Semiotics: Decoded

Our recent Rise event in London was dedicated to demystifying semiotics and cracking its many commercial applications. Read on for the full decode...

Crowd DNA resident semioticians Roberta Graham and Laura Boerboom took us on a journey through semiotics at our latest Rise breakfast. While it can sometimes be an intimidating methodology to embrace – especially when considering how it applies to real business challenges – the focus of this session was on demystifying semiotics and explaining how we use it to fuel culturally-charged commercial advantage for our clients.

To kick things off, Roberta and Laura discussed how every detail communicates; whether it’s linguistic or visual, audible or tactile. Semiotics is the process of unpacking this meaning found within brand comms, media, art, community activity and, well, every area of culture. It’s about understanding the specific socio-cultural context and zooming in on the words, gestures, colours, shapes and textures that are present too.

To demonstrate this, Gucci’s SS18 campaign was used to show how quickly different meanings are created and commercialised – here, Gucci places their high fashion, tailored aesthetic against a backdrop of quintessentially British signifiers of working class culture, such as the Fish & Chip shop and terraced houses. Tapping into the trend of high/low cultural contrast, Gucci re-enforces its ability to elevate and stand apart, while maintaining a grounding within nuanced heritage. They’re choice of Harry Styles is also particularly relevant as a symbol of this trajectory from ‘ordinary’ to ‘icon’.

After more decoding examples and frameworks, the morning then moved onto how we use semiotics to join the dots between culture and commercial objectives. In other words: the real-world application of semiotics. Roberta and Laura talked through how we use the methodology to help brands in two distinct, but interlinked ways: exploration and execution.

The first route – exploration – allows us delve into the cultural fabric surrounding a category, brand or product to help shape brand futures, identify white spaces, optimise innovation pipelines and future-proof cultural relevancy. The second – execution – is focused on using semiotics to draw meaning from culture’s codes in order to define strategy, shape new brand positions, comms, packaging, products and more besides.

The session concluded on those all-important, key takeouts for ‘How-To’ semiotics, which we’ve wrapped up into a digital guide for working with this exciting methodology – available to download here.

Thanks to all that attended and joined the conversation. Keep an eye out for more culturally-awakening breakfast events soon.  

Catch Crowd DNA’s London managing director Dr Matilda Andersson and senior consultant Roberta Graham discussing how leading edge behaviour can predict what’s next for mainstream consumers...

MRS hosts Methodology In Context on November 22 in London  – a chance for insight professionals to explore new, creative and dynamic methodologies and how best to apply them within research. We’re excited to announce that Crowd DNA’s Matilda Andersson and Roberta Graham will be presenting Leading The Pack: a session focussing on how leading edge behaviour can predict what’s next for mainstream consumers, and the methods and tools we use to do so.

Predicting the future is at the top of any insight and innovation wish list. All too often, however, brands fail to spot what’s coming next by sticking too close to their already existing consumers. Using leading edge participants as predictors of mainstream behaviour is obviously nothing new, but doing so accurately – and in a way that’s relevant for specific categories or brands – remains one of the greatest enigmas within our industry.

With that in mind they’ll ask: what tools and frameworks do we need to turn this art into science? And is observing ‘leading-edgers’ the future of brand health and cultural relevancy?

For those keen to learn more about how we use leading edge behaviour to keep an eye on the future, you can find out more info here.

Our Rise breakfast events return to London this autumn. Next up, Crowd DNA’s Roberta Graham and Laura Boerboom offer a guide to semiotics and how we use it to ignite our culturally-charged superpowers...

Date: September 20

Time: 8.15am-9am

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

There’s important meaning to be found in all aspects of culture. But what about in the smaller interactions and behaviours – or the actual words, textures and sounds – that shape our world? Significant meaning, it turns out, often gets overlooked within the layers.

Our new set of consultative services – Futures, Semiotics & Listening – helps ensure that nothing of cultural significance is missed. Each approach kits us out with different ways to decode culture and unlock the meaning inside, well, everything.

But what exactly is semiotics? And how does it connect back to real business challenges?

In our next Rise event, we’ll demystify the methodology, before exploring how we use it to identify white spaces, pinpoint cultural futures and prepare brands for new markets. We’ll talk through how we’ve deployed semiotics to execute fresh positionings; help update packaging and products; inspire and provide toolkits for creative strategies; and, ultimately, how we use it to reach new levels of culturally-charged advantage for our clients.  

If you’d like to ‘decode’ semiotics, please join us for coffee, croissants and a guide to this exciting methodology. Contact Pauline Rault to come along – and feel free to pass this invite on to colleagues too.

Watch the trailer below:

Let’s Dance

Brands such as Nike, H&M and Apple are tapping into interpretive dance styles to reflect joy in the moment rather than striving for goals. Crowd DNA semiotics expert Roberta Graham explores...

