Culture GPT

If a brand doesn’t connect with culture, it will be punished in terms of business

Ana Andjelic
6 min readMay 26, 2024

Knowing how to influence consumers through trends, images, narratives, texts, icons and cultural products (and not through advertising) is a matter of strategy. Consumers never make decisions in isolation from each other, their social media accounts, streets they walk in, content they watch/listen/read, and images, products, and people they are surrounded by. Their aspirations, perceptions, value calculus, and how desirable they deem something is a matter of a zeitgeist more than personal choice.

Brand strategy is cultural strategy, and here are the elements to capitalize on.

Culture is entertainment

MSCHF’s 2x4

For Gen Z, shopping is the top among their entertainment activities (above playing video games). Modern brands are in the business of entertainment (LVMH’s foray into entertainment with 22 Montagne; Nike’s Waffle Iron Entertainment; Barbie being a marketing campaign with a movie attached), and beyond traditional media formats, like print and TV, which are decreasingly relevant to the younger consumer. Job of brand marketing is to provide quirky and fun snippets of always-on content, merch and products, creative collaborations that introduce novelty, and to plan its seasonal campaigns as entertainment products, like movies: through teasers, trailers, opening nights, and launch. Collection needs to be teased through content and merch prior its launch to drive interest.

Culture is celebrity

Perhaps more important for brands than celebrity people are celebrity products they create. Millionaire Speedy is meant to create halo around all (non-millionaire) LV’s Speedy’s. Those who have a Millionaire Speedy, though, know that everyone else knows how much they spent on it.

The role of a brand’s hero products is to be the purest distillation of the brand identity and values, a bridge between the brand heritage and its future, and the fodder for brand collaborations.

Burberry trench, Calvin Klein briefs, Stanley Cup or Gucci loafers are some of the examples of hero products. Gucci loafer is so notorious, notoriously recognized, and rich in symbolism, that Gucci rooted its entire collection in it (it was when Gucci was in-between designers, so the loafer was also a symbol of resilience and unity). Others experience a sudden bursts of popularity thanks to social media (like Millionaire Speedy) and represent what a brand is known and recognized for in culture.

Culture is a creative universe

Brands are increasingly synonymous with the entire ways of life. In his recent interview with Financial Times, Patrizio Bertelli of Prada noted that he sees value in “creating an identity that transcends what we sell. We want it to be a mindset, an experience centered around the Prada brand. … After all, the definition of luxury nowadays is quality of life in every aspect, including what we eat, how we travel, the art and culture we have access to, and what we wear.”

This is the time of the everything brand. In Prada’s case, this means combining art, design, food, and fashion into a recognizable Prada creative universe. In the post-mass culture, retail, and media, having a creative universe is a matter of necessity. Brands weave a network of distinct, but connected, lifestyle verticals, brand experiences, and ways to influence culture that, instead of a mass audience, reach a number of taste communities. In this way, they are able to meet niche demands in a segmented, mature fashion retail market, where customers are bored and products are commodified. By catering to its different customer segments, a brand increases its hold on the market and create many doors into the brand.

Additionally, in a creative universe, the entire brand toolkit comes together: archives, hero products, content, capsules, collaborations, product reboots and sequels, branded experiences and experiential retail, merch, styling and events. Each of these creative executions amplifies and augments one another, and synchronized, they together create an recognizable cultural frequency.

Culture is a story

Culture as a story provides narrative continuity and cohesion to our life. It helps us make sense of what’s happening in the world and explains the world around us. Culture gives us pointers what to pay attention to, how to relate to each other and to the material world, and how to express our identity and belonging. Brands are part of this mega-story, and have been invented to give products context and symbolic meaning. Stories separate products from commodities. At the same time, when we wear or use a brand’s product or services, we tell a story about ourselves. Famous fashion stories, like Gucci’s, Chanel’s, Dior’s, Ralph Lauren’s, have all been created and dramatized to increase these brands’ desirability.

Brand stories are today best told through interstitial storytelling, which refers to a series of mini-stories that are connected into a web of a wider narrative. A story is told as a series, with each piece of content containing germs of the next story and ending with a cliffhanger. For retail brands, this means releasing collections like movies, starting with teaser trailers, then trailers, then marketing activations, with the role of building anticipation for a collection release, rather than marketing a collection once it is available.

Storytelling depends on narrative rhythms and repeatability of symbolic motifs. These anchors provide continuity to a narrative and create familiarity. Narrative anchors can be recognizable codes and style signifiers, like color (Barbie pink, Tiffany blue), design details (Chanel Tweed, Gucci double-G logo), or brand handwriting (travel for LV, horse-riding for Hermès).

A defined brand aesthetic is a strong narrative device. Fashion consumers don’t speak in genres or gender, they speak in memes, references, remixes. Without a signature aesthetics, it is easy for a brand to become a backdrop of a feed that DJs everything into one cultural output. In addition to having a celebrity product, for a brand to stand out, it need to hone their aesthetics to precision: their aesthetic is the way they participate in culture. An aesthetic story is told through design, styling, fashion direction, wear scenarios and product narratives. Examples of the recent Tik Tok-brewed narrative aesthetics are Mob Wife, Eclectic Grandpa, Dark Academia, Coastal Grandma, Functional Maximalism …

Nuance of the modern aesthetic narratives is that, while they may not signify class connotations of fashion’s traditional aesthetic territories — like workwear or prep — they still signal codes of modern aspiration: creativity, ambition, taste, being in the know.

Instead of signaling inheritance-enabled idleness of the leisure class, or the hard labor-striving of the working class, modern aesthetic narratives capture reality of the Creative Class: unisex, uniform, comfort, versatility and modularity of the everyday.

Read the rest of this analysis on The Sociology of Business.



Ana Andjelic

Brand Executive. Author of “The Business of Aspiration.” Doctor of Sociology. Writer of “Sociology of Business.” Forbes most influential CMO.