arrow-right cart chevron-down chevron-left chevron-right chevron-up close menu minus play plus search share user email pinterest facebook instagram snapchat tumblr twitter vimeo youtube subscribe dogecoin dwolla forbrugsforeningen litecoin amazon_payments american_express bitcoin cirrus discover fancy interac jcb master paypal stripe visa diners_club dankort maestro trash

The Newsletter | Edition 094
Progress Report is dedicated to providing inspiration for action. In our Off-White Papers, we provide practical guidance on how to respond to our rapidly-changing world. This newsletter explores those topics in real-time, with information and action steps on how to make progress now.

But in this special newsletter series, The State Of, we dive a little deeper into the long-term work that comes after, in the places where we’re seeing new types of progress in action. From brand strategy to design, internet trends to sustainability, music to science, beauty to travel, and more.

And this time, illustrations from Ash Casper.
United as the Western World, Europe and the United States have long acted as one another's ultimate influencers. Victor Hugo, renowned 19th century French writer and senator, witnessed the inception of this relationship and predicted its ascent to modern heights: “A day will come when we shall see...the United States of America and the United States of Europe face to face, reaching out for each other across the seas.”

This prediction truly began to come to pass at the turn of the 20th century, driven by the process of globalization and the introduction of global brands as we know them today.
At SYLVAIN, we see this turning point as the birth of “Europicana.” A totally made up term, we define Europicana as a state in which the brand cultures of the US and EU are blended together, and everyday life in the cosmopolitan capitals of either region begins to feel strangely similar. In fact, take a walk around our Amsterdam office and you may think you're in New York or LA, with vegan bakeries, fresh-pressed juice shops, and boutique cycling studios transplanted from the US over the last several years.

A “Europica-nian” pioneer, Coca-Cola began exports to Europe in 1900 and like many other brands, acted as a conduit for culture. In fact, it became widely known as an exporter of American culture and values—so much so that the French Communist Party of the 1940s went on to coin the term Cocacolonization. Their fears were not entirely misplaced, as Coca-Cola admits, “many different elements of the Coca‑Cola business were standardized—such as uniforms, colors and the recipe—in anticipation of expanding the business worldwide and ensuring a consistent universal experience.” While there’s good reason to standardize brands as they scale, cultural backlash can and does happen.

So what is the backlash? While at first brands became the bridges of Europicana—callsigns to the places they came from and ways to share and enjoy other cultures—over time they have become severely ingrained and dominant figures. At worst, brands risk operating as engines of cultural homogenization. The evidence is everywhere: fast fashion brands like Boohoo have created a sea of style sameness, YouTube feeds us only the opinions we want, and McDonald’s has standardized the way we eat.

Have we reached irrevocable cultural homogeneity?

While brands have long-found efficiencies of scale and grown brand equity through consistency, consumers are increasingly seeking cultural nuance as a counterbalance to the homogeneity.

One way this is evident is the many consumers seeking nuance in local brands they feel represent their community or culture. In 2021, 70% of Americans chose to shop local, and another study suggests many consumers go local to protect cultural and personal identities that are tied to their communities.

Others are also rescinding loyalty to mass cultures that have lost the nuance that made them special. Sneakerheads hate how sneaker culture has been gentrified, and gamers are voicing their concerns that mainstream gaming culture is killing the industry. Even the UFC, once a fringe sport, now has a mainstream audience, and many are claiming “casual fans” are ruining the viewing experience.

And when brands do consider cultural nuance, consumers are increasingly critical of their attempts. Mexicans and Americans called out Burger King's "Texican Whopper" for lacking cultural sensitivity in its promotional material. Both women and the LGBTQ+ community regularly cringe at brand pandering. And tech-forward solutions—often cited as the key to achieving nuance—are repeatedly critiqued for their surface-level conclusions.

Many think that personalization could be the next-level of nuance, giving us content, services, and products that are hyper-tailored. But they’re missing the point. Personalization, while useful and necessary, is not cultural nuance.

Personalized content is most often an algorithmic echo chamber designed to gratify a consumer by feeding them their individual preferences. Whereas, cultural nuance is a set of subtle, often unspoken or implied aspects of a particular culture that can influence communication, behavior, and attitudes.

So how can we bypass the traps of Europicana and honor the true cultural nuance that lies beneath?

Here are three distinctive things you can do to begin integrating cultural nuance into your brand, product, or service experience:

  1. Build spaces for engagement and dialogue. Culture requires a place to commune, and brands, with their connections and resources, are well-positioned to be facilitators of these spaces.
  2. Let consumers lead the way. Ultimately, it’s their culture, and they’re the ones who should be determining the future of it. Listen to what they’re saying and step in with tools or motivation where it makes sense.
  3. Show up consistently. One activation, campaign, or engagement doesn’t cut it. Culture and community, and the trust that they’re built on, are created over time.

Few brands know how to action all of these points, but Bumble is one that does. Bumble continually takes steps to fulfill their brand promise, “shifting old-fashioned power dynamics and encouraging equality from the start,” by understanding the unique dating experiences of different populations. Localized efforts include campaigning to make “cyberflashing” illegal in the UK and producing interviews with American celebrities that discuss and celebrate Black love. Their Bumble Hives are physical locations that mimic the cultural inclinations of the cities they are in to serve as both a place for users to convene and build connections with the brand. On the Bumble Bizz side of the brand, the ongoing “Find Them on Bumble” campaign spotlights cities’ unique cultures and communities by showcasing real users’ career stories.

Bumble’s strategy goes far beyond pandering or personalization, bringing much-needed cultural nuance into digital dating. Can you spot the difference?

Shopping Cart