Is Culture Really King?

2007 – Andrew Breitbart launches built on the now ubiquitous political maxim politics is downstream of culture. He believed that in a representative democracy like the U.S., whatever is true in the wider culture – trends, attitudes, movements – will be reflected in the election results. As the nation moves right or left, so too will the red and blue electoral maps. First culture, then politics. Easy enough. Makes sense. This does seem to play out election cycle by election cycle – and what a wild ride it is! So wild, in fact, that it can be nauseating!

The same can be said of business, education trendlines, the arts, and religious institutions. Truly, almost every element of our lives is downstream of culture if you think about it. Why?

Because culture is everything.

It means everything because it encompasses almost everything – it is our mode of being, the governing framework for what has value and what we hate. Culture is the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group, or the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a given place or time. It is everything we do and so those who influence the culture will control its trajectory and thus, the society’s future.

Back in 2007, Andrew Breitbart was saying, essentially if you want political objectives reached, influence the voters through cultural leverage points. Fifteen years later, the culture wars have dominated the media as the grand political tug-of-war continues. To what end? We can only guess.

Why bring this up as a creative agency? What does that have to do with all the brand development, ad campaign messaging, and media we build?

Well, obviously we help create narratives and create emblems that *should* be effectively influencing the marketplace. But we think this emphasis on ‘culture’ means more than simply that. The social culture wars are one thing. The way brands build their culture (internal/external) is quite another. And so we are diving into culture discussions ALL. THE . TIME.

But that isn’t the point of this piece – we discovered something that we think is a rather big breakthrough: everything may be downstream of culture, but culture itself is downstream of one overriding, overarching variable: 


A culture is only the expression of the ‘god’ it reveres, adores, celebrates, obeys, exalts, sacrifices to, fights for, and whatever mandates/laws flow down from this ‘god.’ In the branding world, it is fashionable to say that ‘culture is king,’ but we might suggest, in light of this understanding, that there is something just beyond the culture that truly determines, well… everything. A non-profit may worship ‘the ecology of Brazil’ or ‘the war against heart disease,’ and a midsize weapons manufacturing business might well worship ‘the constitutional right to bear arms.’

Modern brand experts will sometimes workshop around ‘the why’ – but we think ‘what does your business worship’ is a more interesting question. It leads to bigger insights.

Here are a couple of examples. Amazon worships ‘cost-saving efficiency’ and that should be a significant data point if you find yourself working for Amazon – gulp! Vollebak clothing company worships ‘durable clothing’ – they make pants, for example, that should last for more than 100 years – fireproof and abrasion-resistant, they cost nearly $700, but no price is too high a sacrifice for durability. Those who worship the same ‘god’ are prepared to make similar sacrifices.

See how that works: the brand worships and those who are similarly aligned in their worship find their match. This is how tribes and civilizations have always worked – it is well beyond the motivations of ‘why’ -this is more primal and raw, more molecular and invasive. Worship determines the culture and the culture governs everything. 

There’s one last thing worth mentioning. When we get into these discussions, we always take money off the table. Money can’t be the god, for the purpose of this exercise. Money is a god, of course, in real life. But in the enterprise of brand building, we consider money to simply function like fuel – it powers a business toward its focus of adoration. Now, no business continues to exist without the fuel, we know that, but a ‘money at all cost’ business without a soul or a larger purpose won’t succeed nearly as well as a business that exists to achieve something beyond the deposits at the bank. Money is burned off in pursuit of the larger objective – the veneration of whatever the company exalts. If all goes well, money flows into the revenue column when the reverence and service have succeeded, when the god is well-served.

So- what does your company worship? How is it influencing your culture? Something to think about.

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