The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

Ignore culture at your peril

Initially delayed, Culturama proved well worth the wait. Members appreciated the entertaining and insightful session that Nick Gadsby and Oliver Sweet delivered.

Culturama took place on Wednesday 12th December and was a fun, entertaining masterclass in ‘culture’ at the London Art House, Islington. It gave an opportunity for Nick Gadsby and Oliver Sweet to share leading thinking, best practice and top tips in anthropology, semiotics and ethnography.

Culture is defined by ‘the ideas, customs, and social behaviours of a particular people or society’ and is constantly changing and shaping the world around us. It allows us to evolve and remake versions of ourselves which, in turn, influence and alter our expectations of brands today.

Cultural trends reflect the ideas that unite us. What we experience collectively has always shaped our beliefs and actions, and how we chose to define ourselves. However, the accessibility and speed of digital mean shared experiences impact upon us faster and with wider consequence than ever before.

This session highlighted how integral culture is in our everyday lives, and hence how surprising it is that it is often neglected by brands. Oliver Sweet suggested in his presentation that the absence of actionable cultural insight is due to the difficulty in measuring ‘culture’, and that this is what often makes it difficult to create clear, defined outcomes for clients.

But, as some brands have learnt the hard way, when it comes to global marketing, a ‘one size fits all’ approach does not work. An interesting case study, discussed by Oliver, raised the importance of incorporating cultural differences in marketing. When P&G launched Pampers in Japan, it totally missed the mark by running an ad, depicting a stork delivering disposable nappies, that had done well in the US. Unfortunately, the Japanese audience was left totally bemused and sales plummeted. Peaches, not storks, deliver babies in Japan. This example emphasises the need to integrate local market knowledge in to global marketing decisions, with cultural considerations having dangerous consequences if ignored.

The afternoon gave food for thought that in a post-digital age there is an increasing need to focus on the relationship between culture and customer behaviours. Customer expectations will continue to grow, with an increasing demand for personalisation making it more important than ever for brands to ‘get’ their customers and have an awareness of their culture. As researchers, it is our responsibility to look beyond what people say they do, to what they actually do, and to place culture at the forefront of insight.

 

Charlotte Culhane
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2019