Purpose & Cynicism

It's cool to care, for sure, and we like our brands to care as well. But, asks Crowd DNA consultant Milly Derbyshire, could our cynicism be building?

It’s undeniable – activism is having a moment. From Emma Watson’s HeForShe speech to the ‘aesthete activism’ of the Marc by Marc Jacobs AW 2015 collection, and here at Crowd DNA, even a new tribe of activists joining the leading edge of our Tribes UK framework; these days it’s cool to care.

Brands are capitalising on this age of action by pushing their purpose-led credentials. From banks to booze, brands claim to be fighting our corner, in any manner of social, economic and political causes. But with more brands jumping on the band-wagon, it makes us wonder whether the tide will turn from optimism to cynicism.

Take Dove, the beauty brand that has been championing women’s self-esteem and recently released a new advert aiming to show how women all over the world are devaluing their beauty. The advert, and its predecessors, are undoubtedly very shareable, and have proved incredibly successful for the brand.

But how long are consumers going to (literally) buy the idea that a beauty brand can overcome societal ideologies of beauty? Yes consumers are looking for more purpose in brands, but these higher expectations means they need to live by their purpose, not pay lip service to it. It may not be long before people fail to see empowerment in a body cream.

In the words of Douglas Holt’s cultural strategy theory, we wonder whether a cultural orthodoxy is beginning to emerge, as more and more brands take on the charge of social, environmental and political purposes to sell their wares. With consumers more savvy than ever, it’s uncertain how long those brands that fail to back up words with actions will continue to thrive, leaving a space for brands that are frank about the fact that they are in the business of, well, business! Selling things that you need, and not curing social ills.

The Dollar Shave Club, an American subscription service that mails replacement razor heads for a fraction of the cost of leading razor brands, is a great case in point. With the strapline ‘a great shave for a few bucks a month’ it’s clear that the only purpose they’re championing is saving you money. And how do they achieve it? Presumably by avoiding the huge amounts of money spent on marketing to convince you of an ethical purpose behind the brand.

We don’t doubt that purpose-led brands will continue to rise in popularity (in fact, it’s one of our five trends for 2015) but as the bar is being raised even higher, half-hearted attempts to follow suit will appear hollow to ever more savvy consumers.

Photo credit: Kate Owen (Marc by Marc Jacobs’ aesthete activism)

Playing political games

There's a slew of interactive tools and quizzes emerging, aimed at those in need of a little election guidance, notes Crowd DNA insight exec Charu Agarwal, with young voters a particular target...

With April comes plenty of sunshine, the Apple Watch and the lively onslaught of political campaigns as the UK general election nears.

Those wishing to avoid the inevitable “Who’re you voting for?” might struggle while manifesto madness is in full swing, padding out news feeds and social media. I’ve certainly enjoyed the swell of Farage memes appearing alongside the usual food-stagrams and festival chatter.

But speaking as a millennial, while it’s fun to joke, rest assured we’re still very serious about our vote…  

At Crowd DNA, we know well that the young voters’ disillusionment with current government isn’t apathy towards politics as a whole. This past year has seen the rise of the Activist youth tribe and online arenas such as Facebook and Twitter expanding as places for expression and discussion.

The wider internet has in turn reacted with new offerings. A number of interactive tools and quizzes have been rearing their heads, aimed at those in need of a little guidance. Here’s a run-down of some of the emerging players… 


Verto is a tool designed with young people in mind. You’re shown three policy statements per topic (eg education). It’s Tinder-esque format lets you swipe left to agree and right to disagree – the more swipes you do, the bigger a picture it builds about the parties that relate best to your values. It also uses your location to compare results with nearby users and the national average.

The brains behind Verto is democratic movement, Bite The Ballot, whose aim is to get more young people voting. They’re taking steps in the right direction by condensing policies into easily digestible, bitesize sentences. However, when it comes to building an accurate picture of someone’s political makeup, the ‘less is more’ approach may limit how insightful, and ultimately useful, it actually is.


Another site, PositionDial, gives a more colourful analysis of where your views lie on the political spectrum. You’re shown a series of statements – eg I support the Human Rights Act UK – and asked to rate them on a scale of strongly agree to strongly disagree.

Beyond calculating which party you sit in, it also intends to educate its users by personalising the feed with news based on your attitudes as well as opposing views.


The website’s tagline of ‘Vote for policies, not personalities…’ sums up how it functions. You simply pick the topics you’re interested in, it anonymously lists all the policies and you pick your favourites.

It’s one of the more recognised options, having been around in the 2010 election. This time around, they’ve embellished it with lots of interactive tickboxes and visuals. While three or four topics is more than enough to get your head spinning circles, it seems like the best tool for genuinely helping users compare parties and make an informed decision about their vote.

The conclusion? Gamified tools like these seem to be taking steps in the right direction. Potential for shareability is high, especially among young people with limited knowledge but a desire to be heard. They’re clearly making politics more accessible. So while the future of online democracy is yet to be fully determined, let’s give it a vote of confidence for now.

UK Tribes 2015!

Get set for the 2015 UK Tribes refresh...

Exciting times as the latest re-rub of UK Tribes, our on-going study of youth culture for Channel 4, gets ready to roll. The fieldwork is wrapped and a host of new tribes and trends have been identified.

Channel 4 will be sharing more info in due course. But, for now, here’s a little taster vid of some of the road trip adventures of the UK Tribes team at Crowd.

