The Challenges Established Brands Face to Stay Relevant

02 Mar 2016|Added Value

Not even the promise – and ultimate delivery  – of Chris Rock skewering the Hollywood establishment at Sunday’s Motion Picture Academy Awards could make up for the void in cultural relevance represented by this year’s Oscars.

Events like the Grammys and the Academy Awards were once thought of as cultural juggernauts, bathed in searchlights, with the glamorous sheen of power and prestige. But their appeal and influence are waning, as is viewership.  And, as a new study reveals, their places of cultural prominence are at risk of being overtaken by other, more culturally sharp, responsive, and relevant entertainments in the competing clamor for consumers’ attention.

The current cultural weaknesses of both the Grammys and the Academy Awards are reflected in SNAPSHOT, a new study conducted by WPP-owned Added Value which analyzes brands’ cultural relevancy, equity, and character.  Both events are revealed as being on dangerous ground, at the risk of fading from cultural relevance.   Their VIBE, i.e., a multi-dimensional composite of how Visionary, Inspiring, Bold and Exciting they’re perceived to be, fall below global benchmarks.

Of course it’s not that movies and music are any less important in our lives.  Just look at streaming media brands Netflix and Spotify, whose Cultural VIBE soars.


The question of the relevance of awards shows is not helped by the fact that, in very public ways, they’ve struggled to stay on top of cultural change. The adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity certainly doesn’t hold true in light of #Oscarssowhite.  The system of membership that, over time, assembled an “Academy” of voters that, by and large, is white, old, and male, led to a year that completely disregarded the incredible performances and productions by people of color.  The very fact that this could happen as a natural result of the historical structures in place that define who and what the Academy is, serves as an apt metaphor for what threatens awards shows as a whole: a lack of awareness of their own cultural tone-deafness.

Programs intended to celebrate the apex of artistic talent in mainstream America, if not the world, have fallen from grace.  Indeed, a deeper analysis of VIBE reveals a stunning lack of Inspiration delivered by the Grammys, and even more so, the Oscars.  Inspiration, defined by pride of association with the brand, perception of the brand making the world a better place, and desire to attach emotionally to the brand beyond its normal domain, is exceptionally low for both events. As younger generations of Americans are themselves increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, phenomena like #Oscarssowhite push brands toward cultural in-consequence.

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Contrast this bleak portrait of the Oscars and Grammys  with the cultural vibrancy uncovered in SNAPSHOT of Netflix and Spotify.  Driving Netflix’s and Spotify’s VIBE is their relevant disruption: they are both game changers that have upended entertainment consumption through the smart use of technology, connectivity and analytics, capitalizing on our desire for seamless personalization.  Both services – and especially Netflix – are strong performing brands today, and are poised to become even stronger cultural influences in the future. Netflix and Spotify both have a media offer that is highly relevant for consumers from convenience to content.  For example, Neftlix’s original series has launched hit shows like Master of None and original films like Beasts of No Nation — which cater to different niche audiences but broadly reflect the emergent themes, values and stories of this cultural moment.

While it’s certainly not surprising that Netflix and Spotify enjoy greater VIBE than the Oscars and Grammys among Millennials/GenY, it is actually Gex X and Boomers that are most disillusioned with the award shows.  Perhaps they can recall when these shows were less empty ritual and more ‘must see TV,’ actually driving the cultural conversation.  After all, prior to the dawn of social media, these yearly events gave the cultural stamp of approval to the films, songs and artists of the day.

Naturally, the comparison of once-yearly events to services available 24/7 is not quite apples to apples.  But that’s precisely the point.  The younger, technology-native brands have the cultural edge on older, establishment icons whose formats, structures, and processes were developed during a different era, reflecting the cultural values and roles of those times.

The challenge for historic entertainment institutions like the Academy Awards (in its 87th year) and the Grammys (in its 57th) is figuring out how to stay relevant to and for this cultural moment.  Kanye West diagnosed the problem himself with this post-program tweet to Grammy Chief Neil Portnow, “Neil please reach out as soon as possible so we can make the Grammys culturally relevant again.”

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If not, the risk is that not only will they be in danger of ceding the perception of their brands to the social media deluge of tweets, takes, and analysis that dominate the cultural conversation, but that they will fall completely, and forever, into cultural irrelevance, as much a relic of a bygone era as the video rental chains and cassette tapes of yesterday.

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