As business people and consumers we may think we are pretty normal, and as we look around at friends, colleagues, and family, that perception may well be largely confirmed. If your business involves a value chain that ends somewhere in the mass market, then you should think again. I am guessing most of the readers of this letter are not in the societal mainstream. Most of you have higher than average IQ, income, assets and higher educational degrees. Fair enough. Also, you probably don't have as much of an appreciation of popular culture as you thought. Why do I say that? Keep reading. Why should you care? Consumer trends are developing and moving up the value chain to industrial goods, chemicals, and services – faster than ever. If you ignore a large portion of society, your business is going to be caught flat-footed in strategy, product development, marketing, and sales.
Consider the following trends in popular-culture:
- The highest selling record album of all time, globally, is Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Sure, you knew that. You probably had the album or knew someone who did. You can sing that song (admit it). Fine. The second highest selling album? ACDC’s Back in Black. Surprised?
- People spend a lot of time online. Facebook is popular with folks of a certain age and with advertisers. The page with the most followers? Samsung (I had no idea either). Number two at 122 million followers? Cristiano Ronaldo, Portuguese footballer. Number four? (I am skipping Zuckerberg at three.) Real Madrid, Spanish football club. Most followed American page at 107 million. Coca Cola. Go figure! It gets weirder. Instagram. Most followers? Ronaldo again at 217 million. Number two? Ariana Grande. Number three? Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson. You have probably heard of him, but might not have guessed he would be number three on Instagram with 182 million followers. What’s that all about?
- Let’s go into completely unfamiliar territory, TikTok. (Google it). Charli D’Amelio (nope, I don’t know her either) has the most followers at 53.5 million; number two at 43 million is Loren Grey. I have to go down the list to number 18 with 23.5 million followers to find someone I have heard of and it is Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson again!
Are you beginning to think that there is a big slice of life going on out there that you are completely unaware of? You’re right. Consider influencers. What even is an influencer? A girl in a bikini on Instagram? Possibly. More broadly it is someone who folks listen to and imitate. And I mean they do this to such an extent that large companies will pay huge sums of money merely to be associated with them. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Bill Nye, the Science Guy are
influencers. Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Cardi B – now there are some influencers. Their combined Instagram following is over 400 million. You don't think they influence our culture? Or even your daily life? Consider a certain U.S. president, meeting with Ms. Kardashian to discuss criminal justice reform. You may not like it, but it happened. At 22 years old, Kylie Jenner (Kim’s half sister) is the youngest self-made billionaire on the planet. She just sold half of her cosmetics business to Coty for $600 million. Women everywhere, of a certain demographic, want to look like her. Lastly, there is Cardi B. Her rap songs are replete with streams of invective of a mostly graphic, let’s say, physical nature. Her songs are staples at bar mitzvahs and quincieneras across the land. She is a top-selling music artist with that ultimate badge of mainstream acceptance and influence – a Christmas Pepsi TV commercial. Surprising? It shouldn't be.
Have I depressed you? That was not my intention. I would like to motivate you to stay in touch with those parts of the culture you might normally ignore. Read
magazine now and again. Everyone I mentioned in this article has been in there (even ACDC). You may not like the content of
(“Meghan Markle’s cute nickname for Archie”), but each week, this magazine is read by 98.5 million people. That beats your likely favorites:
( 1.7 million ),
(1.2 million), and even
( 17.2 million). Something with that deep a reach reflects and shapes a huge chunk of the culture. I am not asking you to like it. I am asking you to study it. Large volumes of mass market spending are driven by the people, events, and themes covered in
and other media outlets.
And read the ads in
. The copy I have in front of me now has pages purchased by P&G, L'Oreal, Church & Dwight, J&J, Colgate, and Boots skin care. These are your customers or your companies, right?
So, in summary. The larger culture is speaking every day. For the good of your business, you should tune in once in a while. As a side effect you may also understand the rest of the world a little better.