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Don’t Let the Cultural Moment Pass You By: Part 1

5.1.24 / By Emma Alexander

Part 1: How brands can connect with customers through pop culture

As marketers, our goal is to connect our brand with our target audience. We always start with talking about their pain points and creating content around them. And while this should stay top of mind, I believe many brands are missing out on an even bigger opportunity to connect with their audiences on another level.

To connect deeper and more authentically means to relate to your audience on a human level. To share in the pain, to laugh at something funny, to open conversations about what’s going on in the world as it relates to you and them.

The little moments that lead to dialogue and connection between a brand and its audience can be found in pop culture.

This is Part 1 of a four-part series focusing on how brands and their customers benefit from participating in pop culture moments.

And since pop culture trends and discussions move fast, let’s not waste another moment and dive in.

What’s the difference between culture and pop culture?

Culture is always there, of course. It’s the unique qualities that embody a group of people. It’s constant and often subconscious, creating connections between us.

I like to think of pop culture as culture’s physical manifestation, bringing us even closer together in specific ways, through people, events, ideas and trends.

Pop culture is a medium for societal exchange and communication. So in a year of heavier stuff like elections, inflation and Twitter becoming “X,” it’s no wonder people use—and need—it to escape reality.

It just so happens that in the past year, the powers that be gifted us some pop culture treasures we still can’t stop talking about: Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce. Barbenheimer. Celebrity memoirs. AI making movies (um, sort of). The “Roman Empire.”

Why does pop culture matter for consumers?

These people, advancements and products are all directly related to the things people spend their time on: sports, music, movies/TV, books, events, tech. The list goes on.

Politically, economically and socially, pop culture is constantly impacting us. And we’re always there impressing upon our culture in return.

In that cycle of behavior, we find consumer habits and expectations.

We see these changes as new generations join the workforce and gain more purchasing power, and as technology advances. In these moments, cultural shifts almost become a part of people. Our daily routines, our conversations, our personalities.

So many brands are afraid to be part of it with us, which begs the question:

Why should brands care about culture in the first place?

Well, brands don’t care about anything.

But the humans behind them do. And as we’ve just discussed, your consumers—um, also humans—do, too.

Take my earlier example of Barbenheimer.

What started as two movies became a pop cultural phenomenon for so many reasons. Both were released on the same date, came from very different yet well-respected directors, but both lived on opposite sides of the thematic spectrum. The marketing of each film was outstanding (although a special kudos to Barbie for the Airbnb Dreamhouse). Plus, both films’ deeper meaning and impact on society was discussed for the months leading up to their release.

But the humans didn’t just talk about it—they stepped into the world of both Barbie and Oppenheimer as they dressed up to go to theaters. This came as a surprise to many considering all the news about how theaters may be dying out.

It was an experience that we humans really cared about and immersed ourselves in. Authentically and joyfully, we participated in pop culture.

So human-to-human, the people behind brands can and should meet consumers where they’re at. Which often—but not always—means participating in cultural moments, wherever they’re being discussed.

Where should brands participate in pop culture moments?

When connecting with consumers over the latest buzz, brands should look to social media and paid media. These two tactics can move fast, have a wide reach and can create a big impact. Basically … time and money are of the essence.

The number of social media users globally grew from 4.72 billion in January 2023 to 5.04 billion in January 2024.

This accounts for an 8% growth of +320 million users YOY. More growth is expected (no surprise there).

That’s a lot of people. Chances are, many of them are—or could be—your consumers.

What are consumers looking for?

*Cue The Notebook*

A 2024 survey from Hootsuite asked some consumers that very question.

Unlike Rachel’s character Allie, these people know what they want from brands—and they told us. (Allie finally figured it out, too, but she took way longer.)

“Consumers are saying it loud and clear. After staying in touch with family and friends, the top reason they use social media is to be entertained and to mentally unwind.”

They also said they don’t like it when brands are too focused on self-promotion.

  • 34% of consumers say “too much self-promotion” is a major turnoff in how they perceive brands on social.
  • 56% of consumers think brands should be more relatable on social.


  • 48% of marketers publish product or brand updates multiple times a week.
  • 68% of marketers report being concerned about the ROI of their social activities.

Hootsuite said it best (and they said it with honesty): How can you demonstrate ROI through engagement metrics when you’re giving the audience exactly what they don’t want to engage with?

Bueller? Bueller?

This is where cultural moments greet us—the humans behind our brands—and invite us to a party where your audience is waiting for you, ready to be entertained.

So how do I apply this knowledge to my own brand?

What you’ve just read is the first installation in a four-part series of articles dedicated to brands and culture, and how they work together. I’ll share how you can start to implement this strategy in Part 2 next week, along with posing (and answering) some more nuanced, equally important questions, like:

  • When is it on brand to participate in cultural moments?
  • How would participating in these conversations positively impact your bottom line?
  • How to genuinely participate in cultural moments.
  • Do you know where you stand?

We’ll talk through each of these and more, plus share some inspiration to help spark your own creativity. This is your chance to develop a cultural participation strategy that opens up more creative and relatable ways for you to connect with your audience.

And remember: When you’re not sure or still have questions, lean on your experts like DS+CO and the data. They are often trying to tell you something.


Emma Alexander

Emma Alexander is DS+CO’s content manager and email strategist.