Rise: New Hedonism

Ignore the rumours: hedonism is alive and well. Join Crowd DNA associate director Berny McManus at our next Rise breakfast session in London, as we explore the changing dynamics of having fun – and why we’re all still party people at heart...

Date: July 11

Time: 8.15-9am

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

Hedonistic pursuits – you know, the ones driven by pleasure and indulgence – have traditionally been grouped as facets of ‘letting go’. Drink, drugs, sex and other forms of escapism have always dominated. But what happens when you add wellness, environmental concerns and other topically 2019 themes into the mix? 

According to the ONS, Gen Z in the UK are consuming 20 per cent less alcohol than their millennial counterparts drank at their age. Similarly, the portion of young Americans reporting having had no sex in the past year more than doubled between 2008 and 2018. The rise of Generation Sensible, who are more interested in mindfulness than MDMA, is fuelling a growing consensus that hedonism is dying. 

But can we ever reach a point in culture where pleasure takes a permanent backseat? 

Join us on Thursday July 11, as we redefine hedonism, our host Berny taking us on a journey through scenes of the past (from 90s rave culture up to the yoga enthusiasts of today); before diving into the new hedonistic occasions of 2019. 

Using a unique need states model, we’ll share a revamped definition of hedonism – demonstrating that the fundamental human desire to let off a little steam still prevails. And, naturally, what this means for brands – from shaping comms to products to experiences.

For coffee, croissants and hedonistic insights, please fill out this form or contact rise@crowdDNA.com. And feel free to pass this invite on to any party people who might also be interested. 

Our new thinking around Gen Z has landed. Here's our Hybrid States model, including a chance to download the full Hybrid Generation report...

Download the full Gen Z: Hybrid States report here.

Gen Z are many things. They’re health obsessed, alcohol avoiders with a plan to save the planet; but they’re also everyday teenagers intent on breaking rules. While this duality can be a daunting prospect for brands to engage with, one thing is very easy to grasp – Gen Z are now the biggest generation on earth.

With that pressing fact in mind, our latest Rise breakfast was dedicated to the launch of a new framework for getting to grips with Gen Z – a model that we’re calling: Hybrid States. Presented by Crowd DNA’s London managing director Dr Matilda Andersson and senior consultant Rachel Rapp, today’s young adults were described as a generation defined by their own duality.

Thanks to the unique context that they’ve grown up in (think polarised, yet hyperconnected), Gen Z’s values and motivations are combining in unconventional ways. Combinations that we’re now labelling, and embracing, as Hybrid States. Using Schwartz’s Theory Of Basic Human Values, our presenters showed how their motivations are blending and fusing together. As it turns out, Gen Z’s value states are never binary and don’t plot easily on the map, which, when you think about it, is pretty exciting.

We’ve identified nine of these Hybrid States that we see Gen Z occupying. Providing fertile creative ground for brands of all shapes and sizes, you can read more about opportunities for winning with Gen Z in our full Hybrid States report – available to download here.

And keep an eye out over the next couple of weeks as we bring Gen Z’s Hybrid States to life in nine short films.

The nine hybrid states of Gen Z...
The nine hybrid states of Gen Z...

Download the full Gen Z: Hybrid States report here.

In a new content series, we’re zooming in on the unique character of New York City neighborhoods, as seen through the eyes of those born and raised in them...

Culture is core to our work at Crowd DNA – plotting change (fast and slow) and applying this understanding to problem-solving for our clients. Get beyond the gridlocks and the concrete, and culture is what makes cities work, too. It’s what makes them fascinating, rather than just frustrating. It’s where the energy and the hope comes from.

Crowd DNA New York’s The Neighborhoods Project looks to explore these themes, and to do so from the perspective of natives of some of the city’s finest boroughs. We’re seeking to understand the impact of gentrification (not always what you might expect); the unique qualities that continue to drive local pride and preserve identities in spite of rapid change.

Our first collection dives into Bedford-Stuyvesant, the Lower East Side and Greenpoint. We meet those born and raised in each, those working hard to stay put. There are stories of embracing heritage but equally of the quest for adaption. Ultimately, we’re getting to the bottom of what makes New York, New York.

Stay tuned this summer for more on this exciting project from Crowd DNA New York.

You can check out more city thinking from Crowd DNA in volume four of City Limits, an editorialised report series which, this time, focuses on emergent solutions to urban problems.

 

Benji Long from Crowd DNA’s Futures, Semiotics & Listening team kicks off the first post of our Listening In series - demonstrating how we get to cultural meaning through social data. First up, a look inside the fandom of K-pop superstars BTS...

