Big Brands & Popular Culture

Big brands have the ability to increase desire, they have the ability to stimulate cultural trends, and they can even go as far are shifting the paradigms of everyday life. Brands are a key element of popular culture. But what makes a brand, big? And who has hit the nail on the branding head?

As the great Beyoncé once sang: ‘Who run the world?’ BIG BRANDS.

Big brands are everywhere. They are in popular culture (even unpopular culture), and they feed into our everyday lives. They craft what we wear, what we buy, how we feel about ourselves, and they have a strong hold on our very lifestyles. Big brands have marketing budgets the size of their staff numbers, and as a result, their world domination is almost promised. But what makes a brand, big?

Brands build their strength by aligning their benefits and their marketing campaigns with our consumer psyche. Craving fried chicken? Go to KFC. Want a sparkly new diamond? Go to Tiffany & Co. Need a children’s gift? Lego’s the answer. Desperate for an answer to something? Google of course… and the list goes on.

These brands have inserted their dominance into our psyche, so when we have a need, we think of their brand first as the required solution.

But what brands have succeeded at this the most? Who are the brands we can’t live without? The brands we consider iconic? The brands who have succeeded at being, BIG? We go through some (not all) of the world’s biggest brands, and explore how they have aligned their brand with our behaviours, and with popular culture itself.

To see how Pufferfish help Big Brands transform their Marketing & Communications - see our Brand Pitch here.


Potentially one of the most recognisable slogans in the world, ‘Just do it’ is a saying from one of the biggest sporting and leisure brands globally – Nike. With the brand starting from the University of Oregon in 1964, the brand has grown from strength to strength following their initial product line of running shoes.

But what took Nike from Oregon to the feet of people all over the world? Many would argue it was their partnership with Chicago Bulls superstar, Michael Jordan. The creation of the Air Jordan I sneaker in 1984 for Jordan himself, saw Nike go from an American sporting brand, to a powerhouse player globally. Everyone wanted this iconic footwear and clothing, and when the line went public in 1985, the brand went into the hall of fame for sporting wear.

Could the equation for a brand joining the big leagues be partnering with recognisable professionals at the top of their game?


Pepsi versus Coca-Cola, the biggest rivalry since Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. But this mega-brand, PepsiCo has a story that dates back to 1893, and includes the ownership of many other popular names: Gatorade, Quaker Oats, and more.

But what made Pepsi stand out as a big brand in its own right?

Other than the deliciously refreshing taste of course, their journey rocketed into popular culture with their celebrity endorsed marketing campaigns, that now stand as iconic advertisements for the PepsiCo brand. Remember their Colosseum advert starring Enrique Iglesias, Britney Spears, Pink and Beyoncé herself? And who could forget the recent Steve Carell, Cardi B advert for the Superbowl, ‘Okurrrrrrrrrrr’. These campaigns took Pepsi from a Coca Cola rival, to a brand with enormous global strength.

With their slogan of ‘That’s what I like’, they have successfully aligned themselves with bars, restaurants, cafes and private homes all over the world. Again, showing that with the right celebrity endorsement behind your brand, you can go big time – and stay there!


With Pedigree’s slogan of ‘We’re for dogs’, there are no celebrity endorsements here. Just a strong 80-year history of putting our furry friend’s health and nutrition as their number 1 focus. Pedigree is one of those brands attached to a much larger brand (Mars), but one that has aligned their brand with your pet’s needs and wants. They have marketed themselves as trusted, wholesome, and nothing too glitzy. The animal comes first – the kind of thinking a pet lover will always gravitate towards.

But what made Pedigree such a well-known brand? Their branding has expanded way beyond their product portfolio. They have campaigned for their ‘Pedigree Dog Adoption Drive’ globally, even seeing prime time adverts at the Superbowl pushing for the adoption of dogs, and have ensured they are THE go-to dog brand for their animal loving ethics: “When you buy Pedigree, we make a donation to help shelter dogs find loving homes.” (Pedigree) Dog food and helping dogs around the world, that’s strong and successful marketing integration; when your brand also stands for giving back and doing the right thing.


It’s hard to imagine a world without Apple… that would be a world without Apple computers, iPhones, iPads, and without new product launches that see customers camp out for days to purchase.

Steve Jobs is now one of the most well-known names in the world, and his brand is just as big.

Apple have been smart with their branding. They have been incredibly successful at aligning their brand values with your everyday needs. Whether that be needing to be connected, needing to have mobile technology, needing to have new apps almost daily, needing music, or simply just wanting the new ‘cool’ technology. Apple walk hand in hand with popular culture globally, and as a result, are arguably one of the biggest brands in the world.

