Shubhankar Ray: This is more powerful than advertising

Why the G-Star RAW global brand director thinks flashy ad campaigns are not always the answer.

“Brands today operate in culture,” says Shubhankar Ray, global brand director of fashion-forward denim label G-Star RAW. In this exclusive interview, Ray articulates his philosophy on branding – and it all boils down to culture.

Ray reengineered the brands of Caterpillar in the 1990s and Camper in the previous decade using a similar approach, which has evolved in response to changes in marketing and media consumption. For him, brands today can have the greatest impact when they interact with their cultural context because so many industries and disciplines have become interrelated. 

“Cultural signals” such as music, film, fashion, art and design have become increasingly powerful tools for brands to use in their advertising. “These signals are essential because they define the brand’s cultural taste,” he explains.

Ray sketches out two ways to go about advertising today: the traditional route in which brands spend millions on making a glossy ad campaign for billboards and TV and an alternative, more referential approach that involves creating “cultural universes” around their brand. By drawing on people, art forms, causes and even other products that share the same values, a brand creates a constellation around it that positions it in the real world and gives it resonance.

These cultural universes are signals to the outside world that operate as magnets back into the brand DNA, says Ray.

If you put out cultural signals that your audience cares about and that are a truthful reflection of your brand, these signals will become the mythology of your brand, he adds.

Ray offers advice to young designers and creatives: “Don’t be too quick to lose naivety – the fact that you don’t know is very empowering and it frees up your creativity.” 

He also encourages the next generation of creative minds to look down roads that would not ordinarily be explored: “If everyone is looking one way, don’t forget to look the other way because you don’t know what you might find.”   

Watch the Talk with Shubhankar Ray