The Power of Pop Culture in Advertising

It’s entertainment for the masses – films, seasons upon seasons of TV shows, music, fashion, locations and online trends – It’s pop culture. And it’s everywhere.

As technology has developed, popular culture has seen a massive societal shift – the internet has become the place for sharing ideas, opening up conversations, and forming relationships based on common interests, all built around pop culture.

We only have to look at the popularity of TV shows like Game Of Thrones, Stranger Things, Euphoria, and The Office (we could go on) – and the trove of content viewers have created based on moments from the shows. Makeup looks based on the characters, how to choose an outfit based on different personalities, and endless spoofs, reactions and general appreciation videos have flooded our social media feeds for what seems forever.


HAND. OVER. THE. TURTLES. ?#worldchocolateday #theoffice #office #comedy #funny

♬ original sound – The Office

The power of these homages is something we don’t think anyone could have predicted. Most recently, through a feature on the latest Stranger Things series (and the internet craze that followed), Kate Bush saw herself shot back into the spotlight and took the spot at number 1 after FORTY-FOUR years. Not only did the use of this song take older viewers back in time, but it also introduced an entirely new generation of music lovers to an artist.


love #strangerthings #strangerthings4 #st4 #katebush #runningupthathill #fypシ #steveharrington #music #80s #strangerthings3 #eddiemunson

♬ Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) – Kate Bush

Just like how Stranger Things sparked emotion in the viewers familiar with Running up that hill, advertising using nostalgic music or pop culture icons from days gone by has the same effect on audiences. Take your audience back to a specific time in their lives, or show them a personality they used to idolise, and psychology says they will transfer those positive feelings to your brand. Read more about the power of music in advertising here.

The comeback of the Y2K trend hasn’t escaped anyone – from Bennifer (that’s Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez) being back in the spotlight to low-rise jeans somehow being acceptable again – popular culture can revive an entire decade of products and brands. Gen Z is at the forefront of this revival – too young to immerse themselves in the trends of the time – they are bringing these trends back. Some think it’s to relive the feelings of being young and carefree after a turbulent few years of being anything but carefree.


I have an obsession and I’m okay with it @juicycouture ✨?⭐️? #juicycouture #juicytracksuit #90saesthetic #90sstyle #pinterestoutfit #y2koutfits


The proof is in the Y2K pudding. Searches for Juicy Couture Tracksuits are up by 110% according Google Trends, and the same hashtag on TikTok has over 341.7M views.

Like the Y2K revival, a popular culture that took the world by storm was K-Pop. Korean pop music wasn’t a fast one to take off in western culture, but the masses eventually accepted K-pop with the help of hits like ‘Gangnam style’, a significant milestone in Korean pop’s path. Fast forward ten years, and you see Korean boyband BTS selling out shows across the US and partnering with British mega-band Coldplay. After the success of K-pop, Korean films began coming into the mainstream of western viewing, and when ‘Parasite’ won Best Picture at The Oscars, Korean pictures were officially out of the dark in the west. Then, in 2021, ‘The Squid Game’ was released on Netflix, breaking viewership records with 111million users watching the tense drama – creating a new pop culture moment.

And, when there’s a pop culture moment, social media content follows. The Squid Game took over TikTok with challenges derived from the show and ‘#SquidGame’ has racked up over 22.8billion views on the platform.


he knows #squidgame #kdrama #squidgamenetflix #foryou

♬ she knows – favsoundds

In 2022, it’s not just meme accounts and hardcore fan pages that are creating content around their favourite pop culture moments, brands and businesses alike are all seeing the benefit, across all industries. In a people-first social marketing age, pop culture helps drive endless opportunities for brands – the trick is understanding how to tap into the pop culture mindset. In simpler times, it could be a well-placed product during a TV show or a partnership with a superstar on a billboard – if you had the cash, of course. Now, there are more and more opportunities for smaller brands to capitalise on popular culture.

So, how can brands benefit?

  1. Better content visibility – brands who are up to date with all things pop culture can create relevant content that attracts more viewers.
  2. Stronger consumer relationships – having something in common with your audience means stronger connections and increased brand loyalty.
  3. A better understanding of your customer base – understanding the pop culture content your audience likes to consume gives you an insight into their personality and will put you in better stead to create content they find valuable.
  4. A brand with an approachable personality – injecting some personality into your brand keeps you coming across as robotic and cold-sales focused.
  5. More sales funnel entries – relatable content with good engagement brings more potential customers into your sales funnel while being authentic and personable.

Some examples? Sure.

Wordle took hold.

What started as a way for the creator to keep his partner entertained gained a handful of regular players before gaining massive media attention. The game was bought by The New York Times for a 7-figure amount and is played daily by 300,000 fans.

During its early days when Twitter users were still posting their colourful grids of success, brands were quick to jump on the bandwagon.

Ryanair is absolutely smashing it on TikTok lately, so this rendition of a popular meme starring Megan Thee Stallion and a captivated Cara Delevigne is as they say on TikTok ‘perfect, perfect, perfect.’

Memes are the perfect way for you to showcase your brand’s personality. They’re relatable, shareable, and the perfect way to test out more authentic content with your audience.

Challenger bank Monzo set out to do things differently. They’re the bank that doesn’t act like a bank, while following all the rules and regulations on the financial side, they don’t follow suit when it comes to marketing and social media.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by monzo (@monzo)

Memes are a long-standing pop culture movement of their own. They take easily identifiable media samples or situations and apply them to other scenarios that people can relate to – they can be endlessly remade and tweaked to suit many needs. Popular meme creator Saint Hoax, boasting three million Instagram followers says a meme is “a piece of media that is repurposed to deliver a cultural, social or political expression, mainly through humour. It has the ability to capture insight in a way that is in complete alignment with the zeitgeist.”


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A post shared by Saint Hoax (@sainthoax)

So what?

In a world where attention spans are shorter than ever, brands need to work harder to keep their audience’s attention – they’re going to need to stay culturally relevant, especially if their target market is primarily generations like Gen Z and millennials.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – if you want something to say, start by listening. Your audience is out there, engaging with the content they want to see. Tracking these digital interactions means you can get insight into the topics that will help you start more genuine and organic conversations – did someone say social listening? Just like in everyday conversations, listening is how you bring real value to the person you’re talking to. Listening helps you build rapport and trust with your audience. It also helps you understand their pain points and opportunities for you to help them.

Where there’s a pop culture moment: social media content is sure to follow. BUT, this doesn’t mean your brand needs to get involved – some things won’t be a good fit for your brand, and you should never try to force things. People can see through inauthenticity, and your content WILL flop.

People can (and want to) experience more cultures and different genres of art than ever before – pop culture can provide a safe place for us to experiment, reassess our beliefs, normalise progressive ideas and be inclusive of other cultures and customs. You just have to make sure what you’re saying shows your true brand values, and you can back it up with action. Easy.

It can also revive an era we thought was long gone, from Kate Bush to impractical handbags and velvet tracksuits. We’re just waiting for this bad boy to come back…

If you want to spice up your content with some pop culture, you’re in the right place.

Get in touch.