In today’s media landscape it’s hard to be unique.  Social marketers are failing to create new ways to reach their audience with recycled strategies of charities and contests, struggling to increase engagement for the long term.  But to be fair to any audience, it’s hard for viewers and fans to commit much of their interest to obvious calls to action like “Check out our latest blog post” or the overused “Like our Page and we’ll donate to this charity!” So, how can social marketers avoid this?

The answer? They need to be more subtle, more entertaining and become part of the way people define themselves. 

Sounds hard doesn’t it?  But in our extremely fractured media landscape where advertising is everywhere, some advertisers manage to cut through the clutter.  That’s because they become a part of pop culture. They become defined by people’s interests and appeal to factors such as recognition and attention-grabbing entertainment. Over time, as advertisers utilize pop culture to build their brand message, their brand begins to merge and blend with the same piece of pop culture that was used to create the message, resulting in a fully immersive branding experience recognizable on a big scale. 

In the social marketing world, this pop culture strategy has been proven effective.  Take a look at Oreo for example: do you think they managed to attract 150,000 likes and 20,000 comments on their Facebook post just because they make cookies that taste delicious?  Not at all. It’s because they’ve built a simple marketing strategy on today’s most-talked about issues.  Which -- surprise -- makes people want to talk about them. 

The focus of each marketing campaign is to present the popular events and issues in a simple, visually stimulating, and most importantly, shareable way.

Here are some ways that big brands have become a part of pop culture:

Be Recognizable:

When Oreo decided they wanted to associate their brand with pop culture, they created a very long series of ads that people could slowly begin to relate to.  Each individual ad had to be recognizable and stand out while maintaining exposure for the brand.

Here’s an ad that garnered a lot of social activity because of the recent events surrounding the Curiosity Rover Landing on Mars.  The Nabisco brand created a visually appealing image with nothing more than one of their red Oreos.  It illustrated tire tracks running over the icing.  It was immediately recognizable and easily associated to the current events. 

This creativity allowed the event to be integrated with the brand and allowed Oreo to become a part of the social conversation.

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Oreo also managed to add to this series reflecting on the events that occurred in the 100 years since the company began.  They utilized instantly recognizable landmarks of our history to become associated with the brand.  We all remember what prohibition was right?

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Be Timely:

MTV was similarly successful as it took the opportunity to receive some brand exposure in memorial of the death of music icon Michael Jackson. However, any time advertising surrounds a death, time sensitivity is crucial.  If the ad were published too late, it wouldn’t have received the same appreciation or would have missed out of the majority of the social conversation. 

At a time when the entire nation took a moment to stop, and reflect on the life and career of a renowned musician, MTV sought the opportunity to create a tribute to the musician and become a part of the conversation.  And being a part of that conversation meant a lot of social power.  On the day in which Michael Jackson died, the public flocked to social networks to share their thoughts. Twitter crashed at around 5,000 tweets per minute.

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Be Controversial

Oreo has been extremely bold with their brand, and it has paid dividends.  Remember that Facebook post with 150,000 likes and 20,000 comments I was talking about?  It’s the Oreo advertisement below.

Oreo became the center of one of politics most impassioned debates with their “Gay Pride” cookie.  The brand took a stand for something they believe to be morally correct as they associated their brand, a cookie manufacturer, with the sexual equality movement.  As a result, this advertisement is not only shared across the web, in blogs, articles, Facebook statuses and tweets, but people are making a political statement signifying their stance as pro sexual equality by eating an Oreo.

Brands looking to do this for their own social campaigns may not want to be so bold.  But if you believe in something, feel free to make it known in a way that is not offensive to others.  If you sell school furniture, share opinions on education. If you sell home furniture, be active for homelessness.  If you’re an auto dealer, take a stance for the environment.

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Give Something Back – Be the Source of News

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During the Olympics, another widely discussed topic on our favorite social networks, it was hard for followers to keep up with the events of the day.  But with the appropriate advertising, your brand could become Olympic contenders themselves.  Followers of the brand Nutella were constantly given updates on the Olympic events of the day through a series of creative advertisements to tell them which sports would be aired. 

This allowed Nutella to keep people interested in the Olympics by highlighting which events were taking place in a visually creative way instead of following a typical (and boring) schedule of events.

By following these similar strategies, your brand can become a part of the social conversation online much more naturally and appeal to the interests of the public audience.  By merging your brand slowly with pop culture and current events, the public will be more at ease to advertising and begin to associate the ads with the defining factors of their life.  With these strategies, hardly any other internet marketing companies will be able to keep up.