In our second installment of Click State, Crowd DNA New York turns to TikTok to uncover learnings from a platform full of politics, creativity and a lot of personality...

This post is part of our Click State series, analyzing conversation online (using our Culture At Scale method) in the lead up to the US election and turning emergent trends into valuable learnings. You can read our first post here.  


To uncover the full force behind TikTok, we have to debunk misconceptions – it’s not all lighthearted, silly content, and it’s not just a playspace for Gen Z. Instead, TikTok’s short form layout lends well to disseminating punchy information. If Twitter and Instagram forged the way for concise content, TikTok enables creators to add drama and flair to that same message. The platform’s democratic nature also provides everyone with the ability to post to the homepage. And it’s that accessibility that makes TikTok a level playing field when it comes to mobilizing around the election.

When browsing other social platforms, we see similar memes, clips, headlines and infographics. Yet the content on TikTok is always something new. By conducting social media analysis we can examine those differences further and start to uncover emerging, TikTok based themes around the upcoming election.

Democratizing Knowledge On #TikTokTaughtMe

From iPhone usability hacks to science explained, #TikTokTaughtMe enables users to share and expand their knowledge. This hashtag, paired with others like #Election2020, has given TikTokers a way to quickly educate themselves and others. From how to debate someone with opposing views to what certain laws mean, the hashtag creates a safe space for learning and sharing knowledge. This type of openhearted content highlights TikTok’s ‘come as you are’ ethos. It sets the platform up to welcome a diversity of opinion, while always striving to be better and learn more.

TikTokers utilize #TikTokTaughtMe to share and build knowledge
TikTokers utilize #TikTokTaughtMe to share and build knowledge

Making The World Smaller

Actor and rapper, Daveed Diggs, released a song denouncing Trump supporters as white supremacists. Users then merged it with the national anthem, which liberal TikTokers from conservative families are now using to confront relatives and catch their reactions on film. This is TikTok making the world feel smaller. Rather than being isolated in a town of people with opposing views, TikTokers are able to take to the platform to feel camaraderie. Such content empowers users to start difficult conversations, knowing they have the support of an online community behind them.

Challenges can provide TikTokers with a common space to relate to one another
Challenges can provide TikTokers with a common space to relate to one another

Being Your Authentic Self

TikTok Trump supporters are using #MAGAchallenge to show their love. The videos are varied, but all express proud support regardless of the opinions of others. Many use the song ‘I Like Trump,’ which voices similar sentiment and unifies the posts. In every election, some Americans shy away from voicing support for ‘unpopular’ candidates. But, with TikTok’s vast niches, there’s a place for everyone to express their true selves and feel heard. And when TikTokers feel supported, they feel empowered and free to speak their mind.

TikTok makes space for its users to be themselves and find others like them - near and far
TikTok makes space for its users to be themselves and find others like them - near and far

By analyzing these themes coming from conversations on TikTok, we can see the ability that social media has to create safe learning environments, build support systems and empower its users. But it is also clear that content can no longer be recycled across all social media outlets.

For brands to cater to their audience in authentic and impactful ways, it’s important to realize each platform’s use cases. Authenticity, empathy and camaraderie are built into all of TikTok’s features. So in a year where there’s a new breaking headline everyday, learning how to wield these features (as well as TikTok’s creativity) will help brand communications cut through.

In the run up to the US Election, Crowd DNA New York will track the conversation online, turning emergent trends into valuable learnings. First up in the Click State series, a fresh look at localization...

Elections have been playing out digitally for years, but 2020’s presidential race – with its virtual conventions, TikTok meddling, basement broadcasts, corporate activism and Twitter declarations – is like no other. As we hit the final stretch, Crowd DNA New York’s Click State series will track the conversation online, using our Culture At Scale social media data method to identify emergent trends.

Our first post is below. By analyzing conversations coming out of swing states, we can see how a polarizing election is fast accelerating the shift from a collective American identity to a more local one.


Challenging the idea of a blanket ‘American identity’

In a year where governor mandates took precedence over presidential guidance on the pandemic, we’ve seen an accelerated shift from nationalism to a locally focused mindset. The events of 2020 have fuelled a drive away from a collective American character. Now, pride and trust in states and counties, even individual cities, resonates more strongly with American’s sense of self than the country as a whole. This, crossed with the nation’s individualistic nature, has been challenging the idea of a blanket ‘American identity.’

Then came the election. With polls neck and neck, especially in swing states, causes that hold local significance have come to the fore. We’re witnessing demand for attention to local issues and representatives who support each state’s unique needs. Candidates always pander to swing states, but this year, with a reinvigorated sense of local self, these states are armed with demands for their locales. By analyzing online conversations in three swing states, we can see how disparate voices are replacing one American narrative. Listening (socially) to these divided voices helps us learn how to speak to a fragmented, local leaning country.

