Brands doing good have the biggest cultural impact

A new report shows which efforts to make brands relevant resonate most with consumers.

Focusing on social causes that benefit everyone – and making philanthropic efforts to back that up – can have more of a positive impact on consumer perception and purchase decisions than sponsoring the Super Bowl or having a celebrity spokesperson.

That’s according to a new report, developed jointly by Media Experts, Magna, IPG Media Lab and Twitter, that examines how Canadian consumers are reacting to brands’ efforts to be more culturally relevant.

The survey showed that what people consider “culture” can be quite broad. When asked what came to mind when they thought of “culture,” many picked things that fell under the broader category of “traditional culture,” such as traditions, family, cuisine and language. But they also included things that fell under “pop culture,” including music, art, TV, movies, fashion and social trends, and “current affairs” such as sports, current events and politics. While things in the current affairs category were named by relatively few respondents, 81% named something from either pop culture and/or current affairs, in addition to something from the traditional culture category.

The most important factor in driving a purchase decision remains price and quality, contributing most to 46% of purchase decisions, followed by brand perception at 30%. A brand’s cultural involvement contributes to 24% of purchase decisions. According to the survey, the cultural activity that has the biggest impact on purchase decisions is being involved with social issues that “benefit everyone,” so as gender equality and fair trade sourcing. That was followed by brands promoting cultural trends, such as organic food and natural beauty products. The least impactful was sponsoring cultural events, like the Oscars or the Super Bowl.

Consumers also believe it is important for brands to be involved with elements of culture, even if they aren’t personally. While 43% of respondents described themselves as “passionate” about social issues and movements, 51% felt it was important for brands to be involved; 30% said they were passionate about pop culture events and trends, but 37% felt it was important for brands to be involved with them. That feeling is even greater among younger generations, with respondents under 25 over-indexing on saying it is important for brands to be involved with both social issues and trends.

When it comes to specific actions brands can take to be more culturally relevant, the most popular ones were philanthropic in nature: 63% of respondents said giving back to the community, 60% said providing support to issues that benefit everyone and 48% said donate to charity more broadly. Taking actions towards being inclusive was also a popular response (61%, compared to 50% of U.S. respondents who said the same). Lowest on the list were things like creating innovative products (39%), sponsoring cultural events (28%) and having a celebrity endorsement (14%).

The report was compiled based on a survey of 398 Canadians, as well as measuring the effectiveness of ads that were part of a culture-focused strategy.