Marketing and it’s impact on global culture.

There are countless articles on the impact of culture on marketing circulating today. I thought it would be interesting to turn it around, and look at how Marketing has influenced our global Culture. In this piece, we will explore four examples that were selected for their relatability.

To begin, let’s set some parameters for this article. Here are my definitions on the words.

Marketing : The activity, institutions, and the processes for creating, communicating, delivering and exchanging offerings that have a value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.

Culture : The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.

How the Monk became Santa.

I wonder what Santa will look like in the future?

The story of Santa Claus begins with the secret gift giving of Saint Nicholas of Myra 280 A.D.. Saint Nicholas was born into a wealthy family, having lived a life of comfort, he decided to part with his fortune after the death of his parents. Legend has it that he would travel the land, discretely dropping bags of gold and food to those in need. These and other acts of good will granted him renown and sainthood in Europe.

St. Nicholas of Myra 280 A.D.

When the Dutch came to America in 1773, they introduced Saint Nicholas as Sinter Klaas a Dutch short form of his name. In commemoration, the Dutch families in America would gather and celebrate Sinter Klaas during the month of December.

Santa looked quite different back in the day!

It was during the early 19th century that Christmas and Gift Giving started becoming a popular tradition. Retailers capitalised on this by printing advertisements that featured Santa Claus, and had Santa figurines to attract crowds.

A point to note, at the time, Santa’s look wasn’t standardised yet. He would be featured sometimes dressed with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat and yellow stockings or just a plain brown coat. It was the Salvation Army that centralised the look of Santa Claus when they sent out men dressed in costumes to collect donations for the needy.

Undoubtably it was Haddon Sunblom’s illustrations for Coca-Cola, and their massive Christmas Campaigns that featured Kris Kringle in his white and red look that solidified the image and grew his popularity to this day.

A Diamond is Forever.

Engagement rings have been a part of the world’s culture since the people of the Indus Valley started placing a copper ring on the toe of their nuptial. This act was then emulated by the Egyptians and Greeks, who switched toes, for fingers. These were simple bands of semi precious or precious metals, lacking embellishments or stones.

Notice the “M” for Mary.

The first published record of a diamond engagement ring was in 1477 when the Archduke of Austria, Maximilian, commissioned one for his betrothed, Mary of Burgundy. However, it was a tradition that only took root amongst the most elite of Austrian Society.

During the early twentieth century a company called DeBeers had expanded their diamond mining business in Africa yielding a large supply of diamonds. This led to a surplus at a time when sales was tapering off due to the Great Depression. To invigorate sales, a young copywriter Frances Gerety coined the now famous phrase “A Diamond is Forever” in 1947.

The campaign would set the diamond as the ultimate symbol of love and commitment. Placed back on the market as a, “must have”, for any couple professing true love, it increased sales by 40%. [1]The campaign was so successful that by 1951, eight out of ten proposals in the United States were done with a diamond engagement ring.

Later they would coin the guide that an engagement ring should be worth two months of the proposer’s salary, and the 4C’s, which is used to grade diamonds till this day, colour, clarity, cut, and carat weight.

Oh my God, it’s so big!

DeBeers would follow this winning strategy by continuously creating marketing campaigns to further drive the message including enlisting Hollywood to portray engagement scenes with diamond rings in their movies.

The Most Important Meal of the Day.

I’m sure you grew up with your parents expounding the benefits of having a good breakfast. The quote “ Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” has been echoing in kitchens for decades now. A typical western breakfast is made up of cereals, eggs, bacon, milk and orange juice. What is interesting, is that all of these food items have a marketing story tied to them.

Lenna F. Cooper was the Director of the School of Economics at the Battle Creek Sanitarium owned by Dr. Kellog.

Let’s start with the afore mentioned quote. In an article written by Lenna F. Cooper in the issue of Good Health circa 1917, she writes about the benefits of breakfast and states it as the most important meal. The editor of the magazine was none other than Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. Does that name ring any bells? Yes, Dr. Kellogg was the inventor of the Kellogg brand of cereals. Together with his brother they discovered the process of preparing pressed corn and other grains in 1878.

