Cultural Immersion - A Vital Key to Invigorating Your Brand

Successful advertising requires that we surprise people with newness, strangeness and otherworldliness. Things that stop you, make you think, and are unforgettable. 

Ninety-nine percent of the products and services in the world are not unique. Consumers have many choices. Brands must differentiate themselves by conveying their beliefs and pitching their products in unusual and unforgettable ways. 

One of the greatest barriers to creating breakthrough advertising ideas is the tragic failure of marketing people to become well cultured.

To be ‘well cultured’ is to be informed by diverse cultural experiences. It requires immersion in art, music, fashion, architecture, technology, science, news, literature, philosophy and so on. But not strictly through textbooks or the internet. It requires frequent trips to museums, art galleries, science fairs, fashion centers, unique restaurants, trade shows and conferences. Not just near your home. These trips must be taken abroad as well. 

These are mind-expanding encounters that give you a deeper perspective about the world. They open your mind to new ideas, new tastes and flavors, new languages, new technologies, new styles, new insights—things that cannot be acquired by watching television or browsing the web from the confines of your living room or cubicle. You have to get out there.

Without diverse, cultural, immersive experiences, we have very few references from which to create surprising advertising. Familiar and everyday references simply will not cut it. It’s like having a toolbox that only contains a flathead screwdriver and a pair of pliers. You’re just not going to be able to build much of anything.

Think about it. A fashion designer cannot be successful without traveling the world and staying on top of new styles and trends, and then exploiting them. Likewise, a chef cannot create culinary masterpieces without traveling the globe and discovering ingredients used in ways he could have never imagined. Then he comes back home and opens an amazing restaurant with a menu that surprises and delights. These expeditions are critical to marketers as well.

Too many professionals in marketing and advertising—both ad agency execs and clients—lack culturing. They get their college degree, get a job, sit in a cubicle and remain isolated from the world for much of their careers. This results in safe, familiar, uninspired advertising that puts people to sleep.

Whenever I discuss this matter with friends and acquaintances, some of them get offended. They think I’m criticizing them for not being “cool.” But this has nothing to do with being cool. It has everything to do with absorbing culture, changing perceptions and inspiring creativity.

Years ago, my writer-partner and I created our own printed magazine that contained many pages of interestingness scraped from around the world, in an effort to inspire our clients to think outside the box. Or at least to help prepare them for the out-of-the-box creative ideas we would eventually present to them. We were disappointed to find out that only a few clients actually paged through it. And those few were somewhat offended by our attempts to expose them to fresh thinking. 

In the end, our efforts were viewed as condescending. Our plan had backfired. We were simply naive in thinking clients would get excited about having a curated source of inspiration hand-delivered to them. But this matter still persists in our industry.

A major problem is, most marketing people are under the illusion that data and metrics are the path to effective advertising. The truth is, advertising is not a science, it’s an art—despite what all the data and research companies will tell you (or sell you). People don’t make purchase decisions based on rational and analytical thinking. They make purchases based on emotions, whether for themselves or for their employers. Science has proven it and successful marketers have proven it.

We could all benefit from leaving our safe, cozy den and diving headlong into our colorful world, then bringing back those experiences to better our brands. On a regular basis. Just like early explorers who investigated the unknown and brought back amazing stories and objects that captured people’s imagination.

Please do yourself and your employer a favor and make a concerted effort to become and stay cultured. Then let those mind-expanding experiences inform your advertising efforts. It will help invigorate your brand.


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