year’s Cannes Lions festival, in order to discover how it resonated with audiences. Take a look at the ad and think about how it makes you feel.

By looking at the correlation between emotion and culture the team found that because the UK has an individualistic culture. One of the overriding emotions when people watched it was of confusion as the ad is based around a collective of women battling against their body. For many women in the UK this is not an issue, and not something that they would necessarily talk about or embrace with others.

However, in collective cultures like India and Singapore, the ad evokes emotions of inspiration and pride as the message and feeling of collectiveness resonates with women from these cultures. How did you feel when watching this ad? Do you think the emotions you felt reflect the culture you live in? It’s important to remember that even the best videos in the world don’t always perform well across borders. Although Libresse Blood was a Cannes Gold Lion winner, it had very different emotional responses in UK, India and Singapore.

Emotions are often informed by culture and as we know, emotions drive engagement, brand recall, and purchase intent. Understanding and quantifying culture in advertising helps to define the relevant emotional palette a brand can use with a particular audience.

What have we learnt?
  • The interplay of cultural dimensions in advertising is hugely complex!
  • Ads can perform very differently even in cultures which are perceived to be more or less similar.
  • Never assume – examine for cultural resonance on an ad-by-ad basis.

We’ll leave you with an ad from Vicks that was one of our favourites from last year, which really illustrates the emotional and cultural learnings on India.

Want to know more about the link between emotions and culture in advertising? Click here to get in touch.

The IAB’s newest London event takes place next week. The Nonference (1 November, Tobacco Dock) is designed to be an interactive conference about the digital world, featuring a mix of famous names and emerging talent from across the industry.

Presenting ‘The art, science and superpower of emotions’, Unruly’s resident emotional insight boffin Rebecca Waring, VP Insight, will chair a panel that explores the different ways emotional data can be captured, choreographed and decoded. Partnering with our friends over at Visualogical (artists Victoria Westerman and Natasha Gertler), this session will be unmissable for anyone interested in understanding emotions and how they can be harnessed.

Visualogical is an interactive digital workshop that premiered at London Art Night in July, which harnesses the power of group collaboration and artificial intelligence to create collective art. Using word association, archetypal symbolism and colour psychology, Visualogical allows you to illustrate your mind, giving you the unique opportunity to walk away with your very own psyche self-portrait (pictured).

Rebecca will share a sneak preview of Unruly’s latest research about how emotions can drive brand building and customer actions, as well as show how Unruly’s emotional testing and targeting can deliver fantastic results for advertisers.

The Nonference takes place on 1 November at Tobacco Dock, London. Visit the IAB for more information.

Many say premium publishers have been disintermediated from their audiences by programmatic buying and selling. However, since GDPR  landed, browsers have clamped down on 3rd party cookies and initiatives like ads.txt and ads.cert have taken a hold. The practices adopted by the buy side to find premium audiences are being challenged and publishers are very much back in the driving seat.

At our Unruly Trust Talks: The Great Programmatic Debate coming up in the UK, we decided to take a look back at last month’s one in New York where Unruly COO Kenneth Suh spoke to Chris Guenther, Global head of programmatic at NewsIQ, Brendan Cleary, VP of Programmatic Sales at The Guardian, and Rachel Tuffney, Head of Financial Vertical Sales at Dow Jones, to find out their thoughts on this matter.

Has programmatic changed your business for better or for worse?

Rachel Tuffney (RT): For us at Dow Jones, programmatic is an enabler. We always have to go back to what the consumer wants. When programmatic first started out it was all about ad networks and cheap CPMs. It has evolved so drastically now, and with the application of AI, I think there is a lot of opportunity. Having worked for publishers for the past 20 years, I really think this is an exciting time for our industry. In the past six months there’s been more change than there has in the past five years!

Chris Guenther (CG): I think from the client perspective it’s great. It has given them the ability to manage campaigns more seamlessly across multiple publishers, and get the results in a cohesive manner. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but if you think through what digital is supposed to be about (accountability and ease of transaction) then programmatic is helping the industry to achieve this.

Brendan Cleary (BC): I think it has changed for the better. Granted there are some issues, however there are no other industries that enable businesses to monetise on sold inventory as seamlessly as we are able to do now.

Kenneth Suh (KS): What we’ve noticed at Unruly, within the world of programmatic advertising, is that sometimes it seems like it levels the playing field. This means there is a premium to be paid for premium publishers pre-programmatic. One of the growing issues we see is where buyers have a block list and as long as you’re not on the block list your content is seen as fine. This can devalue your property in a way that you may not have wanted it to.

What issues do you see premium publishers who invest lots of money and time in maintaining a level of premium content for their audiences facing?

RT: From our perspective, The Wall Street Journal has been a membership site since 1997 so for us we’ve always had a different revenue stream coming in. The data we collect and offer from a first party perspective is extremely valuable. We have a very wealthy audience, and everybody wants to be in front of that audience. As a result there is a premium associated with that.

I oversee the financial services which is a very select audience for brands to try and get in front of. It’s also not just about being in front of audiences. There’s also huge value in being associated with premium brands. Being aligned and partnered with The Wall Street Journal has a lot of value.

CG: When programmatic first started, everyone bought into impressions and that’s why it didn’t matter about the exchange. As long as you had the lowest CPM and you got a good number of impressions people were happy.

