Jan 21, 20199 min read

Why Brands Must Become Part of Culture to Stay Relevant.

Fredrik Thambert headshot

by Fredrik Thambert

Klarna’s partnership with “Smoooth Dogg” is the latest in a long row of campaigns that take part in popular culture. The times when you could simply advertise and wait for the customers to come is gone. Here is what you as a merchant need to know about the importance of fame as a business driver.

You have a great product – check!

You have a competitive price – check!

You fill a gap in the market – check!

Your business plan feels airtight. Still, people don’t seem to take notice. Maybe you’ve forgotten a cornerstone element to succeeding with your brilliant business idea: Being relevant in popular culture. Having a great product is a great start, but you also need to connect with people on a deeper, more emotional level. Let’s talk about the importance of building a brand that people want to be a part of.

A brief history lesson

For a long time, advertising products was a pretty straightforward job. All you had to do was to present them in a compelling way, perhaps together with testimonies from some happy customers or advice from an “expert”, and run an ad in the newspaper.

Later on, cinema and TV arrived. Along with moving images and sound came bigger possibilities for brands to persuade people with emotions like love, happiness and prosperity. With a limited amount of media outlets to choose from, you could get your message out to your target audience whether they liked it or not.

This worked perfectly fine until the internet came along. It’s at this point that things started to get tricky for marketers who thought they’d found the perfect formula. Because with the internet came an explosion of new channels, allowing people not only to consume information but also to be part of the conversation. The introduction of smartphones further accelerated this shift, while social media gave us tools to express ourselves to a bigger group of people and to follow others who inspire us.

Today, it’s easier than ever to ignore the messages we don’t like. People can tailor their media consumption to fit their specific interests and needs, shutting out everything they feel is annoying or irrelevant to them. This is particularly true for advertising, which few of us have asked for in the first place.

Instead, people are looking for brands that best resonate with their values and beliefs. Many studies have pointed to the fact that Millennials and Gen Z consumers prefer to buy from companies with a clear purpose. The brands we choose to associate with become part of forming our identity and making us feel like we belong in a cultural context.

What impact is this having for brands?

To reach the hearts and minds of consumers is now harder than ever. Power is shifting from sender to receiver, which means that companies have no choice but to play on consumers’ terms. In order to break through, you as a marketer need to find out how your brand can be interesting and valuable in people’s lives. If you don’t do this, you face the apparent risk of becoming just another nameless producer in your category. Or even worse; falling into complete oblivion. On the other hand, doing this right means huge possibilities to attract new customers and keep their loyalty over time.

So what’s the (not so) secret formula?

There is a well-documented recipe for breaking into popular culture and everyday conversations; it simply requires you to create relevance and desire among consumers. This can be done in two ways:

  • Taking part in an already existing discourse or cultural expression. For example a big sports event such as the Super Bowl, a big music festival or a fashion trend.
  • Doing something that in itself becomes the subject of discussion. Apple’s iconic “1984” video and Nike’s campaign with the controversial NFL star Colin Kaepernick are two great examples of that. Another thing these two brands have in common is how consistent they’ve been in cultivating their brand images over the years. It’s not only thanks to innovative products that they can charge more than their competition.
Smoooth Dogg(s).


Of course, you don’t need to take a stance on one of the hottest topics in society in order to create something that’s interesting and relevant to a large number of people. Klarna’s new campaign “Get Smoooth”, with Snoop Dogg as ambassador, is one example of this. Instead of talking and looking like the rest of the brands in the category, we’ve set out to create something completely unique. Having the best product on the market is simply not enough.

“In a quite unique way, we connect our core proposition of offering smoooth shopping experiences with an iconic individual,” says David Sandström, Chief Marketing Officer at Klarna. “But this campaign is just the tip of the iceberg. Establishing ourselves as the most relevant company in our industry is something we work hard on in everything from our products to how we handle customer support errands. Our ambitions are not achieved through single campaigns, but rather a complete shift in how we communicate.”

The importance of becoming part of popular culture

Kevin Simler expands on the theory of “Cultural imprinting” in his blog post “Ads Don’t Work That Way“. He argues that brands need to reach a broader audience and create the feeling that by consuming them, we can say something about who we are.

“Cultural imprinting is the mechanism whereby an ad, rather than trying to change our minds individually, instead changes the landscape of cultural meanings — which in turn changes how we are perceived by others when we use a product.” Kevin Simler writes. “Before seeing the ad, the product wasn’t worth very much to us, but after seeing the ad, we find ourselves wanting to buy it (and at a premium, no less).”

Another interesting piece on the same topic is written by the entrepreneur and former advertising executive Peter Grossman:

“Your brand must be a part of the culture, because consumers are a part of that culture. Consumers trust brands, now, to act almost as cultural barometers. And they’ll leave brands behind if they don’t feel like they can trust them to represent and stand for their values.”

At Klarna, we strongly believe that being part of the conversation is business critical, both for us and our partners.

“I think fame is one of the most underestimated KPIs in business,” David Sandström explains. “Fame drives a variety of important factors ranging from attracting talent and sparking conversation, all the way to the sheer valuation of the company. Being part of pop-culture, and therefore defining the current conversation, is one of the best measurements of fame. And again, in a connected, global business environment, this has never been more important.”

What’s the impact for brands who’re doing this right?

“Almost any aspect of a business can be copied – the products, the processes, the design. But there are a couple of things that just can’t be, and the place you hold in contemporary culture is one of them. How much you as a business engage and are being referenced and admired is something that can’t be copied. So if you are looking for a true edge, this is an interesting place to explore.”

David Sandström, Chief Marketing Officer at Klarna.

Why this matters for merchants

In the world of online retail, building a strong brand with a loyal fan base is crucial. As giants like Amazon and Alibaba are growing their chunks of the market, you need to find out how you can become a part of the conversation and play a meaningful role in people’s lives. If you succeed with that, people will find your products and come back for more.

“Most of the current online retail market has established its edge through superior pricing, logistics or performance marketing. These are obviously important building blocks when scaling a business, but as industries mature, the importance of strong brands grows. Breaking into pop-culture is definitely a way to strengthen a company’s brand, something that online retailers will need in the fight for consumers going forward,” David Sandström concludes.

We at Klarna want to help you on the way by offering the best and most favoured payment solution out there. Our mission is to remove friction from the world of online payments, and we believe that the best way of manifesting that is through popular culture. And what better way of doing this than to team up with Snoop?


Read more: How to Connect with Consumers Through Culture