Walking the tightrope of diversity can be scary. Crowd's Roberta Graham shares ideas for authentically diverse branding...

The issue of diversity carries a lot of weight, and rightfully so. But how can brands avoid the usual pitfalls on the path to inclusivity? Many of our clients are scared to tread on such sensitive territory – others question whether they have a place there at all. Yet we believe that it’s possible (and necessary) for brands to engage with diversity. Here’s some thought starters to building inclusive brand futures.

Avoid tokenism

It’s important to focus on nuances rather than race, gender or sexuality as separate issues. These are not mutually exclusive! Ticking boxes in this way can get you into the danger zones of tokenism and be painfully obvious. For example, Johnnie Walker’s Jane Walker rebrand campaign was accused of appropriating women’s rights to increase sales. An unfortunate outcome considering Diageo as a whole have some very interesting stories to tell around their commitment to diversity.  Remember: crow-barring diversity into your brand will not work.

Stick with what you know

Becoming socially progressive doesn’t mean drastically altering your consumer profile. Jumping from targeting white cis men to creating comms centred around non-binary identity clearly isn’t the way to grow. Catering to the audience you already have with diversity in mind maintains your message while inviting others to join the party. But make sure to gain valuable insight before approaching any new demographics to avoid clunky, offensive stereotypes.

There is always room for progress

Examine your current and desired demographics. Focusing on their place within culture can identify opportunities for progression. For example, if you are selling predominantly to white cis women, considering their changing identity and how individuals are adapting to cultural shifts will help create representation in line with emergent trends. Ask yourself: what are early adopters in this category doing? How is femininity changing? Why is white, female identity important to your brand? What does all this look, speak and act like in your chosen markets?

Diversity works for everyone

Current and dominant narratives, such as those around white men, are not excluded from this; and intersectionality is not about erasing them from comms either. It is simply about achieving a fairer and more balanced representation, making space for everyone.

For this reason diversifying is key to broadening your customer base. Involving others in your brand identity allows you to communicate more widely. This can be a simple, subtle progression rather than a grand gesture.

And lastly, keep it simple

One-off, bold statements don’t work and often leave brands open to scrutiny. The kind of genuine progress that consumers want comes from sustained action and awareness. This can be as simple as more diverse casting; multiracial groups, complex female or LGBTQ+ roles and people of varied abilities have a place within every brand. Try to resist the temptation to labour the point. Remember, diversity is not about patting yourself on the back for creating a more accurate representation of the population.

Negotiating the web of diversity can be a challenge for any brand eager for change. Need an expert on your side? Get in touch to find out more.

How are brands relating to the way women view the world? Crowd DNA semiotics expert Roberta Graham explores…

Recent feminist movements have fostered a cultural pressure for work created for women by women. As more female narratives appear, this challenge to the established representation of women has been labelled as the ‘female gaze’.

You’d be forgiven for assuming this was, as the name suggests, the antithesis of the well established ‘male gaze’ (a phrase coined in 1975 to describe the position of women in cinema as objects of heterosexual masculine desire). While the male gaze focuses on how the patriarchal world looks at women, the female gaze is not only about broadening representation, but how women look at the world themselves. Here we explore examples of culture and branding through female eyes.

Femininity on film

With a host of Oscar-nominated films about the female experience directed and produced by women, surface-level representation is being taken over by real control. The multifaceted women in Three Billboards, Ladybird, and I, Tonya all signal progress made in front of, as well as behind, the camera. Not limited to traditional female narratives, the gaze is also expanding representations of race, gender and sexuality. For example, Ava DuVernay has been broadening the African American narrative in mainstream cinema with Selma and, most notably, 13th, for which she became the first black women to be nominated for an Oscar in a feature category.

Still life and sensuality

With emphasis on texture, composition and light, photographers such as Harley Weir, Petra Collins and Eloise Parry create dreamlike realities where softness is often their strength. Weir, in particular, gained attention by disrupting the still life tropes of fruit and flowers as symbols of sexuality, by transforming them into portrayals of the female form. By making the inanimate animate she subverts the familiar objectification of women’s bodies, taking ownership of a lazy and stereotypical shortcut to femininity. This has been echoed in Weir’s commercial work, most recently for Calvin Klein.

