Everyone today seems to be talking about culture and brands, and about the importance for brands to understand, connect to, and use culture. But, haven't brands always by their very definition and role been the culture? Or, what is really new here?
A little journey through history. Million years ago, before mass media, branding had mostly a pure economic function of organization of products in the market. (When mass markets emerged, companies needed to somehow persuade people used only to local trade that their products are equal or better quality than the local ones). But then came mass media, and branding expanded to include concepts like brand image, brand personality, and brand associations. Those were then communicated through television, radio, print, etc. And they have transformed branding from a purely economic relationship between products into a social relationship between the brand and its customers.
With modern branding, the brand was made into a social symbol that communicates a set of values aimed at turning consumption into an activity with social meaning and consequences. In this context, as everyone knows today, branding communicates not the actual worth of products and services, but the social benefits that a consumer can expect to receive from economic exchange. By translating economic value into social benefits, the brand mediates between the social activities of consumption and the economic activities of production, distribution, and exchange.
Forever now, brands have been taking something happening into pop culture and aping it in advertising. Without being able to do so, brands would not exist. It seems to me that the question is not how the brand can be connected to culture, but how they are the culture. Again, nothing new.
(Before brands even existed Veblen and Simmel were talking about cultural significance of consumption. "Philosophy of Fashion" was written in the 19th century. So was "The Theory of the Leisure Class". For people who care about thinking about consumption as a cultural activity, they should check out anthropologist's Daniel Miller's books and also other stuff from the field of "material culture").
I found the photo here.