Our next Rise breakfast event explores the mutant ways of Gen Z (think part millennial, part boomer)...

Date: May 9

Time: 8.15am-9am

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

Denoting those born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Z is a hot topic right now (whatever your view on cohort-based strategies). But what do we know about those who today are aged seven to 22-years-old? For starters, that they march to the beat of their own drum, at the same time as carrying a curious mix of traits from cohorts gone before them. It’s even been said that they could be the new boomers…

In this session, Crowd DNA director Elyse Pigram and associate director Berny McManus will get to grips with this hybrid generation, exploring what gets them up in the morning and where they’re going next. We’ll look at how they’re the first children born with the internet already in existence, and have been exposed to financial and political instability throughout their lives.

We’ll unpick how sometimes their values align with boomers (think approaches to money), while, simultaneously, their behaviours are an escalation of millennial entrepreneurialism (social media is their marketplace). And then, crucially, we’ll assess what this all means for our clients’ future strategies in the lifestages Gen Z are yet to face – from parenthood to home ownership and beyond…

For coffees, croissants and next-gen insights, please fill out this form or contact rise@crowdDNA.com for an invite. And feel free to pass this invite on to any colleagues who want to get Z-ready, too.

Our first Rise event of 2019 kicked off with a myth-busting, how-to presentation on working with leading edge audiences. Get the inside track below…

You can download our Leading Edge report here.


At the end of February, Crowd DNA’s managing director Matilda Andersson and senior consultant Roberta Graham talked about how leading edge consumers can take insight projects into fresh spaces and new ways of thinking. Setting out by asking whether the leading edge can help predict what’s next (spoiler: yes it can), Matilda began answering by tackling the common fears and misconceptions associated with this methodology.

She quickly established that these participants are not only the cool kids, hipsters and early tech adopters, but instead display a core set of attitudes (self belief, optimism, openness, collaboration, network-orientated, critical thinking) and behaviours (consultative, creativity, curiosity, go-getting, persistence). Matilda also emphasised that it’s these behaviours that set them apart from the mainstream – rather than cosmetic factors like their job or their sense of style.

So, how do you find leading edgers if you’re looking for these (sometimes hard-to-spot) behaviours? Matilda highlighted that the concept of leading edge is relative to the brief and the category, and that’s where you can get specific about what you want and need. Roberta then explained how less conventional recruitment methods can help clients get to the best people that fit those criteria. Street casting, Instagram ads and hashtag analysis can all offer effective routes to cultural gatekeepers, ready to give new and interesting perspectives. Leading edge methodology is all about the power of the (right) one, able to speak on behalf of many.

But, the most important thing to remember when working with leading edgers is collaboration. These consumers are people genuinely interested in shaping culture – talking to them as participants rather than respondents can lead to massively insightful concepts. Co-creating, giving them ownership and immersing yourself in their lives and their views lets you get inside their world. It might even answer questions you didn’t know you had. It’s also important to look for weak signals, from which you can build strong signs and forecasts by rooting those signals in wider culture – leading edgers often offer up more abstract ideas that can lead to bigger thinking. Roberta explained that adding a semiotic lens in this way means that you can question where leading edge behaviours sit within current cultural trajectories, defining which may have longevity and which behaviours are unlikely to make it to the mainstream.

Lastly, Matilda pointed out that even when leading edge behaviour doesn’t make it to the mainstream, it can still give us valuable clues – we just have to look beyond the obvious. Leading edge strategies can appeal to a mainstream mass market in an aspirational sense – people want to buy into brands that are relevant and ahead of the curve.

Matilda and Roberta left us with three key takeouts for using the leading edge effectively:

– Ask yourself whether the behaviour is rooted to current human tensions or needs to assess whether it will enter the mainstream

– Establish whether you want to focus on identifying fast culture (ie fads) or slow culture rooted in our values and societal codes (rituals). Then ladder these behaviours back to what’s happening in a wider context to spot bigger shifts on the horizon

– Decide whether you’re looking at global futures or local realities. Not all ideas flow in the same direction, some trickle out across geographical borders, but others don’t – and this will affect who you talk to, and how you translate your findings into strategies

 

The Girl Scout cookie phenomenon - it's got positivity, simplicity; oh yes, and Supreme-like drops. Crowd DNA New York’s Hollie Jones checks out a business model which brands can learn contemporary lessons from...