Freedom of movement

As women take ownership of their bodies, value is shifting from physical appearance to expression through movement and dance. Spike Jonze for Kenzo, FKA Twigs for Apple, and Misty Copeland for Under Armour all show women using movement as a means of breaking free from the confines of social ideals. These abstractions show the female form as strong, capable, dynamic and unique.

More recently, H&M’S female tango by Holly Blakey depicts a diverse crowd of women united by dance. After rejecting a male lead, they become a collective of individuals passing on their infectious confidence from one to the next.

Strength in numbers

In the push for equality, healthy tensions have arisen within females bonds. Contrast can be seen between soft, easy sisterhood (think Solange’s ‘Cranes In The Sky’) and the power of female group resistance (Beyonce’s ‘Formation’). In 2017, Barbie also re-evaluated Girlness in a gently rebellious collaboration for iD magazine; while Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ celebrated the strength of diversity within female collectives using the words of Maya Angelou to encourage women to come together by enforcing their individuality: “I’m a woman, phenomenally, phenomenal woman. That’s me.”

The experience of being a woman is clearly multifaceted but, while we celebrate the women breaking boundaries and the diversity of narratives, there’s a hope that the female gaze will one day become so commonplace we won’t even need to discuss it.

We're ten years old, so we're taking a journey back to where it all started...

We’re all about culture here at Crowd DNA, so we wanted to celebrate our ten years by flashing back on the good, the bad and the random (we’re looking at you mannequin challengers).

We’ve created ten videos, each covering a year of the last decade, highlighting key moments – from the news stories that shook the world to the fads that became viral. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe and then you’ll remember that in 2008 Katy Perry kissed a girl and Barak Obama became president…

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

Crowd DNA project producer Gabriel Noble shares tips for authentic and credible ways to recruit research participants...

At Crowd DNA, we’re often tasked with recruiting very specific audiences; be that leading edge consumers in Tokyo and Mumbai, or 17-year-old female skateboarders in the banlieues of Paris. In order to reach these types of individuals, sometimes traditional recruitment techniques just won’t cut it.

Instead, we take inspiration from other industries and use bespoke and on-the-ground methods (such as fashion street casting) to find people that really live and breathe their city. We often support this with digital recruitment methods, like hashtag analysis and social listening, to reach the perfect mix of individuals. Here are a few of our favourite alternative recruitment techniques.

On-the-ground methods

Street casting: instead of relying on our own industry, we regularly look to other sectors, bringing people onboard with skills from different backgrounds. This is where fashion street casters come in. They are confident and experienced in finding interesting and unusual individuals to help us reach client objectives.

Cultural gatekeepers: when researching subcultures around the world, cultural gatekeepers are often the key. We use the term gatekeepers to mean ‘insiders’ who can unlock access to groups who are usually hard to reach. They can be hired using our CrowdStars network or through platforms like Instagram, where we’re able to see how individuals are immersed in subcultures. Cultural gatekeepers are most relevant when we want to speak to leading edge individuals. 

Remote methods

Facebook advertising: Facebook has been getting a bad rap recently, but when running projects where we need to find individuals based on certain interests, its psychographic targeting is really useful to hone in on specific segments, areas or passions.

Hashtag analysis: hashtags have proven handy when we’ve needed to speak to niche groups. For instance, when tasked with finding cricket fans in New York (yes, that’s right, we found cricket fans in the US!), we investigated the hashtags that people were using around the subject to find a fantastic group of friends who told us about their passion for the game and, crucially, how they watch and consume it in the US.

Brandwatch: Brandwatch’s ability to scour multiple social media platforms for mentions – along with its precise geographic targeting – makes it a perfect tool for recruitment. Once we’ve identified relevant hashtags and keywords, this information can be uploaded and, bingo, Brandwatch shows us all the people from a specific research location that have mentioned what we’re looking for. This is also a good way to build upon preliminary hashtag analysis; putting it into practice to ensure we find those individuals we’re looking for, wherever they may be.

These alternative recruitment methods allow us to cast the net wider for greater range, less-jaded participants and more realistic representation; all to find the right mix of individuals to help our clients stay ahead of the game.

Crowd DNA Is Ten!

A decade. Whoosh! Where did that go? We've racked up ten years in business...

Best not to get too self-referential in these moments (the future is always more exciting than the past, after all), but a quick note to mark ten years of Crowd DNA. Back in June 2008, we started out as a launch team of three, a couple of crates of kit and some office space in Shoreditch’s Biscuit Building, provided by the nice folk at Poke.

