Manipulating pop culture trends for brand growth

Lucian Lekaj
Feb 17 · 4 min read
Pop culture is both interesting and entertaining, just what brands want to be; Source: Unsplash

If there is one thing that brands and consumers have in common, it is that they both do their best to be interesting, trendy and up to speed with everything that is going on around them. People always want to find out something new and having more information than other people essentially makes us feel superior to others.

Think about it this way: if you see a giant billboard in the middle of the street with an ad on it, it is absolutely worthless to you if it communicates something you already know, even if it is large, unmissable and you see it every day; it has no effect on you because you are looking for something unseen before, inspiring or something that will make you think. We are all constantly searching for something refreshing that will keep us entertained and wondering.

On the other side, brands are basically obligated to follow everything that is going on in the world of entertainment, even if what is happening isn’t necessarily relevant for the brand and its products. They can’t allow themselves to miss any opportunity to use popular events for their own profit. Essentially, pop culture is what’s, as they say, popping, and that’s what makes pop culture so efficient in connecting brands with consumers.

Using pop culture as a part of your online marketing strategy is not hard and it can be maintained indefinitely, as there is always something new in the entertainment industry.

How does it work?

Well, as you already know, big cultural events gain a lot of online press, both from social media and from digital publications. People talk about them extensively and reference them in their day to day lives.

This means that not only will this event be all over online channel and personal profiles, but will be discussed in the online world. Basically, they’re impossible to miss. This is why referencing them through your own brand can do wonders. By making content that somehow relates to the original story, you become part of it an you add more value to it.

Consumers don’t mind this because they like having things to discuss, so whenever they’re done talking about the event, they start commenting on everything closely related to it.


A basic example is pop-star Rihanna wearing a yellow gown that reminded people of cheese pizza, so brands on social media started editing photos of the dress by adding ham and other toppings and making various humorous references and memes.

These brands automatically received media coverage as the event became a sensation so people also started discussing the references and brands that were surrounding it. IKEA is also known for closely monitoring cultural and social phenomena then using them as basis for online content.

Pepsi and Oreo, for example, used the unanimously loved movie Back To The Future as a reference point as they made social media visuals containing objects from the movie and they posted those images on the day to which characters from the movie travel to, October 21st.

Both of those posts got far better engagement rates from fans in comparison to the usual content those brands place on their social media pages. Pop culture references are very popular in fashion — brands like Versace, Burberry and Gucci, amongst other lesser known ones often use movies, TV shows or work by popular artists — musical or otherwise — as inspiration and use it on their products after minimally altering them, just enough for people to recognise what is being referenced, but different enough to avoid any lawsuits.

How you can use this

The rule is, first and foremost, that the cultural event or phenomenon you’re referencing has to be recognisable to your target group, but it also has to evoke positive feelings in them.

So it is important to carefully choose which pop news you want to use to your advantage, as a bad choice can have very bad effects on your brand’s reputation and value.

Timing is crucial, too, as it is ideal to post the referring content just as the pop culture event is gaining bigger social media traction, but before the public is bored of the media saturation with brands connecting to the same story.

If you start connecting your brand to the cultural trend too late, people will most likely just grunt and roll their eyes at the very sight of your content. The catch is that your reference has to be clever or in any other way captivating, almost as much as the very thing you’re talking about.

Those who manage to do this will get featured on media platforms, news websites and publications along with the main subject that’s being discussed by everyone.

So, next time you find yourself in front of a creative wall and aren’t sure what else you can do for your brand’s content, make sure you check the news outlets, tabloids, trending topics or just talk to your friends and ask them what’s new.

It is very likely that you will hear something that can be implemented into content for your brand. And if your friend has heard about it, other people have too.

Check it out and if what you find seems good, use it to your advantage, get that engagement rate!

Digital Reflections

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