Interpretive dance is nothing new. But what was once seen as an elitist art form and joked about in popular culture is now strongly resonating with people and brands. Sure, we all like to dance, but we’re talking about more than a drunken flail on a Saturday night. Recent portrayals of dance feel much more empowering, liberating and revolutionary than ever before.

The influence of artists and choreographers such as New Noveta, Holly Blakey and Wayne McGregor have been widely reflected in the mainstream. Over recent years a number of high-profile and successful campaigns have leveraged this trend to create engaging and energised communications. But why is everyone suddenly dancing? What’s driving our interest and connection to dance?

Transformation through dance

Spike Jonze’s creation of Kenzo World shows a young woman on the brink of tears escaping a desperately boring ceremony. Stumbling into the deserted halls of a hotel, she springs into an instinctual and joyfully disruptive dance – as if against her own will. The feeling of release is tangible as this lone woman in a ball gown breaks free and becomes her true self, crushing stereotypes of demure femininity with her powerful gestures. More recently, Apple’s Homepod advert shares a similar theme. An almost unrecognisably drab FKA Twigs dances off the drudgery of city life in the solitude of her apartment.

Not only does dance draw these examples together, they also share context. Visibly exhausted faces make way for performative expressions. Dance takes on a transformative role, for both the character and the space around them as they escape and transform  – and, ultimately, offer the audience the opportunity to do the same.

Mindful movement

Culture is shifting away from a goal-oriented mindset towards self-fulfilment and joy in the moment. For example, the popularity of dance classes as a form of exercise offer people physical release without the pressure to lose weight or beat a pb. In a culture of mindfulness, dance meets our emotional and physical needs as an active meditation. Lotte Anderson’s installation ‘Dance Therapy’ explores this therapeutic quality of movement. Similarly, influencers such as Naomi Shimada – who has collaborated with ASOS and Nike on the subject –  also advocate dance in line with self-care. Shimada incidentally stars in H&M’s spring 2018 campaign, a diverse feminist tango, choreographed by Holly Blakey.

Breaking free

The women mentioned in these examples all show a refreshing carelessness and confidence. Whether alone or in public they exist in their own worlds, free to express themselves. But the need to be authentically oneself isn’t exclusively female. The rejection of gender roles through movement is not limited. For example, Nike’s ‘Never Ask’ campaign shows Russia’s first male synchronised swimmer, Aleksandr Maltsev, overcoming strict gender roles to achieve his dreams through dance. New Zealand beer manufacturers Speight have also used dance to confront toxic-masculinity within the category, blurring the boundaries of male friendship. This makes dance an extremely effective form of unspoken communication.

In our jaded and marketing-savvy world, movement offers a visceral connection that all consumers can feel a genuine longing for. Dance has the ability to traverse boundaries between the internal and external self, offering a physical escape from the societal confines of gender, hierarchy and responsibility, or even just from our own thoughts and anxieties. This sense of liberty is a truly powerful tool for both brands and consumers to harness.

Continuing our journey through the challenges and rewards of urban living, City Limits Volume Two explores mobility…

We’re back with another packed issue of City Limits – our view on urban living (the good and the bad), and how brands can reach for culturally-charged commercial advantage in these high-drama mega-spaces.

While Volume One took a deep dive into the urban experience, this time we’re focusing on mobility.

Mobility means much more than getting from A to B. It’s how we navigate and move around urban environments. It’s how we flock, migrate and end up living in cities all around the world. It’s how people succeed and progress in them. It’s also how we interact with one another while moving around them. 

In this issue, we explore transport innovations, the role of data, emergent trends and the visual language of movement, exploring how mobility is changing the very shape and size of cities across the globe.

Volume Two is available to download here. Enjoy the ride.

Watch the video trailer below:

As the self-care trend casts FOMO aside, Crowd DNA's Eden Lauffer explores how brands are encouraging people to miss out - plus how media portrays this cultural shift...

Over the years, social media has created an environment in which people feel the need to always be ‘on’ – and, even if they’re not, they’ve learned to create the illusion that they are. The fear of missing out (or FOMO) is now a commonplace term, used to describe that sinking feeling you might get when you scroll your feed and see you’ve missed an event, a friend’s party or the latest pop-up. The pressure to be socially active and ‘on’ is huge.

However, in contrast, 2018 has been the year of self-care. A trend often guided by influencers like Lee Tilghman of @leefromamerica and Catherine of @theblissfulmind who now list self-care in their bios. Self-care is going to bed early, rather than grabbing one last drink; it’s clean eating and staying in on a Friday night; it’s practicing yoga, reading books, and generally just treating yourself better. JOMO (or the joy of missing out) is the antidote to FOMO and sits neatly alongside this ever-growing self-care trend. So what does JOMO mean for the way we view our social life, the media and brand interactions?

Embracing JOMO doesn’t mean you have to be alone. A recent study by Mintel found that 28 percent of younger millennials (aged 24-31) prefer to drink at home because going out ‘takes too much effort’, and that half of Americans (55 percent) prefer to drink at home in the first place. Instead of constantly checking new bars off the list, millennials are enjoying ‘missing out’ with or without the company of others.