As an English (wo)man in New York, though admittedly for almost a decade, I’ve enjoyed a long time fascination with the Girl Scout cookie phenomenon. For those not familiar, in 1917, Girl Scouts in Muskogee, Oklahoma, began fundraising for their troop by selling homemade cookies in a school cafeteria. Girl Scout troops around the country continued the tradition, and they rose in popularity until commercial bakers started making cookies for the Girl Scouts to sell. More than 100 years later, Girl Scouts are still going door-to-door, selling cookies as part of a thriving business, raising roughly 800 million dollars a year (and topping the sales of Oreos).   

Tis once again the season, and this year it has been difficult to avoid the hype. My social media apps have been filled with friends desperately seeking ‘the plug.’ Those lucky enough to have an in with a Girl Scout troop proudly display their cookie bounties on their stories and thus demonstrate their social superiority. Our co-working space neighbors put their much-coveted cookie prizes on display in their glass window– in full vision where they remained until decimated; their cookies a prize too good to be shared.

Just in case you wanted to look at some more cookies...
Just in case you wanted to look at some more cookies...

But how did we get here? Like any enthusiastic cultural strategist, I leaned on trusty pop culture sources – looking to film, television and literature to establish my world view on scouting in the US. My takeaway? A perception of scouting that is hardly complimentary. Pop culture taught me that scouting comes with a stigma. It is a social pariah, demonstrated best by the gawky, immature Boy Scout and the mean, manipulative Girl Scout that are both common tropes in film, television and literature.

Take Russell of Disney/Pixar’s Up – an overweight boy never seen without his Wilderness Explorer uniform and merit badges. There’s Sam Shakusky, the protagonist of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom – a bed wetting outcast with an obsession for the outdoors. Nickelodeon’s The Mighty B presents Bessie – an ambitious (read-obsessed) Girl Scout never seen without her uniform and Penny, her clumsy, obese and taffy-obsessed best friend. Even Ross from Friends falls victim to a manipulative Girl Scout, who beats him in a cookie selling contest by giving her uniform to her much older sister.

In spite of this reputation, Girl Scout cookies are a pop culture phenomenon and a marker of social prestige. The cookies are the subject of memes, they have a hashtag on Twitter, they made an infamous appearance at the 2016 Academy Awards Ceremony and Jennifer Garner took to Instagram to advertise her own plug. Even Cardi B is in on it, retweeting Girl Scout Kiki’s remix of her single ‘Money’ to almost five million followers.

What can we learn from the success of the Girl Scout cookie? And what lessons can other brands, struggling, or looking to overcome a dowdy reputation, leverage to find a route to recovery?

MIRRORING HYPE MODELS

In many ways, the Girl Scout cookie trade mirrors the model upon which many hype brands place their success. Particularly in the New York City area, where Girl Scout cookie stands are nowhere to be seen, the model emulates the ‘drop’, where scarcity and social media hype supercharge the traditional supply and demand model. Getting your hands on a box of Samoas is almost as exciting as being first in line for the latest Supreme drop. And just like hype brands, this new model fuels a lucrative resale market. When seeking out our very own Girl Scout cookies (for research purposes, obviously) we found budding entrepreneurs selling boxes on eBay for more than double the price.

SIMPLICITY

Beyond hype culture, Girl Scout cookies appeal to much broader consumer values. In a market where consumers are often faced with a paradox of choice when it comes to products, and are overwhelmed by technology and being always on, simplicity is always valued. Links to scout culture represent simplicity, release, and a flashback to times that were simple. The packaging is uncomplicated, and ultimately, they are just cookies – humble and nostalgic, reminding many of childhood, pure and simple.

POSITIVE AMERICANA

In a tense political time, where the idea of being ‘American’ is used by competing political sides as both a badge of honor and an insult, scouting has unquestionably positive links to America and American culture. The Girl Scout cookie is beloved, an American treasure with integrity that cannot be challenged.

SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

Social responsibility and championing women are non-negotiable for today’s consumer. As well as being a female-led organisation, Girl Scout values are focused on doing good and driving change. The purchase of Girl Scout cookies are a mode by which consumers can express civic mindfulness, supporting entrepreneurialism, worthy causes and female empowerment with each purchase.

