America is a smorgasbord, and yes, even a melting pot of different cultures, each embracing their own value and belief system. Somehow and in some way, though, we as Americans have found a way to unite these wildly different and heterogenous cultures and from this, a sense of homogenous American culture has risen, one that sets us apart from other nations. It’s not the easiest to explain and it varies region by region throughout the United States, but there are certainly many recognizable elements that are truly and uniquely American.

If you visit Buzzfeed any time of the week, you will have noticed that this “zillennial” (Generation Z and Millennials) news and pop culture website banks on this very topic nearly every week, most recently in the article, Things That Prove Someone Is An American Tourist, where non-Americans identify specific American behavior that makes us stick out like a sore thumb wherever we travel. As such, this is embedded in our culture and in how we respond to different brands.

Let’s take a delicious dessert and personal favorite of mine: the doughnut. Dunkin Donuts claims that “American runs on Dunkin.” Doughnuts are a very well liked treat for us. Even in weddings, guests will ooh and ahh when the bridge and the groom gift their guests with the ever-so-amazing “wall of doughnuts.” Whether it’s Dunkin Donuts or Krispy Kremes, Americans associate doughnuts with a yummy and sweet comfort food, ripe for many occasions but particularly for breakfast. Some doughnuts and coffee and you’re ready to hit the ground running! Heck, even the old stereotype of policemen grabbing some doughnuts during downtime is still prevalent to this day.

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But did you know that when Krispy Kreme decided to jump the Atlantic and open a market in the United Kingdom, the Brits had no idea what to do with the doughnut? They did not associate it as a breakfast food. Krispy Kremes understood this difference in cultural understanding of the product, and so they decided to angle it thusly: present the Krispy Kreme doughnut as a a special treat to bring to the office during special occasions. It is commonplace for Brits to bring cake to the office and share it among workmates. This move allowed Krispy Kreme to successfully penetrate the market, showing the importance of cultural understanding when it comes to branding.

On the flipside, Pepsi faced a PR nightmare when it released it’s now infamous commercial featuring Kendall Jenner, the “Live for Now” ad campaign. The commercial tackled various social issues head on, from Black Lives Matter to the Civil Rights movement, in a completely tone deaf manner that promptd Bernice King the daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. to say:

“If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi”

When we are talking about cultural branding, companies must understand their audience intimately and how their audience will decode their message. Considered highly offensive, it was removed from circulation after just one day. Pepsi failed to make a genuine connection with their audience and as a result, were dealt a huge blow.

Per the book “Strategic Brand Management” here are some key insights to follow when companies attempt to connect to their audiences through cultural branding:

  1. Some cultures are individualistic, while others refer to the collective, to the whole, as being more important
  2. Brands themselves can be “symbolic of culture.” Pper the book, “Academic resesaerchers have found that culturally symbolic brands are preferred when consumers [have] a high level of cultural identification with a given culture, or when their social identity [is] threatened.” (Strategic Brand Management, Page 527)
  3. “Brands have different personalities across cultures.” (Strategic Brand Management, Page 527)

When messaging their branding communication and messaging, companies need to be extremely aware of who they are speaking to, because they have much to gain if they get it right. If they do, brands can even become cultural icons – case in point: Nike – because of the way it resonates with the culture.