JOMO in the media

Mainstream publications like Huffington Post, Forbes, and Inc. now offer advice on how to take care of yourself. They regularly endorse taking time to prep healthy meals, miss an episode of a new TV show, or skip plans to go to the gym. Musicians take the stage on self-care too. In an interview with W, when asked about her song ‘Borderline (An Ode To Self Care)’, Solange expressed what self-care means to her. She explained how the safety of one’s home is a comfort in an otherwise turbulent world. Similarly, Mac Miller released a song called ‘Self Care’ in which he speaks to self-reflection and the power of looking within.

As for TV programs, it’s no longer Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte constantly going out for cosmopolitans. Now, popular shows like Broad City and Insecure portray real and relatable lives on screen, with scenes of characters FaceTiming each other from the toilet. TV is finally celebrating the joy of sitting on the couch doing nothing with your best friend.

Brands jumping on JOMO

No matter how personal self-care may be, brands have found a way to profit. Being part of the city that never sleeps, it may be hard to imagine New Yorkers practicing such things. Enter the rent-a-nap business. Mattress brand Casper has opened The Dreamery, a venue devoted solely to 45-minute nap sessions for $25 a pop. This concept is not new, though. It follows in the footsteps of Nap York, another rent-a-nap brand that provides even more self-care amenities like meditation classes, clean juices, and mindfulness events. Similarly, Hyatt hotels recently launched Hyatt FIND, a program that connects travellers with experiences that focus on self-care. Not only can participants do yoga with goats, make their own herbal beauty products and take private bonsai classes – they can also earn points with Hyatt while doing so.

FOMO helped brands encourage us to get out there and experience, post and buy. JOMO, however, presents an interesting tension. Self-care is all about unplugging and unwinding, but brands inviting us to Instagram photos of ourselves in branded pyjamas seems to contradict this practice altogether.

Crowd IRL, IRL at AURA

Crowd DNA’s Andy Crysell and Joey Zeelen spoke (IRL) about getting IRL with clients at the latest AURA seminar in London…

Innovation in research usually conjures up images of eye-tracking, neuroscience and facial-coding. Perhaps even automation and AI, or using virtual reality as a research tool. But it’s not always about machines and tech. Often, stepping back into reality and immersing ‘in real life’ can trigger the alertness and receptivity needed to uncover new insights. Combine this immersion with actual, real-life clients and you get a whole new innovative approach: Crowd IRL. This is the subject that Crowd’s Andy Crysell and Joey Zeelen spoke about at AURA’s latest insight seminar in London.

Crowd IRL is what we call getting out on-the-road with stakeholder teams, immersing them in the lives and culture of people. Andy and Joey explained how it’s used to disrupt the confines of reporting back – going beyond simply inviting clients to attend the debrief or viewing facility, for example – before bringing Crowd IRL, to life, with our recent work for Axe.

Exploring the modern game of attraction around the world, the Axe work was an opportunity to flex Crowd’s methodology muscles. Briefly recapping the project (which covered eight markets using mobile missions, cultural reports, ethnographic sessions and, of course, Crowd IRL), Andy and Joey then presented the following ‘how tos’ for successful client immersions.

Plan well, but not too much  

It sounds obvious, but planning is key – it’s your fault if a client gets lost in the field! For Axe, a video intro and immersion pack was sent beforehand, alongside a clear budget and details of a WhatsApp group (vital). But Andy and Joey also explained the need to allow for detours or impromptu conversation by not over-planning. They kept the Axe briefing purposefully light and supplied simple thought-starters (instead of weighty discussion guides) to leave enough gaps for the magic to happen.

Set the tone and lean on local expertise

Next, they explained how they set the immersion ‘rules’ by briefing the Axe team to keep their senses switched on; to observe everything; and to let the consumer lead wherever possible. The benefit of local expertise was also highlighted by showing how collaboration with on-the-ground contributors helped unlock certain scenarios and articulate the details of discussion (crucial when clients were speaking to awkward teens about their love life).

Facilitate fluid sharing and wrapping-up

The importance of gathering and disseminating images, videos and notes was also discussed. For Axe, WhatsApp and WeChat were used during the immersions to encourage teams to share content in a fluid, low-friction fashion. When one group came up with something interesting, another group could then pick up on the same theme. This also helped with the all-important wrap-up session. Axe teams were plied with pizza then asked to share stories and contribute to rolling analysis, with the end goal being to ensure co-ownership among the global teams.

The presentation finished with Andy’s point that one-size doesn’t fit all when it comes to Crowd IRL. Projects can range from a few hours to a few days; feature different ages or different subcultures; and switch focus between regular consumers and experts. Among a sea of exciting, new technological innovations discussed at AURA, Crowd IRL stood out as a uniquely human and non-complex way to unearth truly empathetic insights.

Get in touch if you’d like to discuss how a Crowd IRL project could work for your team.

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.