The Human Element: The Duality of Media

Executive Summary 

  • Carat and Vox Media partnered to define a new cultural framework for 2024, exploring media's role in consumer lives and how brands can leverage culture for deeper connections. Joanna Hawkes, EVP of Strategy at Carat, and Edwin Wong, SVP of Insights, Research & Innovation at Vox Media sat down to discuss the key insights gleaned from this collaboration, as highlighted in the thought-provoking report, The Duality of Media. 
  • Our research has underscored the essential need for a nuanced balance in nurturing well-being, belonging, and individual identity - with media serving as a facilitator. 
  • As consumers strive for this balance, they prioritize meaningful connections and in-person experiences over digital interactions; rating streaming, gaming, and other fully immersive connective experiences as more significant than social media in their preferences. 
  • Brands need to achieve authentic cultural integration to avoid being overlooked, as culture serves as a powerful brand enhancer.  
  • Purpose-driven branding gains importance, with brands standing for more than profit to build trust and loyalty and have a place in culture for consumers. 



To usher in 2024, Carat partnered with Vox Media to launch a joint research report, The Duality of Media. This research aimed to understand the role that media and culture play in consumers’ lives, the forces that shape how culture is consumed and spread, and how brands can harness culture to create deeper consumer connections.  

In this episode of The Human Element, Joanna Hawkes, EVP of Strategy at Carat, and Edwin Wong, SVP of Insights, Research & Innovation at Vox Media, discussed the key findings gleaned from this collaboration and what it means for marketers.   

What accounts for the remarkable success of tours by Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, the popularity of Barbieheimer, record-breaking NFL viewership, and the unprecedented success of certain streamed shows?  This new cultural framework is nuanced, balancing between belonging and individual identity. In today's digital age, media plays a pivotal role in shaping both our sense of self as well as our innate need for collectivism. Culture begins with community, where seemingly niche elements can have significant cultural impact. 

Media must address these needs for holistic well-being, as consumers seek brands reflecting their identity while also valuing inclusion of friends in their collective identity. Immersive experiences such as streaming TV, gaming, and community-oriented media are prioritized over social media as mere time passers.  

The media we consume plays a huge role in shaping our individuality and although niche interests help to build our identity, we have veered a little too niche, leading to a sense of isolation rather than the connectedness we sought. Despite spending countless hours on our feeds, we've ironically found ourselves in an uncanny valley of connection. The obsession with curated self-presentation, underscores a deeper longing for genuine human connection. Media, if not fostering this connection, falls short of fulfilling our current needs. 

The intentional selection of media influences both its significance and its capacity for brand engagement. Put differently, the consumer's paradox of choice transforms into the marketer's paradox of opportunity within the feed. In essence, for brands, if they are not actively striving to integrate into culture, they encounter a challenge in standing out amidst the abundance of options. However, it's crucial to pinpoint where brands will make their mark. As we navigate a landscape marked by increasing polarization, culture emerges as a unifying force, bridging divides and fostering cohesion.  

In the year ahead, there's a growing desire for genuine human connection, prioritizing face-to-face interactions over digital engagement. As brands aim to make their mark in culture, it's crucial to consider fulfilling fundamental needs and adding value to individuals' lives. What is most personal is often universal. And what we share in common is the key to inclusivity and the power of marketing.  

Interested in the full report? Download the Duality of Media to find out how media is helping to shape culture in fundamental ways and how brands can be involved. 

The Human Element: A Carat Podcast, explores how insight and humanity impact modern marketing to build stronger brands. Want more of this conversation? Tune in to the full podcast episode here.   

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