Wisconsin:

With Covid-19 already making voting in the US precarious, Wisconsin reduced polling stations from 182 to five, disproportionately impacting low-income Black and brown communities. After months of Black Lives Matter protests and strong demonstrations in Kenosha, Wisconsinites feel empowered, rallying behind these communities. Rather than sitting out the election, they’re activating and driving change online, teaching us the value demonstrations can have on a location’s spirit.

Florida:

Climate change is a very real threat in states like Florida, which have been ripped apart by coastal flooding. Cross this with Gen Z, a generation of first time voters who have continually ranked climate change as a top issue. As climate change continues to harm Florida, the state’s voters seek candidates who prioritize the cause. Using social, Florida politicians rally the state by speaking to local climate initiatives. By referencing impacted locations and drawing from local experiences, politicians can relate to voters as fellow Floridians.

Arizona:

If Arizona’s votes go to Biden, as polling suggests, it would be the first time the state favored a Democrat in 24 years. This shift is thanks to the state’s growing Latinx population. And as more US-born Latinx Arizonans turn voting age, they will add up to a significant voting bloc. Social outcries appeal directly to these voters through the use of language and cultural references. In speaking to Latinx Americans, authentically addressing the cultural nuances in their culture is crucial.

Looking at these states, and understanding their fragmented identities, presents implications for speaking to American consumers. Messaging will feel more relatable if brands consider local identities first.

The sentiment ‘we’re all in this together’ is tone deaf to America’s transitioning sense of self. Americans don’t feel a sense of camaraderie with states whose needs differ from their own. They want brands to speak to an identity that exists beyond the singular American character.


Source: Brandwatch, tracking data from Jul 1, 2020-Sept 28, 2020

Wisconsin: Jul 1, 2020-Sept 28, 2020, Wisconsin, United States: ((election OR election2020 OR “election 2020” OR presidentialelection OR “presidential election” OR 2020election OR “2020 election”) AND (votersuppression OR “voter suppression”) AND (wisconsin))

Florida: Jul 1, 2020-Sept 28, 2020, Florida, United States: ((election OR election2020 OR “election 2020” OR presidentialelection OR “presidential election” OR 2020election OR “2020 election”) AND (“climate change” OR climatechange) AND (florida))

Arizona: Jul 1, 2020-Sept 28, 2020, Arizona, United States: ((election OR election2020 OR “election 2020” OR presidentialelection OR “presidential election” OR 2020election OR “2020 election”) AND (latin*) AND (arizona))

How To Speak TikTok

July 22 - more webinar action from Crowd DNA. This time, we're digging into the TikTok phenomenon, including the opportunities offered to brands...


  • Session 1: July 22, 08.30 (BST)/17.30 (AEST) – sign up here
  • Session 2: July 22, 16.00 (BST)/11.00 (EDT) – sign up here

(Access via Zoom; 45 mins including Q&A)


TikTok seemingly came out of nowhere in the West in 2018. Despite many dismissing it as unlikely to gain traction, an ever-growing audience have soundly disagreed, with the platform spawning an infinite array of trends and cultural crossovers – while rocketing to a reported 800 million monthly active users.

It’s now impossible for brands to ignore TikTok and its dancing, singing, laughing legions of users – and TikTok is actively courting brands, too (with Chipotle, NBA, Washington Post and Crocs among the many to jump on board).

In these two sessions, led by Crowd DNA senior consultant Chris Illsley, we’ll be exploring all you need to know about TikTok – from its origins in China, to how it carved out a space for itself in the West; why it has gained so much traction during Covid-19 and, importantly, how brands can successfully leverage TikTok for marketing strategy.

To help brands ‘TikTok’ to the best of their abilities, we’ll consider:

– Where has TikTok come from and what is really driving its popularity?

– How does the platform actually work and what makes it different from other social media competitors?

– What are the TikTok rules of engagement for brands?

– What should great branded TikTok content look like?

Late breaking news: If turning up wasn’t essential enough already, we’re excited to confirm that Sherice Banton will be with us to discuss life on the platform and where things go from here.

Sherice has over 1.6m followers (and counting) and is considered one of the most popular TikTok creators in the UK. She’s also worked with brands such as Adobe, Warner Brothers and Burger King.

We hope you can make it. Bring your best dance moves.


  • Session 1: July 22, 08.30 (BST)/17.30 (AEST) – sign up here
  • Session 2: July 22, 16.00 (BST)/11.00 (EDT) – sign up here

(Access via Zoom; 45 mins including Q&A)

What does trust look like in a world of economic uncertainty? Crowd DNA semiotician, Bridget Dalton, explores the future of trust in the age of the digital bank...

