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Advertising and Cultural Moments

By Eric Schmitt | July 03, 2019 | 0 Comments

MarketingadvertisingContent MarketingSocial Marketing

Cultural moments have been called “the intersection of trends and brands”, and connecting what you do, as a brand, to your specific audience’s culture, not what is trending in culture”. Through the eyes of the advertiser, cultural moments often translate to opportunity — the chance to deliver a message and influence a target audience. 

Moments manifest in many ways.  The may be lighthearted, one-offs like the Instagram egg. Or they may cluster in a series of events associated with substantial societal change – think #MeToo. Moments may be scheduled in advance, but not always go off as hoped, as some Superbowl advertisers have found. On the other hand, they may be improvised and turn out great, as in the case of Arby’s classic Pharrell hat episode at the 2014 Grammys.  

To take advantage of moments — as with any advertising opportunity — it’s crucial to start with an understanding of your intended audience.  Use this knowledge as a filter to screen out moments that don’t bring target audience scale or relevance. If you’re selling trendy athletic accessories to college students, February’s National Pistachio Day is probably not the moment to make your move. Perhaps better to wait until April 18th, when National High Five Day rolls around (for a cheatsheet of social media days, take a look here). 

The absolute scale of a moment matters, but alignment is at least as important.  If the overlap between people engaged in a moment and your target audience is high enough, scale matters less. Smaller moments that don’t break through to the mainstream — call them subcultural moments — may be especially valuable if they engage your target audience. 

Take the eSports/videogames segment, which orbits around the Gen Z set. It’s no coincidence that student loan marketers can be found advertising around Fortnite events (moments) — with one brand even going so far as to undertake a survey of the game’s players.  Smart move in an era when aspiring students can button mash their way into a Fortnite college scholarship.

Moments are time-sensitive. Effectively harnessing them for advertising requires readiness and agility. Creative (even if only 280 characters worth) must be built. Brand advocates may be mobilized. Social media managers, ad ops, search and perhaps even live streaming production crews must be ready. Leadership buy-in must be secured on short notice.

Executive oversight is especially helpful when it comes to exercising impulse control — a critical skill in moment advertising. Cautionary tales related to lack of restraint are not hard to find.  For example, when Zion Williamson’s Nike sneaker catastrophically failed in this year’s Duke-UNC matchup, other sneaker brands pounced.  At least one regretted the decision, as evidenced by the telltale deleted tweet.

When it comes to risk and moments advertising, perhaps the greatest downside is getting pulled into a polarized debate that splits one’s own target audience.  Danger, Will Robinson! To mitigate this risk, incorporate sociopolitical affiliation into your target audience segmentation, and determine when to join the cultural conversation by assessing consumer perceptions of contentious issues. For more guidance on this critical topic, take a look at “Best Practices for Navigating Brand Activism in a Polarized Era” (Gartner clients only).

In closing, consider some outstanding words of wisdom (ok, questions of wisdom) from my colleague Nicole Greene. They were written in the context of content marketing trends, but are every bit as applicable to cultural moments advertising.  Before you jump on that moment and click Post, Tweet or Publish, be sure to ask and answer the following:


  • Is your brand relevant and credible in this space?
  • Is commenting on this societal issue consistent with your company values?
  • Can your brand’s voice make a difference in the conversation?
  • Can you maintain a consistent position in similar culturally relevant moments to build your credibility and increase your exposure to like-minded consumers?
  • What is the appropriate timing of your response to this issue, with many societal issues ongoing?


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