Off the scale excitement at Crowd DNA as we open for business in the US...

With Hollie Jones – formerly associate director and New York office lead at Flamingo’s Kiosk agency – appointed as US director, we’re very proud to have now launched Crowd DNA in the US, bringing our unique mix of cultural insight and innovation capabilities to New York City.

A significant number of our strongest client relationships are via brands’ stateside offices, and we’re well versed in conducting work on the ground in the US, so launching an office in New York is as logical for us as it is, of course, highly exciting. Hollie brings great experience of working in the US market; something she combines with an excellent understanding of new methodologies and a true sense of alignment with Crowd DNA’s view on the world.

Moreover, we’re highly encouraged by how well our blend of innovative approaches, cultural and behavioural frameworks, and focus on socialising insight through powerful outputs and deep immersion is resonating with US clients.

Anticipated workstreams include trends and need state exploration, audience understanding, brand and comms development, user experience, journey mapping and product/service innovation.

To discuss Crowd DNA in the US further, please contact Andy Crysell or Hollie Jones

Everything We Touch

What does an image showing all the objects a person touches in one day say about them? Crowd DNA's Essi Mikkola investigates this visual methodology...

As an insight agency, we’re always looking for new and innovative research methodologies. We came across a book called Everything We Touch: A 24-hour inventory of our lives a while ago. With this project the artist and industrial designer Paula Zuccotti seeks to answer a question: can your physical footprint tell your story?

Sharing narratives with brands who want to better understand their audiences is our job. We’re particularly interested in understanding the true behaviour and how to bridge the attitude-behaviour gap – what consumers sometimes say they do vs. what they actually do.

Inspired by Zuccotti’s revealing photos, we decided to test the methodology to see how it could be used in our future projects. For this experiment, I asked a friend (Jack, 32, east London) to photograph one by one the objects he touches most on an average day, and we made a collage out of the images.

Jack's day
Jack's day

Below, Jack reflects on how the image is a combination of reality and aspirations that might not be visible to people in his life:

“It feels quite exposing seeing my closest objects laid out like this. I think a lot of them reflect the person I would like to be – or even the person I would like to be seen to be – by the outside world. Health foods, running gear – I’m not sure my closest friends would see me as that healthy vision of ‘wellness’ (puke) that these imply – though I do try.”

Some of the objects are made by brands that I do genuinely love and would advocate – Viz, Elektron Instruments, Sunspel, Patagonia, Surrey CCC. Others are things that I feel every other 30-something middle-class idiot has – Apple products, cycling gear, Kindle, a thoughtful book about the environment that I’m struggling to finish.”

Running a quick round of semiotic and cultural analysis on our Crowd DNA team resulted in the following analysis. Health foods, choice of book and a Patagonia backpack echo an archetype of an east Londoner with a healthy, creative, conscious and liberal attitude to life. Viz and the Surrey Cricket Club booklet provide more subtle hints of a ‘geeky’ character and the type of education, we hear from our native English colleagues.

“Definitely on the edge of cool/geek (in a nice way) Why? There’s a Surrey County Cricket yearbook.”

“County cricket is for the HARDCORE – people who really, really love cricket. Add the FM radio and Viz, I’d definitely say public school.”

“The copy of Viz is the outrider here, Holmes. Very unusual for someone under 35. I’d suggest a) found it on the bus or b) definitely has older brothers.”

In order to avoid any natural bias, we’d have to shoot the task, as it’s easy for the respondent (in this case Jack) to pick objects that project a story of himself he wants others to see vs what actually exists. I also started to think how we all have different identities with our family, friends of different gender, and colleagues, and whether this could be communicated through one image. Yet another topic is what role brands play in consumer’s lives around the world, and how these choices are becoming more and more political. 

In the end, the most interesting outcome of this experiment is actually realising what kind of stimulating conversations an image of one’s personal objects can spark between the person, someone who knows them well, and a researcher. This methodology not only has the potential to reveal various dimensions of a personality, it could also add another interesting layer of analysis when applied to a global project; it would be amazing to see the juxtaposition of identities from around the world. And because the output looks great, it’s a truly engaging way of socialising insight.

Our next Rise breakfast event in London sees Crowd DNA duo Jake Goretzki & Ken Wallraven set about reframing masculinity...

Date: May 4

Time: 8.15am-9am

Location: Crowd DNA, 5 Lux Building, 2-4 Hoxton Square, London N1 6NU

Brands are increasingly taking political, environmental and social stands. Many are addressing female aspirations and feminism with great effect.

But what are we doing about men?

This session explores changing attitudes to masculinity and, in particular, what being a man means among millennials. Looking at the tensions that have evolved around male identity, we’ll help brands harness opportunities – and speak better to men AND women.

Join us in the Lux Building for delicious pastries and even more delicious insights. Contact Jason Wolfe if you and/or colleagues would like to attend.

Watch the trailer below:

Crowd DNA’s Elizabeth Holdsworth considers the cultural impact of men wearing makeup...