A staple of American pop culture, and sold for over 100 years, it’s perhaps surprising how well Girl Scout cookies fit into the modern, hype-driven model of brands and products. We think it serves as a lesson – that you don’t have to be in fashion or tech to be culturally relevant.

 

We’ve been moving on our How To Speak (Wo)Man work recently, with Crowd DNA’s Elyse Pigram and Joey Zeelen sharing it with clients. One of the key themes: whether we should even be talking about binary expressions of gender in the first place…

This is not the first time we’ve talked about how brands can address gender (in fact, we’re doing it again soon in Singapore), but we’re finding good sense in combining both of our presentations on the topic to deliver a holistic view on ensuring brand messaging rings true. 

First, Elyse has been looking at femininity today, exploring why it is that women still don’t feel represented by brands. This part of the presentation uses a simple Jungian framework of female archetypes traditionally perpetuated in media and culture, of ‘the innocent’, ‘lover’ and ‘caregiver’. The examples from brands of childlike playfulness, domesticated housewives, and barely-dressed women provide evidence of how not to speak to today’s woman.

Moving into the present, Elyse shows that there’s no longer just one archetype – or stereotype-fits-all. Women are seeking to reclaim their identity, in all its varying forms, which means reframing and rethinking the way womanhood is represented to make it more diverse, inclusive and strong. Women as the ‘everywoman’ (think Dove’s Real Beauty, HBO’s Girls), ‘heroes’ (think Always’ Like A Girl, Beyonce, the latest Wonder Woman films), ‘rebels’ and ‘creators’ are the key archetypes to focus on and offer brands direction on how to be relevant and representational.

This shift in female narratives has been boosted by cultural movements such as #MeToo, better trans visibility and open discussion changing the conversation around what it means to be a woman in 2019. Now more than ever, there is a sense of urgency for brands to get it right in the ways they express themselves to the modern woman. Elyse emphasised that this succeeds through brands sharing the fluid and varied experiences of women. (You can download our How To Speak Woman report here.)

Having established that approaches to female identity are changing across society, media and advertising, Joey then looks at how the land lies for masculinity – what does it mean to be a man in 2019? Over the last couple of years, a lot has changed (you can take a look at our 2017 research here to see how things have moved on). Gender is becoming more fluid and non-binary, and masculinity more individual.

We see men speaking more freely about their feelings (Prince Harry tackling mental health), and turning their backs on traditional ideas of what it is to be a man. Mainstream media – such as Beautiful Boy and McCain’s We Are Family ads – has been disrupting ideas of nuclear families and father roles have been represented to be more playful and emotional. But amidst all this, there is still a long way to go. With much talk swirling around of ‘masculinity in crisis’,  Joey identifies three main tensions that need to be addressed by brands:

1. Toxic masculinitystill being peddled by cultural figures such as Donald Trump and Piers Morgan

2. Wellbeing and mental health – male suicide remains the biggest killer of young men in many Western societies

3. How to align feminism and progress masculinity – how can men be authentically supportive and work out their place in propelling the cause forward?

While we’re still figuring out the definition of being a man, brands need to keep opening up the conversation and (as with femininity) challenging stereotypes.

To finish, Joey and Elyse summed up the key takeouts for brands and what this all means for how to speak (wo)man:

– We need to recognise that femininity is all about individuality and celebrating difference

– We need to keep working to define and shape new expressions of masculinity that are nuanced and empathetic – and not binary

– Brands need to walk the talk, and back up their messaging with credible action

– Let’s celebrate and harness male goodwill towards female progress

– Consider producing products that don’t have a  gender – try talking to men and women as one

– Take male relationships out of the locker room, and nurture closer connection

– Talk to your audience, not about them. By engaging people with different experiences, and expressions of gender, we can better express and represent them

If you would like us to come and talk to your company about expressions of gender in modern day culture, please email us at hello@crowdDNA.com

Tegan Morris on what it means to be a project producer at Crowd DNA - and why they’re crucial to making the magic happen...

