Culture has turn out to be a well-liked buzzword in marketing as brands juggle mandates around complex topics like sustainability and diversity and inclusion while also attempting to grow their business. This yr has put front and center the pitfalls that arise when a cultural play doesn’t pan out, or worse, becomes a lightning rod for negative media attention. As marketers attempt to strike the correct tone on this environment, agencies like Cashmere that give attention to making brands more culturally relevant and socially forward are reaping the advantages.
Amid a period of industry belt-tightening, the Los Angeles-based agency has racked up several account wins. Dave & Buster’s named the shop its social and public relations agency of record (AOR) in February while Marriott Bonvoy appointed Cashmere its social AOR in March, Marketing Dive can exclusively share. Cashmere, which was merged into S4 Capital’s Media.Monks unit in 2021, also helped Budweiser develop a recent global music platform that celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of hip-hop. Called “Raise the Crown,” the campaign has a planned rollout within the yr’s second half and will extend into 2024.
“[Brands] all wish to be younger, all of them wish to be more diverse, all of them wish to be more culturally relevant, meaning showing up in ways in which matter for his or her consumer,” said Ryan Ford, Cashmere’s president and chief creative officer, while nodding to the economic pressures weighing on budgets.
For established brands, just like the greater than 40-year-old Dave & Buster’s, a cultural agency is positioned as a contemporary option to elevate a social presence. The “eater-tainment” company is aiming to lift the profile of its namesake brand in addition to Main Event, a purveyor of bowling, laser tag and other event spaces it acquired for $835 million last yr, with Cashmere’s expertise.
“Cashmere has proven their ability to discover, create and quickly motion impactful campaigns that resonate with diverse audiences in a way that we felt could take our marketing approaches to the following level,” said Ashley Zickefoose, CMO of Dave & Buster’s, in an email.
“We needed a powerhouse agency like Cashmere that might help us unlock the potential of each brand by tapping into cultural conversations and bringing each brand to life in powerful yet less scripted forums,” Zickefoose added.
Earning the highlight
Part of Cashmere’s appeal with clients stems from a give attention to earned media and social impact over traditional paid media plays that could be more costly and time-intensive to execute, the corporate says. Mass consumer brands have more regularly espoused the advantages of earned media at a time when their shoppers — and particularly worthwhile, more diverse young cohorts — usually tend to spend downtime on apps like TikTok than watching cable TV. Ford compared the corresponding shift happening with agencies to the appearance of streaming, when Netflix left brick-and-mortar rivals like Blockbuster within the dust.
“You don’t throw out the newborn with the bathwater. You don’t throw out linear TV or network commercials,” said Ford, who has worked at Cashmere since 2008. “But if you happen to’re counting on that, and if that is the core of it, then you definately’re just not moving the best way that culture is moving.”
Cashmere’s philosophy is also resonating as marketers navigate a transition out of the pandemic, which helped enshrine channels like digital, social and streaming. Meanwhile, 71% of CMOs imagine they lack the budgets needed to properly execute their strategies in 2023, a recent Gartner survey revealed.
Of course, social comes with plenty of its own baggage. Twitter is a large number under Elon Musk’s ownership, Meta’s bets on the metaverse are in crisis and TikTok faces the threat of a U.S. ban. Still, Ford believes that volatility is only a reality of operating in the present environment.
“There’s all the time going to be a recent platform, there’s all the time going to be trouble with the present platform,” the chief said. “You’re all the time going to have a spokesperson who perhaps is not aligned along with your brand pillars.”
Riding the tailwinds
Marketers have at the identical time put less emphasis on traditional agency relationships as they prioritize agility and cost savings. AOR designations for creative and media agencies increased last yr, but the worth of those recent business wins plummeted, in keeping with a February report from consultancy R3, which declared the old AOR model “dead.”
Despite pullbacks, many brands are actively looking for out change within the chase to win over groups like Gen Z, potentially benefitting marketing services providers that may break from the mold.
“There’s been enough change that has forced even probably the most stodgy and stoic brands to begin fascinated by the longer term, and that future is now,” said Ford. “What we’re realizing is our clients don’t desire five-year plans, necessarily, or they cannot wait for a five-year plan.”
Marriott Bonvoy is amongst the businesses which have come out of the COVID-19 crisis on strong tailwinds, buoyed by a large rebound in consumer travel. Cashmere is working to assist the hospitality giant, which operates over 30 different brands, reach out to a reenergized “next generation” customer base on apps like TikTok and Instagram, in keeping with Ford.
“How will we show up in ways on social that mean something to this recent audience that is excited to get on the market and travel like never before after COVID?” asked Ford. “Are there pockets of culture that you’ve got a capability and serendipitous alignment with that you just have not checked in with for some time? We’re helping [Marriott Bonvoy] find that answer.”
Wedding data with culture
Cashmere, which was founded in 2003, saw its profile rise several years ago when it laid claim to being the industry’s first dedicated culture agency. Taco Bell named the shop as its cultural AOR in 2021, a singular arrangement on the time, and the Media.Monks deal followed not long after.
With the merger, Cashmere has been in a position to scale its efforts more quickly, enabled by the digital-first agency’s richer data troves, in keeping with Ford. Looking further down the road, the chief expressed interest in expanding into international markets for future growth.
“Our perspective has all the time been there, but our ability and capability to give you the chance to supply that meaningfully and consistently was limited before the merger,” said Ford. “Now, it’s unlimited.”
Parent S4 Captial saw net revenue up 7% on a like-for-like basis in the primary quarter and is targeting 8-12% growth for the complete yr. Marriott was named as one of the accounts that S4 believes could turn out to be a “whopper,” or client with greater than $20 million in revenue per yr, in keeping with an earnings statement.
Cashmere’s specialty in areas like diversity and inclusion could face tests as such topics turn out to be greater flashpoints for controversy. Target just this week pulled some store displays for LGBT Pride Month on account of threats made to employees. Recent months have surfaced several similar instances of brands coping with intense blowback over marketing efforts, large and small, which can be perceived as peddling an agenda by certain political groups. Conversely, the headline-dominating discourse surrounding these flare-ups could indicate that cultural know-how is much more necessary for marketers today.
“There are culture wars which can be happening, and if you happen to show up within the incorrect way, your core audience is going to let you already know,” said Ford. “There are shifts to understanding who your core consumer is and who your core consumer could be. This change is coming for everybody.”
Clarification: This story has been updated to make clear Cashmere’s relationship with Marriott. The account is for the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program that covers the hospitality firm’s portfolio.
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