Move Over, Advertising. Culture Marketing is Advertising Now

PH Culture Marketing
Devin Feldman

The sun was high in the sky, glowing yellow. Wildfires were ravaging the west coast. Meanwhile, so was a pandemic. Also, something about a presidential election. Headlines, it seemed, were impossible to grab.

And then, from the rubble, a savior appeared. Backwards checks over stripes, LaFerrari to .... McDonalds?

Credit: Travis Scott

It seemed, in the dog days of *checks notes* 2020, that we were never going to have fun again. The advertising industry was in disarray as the most creative minds in the industry were seemingly at a loss. Sadvertising—now officially a word that google docs doesn’t underline red and essentially a creative exercise in exhausting b-roll and biding time—was losing ground fast. Humor came back, but it was tinted grey. There was no longer a charitable lump sum nor public gesture worthy of the zeitgeist.

Then the clouds cleared. Normal ads returned (yay). And then the clouds came back. And then they cleared. And then they came back. But nothing in our industry seemed to truly break through. Culture was moving on without us.

And then Travis Scott rolled up to a McDonald’s in Downey, Calif. to bring the good news: the McRib was back. Just kidding, he was there to tell all that culture marketing had officially arrived as an integrated, brand-level advertising campaign. But not just any advertising campaign, this was The Unofficial Brand Win of 2020 for one of the largest brands in the world. This was a campaign so impressive it managed to break both the internet and McDonald's’ ironclad supply chain. Twitter was ablaze, the dozens of social posts from McDonald’s and Travis Scott continued to net fantastic numbers, a meme was was born ⁱᵗ'ˢ ˡⁱᵗ and many did in fact tell em Cactus Jack sent them, in a two-week supply of organic viral content.

All I’ve been able to think about since, is what does this mean for our industry? There are only so many Travis Scotts out there; this is not something that can be replicated. Immediately following the Travis Scott Meal ʸᵃᵃᵃ McDonald’s announced a similar deal with J Balvin, which did well for them, but the diminishing returns are real, as it failed to get the same internet spin as Cactus Jack.

But it does beg the question: how else can we, as ad, PR and digital creatives, pull this off?

And so this is where we are: Brand moments are cultural moments. Brand moments no longer come from ads, but from cultural integration. The most successful culture moments for brands are often on accident (such as the Popeyes chicken sandwich phenomenon, and the Ocean Spray/@420doggface208/Dreams by Fleetwood Mac moment.) Though some, specifically Ryan Reynolds, have figured out other ways in. But how do we ride the culture wave? And, once we catch it, where will it take us?

Honestly, I’m not sure. But it will definitely be on Twitter, probably TikTok, most likely cable news and hopefully worthy of the French Riviera.