Project producers are a vital part of the team here at Crowd DNA, and no, we’re not the same thing as a project manager! While there are parallels with a traditional PM, the producer part of our title (sounds fancy, doesn’t it?) reflects the intellectual investment we have in each and every project that we’re a part of; and our genuine interest in the work we do for our clients. Not just the fixers and organisers, we have as much of a role to play as everyone else to make the work first-rate, collaborating with each member of the team – from executives to creatives – to get the job done. More than just managing projects, we help to craft and cast them, so that we can tell meaningful stories through culture.

Getting recruitment right

One of the most important parts of a producer’s role is recruiting for research. But this is very much about moving things on from more conventional definitions of recruitment. You’ll notice that, at Crowd, we work with participants, not respondents. This is to reflect the purposeful collaboration we strive for in all of our work – not just with our clients and internal team, but with the people that help shape the research.

Instead of combing CVs and chasing people with phone calls, we want to really understand what makes each person tick, and exactly why they’d be right for the brief – which often means thinking outside the box for ways to get them involved. The producer is in charge of sourcing participants and experts, using innovative recruitment techniques and nurturing relationships with our partners who help us find the best people. It’s important to remember that choosing well means they’ll bring just as much value to the research as our in-house team, so recruitment is crucial to the project’s ultimate success. Managing and developing this globally on behalf of the wider team is one of the reasons the role is fundamental and exciting. You never know who you could be talking to on any given day – for one project it might be a behavioural scientist or wellness guru, while for another it could be Gen Z food influencers (here’s how we recruit for leading-edge work, for instance)

Keeping all the ducks in a row

We’re known for our planning abilities – you’re likely find us wielding post-its and colour coordinated schedules at every stage of the work. We’re overseeing multiple story narratives (from different projects), characters and set pieces all at once. You’ll find us putting our multitasking into action in these key areas:

Time – Producers construct and keep track of timelines, key dates and deadlines throughout the whole project, making sure the team are delivering on schedule.

Logistics – All the hows, whens and wheres are handled by the producers, problem-solving and adapting to any changes along the way to figure out how best the methodology behind the project can be realised on a practical level. Whether it’s figuring out how to keep children focused for an hour of research, how a team is going to fit in a tiny car for ethnographies or just working around national holidays – it’s the producer’s job to turn ideas into reality.

Budget Producers manage the budget and keep an eye on the costs of individual projects. Staying on top of this is one of the essential parts of the role – it is only the project lead and producers that oversee this side of the project; so being the point of contact for all project expense is a key responsibility.

A beginning, middle and end

One of the best bits about being a project producer is that, along with the project lead, we’re with projects from start to finish. This is a real privilege and means we get to dive into all aspects of the business, making our role incredibly varied. From shaping how client’s objectives will turn into a reality, speaking to people from all walks of life, to seeing final creative outputs taking form, we get to be a part of the story all the way through.

Project Producer Awesome-ness:

Seeing a project from inception to successful conclusion and knowing you helped to shape it

Collaborating with all teams in the business and the variety this brings

Ownership – having real responsibility throughout

Building relationships with the team, clients and partners

Simultaneously solving problems and thinking creatively

Take a look at the exciting roles we’re currently recruiting for at Crowd DNA here, or email us on hello@crowdDNA.com

When Gen Z become parents

As Gen Z start to reach parenthood, Crowd DNA New York’s Eden Lauffer forecasts what brands should expect from the next wave of parents...

Pew Research Center recently defined Gen Z as those born between 1997 and 2012 (so, today’s seven to 22 year-olds). From what we know so far, they’re a diverse and open-minded generation who’ve grown up enjoying the benefits of social media at their fingertips. Yet, equally, they’re also a group associated with high levels of anxiety and an overwhelming pressure to project success, both online and off.

Now that older Gen Zers have started to enter the workforce and, generally speaking, more of them will begin having children a few milestones down the road, it’s interesting to think how this group will approach and redefine parenthood. Furthermore, with a personal shopping power of $143 billion (according to Forbes), brands should be prepared for this generation to soon take family household shopping by storm. They may still be young, but we thought we’d wish away their years with a few key ways to start thinking about this next generation of parents.