Whoop, happy birthday The Breakfast Club! Er, why the whooping, you might be asking...

At Crowd DNA, we’re fairly obsessed with cultural tribes, and particularly in terms of how they shape attitudes and behaviours among younger audiences. And though by no means the first, nor the last, teen film to explore tribes, John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club succeeded in doing so in a particularly well observed manner.

OK, it creaks a bit under 1980s affectations, but it nails a lot of the basics around tribal identity with pinpoint accuracy. We’ll even forgive it for propelling Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ to global domination.


New Hires & Promotions

Here's some new people to introduce. And some 'old people' in new roles...

It’s been a busy time for changes at Crowd DNA, with a mix of new recruits and promotions. Here’s the low-down.

Laura Warby joins us as a senior consultant from Tonic. She’s launched straight into work for Channel 4 and Sony Music.

Milly Derbyshire, meanwhile, has come on board as a consultant. Previously at Added Value, she’s getting busy on our Peroni Agenda account, plus providing jolly good thinking around semiotics and culture codes for a new piece we’re pitching for

Sarah Brierley has been promoted to business and strategy director, taking a lead on all things from client relations and project design, to developing new IP and, obviously, communicating just how utterly ace an agency we are

Will Moxham joins Sarah on the commercial side of things, making the switch from exec to client services consultant

Aurelie Jamard has been promoted to associate director, heading up our innovation lab – via which we make our Crowd In and Crowd Out approaches available to clients

That’s it for now, but several more new recruits on the horizon. Time for a bigger office – and we’re working on that, too.

Magazines That Matter

Crowd DNA's Andy Crysell checks in on Print Is Dead. Long Live Print - a new read exploring the emerging school of high quality DIY titles that's shaking up the tried and tested ways of magazine publishing...

Writer Ruth Jamieson’s new book, Print Is Dead. Long Live Print, takes a thorough and thoughtful look at how the magazine industry – one that’s been written off as dead and buried in many quarters – is finding new energy from independent titles that are generally fashioned around specific cultural touchpoints. It’s an ecosystem of hundreds of mags speaking to hundreds of tribes, such as the slow living and traditional skills found in Hole & Corner, the food and drink creativity celebrated by The Gourmand, Manzine‘s anti-men’s mag stance, The Green Soccer Journal (putting the beautiful in the beautiful game),  the music and wine musings of Noble Rot, authentic style aficionados Jocks & Nerds and the intimacy of understated women’s title Oh Comely.

Print is Dead. Long Live Print
Print is Dead. Long Live Print

So it’s out with old cultural stalwarts, independent or otherwise, like The Face, Sleazenation and Spin (to name just a few of the titles to have failed to survive the dominance of digital) and in with a new form of DIY publisher. New form because whereas DIY once meant fanzine aesthetics and a passionate but lo-fi tonality, the new independent offerings go big on attention to detail and cultural credibility. As Jamieson puts it, ‘they revel in the physicality of the magazine. They play with format… They lovingly craft issues that are beautiful, collectable and timeless objects.’

It’s a field in which innovation is crucial: new business models and distribution channels are being sought; as are different ways to connect print with digital and, most importantly, magazine brand with reader. It will be interesting to see what the major league publishers learn from these independents. The multi-dimensional success of Monocle indicates that it is possible to scale fresh approaches to making publishing pay. Purposefulness, audience affinity and a good dose of lateral thinking can really take you places.


New Roles At Crowd DNA

Here’s a round up of new roles we’re recruiting for at Crowd DNA - all designed to put us in a good place for ambitious growth plans and for a flurry of exciting global projects, in which culture and strategy, better thinking and powerful storytelling, all come together as a well formed one...


We’re recruiting for a director to head up a newly formed trends and content wing. This is a key role in an exciting agency – tailor-made for a commercially focused, creatively minded individual who’s looking for a unique challenge and to adopt a start up mentality. Find our more here


We’re seeking a senior end hire to join our insight and innovation team, taking a key role in leading our most significant projects, with a focus on first rate team and client management, a receptivity to developing new methods and approaches, input on business development and a natural flair for inspiring others, creating powerful stories and grappling with fascinating challenges at the intersection of business and culture.


Associate director and senior consultant roles at Crowd DNA for those passionate about managing fascinating and challenging multi-market work for an exceptional range of clients. The associate director role include hands-on method work and team management, with a leaning towards the latter; and vice versa for the senior consultant role. Both require a tangible enthusiasm for presenting work in highly compelling ways, combining creativity with strong business problem solving skills.


An entry level role in our Amsterdam office for someone who demonstrates a passion for/willingness to learn about insight and strategy, with a likely focus on desk research, trends work and assisting on business development. Work experience – either paid or interning – within the broader marketing/comms field would be a definite advantage, as would an enthusiasm for brands, media, innovation and how culture impacts on that lot! This is an exciting opportunity for a self starter who’s keen to learn quickly and take ownership of new challenges.


Following our successful launch in Amsterdam, we’re now set on opening Crowd DNA in the US, and in San Francisco specifically. We’re keen to start conversations with those who we may be able to work with – by which we mean potential recruits (at all levels of experience/seniority), freelancers, suppliers, partner companies and assorted specialists. Yes, we know, we’re not exactly narrowing things down there, but now’s the time to cast a wide net. 

All roles come with competitive salaries and a range of further benefits. Get in touch with a CV