Since then, there’s been a move next door to the Tea Building, another move across Shoreditch to Hoxton Square; an opening in Amsterdam, one in New York City; and another (rather more east…) to follow very soon.

There’s been work in 55+ markets, too many truly amazing projects to even scratch the surface of listing here, quite a few summer day trips to the seaside, loads of Kling Kling awards – and, mostly, a challenging but hugely rewarding sense of modifying it all as we go, and of relishing the fact that pretty much everything around us is in a heightened state of flux.

It’s been an ever-evolving mission to make insight work more immersive, more energised, more strategically relevant, more empathetic of the real world; possibly just a bit more fun, too. And definitely more culturally relevant. It’s been quite a journey. It’s not all gone to plan, natch, but we’re as dedicated to our learn-as-you-go (and often make-it-up-as-you-go) ethos now as back when Crowd DNA started.

Endless thanks to the incredibly smart, creative, energised, awe-inspiring Crowd DNA team (without whom…), and contributors and clients who’ve been on board over the years. It’s been great, it really has – but the best, we’re confident, is yet to come.

We’re seeking one to join our Hoxton Square team, leading key projects in categories such as alcohol, retail, fashion and FMCG…

Cultural insights and strategy agency Crowd DNA is looking to recruit an associate director to join our London team, working on fabulously diverse and exciting projects for some of the biggest names around. The briefs we get are amazing – truly at the intersection of culture and brands. We want someone who can bring both provocative thinking and total diligence to this type of work.

You will report to one of our two strategic insights directors – thus playing a vital role in developing one of our two core workstreams. You will run priority projects, design approaches, respond to briefs and helping to manage and mentor the wider team. Here’s what we’re looking for:

– We’re keen to see experience in some of the following areas – fashion, alcohol, FMCG, retail, travel, autos

– You need to have the confidence and necessary experience to take the controls of large and sometimes complex projects

– And you’ll do so in a way that means you get the best out of the wider project team, ensuring we are collectively diligent and creative in equal measure

– Being able to point to particular experience in comms and brand development work will be a major asset; and an ability to engage credibly and strategically with senior client teams around these topics

– Demonstrating experience of working on multi-market projects is important

– Also of working on high quality proposals – plus a demonstrable interest in devising strategies for bringing new clients on board and bolstering existing client relationships

– An interest in trends and the type of brands and challenges that Crowd DNA gets involved with (look around this website if you need more of an idea) is a must, as is evidence of how you’ve met business challenges in the past

– We don’t necessarily expect you to have ticked off every one of the research methods we deploy at Crowd, but a broad swathe of experience in different techniques is expected

– Showing you can be creative with research and have the confidence to engage clients through exciting debrief approaches, including high grade workshop facilitation, is a must

– We want someone who’s enthusiastic about the idea of working alongside strategists, writers, film-makers and designers

– Moreover, we anticipate this role going to someone who fully appreciates – and indeed relishes the fact – that the world of ‘market research’ (we don’t much like that term…) is fast changing, and that factors such as strategic thinking, stakeholder engagement, storytelling and innovation are key to the future of this industry.

The role comes with a competitive salary and benefits, plus clear paths to promotion and to new opportunities. We anticipate you’re currently working in an insight agency, in a SC/RM role, or similar; perhaps already as an AD but looking for something new. It’s an entrepreneurial and energised environment, fast paced and collaborative. If you fancy working in a place where setting the agenda for the future of cultural insights and strategy is coded into the culture, please do get in touch, providing a covering letter and CV in the first instance.

Luxury codes are shifting. Senior consultant Berny McManus explores emerging expressions of luxury and what they mean for brands of any calibre...

Last year saw Crowd DNA report on the evolution of luxury, with our LuxDisrupt work exploring the changing concept of premium. Keen to discover the latest industry views and how some of the world’s leading brands are defining luxury, we headed to ‘The Flipside’, a recent exhibition in London’s Old Selfridges Hotel.

After an evening analysing codes of luxury, five dominant themes were still clear. Personalisation (the idea of individually curated experiences) was explored in The Libationary by My Lyan via tailor-made cocktails. The luxury of time (as a break from the daily rat race) was welcomed by Selfridges’ Shadow Dial installation, while luxury as an experience (as opposed to an object) was explored in Louis Vuitton’s travel concept. The luxury of simplicity (as a stripped back display of wealth) was tapped into by Loewe via nature, craft and tradition, while scarcity (and with it, uniqueness) was evoked in Byredo’s dystopian vision of water as a luxury.