K-pop (that’s Korean pop music) is taking the West by storm. With precision-perfect choreography, EDM riffs and bubblegum melodies overlaid on Korean rap lyrics about mental health, there’s something distinctly novel about this phenomenon. K-pop support is also huge on social media: in the last year there were 541m tweets relating to the genre in the US, and 11m in the UK. Disconcertingly, it’s a hotter topic online than climate change…

In the UK and US, K-pop is provoking more conversation than global warming - and the volume keeps growing
In the UK and US, K-pop is provoking more conversation than global warming - and the volume keeps growing

Amid the wider conversation, one band totally dominates. BTS, aka Beyond The Scene, are a seven-piece boy band that have been drumming up wild support, including seeing their supporters win Best Fan Army at the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Awards. But what is it, exactly, that has built up this fan-force, and why should we be paying attention? Faced with this extraordinary phenomenon, we decided to use social listening to dig a little deeper and understand more about what BTS represent.

First, The BTS hype

Fan love for BTS
Fan love for BTS

BTS have an intensely intimate relationship with their fans. While fan devotion of this kind is nothing new, their constant online conversation with the ‘army’ is staggering. There’s a real sense of religious fervour towards them. too: in the last six months, there have been 350,000 posts online containing BTS and ‘angel’.

Individual group members regularly come out with personal stories, connecting with their fans at every opportunity. From their rags to riches narrative – one that sets them apart from other groups in the K-pop industry – to their willingness to open up to their fans, BTS play strongly to themes of authenticity (whether engineered or not!). But it’s not just about keeping it real: they’re also provoking conversation and challenging norms in two areas:

1. Identity Fluidity

RM inspires young people to be themselves
RM inspires young people to be themselves

The band actively confront gender stereotypes by dressing in ‘feminine’ clothes and wearing make-up. They speak up for the need to be true to yourself. By normalising this, they are reaching out to a mainstream audience with a powerful message about being who you want to be; particularly resonant for those in their formative teen years or those feeling marginalised.

Their latest album, ‘Map Of The Soul: Persona’, is titled after a famous book about Jungian theories on identity by Dr Murray Stein. In the first song, member Kim Nam-joon (aka RM or Rap Monster) wonders: “‘Who am I?’ is the question I’ve had all my life / And I’ll probably never find the answer.” Joining BTS on this journey of self-discovery ranks highly in their appeal to fans.

Make way for feminist kings BTS who took lessons from Korean professors of feminism to write their lyrics and treat everyone equally regardless of their gender!” – Twitter user

2. Talking About Mental Health

The important stuff
The important stuff

Either through their music or sharing views in very public forums, BTS strongly encourage their fans to acknowledge mental health issues and to be more understanding of the emotional struggles we all face.  RM (that’s right – Rap Monster) spoke about mental health at the Unicef Love Myself fundraiser, encouraging young America to follow their dreams, and to ignore social and cultural obstacles.

More recently, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, BTS member Suga discussed how important it was for those who have a platform to use it to talk about mental health: “If they talk about it openly – if they talk about depression, for example, like it’s the common cold, then it becomes more and more accepted.” Their fanbase are responding. In the last six months, there have been 3.2 million social posts containing BTS and ‘thank you’ – and with 85% positive sentiment.

BTS are Asian men that are open about talking about mental health and stressing the importance of emotional intelligence. Let that sink in.” – Twitter user

The K-Wave Keeps Rolling

Thanks to their cultural impact, the BTS septet are credited with fuelling the number of Hallyu (or Korean Wave) advocates across the globe to almost 90 million – playing a lead role in the increase in popularity of South Korean culture since the 1990s. You might also have been enjoying more Korean cuisine of late (kimchi), drama (Netflix’s Okja) and even footballers (Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min).

Hallyu is a deliberate initiative started by former Korea president Kim Dae-jung, mobilising cultural resources to build up positive associations with the country. But beyond this official promotion, BTS has shown how powerful people-to-people diplomacy can be. The band has over 18 million followers on Twitter, and in 2017 had the most liked tweet worldwide.

It’s estimated that around 7% of all tourists visiting South Korea were motivated to do so by their love of BTS.

Fan Purpose For Brands

BTS x Converse collab - as seen in 'Fake Love' video
BTS x Converse collab - as seen in 'Fake Love' video

Fan purpose is a powerful form of currency for young people, especially when they can connect through shared experiences across cultural divides to promote positive values and ideas. BTS make a case for not being afraid to stand up for what you believe in – and fans can join the cause by showing their allegiance. While brands might not have the dance routines or rap rhymes, BTS show the value in representing issues and themes that maintain relevance across borders.

Measuring and analysing social trends is part of how Crowd DNA provides culturally charged commercial advantage to brands all around the world. If you need to understand more about a category, theme or topic, and want to find out if social listening can get you to answers, contact us at hello@crowdDNA.com.

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