Now that there are so many complex insights and measurement tools, people have realised that although their impressions are high, it doesn’t mean that their ads are being shown to the right people. Brands are also now concerned about ads being shown in environments that they don’t want to be associated with.

With new tools we are able to start to understand more about audiences. It’s still not perfect but it is moving in the right direction. I think that that’s why we are seeing high DSP in premium environments. With the combination of premium content and a good site experience you definitely get a better result than just not really caring where your ad ends up.

panel talking about programmatic at trust talks in New York

How are we going to make programmatic easier for people?

RT: There is so much going on within the programmatic space. With so many different companies working independently, it’s difficult to know where the real issues lie. If we want to improve programmatic we all need to start working together better.

CG: First of all there’s the complexity of the adtech stack. There are players within the ecosystem who thrive based on the complexity and based on the lack of transparency. So how do we remove these players? Ultimately the people with the most influence on the buy side who are the ones with all the money. They need to choose the right path and the right partners. We can then start to remove some of those bad players.

However, you need to be careful when simplifying your adtech stack as it could mean that you are working with a player who has too much influence in the market. One that is very much focused on black box, and not having a fair auction process. We need to figure out how to find the middle ground between too much complexity and too little complexity.

How do you view Google, Facebook and Amazon, and how do they fit in with how you run a successful business?

CG: As a publisher it’s our responsibility to not be complacent and not just go with the easiest partners. If you are primarily working with these companies you need to be monitoring them and their services, and understanding how they are affecting your business and the wider industry.

BC: I think businesses just need to make sure they are working with a variety of different companies and services. Putting all your eggs in one basket means that a change in an algorithm could end your business!

Get in touch to find out more about our verified marketplaces, brand safety shield and programmatic offerings.

Unruly Futurist Elena Corchero talks about her experience at DMEXCO earlier this month, the future of advertising, and how to avoid brand bypass.

This year a lot of the conversations we had were around the future of advertising and the rise of ambient tech. We also spoke about the growth of data produced by humans, and how it’s doubling every year.

Everyone knows that voice technology and voice shopping is on the rise. However, I was surprised about the number of brands who hadn’t considered the implications of brand bypass.

Brand bypass in AI

Companies are using voice assistants, and piggybacking on the tech of Alexa, Google or Messenger to create specialised assistants. A good example of this is Diageo’s “Open the bar”, or Estée Laude offering nutritional advice, where you have the dialogue with the brand, not Alexa. This is one way for brands to avoid the brand bypass.

It’s a big issue. I spoke to a lot of people about the new B2B: bot to bot. In the future new AI applications will take over interaction, negotiation and even advertising which will lead to the elimination of choice for consumers. Just think it through: the first brand you choose comes into your connected home, and there are going to be many barriers to switch that brand out for another.

Imagine your fridge has image recognition. It knows what brands you have on the shelves so when you run out of juice, the fridge and home AI reorder the same juice for delivery. So when are you going to switch brands? It’s going to take significant energy to get in the way of that bot to bot transition.

Brand bypass in voice

Another example is that we will order through voice but not mention a specific brand. This means our AI will default to our usual choice. Appliances are partnering with cleaning brands so they can already come pre-programmed to order specific chemicals such as detergent or dishwasher tablets.

Finish, smart dishwasher

It’s clear we need to understand how to use these technologies to create stronger brand and emotional connections, and also how these technologies can allow people to switch brands when they know something better is available.

Brand bypass in image recognition

Brand bypass is also an issue in image recognition. Google had an enormous stand at DMEXCO showing image recognition technology. I checked it out and it was a surprise to me to see how many brands had not considered the impact of this. Not least the value of the data which the image search platforms will generate. They will know exactly what people are searching for and buying to a highly accurate level. This sort of data can impact the manufacturing chain. Pinterest gets around 600,000 visual searches a month, so consumers are ahead of brands on this!

All the ambient technologies were on show at DMEXCO. For me, voice is where the action is. Primarily because the car will drive voice adoption. New cars are increasingly voice enabled, so when you leave the car and don’t have that assistance, you’re going to miss it!avoiding brand bypass in voice activated cars

Ambient tech awareness

Strangely, as I talked people through the implications of voice, AR and AI technologies, the most common question I was asked was “is this out now?”

Many people, senior brand marketers among them, didn’t realise how these ‘futuristic’ things were actually here now, even in a mature market like Germany. And where there was some awareness of ambient tech, there was very little first-hand experience.

It reaffirmed the role the Home plays in telling the story of ambient technology, which is essential if brands are going to build effective consumer relationships and deliver effective, relevant and timely advertising. The future of advertising is already here!

Unruly futurists Elena Corchero and Leo Bernard

Find out more about our connected home, and book in a tour with one of our Futurists.

Viral phenomenons don’t come much bigger than the defining pop culture release of 2016, Niantic’s Pokémon Go. 

In case you’ve been living under a Geodude for the last few weeks, Pokémon Go is the latest iteration of Nintendo’s gaming franchise that won over heart, minds and wallets in the late nineties and early noughties.

Now transferred to smartphones, the game uses augmented reality (AR) to map the fantasy of Pokéstops, Gyms and random encounters with mystical creatures onto our own humdrum world.