Culturally Aligning your Brands Ethos in a Complex Climate

We asked our members for their thoughts on changing times & culturally aligning among brands. Mac Mulcahy, Senior Director, Global Agency Partnerships, Firework shares thoughts and examples of how brands appropriately serve their communities/consumers as well as their employees who shape the culture inside the company.

What advice would you give brands to ensure cultural alignment within their messaging for their company?

First, I want to acknowledge that brands have a lot on their shoulders in this current complex climate! They have to consider their consumers who expect empathy as well as transparency and accountability in living up to what they stand for. They have the communities they serve, their employees who shape the culture inside the company, and of course their leaders who steer the direction of the brand. My advice would be to consider ways you can tell authentic stories that speak to and are inclusive of these perspectives. All of them play a role in shaping the culture of your brand. And alignment happens when they all support the company’s messaging, ethos, and mission statement. 

As both a marketer and a consumer, I strive for brands to focus on authenticity in the world of media today and the future. Your consumers will drive your mission as it is essential to focus on the right person, right message, right place. USAA, who was a prior client of mine while supporting their video investment efforts at Spark Foundry,  is an example of a brand that focuses on multiple people, multiple messages, and multiple places to connect to a vast military community.  Identifying the right moments to connect with each unique person was vital - such as the Army/Navy rivalry during college football season. What an authentic way for a CEO/CMO to kickoff the college football rivalry game with a welcome note of camaraderie during the broadcast, while interweaving existing member stories throughout the game, and driving audiences to engage more on-site to join the USAA family.  In addition, they have award-winning video programs such as Small Town Heroes that touch all media channels and the hearts of eligible members to drive a long term conversation. Lastly, they sponsor the esports’ Call of Duty League and their Military Appreciation Week as they connect with a strong composition of younger and currently-serving military audiences in more ways than a logo slap. I know these audiences are fans having played with my cousin and his marine bunkmates in San Diego during COVID. Experiential opportunities, even digitally, really drove their fandom and connection with the brand. 


As an advertising professional, what advice would you give brands around commenting and/or supporting certain social issues?

Earlier in my career, brands focused on driving the same media angle at scale and figured it would sell packs of underwear, canned goods, burgers - you name it. Nobody got fired for recommending to “buy more TV,” but we hit a point in the marketing timeline where brand authenticity was beginning to be called out through social media platforms and audience conversations. 

The vast array of media channels that marketers need to support these days is driven by consumer touchpoints for a conversation, across all social issues. We saw this for Mattel at Publicis as they had historically connected with a traditionally linear television audience with limited broach. Over the last decade, we are talking about a massive shift in viewing habits for both parents and the Gen Z, the mobile generation. Marketers need to be well versed in new platforms to ensure their brands are showing up natively versus coming across as tone deaf in this modern era. 

Mattel shifted this focus to think more agnostically and evolve their approach to human connection, by being a content company that happens to be the leading global toy company to better connect with their portfolio of audiences. 


With times changing rapidly, what is the most important part of building brands and ensuring consistency through their campaigns for the future?

I think one of the most important aspects of building a brand is figuring out how you want to make people feel and delivering on that through the content and experiences you deliver. But how can brands create emotional connection when most of their interactions with customers have moved online? 

Let’s look at what’s happening in culture. Consumers value authenticity and are responding more to people and communities that reflect who they are. Culture has shifted away from celebrity and Instagram-influencer perfectionism to realness and relatability. This is especially true for Gen Z and millennials who have flocked to platforms like TikTok and made short-form mobile video their medium of choice because it’s a vehicle for constant self-expression and sharing of real stories. And they want to engage with brands in the same native language. 

One way brands can forge connection is through short-form video featuring real people, whether it’s your customers, brand ambassadors, or engaging voices that are seen as more relatable and therefore trustworthy.  While a lot of brands have embraced this medium in walled gardens, there’s an opportunity for brands to lead with authentic, engaging video on their own digital domains, where they really get to own the customer experience.

Cariuma, a D2C sustainable shoe brand that plants two Brazilian trees per sale sought to bring more emotion and motion to their website knowing they didn’t have the budgets like other shoe brands in their space of skaters and surfers. 

By bringing more authentic content on-site through short skater videos, they looked to connect with their community of boarders to delight and inspire. How did consumers reward Cariuma? More brand engagement, time spent on-site, larger cart sizes, conversion, and most important to the Cariuma fan like myself - more trees planted in the Brazilian rainforest. People consume entertainment content in social media, but truly shop in the commerce sites and apps. Imagine bringing the power of both to your experience to supercharge 1P insights and learnings in a GDPR compliant future.

What about other brands that aren’t D2C? Supercharging engagement to build brand loyalty and retention like CPG legend, Heinz, is vital. Heinz utilized an on-site livestream for a Halloween event like no other to build fandom and drive positive sentiment through interactions and the chat functionality. The hosts, Team2Moms, were asking where the audience was from to drive a two-way conversation, polling the audience, and dropping exclusive Heinz rewards to drive that fandom for their brand. Doing so at scale was only made possible by a decentralized technology that could connect the experience across the open web with direct publisher partnership, open web drivers, and simulcasted to their most important social channels. It brought home multiple awards - Gold at the Internationalist Awards of Media Innovation, Bronze at the Festival of Media Global Awards - and is one of my favorite stories of creating a cultural moment with ketchup.