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12Sep 2019
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Local Culture Versus Global Homogeneity: Pick a Side

This article first appeared on Little Black book on 11th September 2019.

I saw a brand film last year that blew my mind.

It was a film from Thailand called ‘Friendshit’. It was weird. From the casting, to the timing, to the script. But, good weird.

It felt original. Different from the flashy brand films with massive budgets that we’re all used to seeing. What made it so appealing was that it felt like it could only have been made by Thai creatives. I wish I made it, because I know I never could have made it. This piece of film was so culturally specific and that’s what was so alluring about it. The Cannes Film jury found it alluring too. It went on to win four Film Lions.

We are all acutely aware of the steady creep towards global homogeneity. Back home, cultural and event spaces all over Dublin are being sold to make way for the building of hotels. Cranes have begun to dominate our city’s skyline. Places that held exhibitions, hosted gigs for up-and-coming artists, and gave people their first breaks are dying. Groups like Give Us the Night have formed to mobilise the fight against the cultural decline of our city. They’ve been working hard to protect music and night culture, because when a city becomes hostile to culture, artists suffer. Without the necessary gig and cultural event spaces, artists are driven out of the country.

While Ireland was experiencing this cultural squeeze, we were briefed to create a music campaign for Three Mobile. Made By Music was an initiative that took Three’s platform and used it to spotlight Irish music artists. Rather than using the budget to make traditional ads, we sought to nurture culture through the commissioning of two collaborative tracks from six artists, three artists per track.

As creatives, we’re problem solvers. In a city where musicians are struggling, this felt like a better use of the campaign’s budget. If the aim was to increase the brand’s association with music, while doing something credible in music, using the budget to commission more music and financially support artists to enable them to continue to create, felt like the right answer given the current state of culture in Ireland. When artists aren’t supported. They leave.

Last year in Romania, a piece of work called Bihor Couture was created in response to Dior stealing the design of a traditional jacket made by local craftspeople in Bihor. It stood up against cultural appropriation and returned money to the communities who the design belonged to. It went on to win a number of PR Lions at Cannes. This campaign stood out because of its cultural specificity. 

One of the reasons why Nike’s Nothing Beats a Londoner, a piece of work you’ve probably seen more times than you’ve seen your own mother’s face, was a success was because it wasn’t a generic sportswear ad, it was entirely down to cultural specificity. Not only was it a fantastically crafted piece of work, but it delved into the cultural nuances of London, and that’s what gave it its charm, proved that this iconic American brand was down with the real London kids. Celebrating the really specific and looking at what’s different about that particular market set them apart and is what made it a more entertaining piece of film.

How can we create work that connects brands with a wider audience more effectively by responding to what’s happening within our society? By celebrating and supporting culture through entertainment, and in doing so generate commercial success for the brands we work with. It’s the ultimate two birds, one stone.

Some creatives may never have the multi-million dollar film budgets to compete with the bigger global agencies, but why strive to create a piece of film with a whopper budget that looks like it could have been made by anyone, when you could make a piece of work that could have only been inspired by your market? What makes these pieces of work more entertaining is the fact that they feel different and fresh. Isn’t that the very definition of creativity – newness?

Of course, not all work is going to be culturally specific, but smaller markets can get noticed globally by leaning into what makes them different. In theory, what’s hyper local should make it irrelevant to everyone else, but in practice it’s what makes it interesting. It’s what sets work apart, makes it entertaining and gets it noticed.

Avril Delaney is a Senior Copywriter at Boys + Girls