It feels like a truism to say that banks must communicate trust. But in a financial world that has been churning since the crash of 2008 – alongside frequent innovation from ‘challenger’ banks responding to a new generation of consumers – the way that trust is communicated is very much anyone’s game.

Culturally, we’re moving away from trust narratives located in one well and/or long established place or person. Consumers are looking for new representations of trust that can accommodate change, impermanence and flux. So how can banking brands (traditionally a category for which stability is important) build trust in this context? 

In the second post of our Semiotics At Crowd series, we’re looking at Starling Bank. The digital banking service was founded in 2014 and offers personal, business, joint and euro accounts. From a semiotic standpoint, it also sheds interesting light on future-facing narratives of trust and fluidity in finance, as well as how brands can approach an ambition to grow older customer bases in fintech. Below, we’ve used Starling to explore three new codes of trust in the age of the digital bank.

1. Trust as fluid and always in motion

The murmuration of birds in Starling’s comms demonstrates a very clear shift when it comes to trust in finance. Compared to the permanence of bricks and mortar banking represented by long established institutions, trust is now in the nimble ability to react and change (think from bullion to bitcoin). The group of starlings appears to duck and dive at random, bolting through the landscape along an unpredictable course. But, the birds are also always in perfect formation; instinctive and fluid, efficient and elegant. There’s room for individual flight, but they are able to regroup at any moment. 

“Starling’s birds are a far cry from the guardianship of, say, Barclay’s eagle – static and watchful. Instead, they’re adaptable and able to respond to changing environments.”

Starling’s troop of birds are a far cry from the guardianship of, say, Barclay’s eagle – static and watchful. Instead, they are adaptable and able to respond to a changing environment. Coding money itself as fluid and changeable, as opposed to singular and steady. The starling comms represent thoughtful but fast freedom. By using the image of the birds in flight, Starling is suggesting that today trust is about enabling consumers to have confidence and range through intuitive structures, that are always ready to respond to the environment.

2. Trust as authority, balanced by youthful pleasure

Starling’s livery allows the brand to sit between the established formality of traditional banking and the bright, disruptive optimism of a challenger bank. From a semiotic point of view, Monzo’s neon orange card redefines our relationship with finance; the payment moment becomes enlivened, almost irreverent and youthful. Starling’s colour palette is a balance between the dark blue seriousness of traditional authority and the refreshing, swimming pool turquoise of light-hearted pleasure. 

The use of the blue colour wheel strongly evokes the soothing holism of wellness apps, such as Headspace and Calm, and codes trust as about reassurance, transparency and support. This balance allows Starling to effectively communicate trust to consumers across generational divides. The brand maintains a sense of dependability for older consumers, while also inviting the suggestion of excitement and difference for a younger audience.

3. Trust as independence, and as part of wellbeing

Bó, NatWest’s new digital arm, leads with the message: ‘Do money better’. While the language might be casual and jargon free it is still, at its heart, instructive and authoritarian. This type of disciplinarian command, even when it’s framed by modern, wellness aesthetics, connotes the former banking mode of establishing trust: we know best and you must do as we say.

Starling also employs the casual vernacular ‘feel good’ but takes a far softer, more emotional approach. Trust across multiple categories (eg fitness and wellbeing) is increasingly about establishing legitimacy through demonstrating authentic care for consumers. This is amplified in the eminently gentle: ‘You’re not bad with money. You’re just with the wrong bank’ strapline, which is a significant rearrangement of the relationship between a consumer and their financial services. The word ‘you’re’ combines direct address and the active verb to connote positive affirmation and agency. By explicitly locating the source of financial woes at the feet of the banks, Starling is able to offer financial rehabilitation to consumers and build trust through the idea that the bank, in fact, trusts the consumer. Within Starling’s comms we find holistic ideas around financial health and emotional wellbeing coalescing in one space.

“Starling is taking careful semiotic steps to redefine trust in the financial landscape, coding it as strongly linked to wellness, fluidity and peer-to-peer support.”

Overall, Starling is taking careful semiotic steps to redefine the meaning of trust in the financial landscape, coding it as strongly linked to wellness, fluidity and peer-to-peer support. The brand is achieving this without alienating older consumers by repurposing some established cues of financial trust within a more future-facing context. Starling is making some measured strides in the category coding of trust – but just like in life, in culture, and in semiotics, building trust takes time and work. 

Need help talking trust? Get in touch at: hello@crowdDNA.com

Is America ready to make fun of itself? Crowd DNA New York’s Eden Lauffer explores how this year’s Super Bowl ads are poking fun amid the turmoil...