In October 2016, CoverGirl Cosmetics signed model James Charles as their first ever male makeup ambassador. Maybelline followed suit in January 2017, announcing YouTube star and makeup artist Manny Gutierrez (also known as Manny Mua) as the latest face of their brand.

These two signings – while a notable innovation for the almost completely female-facing lower price range or ‘drugstore’ makeup industry – not only reflect the persistent increase in the male grooming market over the last decade but also a crucial recent shift in mainstream perceptions of masculinity.

Unilever and Coty (owners of Maybelline and CoverGirl respectively) are making the move toward marketing makeup products to men as well as women. But this isn’t about gender, argues Gutierrez, who has 3.2m followers on Instagram and captions his pouting and perfected full-face looks with statements such as, “I believe makeup is genderLESS” and that “men need more cosmetic recognition”.

Nor is this drag, the social media star is keen to clarify. Manny’s decision to wear makeup is no more costume than the daily grooming ritual of makeup and skincare many women perform. Makeup is purely about creative expression, argues Gutierrez in an interview with Marie Claire. “It’s an art form for me. I’m still confident as a boy and I will always be a boy. I can be confident with bare skin and with a full face.”

Male face of Covergirl Cosmetics, James Charles
Male face of Covergirl Cosmetics, James Charles

The male grooming industry, worth $50bn last year, is experiencing phenomenal growth, not to mention looking thick, luscious and silky. According to the FT, retail sales of male grooming products at Procter & Gamble, including its Gillette brand, are more than $11bn, while Unilever, which sells the Axe and Lynx brands, sold nearly $5bn in 2015.

While in terms of cultural acceptance the industry has found success marketing a plethora of products to men including moisturisers, pomades and body hair removal products, until now makeup has remained an unacceptably emasculating proposition, and remained hidden inside the bathroom cabinet. The idea of a man in makeup has stayed a taboo, like lipstick on the teeth.

Yet, it’s easy to point out that men wearing makeup isn’t quite as ground-breaking as we might initially think. In past centuries, it was common for upper class men to powder and rouge their faces as part of their grooming routine. And while more conservative voices have decried the signing of Manny et al as the “rise of the sissy boys”, it’s not only avant-garde artists like David Bowie, or those at the leading edge of challenging gender norms who dabble in makeup. The President Of The United States himself, while in some areas quite the über-performer of semiotic codes for traditional masculinity, is a dedicated if clandestine wearer of makeup, including tanning products, bronzer and foundation. While it’s unlikely that Trump will dabble with mascara and lipstick, across society as gender identity becomes increasingly fluid, we can expect to see a resurgence in the practice of men wearing makeup, and a wider acceptance of the painted male face in the public’s imagination.

Part of GenderShift, a series exploring how identity is changing in modern times

The World In Ten Blocks

We love fresh ways of sharing narratives and building empathy with people, and this work from Lost Time Media, an immersive journey through Toronto's multi-cultural Bloorcourt neighbourhood, gets a major thumbs up...

To borrow from the website: The World In Ten Blocks arrives at a time when documentary makers are creating immersive online experiences that explore different territory from traditional narrative films. Situated somewhere between the cutting edge of virtual reality and the old-school elegance of point-and-click adventures, Ten Blocks drops users right onto Bloor Street on a sunny afternoon and allows them to navigate a curated tour of the neighbourhood.

A plethora of videos, photos old and new and text are all woven together by the stop-motion-esque experience of taking your own walk up and down the street, stopping in on shop owners and absorbing the ambience of being there.

Enjoy! The World In Ten Blocks

Oculus Nights Out

Crowd DNA associate director Eleanor Sankey didn't think she was a gamer until she played with Oculus. Now she wants to use it in her day job...

Last week we attended an event hosted by Oculus to showcase the new content landing soon on their Rift and Gear VR. Rubbing shoulders with premier league footballers, tech and gaming bloggers, and Jonathan Ross, I wasn’t convinced it was going to be my thing.

I swore off computer games in the 90s, when SimCity 2000 saw it fitting to destroy Eltown with a hurricane, and it was going to take a lot to make me reconsider.

Kicking off, we coordinated our troops in real-time strategy game Brass Tactics before singing our hearts out in a virtual stadium in SingSpace and finally slashed our way through zombies on Killing Floor.

The experience was exhilarating, if not a little overwhelming at times! With our senses seamlessly transported into these virtual worlds it took no time at all to forget our audience and become unselfconsciously immersed in the physicality of the game. I was hooked.

2017 looks to be a pivotal year for VR with anticipated growth evolving the technology from a curiosity to a tangible tool. Transcending the gaming market, we’re already seeing it used in sports and film with the NBA broadcasting one game a week via VR headsets and Amsterdam establishing the first VR cinema in 2016.

Moving beyond the entertainment space, the technology is being used by the military to replicate conditions of real world combat when training soldiers in bomb disposal and piloting drones. Equally, in the healthcare sector, it’s proving vital for educating staff but also has the potential to revolutionise how we treat pain and physiotherapy.

At Crowd we’ve already been using VR to help immerse our clients in the lives of consumers across the globe in an intimate way that they would otherwise never have the opportunity to experience. And given my experiences last week, I’m very excited to see what we can do next.

