New rules of brand marketing

Brand marketing is back in favor, but it has a new operating system

Ana Andjelic
5 min readApr 9, 2024

There has been a lot of chatter about the return of brand marketing. But this conversation is missing the fundamental change of what brand marketing today is and how it works. A toolkit of events, influencers, TV spots, billboard and print ads is declining in relevance in the modern culture.

To capture the long-term attention and budgets, brand marketing needs a new operating system. This new operating system is a matter of a brand’s renewal and cultural relevance — and is a safe bet on a brand’s future.

(Otherwise, brand marketing’s current popularity will fall into the “shiny object” trap with fickle CMOs: a precursor of performance marketing, the first banner ad, used to have an astounding 44% click through rate. CMO preferences are cyclical.)

There are a dozen shifts in the new brand marketing operating system. These shifts are the outcome of compressed trend cycles, short attention spans, the newness imperative, tech innovation, and brands operating in mature markets, where consumers are bored and products are commodified.

The main purpose of brand marketing is to make commodities aspirational, turning their use value into exchange value (social, cultural, and environmental capital). There are only so many Loro Piana Open Knitted Walk shoes one can own, but not if they are released in the limited run of 600 for the Gstaad Guy followers.

Brand marketing gives symbolic value to ordinary consumption.

This symbolic value makes a commodity — a dress or a lipstick or a bottle of green juice — superior to its competition: a very few people will pick Victoria Beckham’s t-shirt for $150 over a similar Uniqlo or a GAP one; but many will select “My dad had a Rolls-Royce” one to add some flex to their cultural savvy.

A cultural hit becomes a market hit.

Brand marketing transforms non-culture (a t-shirt) into culture (the Beckham’s documentary scene and countless memes that it generated). When a person wears a VB shirt, they show off their cultural awareness, and also see themselves through a new lens: not as a consumer but as a cultural player.

“Those who can’t play, pay!” says MSCHF’s $1K limited-edition Ultimate Participation Trophy for Tiffany (Tiffany, among other things, creates sports medals and trophies for US athletes, including US Open). Inside jokes and riffs keep people interested in a brand, and brands that use them enjoy a temporary monopoly over their competition: ownership of a zeitgeist is hard to replicate. This goes back to Duchamp and Warhol, who made their way into museums by turning mundane into a work of art by enriching it with pop references and context.

New time, new tools

Collaborations are the fastest way for a brand to obtain aspirational status (Tiffany, Rimowa, New Balance), but beyond that, new tools of brand marketing are archives (Gucci Vintage), graphic design (Burberry), visual language (Virgil Abloh’s projects), pop-ups and experiential retail (New Balance, H&M Move in Williamsburg), hospitality (Prada Café, LV Cafe, Fendi Beach Club, Coach Airways, Dioriviera), content (Jacquemus Courchevel video series, Gstaad Guy, Bottega, Loewe), brand and product iconography (Casablanca, Louis Vuitton Men’s, Balenciaga), interstitial storytelling, sequels (New Balance), merch (Loewe, Nike, ADL), repeatable narrative anchors (Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Hermès).

Main focus of the new brand marketing is use these tools to create, amplify, and monetize cultural moments. There isn’t a one, large moment, campaign, celebrity, ambassador, or sponsorship that brand marketing budget needs to be spend on; there are many, many cultural moments that brands can create, curate, collaborate or comment on.

This new approach ensures that a brand participates in as many cultural contexts as possible. Brand marketing is a calculated cultural and business test: some executions grow bigger than others, but the job of brand marketing is to synchronize all of them, amplify them through media, and augment them through in-store experiences, content, membership programs, styling and visual merchandising. By connecting all its creative executions, across functions, brand marketing creates a self-enforcing loop of cultural influence. (Example: New Balance, after years of synchronizing cultural signals through collaborations, inside line design, and clever creative and copy, achieved #2 spot on Hypebeast’s YoY Brand Heat Rankings list).

Holistic approach

New brand marketing protects pricing power, ensures high margins and reframes consumers’ perception of the company and its products.

At the level of the product design, brand marketing provides a consistent narrative through annual concepts and their seasonal rollout, archive revivals, vintage curation, special editions and capsules and collaborations.

At the level of market growth, brand marketing expand a brand’s footprint and renew brand associations and a brand’s customer base.

At the level of merchandising, brand marketing infuses collection with a narrative through product assortment selection and styling, synchronizes product and brand stories, defines the product drip/seeding cadence to ensure newness and interest, and increases brand consideration.

Culture x Brand

The new brand marketing is a strategy of cultural awareness, emotional resonance, entertainment, celebrity products, fandom-building, and market expansion. This strategy is easier to understand once it’s taken out of the context of marketing and put into the domain of cultural influence.

The mechanism of this influence is bottoms-up rather than top-down, as brand marketing has been known for; circular rather than linear; collaborative rather than promotional; value-creating rather than an overhead; and future-facing rather than immediate.

The new brand marketing is less about communicating (just) the brand identity and values and more about activating this identity and values as a consistent, encompassing, and entertaining brand world that people aspire to be part of and identify with.

Culture is a big business. It is also a big social and economic commentator and critic. Culture tells us what we need to know about the world we live in, and about what we should pay attention to and why. The new brand marketing is the same.

If you liked this analysis, there is more 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.