Breaking The Mold

According to NPR, 48 percent of Gen Zers in the US are non-white and, according to Ipsos Mori, only 66 percent identify as ‘exclusively heterosexual,’ making them the most diverse cohort in history. This has already built a generation of outspoken individuals, taking a stand on issues like LGBTQ rights, racial bias and inequality, and plenty of other issues. As parents, Gen Zers are likely to value empathy and teach their children tolerance and acceptance of others.

Naturally, brands that embrace diversity will continue to thrive. Many parents have already strayed from typical gender norms when it comes to baby toys and names – and this will no doubt extend further. In the realm of fashion, for example, brands that were born genderless, like Phluid Project, will continue to prosper, with genderless clothing something more children’s fashion brands should definitely consider (Gap are already paving the way with their neutral baby clothes).

The Power Of Social

Gen Zers are also stereotyped for spending hours curating their lives on social media. While this may have negative associations with mental health, it could also have positive use cases for parenting.

In a study done by Collage Group, over 70 percent of Gen Z females without children felt FOMO regularly, but only 36 percent with children felt the same. It seems the presence of kids may actually reduce some of the negative impacts of social media. For example, Gen Zer Kylie Jenner has spoken about her desire to keep her role as a mom private from her (very) public life. This change has bled into her overall social media use: cutting back on what she posts and the amount that she does so.

Furthermore, being a generation known to trust recommendations from social media feeds when it comes to brands and products, this may also bleed into their shopping choices for children. They currently respond well to the recommendations of peer influencers, which may later translate into parenting purchase decisions and kid-friendly brand advice.

Everyday Coping Mechanisms

In recent years, the teen suicide rate has increased drastically – over 70 percent among 10-17 year-olds from 2006-2016, according to USA Today. However, 37 percent of Gen Zers also reported seeking help from mental health professionals (CNN), which is significantly higher than millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers.

As parents, Gen Zers are likely to emphasize the importance of mental health. They’re expected to help their children deal with life stressors in a different way than their parents did for them. Digital-native brands that help promote good mental health, such as Headspace and Talkspace, will likely thrive and give way to like-minded services designed for kids. Mindfulness apps aren’t just to benefit adults – Gen Z parents will likely get their children in the practice of using tools of their own. Apps like Calm, which tells stories to soothe users to sleep, have been recommended for kids, as have other apps that help kids with anxiety through journaling, body awareness and meditation.

Gen Zers are already firmly taking the reins on social issues, such as mental health, as well as paving the way for new types of family units, via genderless purchases. Brands will need to pay close attention to Gen Z’s values in order to keep up with this high spending, change-igniting generation on the brink of parenthood.

Crowd DNA New York's Eden Lauffer takes aim and explores which of this year's Super Bowl ads soared - and which ones flopped...

This year’s Super Bowl can be described in one word, ‘meh’. By halftime, the score was a whopping 3-0 Patriots-Rams. The game was the lowest scoring of all time and fans were less than impressed with the halftime show. While the much-hyped ads were mostly well-received, not many stood out particularly strongly. We’ve looked into a few ads that worked well – and some that didn’t work as well.

Amazon Alexa – “Not Everything Makes The Cut”

In the 2018 Super Bowl, Alexa lost her voice, allowing celebrities to step in to help answer user questions. This year, Amazon Alexa took a similar approach, leaning on celebrities to poke fun at the voice assistant device, reminiscing on fictitious failed Alexa products such as an electric toothbrush and a dog collar.

Both playing on a theme from last year and poking fun at itself, Amazon hit the mark with this ad. The celebrities chosen for this year’s spot appealed to a wider audience, with the likes of Harrison Ford and Forest Whitaker, but also Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson of Broad City. With the final season of Broad City now airing – plus a pairing with Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now,’ tapping into the Golden Globe wins for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – this makes this ad deftly pop culture relevant.

Verizon – “Team That Wouldn’t Be Here”

Like in 2018, Verizon used the Super Bowl to comment on their link to first responders. This year, they tied in NFL players who had been rescued by first responders after near fatal accidents.

An improvement from last year’s ad, this year Verizon worked off of the link to the NFL rather than just reporting how they helped first responders do their jobs. However, as with last year’s spot, claiming to be responsible for part of the work first responders do feels to be a bit of a stretch for a telecom brand.