What connects these emerging codes is their transient nature; they can’t be quantified. Luxury is experienced, ephemeral and related to ‘needs’ that span multiple elements of a consumer’s everyday life.

So why has luxury changed? In the wake of value shifts, such as the trust deficit, the perception of luxury brands has been reframed. Brands are waking up to consumer expectation around accountability and transparency. We’re seeing a democratisation of the commercial world where luxury brands are measured by the same yardstick as everyone else. They’ve taken on a new meaning, which speaks to the many vs the few.

The experience economy has also helped this gain traction. The reality is the majority of consumers can’t cruise around in Bugattis or go head to toe in Hermes. Instead, a consumer-centric flavour of luxury is emerging where people push back against pre-defined definitions. Consumers are no longer looking to brands as the leaders; brands should be looking for ways to enable their luxuries to be a part of consumers’ lives.

Here are a few thought starters on how to speak luxury in 2018:

The quick win

Leverage social media to offer micro-moments of luxury. Tap into the dialogue by inviting consumers to share their ‘luxury of the day’ or ‘my luxe moment’ via posts or stories – but keep it playful to avoid ostentatious shows of luxury.

Mid-term plans

Create events that delight consumers’ senses, imaginations and intellect. Dial up multi-sensory elements and seamlessly integrate tech to provide an experience that will add unique value to their day and beyond.

And in the future

Optimise tech to elevate your brand beyond category noise and business challenges. For example, in the face of major concerns around the source of diamonds, De Beers (who mine and market 30 percent of the world’s diamonds) have started using blockchain technology to offer total transparency to their consumers.

Confident Youth

Levels of confidence in teenagers are at an all-time low. Phoebe Trimingham explores the potential role of the media in unlocking self-confidence in young people...

We spend a lot of time at Crowd DNA hearing the hopes and fears of teenagers all over the world. We’re rooting for them, so we were particularly struck by the latest Youth Index from the Prince’s Trust, which states that 54 percent of young people in the UK believe a lack of self-confidence holds them back and 33 percent think it’s the biggest challenge to them pursuing a career.

While this is clearly a problem – levels of confidence are at their lowest since the index began in 2009 – there’s plenty that the media, brands and society can do to tackle reported low-confidence in young people. What’s more, the picture may not be as bleak as it seems. We’ve gathered together some of our recent global insights to explore a different side to the confidence issue and provide starters on how brands might help solve this challenge. 

Permission To Fail

With self-comparison constantly available at their fingertips, it’s no surprise that teens often feel pressure to succeed. Most we speak to are worried about not achieving their full potential or living their ‘best life’. Yet, young people also tell us that they don’t see failure as the end of the road. In fact, most teens think it’s better to try and make mistakes than not to try at all. 67 percent consider themselves to be entrepreneurial and 82 percent describe themselves as adaptable and flexible (Viacom 2017, My Teen Life). Is there a way of tapping into this spirit by promoting alternative, bumpy-road success stories? Or highlighting failures and the small steps that allow for adjustments along life’s journey?

Mosaic Identities

Last year saw us travel around the world talking to young men about attraction, relationships, and everything in between, on behalf of Lynx/Axe. Obviously, confidence has a huge role to play in the tricky game of teenage love. The majority we spoke to felt that confidence was gained by assembling their own mosaic of attractive features. For them, everyone has their own unique ‘offer’  to discover, which develops alongside their sense of identity. There is definitely an opportunity to help teens figure this all out. Not only by helping them develop skills and their own sense of self, but assuring them that being different is okay by celebrating diversity and the widening mosaic of modern masculinity.

Empowered Storytellers

The vast majority of teens we speak to think that everyone should have the right to stand up for their beliefs. They think that everyone has a story, everyone has a right to tell their story, and that everyone can learn from others’ stories. Young people are adept at seeing the world through different eyes and speaking out about what’s important to them. There is clearly an empowerment opportunity here to help more young people feel able to voice their beliefs; the key being to reassure them that there’s space and appetite for a whole range of stories to be valued, heard and shared.

The relationship between young people and confidence is definitely something to keep an eye on. But, by digging into the attitudes of teens around the world, the media can play a clear role in youth empowerment, promoting alternative success stories, and showing that being different is not just celebrated – it’s often the key to unlocking confidence.