But how did Apple get so big? Again, no celebrity endorsements here – although you could argue Steve himself is a celebrity these days. Instead, it was a potent connection with a developing world. Apple saw the gap in the market for personal tech, they saw a world growing online, and they immediately cemented themselves in the ‘information age’. Their constant evolution of products and innovative inclusions to their product portfolio, have aligned the brand with creatives, professionals, youth culture, and now stand as a powerhouse for all things tech.

Louis Vuitton

With a history dating back to 1854, it’s no wonder that Louis Vuitton is one of the most recognisable and iconic fashion and accessory brands in the world.

The French brand originated from a suitcase maker (Louis Vuitton Malletier) who transformed bags and introduced flat-topped trunks with Trianon canvas, making their lightweight and airtight cases THE must-have accessory around the world. With their iconic LV bags on the arms of many of the worlds’ celebrities today, this brand joined the big leagues by offering a product better and more innovative than any other on the market.

Louis Vuitton have also solidified their brand status globally by offering exclusivity. They have always tried to ‘counter mass production with short term, limited edition series’, meaning not everyone will own certain bags; and those who do own them get ‘fantastic exclusivity’: “When products come out in small numbers, a buzz is created instantly and people crave the latest style of bag. Because of this scarcity, waiting lists become longer and longer and the products even more desirable.” (catawiki)


This family owned Danish brand is one that has successfully captured the imagination of children and adults since as far back as 1932. And while the original toys from Ole Kirk Christiansen were wooden; Lego has now grown to one of the most iconic brands in the world. The artistic gene Lego stimulate and the creativity they encourage, gave it a versatility other toy brands simply didn’t have. Your dream dinosaur doesn’t exist? Build it. You want to play with a space ship? Build it.

But it hasn’t always been easy for Lego. By 2003, Lego sales ‘were down 30% year-on-year and it was $800m in debt.’ (The Guardian) They had to diversify and offer more than just bricks. They opened theme parks, they made jewellery for girls, they built their own video game company, movies, clothing, you name it. The revival of Lego has been ‘hailed as the greatest turnaround in corporate history’, and ultimately, it’s hard to imagine a world without Lego.

With their slogan of ‘Only the best is good enough’, they have successfully aligned their brand with a global market that offers ever evolving revenue – children’s entertainment (and I would argue, education – have you seen those instructions!); and when those children grow up, they buy Lego for their own children… and so the cycle continues.


Heineken’s ‘Open your world’ campaigns have seen this drink brand go from tasty, to big – globally. From key partnerships with sporting events like the Rugby World Cup, the UEFA Champion’s League and FIA Formula One World Championships, this Amsterdam originating beverage has formed a stronghold on branding across the world. But it goes beyond just having a correlation with the global sports market – Heineken has also had a long withstanding relationship with the Bond Franchise. Hello Hollywood, there is a new beer in town!

There is a fine line with alcohol sales and alcohol marketing, as pushing the need to consume a product that could cause health problems can be a tough one to walk. But by aligning the brand with events that can endorse the product without even needing to mention drinking it, has been a success for Heineken. Product endorsements on the side of a F1 car or seeing a bottle in the hand of Bond himself, they have hit the product placement to brand recognition and subconscious marketing strategy on the head.


A brand that now covers motion pictures, music, entertainment technology and so much more, it’s hard to find something Sony can’t do. From humble beginnings in Tokyo from 1946 to today, this mega-brand has inserted itself into our offices, homes, cinemas and they aren’t going anywhere. With brands like PlayStation alone, Sony are a brand that is known for quality and is trusted across all industries.

But how did Sony gain that trustworthy stamp? Some would argue it’s their horizontal integration into most entertainment sectors around the world, but a big part of brand trust comes with time. As with many brands named above, time in the market has led to recommendations, to experiences with the brand, and with positive memories comes trust – and so the brand strengthens.

It also helps when a brand has the means to be in every place at once. Sony Pictures has a strong hold on blockbuster action films having released the likes of Jumanji and the latest Charlie’s Angels franchise. Sony Music Entertainment has also signed some of history’s biggest artists, from Michael Jackson to Will Smith, Beyoncé, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Pink Floyd and so many more. When a brand has this kind of absorption into our popular culture, it’s no wonder the brand is as BIG as its bank account.

This list could go on forever, but these BIG brands globally all share one thing – they have infiltrated our lives, and are here to stay. Whether it be through marketing campaigns, celebrity endorsements, event sponsorships, or even historic trust built from decades on our shelves, one thing is for sure; Big brands have the ability to increase desire, they have the ability to stimulate cultural trends, and they can even go as far are shifting the paradigms of everyday life.

Brands are a key element of popular culture, and the big ones? Well, they constantly adapt and develop, so let’s watch and see where they take us next!

This feels like a good time to say, this Lab is in no way an endorsement of the aforementioned brands and no promotional agreements are in place. This is purely a list of brands we feel are worth analysing, and brands that globally have a stronghold on popular culture.


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