Taylor Swift & Other Major Cultural Moments: Marketing Gold Or A Bandwagon Ignoring Real Consumer Trends?

Taylor Swift & Other Major Cultural Moments: Marketing Gold Or A Bandwagon Ignoring Real Consumer Trends?

You could be forgiven if you’d uttered the words “enough Taylor Swift” over the last few weeks. Even the biggest Swifties among us have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of Swift-related content thrust upon us.

Taylor Swift is the biggest star of our generation; she has won 14 Grammy Awards, had 11 number-one hits, has sold out stadiums all over the globe and, in April, will release her 11th studio album. So, when Swift touched down in Sydney, we couldn’t have predicted anything less than utter mayhem, and boy, did we get it.

Brands across the country jumped on board the Tay-Tay train; everything from NRMA to Toohey’s New used Swift as inspiration in their latest marketing. The same could be seen across the country when the Matildas were making their way through their FIFA Women’s World Cup campaign or when Barbie mania swept across the world. But what impact does this have? Are brands simply promoting Taylor Swift over their own products, or is this the key to staying relevant in an ever-evolving society?

Love It Or Love To Hate It

Matt Alchin, client director at Five By Five Global, recognises that as a non-swiftie, these kinds of ads aren’t for him, so he can acknowledge them and quickly move on with his day rather than “grabbing a pitchfork and questioning how someone dare have fun in my marketing industry”. 

“The marketing community needs to relax – these topical ‘wink and a nod’ one-shot campaigns are a piece of ‘remember when?’ memorabilia, and for me, it serves as a welcome reminder that there are still humans behind these ad campaigns at the end of the day. No one is losing a Lion, a Pencil, or even a Crocodile to Taytams or a jar of Vegemite wearing a friendship bracelet – it’s the Marvel after-credits scene – take it or leave it, but don’t let it sour your impression of the rest of the movie,” Alchin said.

Carl Moggridge, creative partner at Hopeful Monsters, on the contrary, has found himself caught between admiring the “opportunism and ingenuity of brands just having a bit of fun” and wanting to “poke himself in the eye” over the nonsensical “brand-wagoning” as he has dubbed it.

What works and what doesn’t?

Matt Lawton, managing director at Five By Five Global, calls this tactic meme-riding and said that it is all about being current and staying relevant to present a contemporary image. There are lessons to be learnt from this kind of marketing; it can be essential and valuable, but it has to be done the right way.

“The learning for brands is mainly about themselves. Whether the brand participates or not, they’ve hopefully asked these questions: what right do we have to engage here? How much of a stretch is it for our brand to exercise its equity in this way? Can our brand’s voice have salience in this case? What value are we adding? Are we ready and prepared for it to spawn a conversation we would need to participate in? What’s our exit plan? The biggest opportunity is to outplay your category leader, who could be more encumbered by legal and operational constraints, but you have to enter the field prepared,” Lawton said.

What can unfortunately, this can become less about being a creative tactic and more about doing what everyone else is doing, even if it has been planned months in advance. “As much as I chuckled at some of the Taylor Swift jacking executions in isolation, collectively, I think they’ve done more to increase her exposure rather than a brand,” said Moggridge.

There is also the very real need to consider that this kind of bandwagon hoping can distract from real cultural trends that may not be talked about on such a large scale but that are perhaps more influential to a brand. Significant changes in consumers’ attitudes, behaviours and beliefs impact the kind of purchases they make, for example.

“I found Tooheys’ recent outdoor ad funny. I just hope they’re also spending some time thinking about the fact young people are drinking less, going out less and increasingly like the NFL, NBA, UFC and EPL,” said Moggridge. 

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“A one-off is cool if it aligns with your brand. But too much of it shows you don’t have heaps of confidence in your own brand. Why not spend the same amount of time, energy and creativity doing things that get people talking about you?”

How Do We Stay On Top Of These Trends

For brands, the key to keeping on top of these kinds of trends is planning, predicting trends that may catch fire, and preparing for them ahead of time. This way, the campaign appears as a quick-witted reactionary project but has actually been well-planned and executed months in advance. It’s common knowledge that obituaries are written months and even years in advance, publications monitor for sick or ageing public features – think the Queen – and prepare in advance so that the second they get word, all they have to do is push a button. The same concept applies here.

In TayTay’s case, her tour of Australia was announced many months ago, giving brands an ample chance to plan for the news-jack,” Newsjacking.

Ultimately, Lawton says the key is having a culture of bravery, being excited by creativity and a thirst for relevancy. It’s about forward planning and not being afraid to take a risk on something that may turn out to be nothing – because it may also be everything.

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