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Pop Culture in Marketing - Why and how you need to use it

Jeremy DSouza
last edited on
September 15, 2023
5-6 mins

Table of contents

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Pop culture in marketing

Why bother using pop culture in your marketing efforts?

Playing on popular culture can seriously take your marketing campaigns from average to viral. But you got to do it right. Don’t just hop on every trend that you come across without even checking whether it ties into your brand and what you stand for.

When you do it right though, it can get your audience’s mind to create a connection between the pop culture topic that you’re playing on and your brand, getting them to think about your brand whenever they see the ad… possibly even getting them to tell their circles about your ad or meme whenever there’s a discussion about that pop culture topic.

There’s also a greater chance of people relating to your marketing content and your campaign going viral.

The benefits of incorporating pop culture into your marketing campaigns


You’ll get more attention

If you do it right, you’ll be able to get way more eyeballs on your ad than you could imagine and even drive an enormous amount of traffic to your website.


Your customers will relate to your brand on a deeper level

When you’re true to your message and values and use pop culture topics that tie into those values, you’ll be creating content that makes your target audience stop and think “Man, these guys really get me!”, which is bound to earn you more customers and increase loyalty among your existing customers at the same time.


Your brand will have a personality

You won’t be a company that resembles Apple’s portrayal of Big Blue in its 1984 ad. Nope, your company will feel more like a human, with a soul, a personality, and values that it holds dear. This means that your brand will actually feel approachable, not distant like a big old corporation that’s dead on the inside and only cares about monetary gain.


You’ll open up avenues for soft sells

You won’t seem like you’re just shoving ads down your audience’s throats. It’s not going to feel like one of those brands that just dishes out hard sell after hard sell after hard sell. Instead, you’re going to be a brand that pushes out fun content that your audience actually wants to consume, along with soft sells that they might actually pay attention to (unlike the hard sells that they’re going to filter out as ambient noise).


You’ll gain motivation to understand your customers

You can’t really play on the right pop culture topics if you don’t understand your audience’s preferences, lifestyle, goals, and interests. Your pop-culture campaigns could give you the jolt you needed to learn more about your audience, allowing you to optimize your marketing strategy as a whole, not just your pop culture campaigns.

How does pop culture influence us?

Pop culture influences the way we interact with each other and have fun… but it also has an enormous impact on buying behavior as well. Don’t believe me? Here’s proof -

Towards the end of March 2014, the series finale of the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother showed the protagonist, Ted Mosby having a meet-cute with the future mother of his kids in the rain, under a yellow umbrella. The economic result of that? There was an enormous spike in the demand for yellow umbrellas across the US market.

When Netflix released the drama miniseries The Queen’s Gambit, the game of chess, which most people considered boring, suddenly became super cool. Within 28 days of it being released, the show broke Netflix’s record for most streams of a limited series… and within 10 days of the show’s release, eBay saw an unbelievable 273% increase in chess set sales. In November 2020, saw 100,000 signs ups a day, with sign-up records being shattered almost on a daily basis, all thanks to the Netflix show.

Even F.R.I.E.N.D.S. had an enormous impact on buying behavior, with the sales of Capri pants going through the roof thanks to Rachel Green’s style choices.

On a personal level, I’ve even seen my colleague rave after the Jordan 1 Chicago, not because of how iconic they already are, but because he saw Miles Morales swinging across the NYC rooftops wearing these kicks in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Is pop culture limited to movies and TV shows?

Nope, not at all. 

Even though the first things you’d think of when you hear the term ‘pop culture’ would be movies and TV shows, pop culture is far bigger than these two parts of it. It also includes music, art, literature, fashion, cyberculture, memes, games, and everything else that holds the attention of the vast majority of a society’s population.

And yep, that means that it also covers the latest gossip about everything happening in the lives of celebrities. 

But pop culture isn’t just about the bright happy things.

Going beyond the fun stuff

A Magna/IPG/Twitter study showed that 47% of respondents considered social movements and issues very important. 38% of respondents felt that a brand’s involvement in pop culture movements and social issues was very important.

What does that mean? You can’t just associate your brand with the things that your customers find fun. You’ve should also show your customers that you care about the things that they care about.

Want a good example of this? Just look at Nike’s Dream Crazy ad with NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The ad did get quite a bit of blacklash and had some people post videos of them burning their Nike products, but it won the hearts of of the very large market segment with whom the message strongly resonated. The result? Nike’s stocks went up 5% in the weeks after the ad was released.


Colin Kaepernick Nike Dream Crazy Ad

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Should you only focus on recent trends and topics?


You need to play on topics that your audience will resonate with. If your buyer persona is a man in his 40s, you can’t be making content revolving around a song by a K-pop band and expect these pieces to resonate with them.

The pop culture that you base your content on should be picked on the basis of the pop culture that they’re interested in. 

You could always play on movies or games that were extremely popular back-in-the-day. That would add an element of nostalgia to your content, and if it reminds your audience about the fun times when they were younger, they might even pass on some amount of that sentimental attachment over to your brand, tying your brand to their youth.

There’s also the fact that you can always do something that revolves around iconic, evergreen movies, shows, and games like Star Wars, F.R.I.E.N.D.S., and Pac-Man.

A quick guide to using pop culture in your marketing campaigns


Identify your brand values

You don’t want to just create any pop culture content that you can think about. Decide what your brand stands for and play on pop culture that resonates with or reflects those values. Look for ways in which you can display those values through the use of pop culture.


Understand your audience

You need to know your audience and find out what interests them and what pop culture they are familiar with.


Hire the right people

It’s not the best idea for you to assign the responsibility for your pop culture campaigns to someone who is just shooting in the dark without understanding popular culture. You want to have someone who enjoys and follows the same pop culture as your target audience. When it comes to marketing, you can also search for other options such as Social media companies as they can help you organise and manage your social media platforms better.


Show that you care

Be responsive to current issues and show that your brand cares about the causes that your customers feel strongly about. This shows that your brand has a soul and is not an evil profit-hungry corporation.

Playing on pop culture makes your customers feel like you’re one of them. Your brand gains a personality and a soul… making you more than just a glass building. Your customers can relate to you and they’ll even see what you consider important, making them more inclined to do business with you.

Jeremy DSouza

Jeremy is a marketer at Engati with an interest in marketing psychology and consumer neuroscience. Over the last year he has interviewed many of the world's brightest CX, AI, Marketing, and Tech thought leaders for Engati CX.

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