As a Creative Consultant, it’s my job to know pop culture. No really—there’s a line right in my job description that states I’m expected to stay up to date on this stuff. But before you go thinking I only spend my days watching cat videos or reading BuzzFeed lists, let me explain.
In public relations, staying up to date on current events is a crucial component of the job. This knowledge allows you to understand context, which is a critical component for knowing how and when to communicate with your target audience.
As a creative communicator, pop culture is my version of current events. Through consuming pop culture and staying on top of what’s hot and what’s not, I can use that information to inform messaging. By understanding the cultural context, I can draw on popular themes to help make our messaging more relatable to our target audiences.
There are plenty of examples of this in action. A great example is Apple’s most recent ad featuring Drake. Would it have been as successful if they used a relatively unknown/obscure artist instead? Probably not. By using one of the world’s biggest and most popular music stars, Apple demonstrates cultural relevance, which in turn implies they’re a company that ‘gets it’. In other words, if they’re on top of trends, then their products must be too.
To use a less product-focused example, the “SickKids vs: Undeniable” video recently released by Toronto Sick Kids leveraged pop culture’s moment with superheroes—Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil, etc.—to create engaging content that appeals to a broader audience. While the messaging is powerful on its own, the use of popular superhero tropes and imagery makes it all the more impactful.
But what does any of this have to do with why I’m not watching Gilmore Girls?
The context. The context was never really right for me to become a fan.
I didn’t watch the show when it debuted in 2000 on account of my parents’ refusal to get cable TV (hi mom and dad!). And once I moved out on my own, the show was into its fourth season and catching up would have involved a trip to the video rental store. Remember, the early 2000s were the days before streaming services and Netflix as we know it were a thing. In short, I might have been the target audience, but the storyline and characters on Gilmore Girls didn’t appeal to me enough to become a late adopter—then or now.
Just because something is part of pop culture, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to resonate with everyone—including members of your target audience. Not every message is going to land every time. Even the most creative, best executed, and deeply compelling messaging will fall short if the right context doesn’t exist.
Beyond just being able to interpret the pop culture landscape, creative communicators like myself need to be able to understand the context of the messaging and the point of view of the audience. By having this insight and knowledge, we can be strategic about which references we choose to leverage and how.
From there, it’s just a matter of weighing which message is likely to resonate with the largest number of people. Popular culture by definition is for the masses, but even amongst the masses there are still outliers. We need to be comfortable with the knowledge there will never be one message that will be everything to everyone—and be able to counsel our clients on this too.
And so, while I may not be taking part in this particular pop culture moment, I can still appreciate it. Nostalgia is a powerful force after all. But in the meantime, I’ll be holding out for the remake of Murphy Brown. Or at least crossing my fingers that the original makes it to Netflix sometime soon.
——— Mel Hennigar is a former Senior Creative Strategist at NATIONAL Public Relations