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg — Anti Sexist, Cereal Entrepreneur & Sanitarium Director.

What you might not have known is, Dr. Kellogg was a senior member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He believed strongly in the clean living movement, promoting health reform, sexual abstinence and temperance. The fact is, he developed the cereal as a cure for masturbation and sexual deviation. A sort of anti-Viagra. In order to promote the sale and consumption of the cereal, Kellogg started a magazine and enlisted other medical professionals to expound on his beliefs. Thus entered cereal.

Edward Bernays legendary spin master.

In 1920, Edward Bernays was hired by the Beech-Nut Packing Company to promote the sale of bacon and eggs. Bernays engaged a doctor to conduct research on the benefits of adding protein to the morning meal. The doctor, under the payroll of Barneys, confirmed this, and further sent a written paper to five thousand other doctors for endorsement. This was the research that fuelled his campaign. Articles were printed in major American publications encouraging bacon and eggs as a morning must have. So came eggs and bacon.

Now on to Orange Juice. During the 1900’s the Southern Californian Fruit Growers Association (Sunkist Growers) were facing an overwhelming supply of oranges. They needed to increase the domestic consumption of the citrus. They approached the then CEO of Lord & Thomas Advertising, Mr. Alan Lasker for a solution.

Lasker’s brilliant idea was to get consumers to juice the orange, this would increase the per serving ratio by 300%. Sunkist Growers released countless articles in print with the “Drink an Orange” campaign. The advertisements elaborated on the benefits of orange juice consumption and promoted the Sunkist branded juicer which was available at a discount with the redemption of used orange packaging. Now orange juice had a place at the table.

Cigarettes -from Immoral to Independence to Cool

Do you inhale? Everybody’s doing it! Notice the pillow under the woman on the left and her dress both allude to an angel with wings.

During the early 1900’s cigars were a status symbol for men while women who smoked were considered immoral and of ill repute. Hand rolled cigarettes were uncommon as they were hard to manufacture and required an experienced person to prepare them. This changed with the invention of the cigarette rolling machine. These new factories could produce a staggering amount of cigarettes per day, increasing the supply, and reducing the price. A larger market was required to meet the glut, and marketing to women would become the answer. Women had entered the workforce during World War One paving the way for a growing class of assertive, independent women; some of whom smoked.

Cigarette Hangover was a major issue back then.

Phillip Morris took advantage of this by sponsoring the show “I Love Lucy” starring Lucille Ball. In the show Lucy and gang were always shown having a great time smoking. The show portrayed smoking as the ultimate pass time and relief for a housewife.

Most women were still reluctant to smoke in public. In fact, men were known to make fun of the way women held and smoked at the time. Here again Edward Bernays was called to action. He organised seminars to educate women on the best practices for smoking, all over the United States.

Actual photograph of the Easter Sunday Parade.

In 1929 he secretly paid women to smoke while they walked in the Easter Sunday Parade. The pictures that were taken by his photographers were then published worldwide with the caption “Torches of Freedom” ~ equating women smoking with liberation and equality. This trend continued with even more endorsements to Hollywood, some rumoured to be in the six figures for stars and starlets to puff on and off screen.

I should point out that in all these cases, the people behind the campaigns found organic trends that were growing and skewed them to their advantage. Organic trends are natural patterns that evolve in society, they could be social, economical, or cultural.

These patterns emerge and evolve through interactions and have meme like properties. Some, evolve continuously, others die out and eventually reanimate in another form. A good marketer spots a meme, a great marketer predicts one, and a lucky marketer creates one.


So there you have it, four ways Marketing has impacted our global culture. Let me know in the comments if you have any other suggestions. If you liked the article please share it, and do get in touch to discuss how embedded marketing or organic trends could improve your business. I can be reached at :

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