Cultural paradigms are among the most important determinants of behaviour and motivation. This knowledge, confirmed to us repeatedly across projects, is at the core of our approach. Unfortunately, in the field of communications, cultural paradigms are often neglected.
To take a simple example: when the weather is hot, the cultural response varies from one group to another. Some cultures will see people consume iced beverages in the belief that, the colder the drink, the more the body will cool down. In other cultures, the response is hot beverages like tea, to elevate the body temperature and diminish the perception of external heat.
One would a priori believe that our human response to heat is a functional and physiological need only – nothing to do with culture. But our actual responses show that, even when it comes to physiological needs, it is cultural conceptions, cultural theories, and ingrained beliefs that are key determinants.
In fact, cultural beliefs can even obstruct physiological efficiency. Health authorities from the 1950s onward believed the struggle against obesity involved controlling fat intake, due to the not unreasonable association of dietary fat with, well, getting fat. But it is now well documented that sugar, an ingredient culturally less associated with body weight, plays the greater role (The Sugar Conspiracy, Ian Leslie, The Guardian, 7 April 2016).
It is not enough for brand communications to look only at functional and emotional insights. It is equally important to define a cultural insight for a brand, to ensure communications are relevant in the culture. And if, instead, they challenge the dominant culture, that they do it in a way that is efficient, and not simply “culturally counter-productive.”
So, for example, we have defined cultural insights for the “local” brands we have been involved with, by investigating the cultural paradigm of “local”. This has helped an understanding of the beliefs of target consumers: that products produced locally are more responsibly made, and better suited to the needs of local customers; that they respect knowledge of how things should be made; and that they offer more proximity, more accountability, and more humanity.