 

In this long read, Crowd's Joey Zeelen considers how big business sustainability goals will impact consumers and political parties...

In recent years, we’ve seen more and more multinational corporations committing to make their organisations fully sustainable, while the geo-political trend (Trump et al.) is attempting to backtrack on the Paris Agreement on climate change. I find myself questioning why this progressive takeover of the private sector is happening right now? And how does this affect the consumer zeitgeist? When it comes to sustainability, are ‘progressive’ consumers still best led by governments and politicians or are they perhaps better off shifting their gaze to the corporate world?

To understand why corporations are making the sustainable switch, we need to go back three years to the desert 50 kilometres south of Dubai, where a giant solar panel project called DEWA left a tremendous mark on modern history.

There in UAE – a state paradoxically largely known for its oil reserves – a company called First Solar managed to produce renewable electricity at 5.84 USD cents per kilowatt hour. For the first time in history, thanks to this unsubsidised solar park project, it was possible to produce renewable energy for less than natural resources. Since then, projects in China, Australia, Chile, California, Italy and Jordan have followed suit, after reaching the same energy tipping point.

The simple laws of manufacturing economics are that the more you manufacture with a renewable resource, the cheaper products will become versus the more you deplete fossil materials, the more expensive products will become. The crossing of the fossil and renewable energy cost curves in Dubai opened the financial floodgates for corporations and financial institutions around the world. It sparked a revolution that according to Deutsche Bank ‘will make solar energy cheaper than fossil energy in 80% of the world in only a few years’.

By the end of this year, all Google’s offices and data centres will be powered entirely by renewable energy (from 44% to 100% in one year). The internet giant is the world’s biggest corporate buyer of renewable electricity. “We are convinced this is good for business, this is not about greenwashing,” says Marc Oman, EU energy lead at Google. “This is about locking in prices for us in the long-term. Increasingly, renewable energy is the lowest cost option. Our founders are convinced climate change is a real, immediate threat, so we have to do our part.”

Another example is Unilever; CEO Paul Polman is even known as ‘the Bono of the corporate world’. The company produces 97% less waste from its own production compared to 2008. Unilever is also aiming to reduce its water usage and CO2 emission by 50% compared to 2008 levels. In total it’s saving around $200 million a year due to less logistical, packaging and energy costs. And because investing in sustainability strengthens Unilever’s business plan, its targets are anchored into all layers of the company, even employees have to hit yearly sustainability targets.

And then there is the mighty IKEA that plants a tree for every one it cuts down. 50% of its furniture is sustainable right now and in three years this will be 100%. Last year IKEA had an annual revenue of close to €30 billion and it’s investing €2.5 billion a year in the development of renewable energy and resolving climate issues. IKEA chairman, Peter Agnefjäll, told The Financial Times that since the end of 2015, the company has continued to invest €600 million a year in the further development of wind and solar energy, and another €400 million in helping regions that are hit hardest by global warming. Incredibly, this $1 billion comes on top of the €1.5 billion that IKEA has been investing in renewable energy annually since 2009!

Obviously, this is all good publicity but it also makes perfect business sense. Since renewable production has decreased so substantially in price in the last few years, investing in renewable energy means short-term and long-term growth. Getting involved in sustainability will give corporations a leap over their future competitors that fail to do so now. Take these short-term and long-term business cases and mix them up with an incredibly unstable political climate (which means energy uncertainty) and a lot of consumer expectancy (from the latest Ubiquity Global CSR Study we know that 9/10 consumers expect companies to operate responsibly and address environmental issues) and it seems obvious that more companies will join the sustainability cause in the immediate future.

Now back to our original question: where does this leave the ‘progressive’ consumer? Strangely, but surely, I think that the contrast between the exponential growth of sustainable businesses and the eroding landscape of climate politics will account for a real paradigm shift for consumers. I expect the more ‘progressive’ consumers are let down by governments with short-term solutions for long-term problems, the more they’ll put trust in corporations to lead them forward. Consequently, in the forthcoming years, brands are going to be increasingly taking over responsibility for the future of the world in which consumers live in. This will have major implications on the relationship between consumers and companies in terms of trust, loyalty and salience, and ultimately, it will drive sales.

 

Our next Rise breakfast event in Amsterdam sees Crowd DNA director Anna Chapman lift the lid on superfans...

Date: May 11, 2017

Time: 8.15am-9am

Location: Crowd DNA, Sarphatistraat 49, Amsterdam

This is the story of fame, obsession and social currency.

Once upon a time no one cared very much about fans or their opinions. Then along came the internet and a powerful group of superfans emerged. Soon everyone wanted to be their best friend.

In our latest Rise breakfast session, we map the evolution of fandom from undesirable outsiders to impassioned influencers. We’ll answer questions like: what turns people into Beliebers in the first place and what do they get from the experience? Most importantly, what are the implications for brands and where’s this whole superfandom thing heading?

Contact Judith Lieftink if you’d like to channel your inner fan on May 11.

Warning: this trailer isn’t suitable for people of a nervous disposition.