Is Facebook a Culture?

This afternoon I had an interesting debate with several colleagues about the roles and differences of brand and culture.

Can a product or service create a culture of customers?

Choose Wisely!

Choose Wisely!

While creating its own culture is the holy grail of a brand manager, it is rarely if ever achieved. A well executed brand will have consumers associating positive qualities about the product or service. The brand will elicit emotional reactions and creat a self-branded consumer image through these positive traits.

For example the Mercedes brand denotes luxury, class, status, sophistication and wealth. Mercedes has invested heavily to create their brand. Their customers feed off this image. If you own a Mercedes you are …..fill in the blank. This is, however, an example of good branding, not a culture.

By the way, what I associate most about Mercedes is a significantly different Brand image.

Mercedes Branding?

Mercedes Branding?

Culture is anthropological. It is a collection of societal norms, behaviors, customs, beliefs and values. Culture requires human contact, communication and structure.

Cultures exist at many different levels. Nations, religions, regions, teams, and companies all have cultures. Any collection of humans that interact on a regular basis will develop a culture. Successful companies understand the importance of corporate culture and attempt to manage the culture to support their product/service creation and delivery process. Conservative companies such as utilities or financial institutions will have a conservative culture to match their conservative brand. Standard offices, boring office art, formal business attire, strict hierarchy and low risk taking would be a typical culture for these brands.

alley1Emerging data service companies in Silicon Alley will likely be more progressive. Open office plans in a remodeled loft building, funky furniture, relaxed (but always stylish) office wear, and more ad-hoc communications would be the culture to support a more avant-garde Web product. Culture supports brand. Brand does not create external culture.


Companies that produce products have cultures, what they produce has a brand.

There is a hybrid concept put forth by marketing consultants called “Brand Culture”. My view is that this is pandering to brand managers who want their brand to become a culture. It also pads the wallets of those pandering consultants. Good market branding on their part!

Brands can however tap into cultural trends and capitalize and what exists in different cultural groups. Brands can even strengthen and reinforce cultural values.
Sometimes this connection between a brand and it cultural constituents is planned and intentional and sometimes it just happens. Axe body products have created products that tap into the young teen boys culture. This is a culture desperately wanting acceptance from the recently discovered females. axe_million_dollarcapitalizes on their culture, their values, their fears and desires and created a brand image that with one quick spritz of their product, woman would fall at their feet. This sounds almost too ridiculous to be taken seriously.  Yet, from personal experience with a relative recently in that demographic, I can definitely say that the brand tapped into this culture as they doused themselves in Axe on a daily basis. Of course after several years of using the product and not having it deliver on its brand promise, the fantasy and the use vanishes.

Brands do not create culture.  Brands can capitalize on existing cultural trends and can even enhance pre-existing cultures.

An unintentional example of a brand tapping into a culture is Subaru. In the 1990’s Subaru realized that their cars were very popular with Lesbians. Their brand had tapped into a culture without a targeted plan to do so. To Subaru’s credit they realized their strength in this segment and have attempted to enhance their brand as being gay-friendly. Subaru was a major corporate sponsor for the Showtime series, “The L word”.L Word

This discussion leads to the title of this blog and one of this afternoon’s debate points. Is Facebook a culture? Do people who use Facebook form a culture?

My answer is no. Facebook is a reflection of the There are many diverse cultures that exist in our world. If you use Facebook try this exercise. List all of the cultures that you belong to outside of Facebook. My list would include: My immediate family, my extended family, my local friends, my life long friends, business associates, my religion, high school friends, college friends, etc. Each of these groups has a somewhat unique culture that is further encompassed by a New York Culture and an American culture. We live in many different cultural environments with some dominating others depending on any particular situation.

Do you have your list?

Log into Facebook and compare your Facebook network to your existing cultural groups. How many total strangers have you really met on Facebook that are outside of your pre-existing cultural groups? Do you associate Facebook membership at the same level as your religion? Your nationality? Your family?

Facebook is a service that is branded with qualities of worldwide reach, connections, communications, simplicity, etc. It may serve to connect existing cultures, strengthen and extend others, but a culture onto itself? Nope.

If you can think of a product or service that has manufactured and maintained an external culture that would stand shoulder to shoulder with any anthological culture, please post them in the comments of this blog.


Filed under advertising, facebook, gay, holy grail, lesbian, mercedes, mobile, New York, subaru

4 responses to “Is Facebook a Culture?

  1. idbranding

    Nice question, and nice discourse upon that question, Steven. I guess we are one of the “consultants” talking about Brand Culture. (Although we’re a branding agency, not consultants.)

    In the interest of keeping this brief, you can read our thoughts on this in our white paper at

    What we propose is that a brand does not literally become a culture, but that it can act metaphorically like a culture. The great examples of that might be Harley Davidson, BMW Motorcycles, Saturn, Patagonia, and other brands where the customers feel more like participants than merely consumers.

    I’m with you. It would be hubris to think that a brand can actually be equivalent to a human structure as complex and vital to life as the anthropological definition of a culture.

    I just think we can help brands operate more like a culture, which would be an alternative to creating an external brand image which people either swallow or don’t.

    Like you, I’d say Facebook is a ground for cultures rather than a culture in and of itself. Yet Facebook has become a part of my identity, and is a brand which I both embrace and proclaim. And I carefully watch Facebook’s actions, and the values implied by those actions, to make sure they align with my values.

    So, in a way, Facebook is operating the way we describe brands which offer a culture-like experience.

    Can’t wait to read other peoples’ responses.

    – Doug Lowell

  2. Pingback: Interesting question about Brand Culture « ID-ology

  3. Apple, Harley Davidson, Saturn, to name a few.

    There is indeed a distinction that needs to be made between brands and cultures. They are different, but an external brand culture can be created. These brands and certainly others have done it.

  4. Mr. Spencer,
    You don’t see Facebook as a culture because you have too much of a life. Imagine, though, that you had no family, few friends and none of those senses of belonging and community derived from your religious beliefs.
    Well. Then you would probably value Facebook as a much larger social lifeline. As it stands, you just aren’t yearning for meaning and interaction quite enough to make the leap. Until you’re old and alone, living on a rented houseboat with a stack of Hustlers and 16 cats, you won’t need Facebook to be a huge part of your life. For now, it can just be a useful tool for reconnecting with old friends and taking bold political stances (Cancer is bad. Racism is bad. Email should be free.)
    You’ll come around, though. Everybody does.
    Friend Ya Later,