T-Mobile – “We’ll Keep This Brief,” “What’s For Dinner?,” “We’re Here For You,” and “Dad?!”

This year, T-Mobile ran a spot in every quarter of the game, playing off the same concept – text conversations. Each spot in the series showed a common text scenario most people have experienced, paired with a brand partnership for T-Mobile users at the end. For example, in “What’s For Dinner?,” a texter struggles with how to respond to a text from their friend about what to get for dinner. The offer at the end features free Taco Bell on Tuesdays for T-Mobile users. In the fourth quarter spot, “Dad?!,” a user deals with her not-so-tech-savvy father; the end card reading, “you can’t change your dad, but you can change your carrier,” offering non T-Mobile users a chance to switch.

With a recognisably similar spot in each quarter, viewers had a reason to pay attention to each ad, staying engaged. Further, each ad built up desire to be a T-Mobile user, so when the final spot played, non-users may have been curious as to how they could benefit from T-Mobile too. In past Super Bowls, T-Mobile has run several spots, but usually poke fun at competitors. This series was far less uptight and kept viewers engaged to see what came next.

Toyota RAV4 – “Toni”

Toyota used this 2019 spot to introduce its new hybrid RAV4. The spot features Toni Harris, the first woman to be offered a football scholarship with hopes of being in the NFL. The music and tone of the spot convey female empowerment. The ad finishes with Toni driving a RAV4 hybrid, the narrator stating that assumptions have been made about her, but Toyota doesn’t stand for assumptions.

While the bulk of the spot is empowering and relevant to the Super Bowl, the brand and product it’s pushing don’t match. The closing statement of the ad speaks to those who assume SUVs can’t be hybrids. It also compares Toni Harris to a car and further, to a hybrid, causing the ad to feel confusing, off base, and a little insulting.

Pepsi – “More Than OK”

No stranger to star-studded Super Bowl ads, Pepsi’s 2019 spot featured Steve Carell, Cardi B and Lil Jon. The ad plays on the common scenario of ordering a Coke in a restaurant and being asked if a Pepsi is okay instead. Using the humor of all three celebrities, Pepsi builds up that their brand is more than okay, poking fun at itself.

While previous Pepsi Super Bowl ads flaunted their heritage, this ad acknowledged that they have a strong and unforgettable competitor. Seeing an iconic brand poke fun at its downfalls makes Pepsi feel more human. This ad also plays directly into each celebrities’ own character, taking advantage of their catchphrases rather than just dropping them into the ad.

In total, this year’s ads felt a little tired, with several borrowing tactics from last year’s, such as brand partnerships (Bud Light and Game Of Thrones) and reoccurring series (T-Mobile). Let’s hope for better, on and off the field, next Super Bowl.

Rise: The Leading Edge

Our Rise breakfast series is back for 2019. First up: how we use leading edge behaviour to predict what’s next for our clients and for mainstream consumers…

Date: February 28

Time: 8.15am-9am

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

Staying ahead of upcoming trends is vital for brands. But if you keep doing the same insight work, digging deeper into the same audiences, in the same geographies, probably in the same way as your competitors, you’ll inevitably get to the same outputs. Ideas become incremental and generic. You keep the spaces that your brand operates in small, safe and contained.

In this session, Dr Matilda Andersson, our London managing director, and senior consultant Roberta Graham explain how we get beyond those small spaces by using leading edge behaviour to predict what’s next for our clients – and, crucially, how we apply the learnings to strategies that target more mainstream consumers.

We’ll bust the common misunderstandings associated with working with leading edgers – like, why use an unrepresentative sample? Isn’t it just cool hunting? Isn’t this only relevant to niche brands?  – before moving on to the exciting ways that we collaborate with these audiences.

We’ll share ideas on how to use hashtag analysis and cast cultural gatekeepers; how to shift from working with ‘respondents’ to ‘collaborators’; how leading edge typologies are by no means limited to those of the ‘cool kid’ variety; how, through analysis of our conversations with early adopters, experts and influencers, we reach truly fresh perspectives on engaging everyday consumers.   

If you’d like to join us for leading edge conversation and croissants, please fill out this form or contact rise@crowdDNA.com. And feel free to pass this invite on to colleagues (leading edge or otherwise).