With the Trump presidency in the US and Brexit anxiety in the UK, both locales are no stranger to turmoil. But as fires spread in Australia and China’s coronavirus lockdown continues, 2020 seems to have kicked off with a feeling of worldwide unrest. In the first few weeks of January alone, online memes have been crying World War III and the end of humanity as we know it (with a humorous twist, of course). It’s no surprise, then, that escapism has become a fully-fledged trend since the 2016 US election. Consumers retreat from the noise of politics into rent-a-nap centers, drag culture, astrology charts etc. 

Escapism takes a new form in this year’s Super Bowl ads. After all we’ve been through in just the first month of 2020 – the Harvey Weinstein trial, the impeachment case, the overwhelming number of presidential candidates – America is ready to start making fun of itself. And while funny, over the top ads are synonymous with the Super Bowl, this year, their tone is a different kind of escapist humor – it’s more tongue in cheek.  

Of those ads, we’ve identified three cultural trends that they fall into, namely: mocking millennials, poking fun at devices that listen to us, and lightly treading on political satire. 

Avocados From Mexico pokes fun at the millennial love of avocados.
Avocados From Mexico pokes fun at the millennial love of avocados.

Mocking Millennials, Again

If you’re a millennial (as I am), you may find millennial jokes tiring by now. But in this year’s ads, the media seems to be on our side with several brands playing on some of the typical ways people like to mock this generation. For example, millennials are often criticized for spending on unnecessary items such as avocados. In response, Avocados From Mexico stages a shopping network featuring absurd products for your avocado to use, such as a pool floaty or a bike helmet.

Another popular millennial jab revolves around a lax work ethic. In a similar vein, we see Cheetos and MC Hammer join forces to help one millennial escape his responsibilities using the excuse of ‘Cheeto fingers’. As millennials now make up a prominent percentage of our population, these blows nod to a somewhat thicker-skinned America.

Pringles jest about robot mind control forcing us to buy products.
Pringles jest about robot mind control forcing us to buy products.

Ears Everywhere

The idea that our devices are constantly listening is not a new one. As we continue to rely on technology and give up personal information, privacy becomes a more glaring concern. Even with this anxiety we continue using apps that may be leveraging our faces to strengthen facial recognition. A number of this year’s Super Bowl ads poke fun at our comfort with privacy invading devices. In Pringles’ and Bud Light Seltzer’s ads, Morty (of Rick & Morty) and Post Malone fall captive to mind control, respectively.

The commentary in the Pringles ad presents an extreme scenario of brands consuming our minds, encouraging us to buy new products. In the Bug Light spot, Post Malone’s brain is manned by a control center dictating which actions he should make when purchasing a drink. We complain about devices taking over, but still feed the problem. So at this point, perhaps it is best to just laugh at the continuing spiral of how much we rely on them.

Snickers asks the big questions. Is a world where moms send nudes one we want to live in?
Snickers asks the big questions. Is a world where moms send nudes one we want to live in?

Tip-Toeing On Political 

In post-2016 election Super Bowls, some brands took a political stance, alluding to their position on the Trump Administration actions like building a wall. However, this year’s ads transcend any political stance by instead mocking the general political climate in the US, including how non-Americans perceive the country’s unrest. In a jovial song, Americans band together to #FixtheWorld by feeding it a giant Snickers. The ad features babies named Kale, moms sending nudes, and influencers falling into an enormous hole. Budweiser approaches this same satire in a more subtle way, playing on negative American stereotypes. The narrative dismisses a ‘typical American’ for being loud, while the ad shows a group of protestors speaking out on a cause. While the 2016 election showed an America more divided than expected, there’s still common ground between us. The ability to laugh about the ridiculousness of things like babies named Kale bands together people on both sides.  

In early 2017, many Americans wanted nothing more than to escape the turbulence of the United States. Advertising shied away from our new president and everything that came along with him. It helped us forget our troubles by transporting us to simpler times. Think, for example, of the silly humor of Bud Light’s ‘Dilly Dilly’ campaign. Today, as we’re in the depths of a trial aimed at impeaching the president, it feels as if the pressure has reached boiling point. These ads prove that we’re beginning to laugh at ourselves again; and as we prepare for another presidential term, this satirical American voice helps cut the tension. 

Exciting New Work Alert!

As so much of our work can’t be shared, it’s great when we do get the chance to. Here’s some exciting projects for Twitter and HSBC

We’ve been working with Twitter in the US, merging machine learning, cultural exploration, semiotics and quant surveying, making sense of billions of tweets to identify trends (18 of them, within six core themes) that have a consistent upward trajectory. Check the work out (with downloadable PDFs aplenty) here.

And we’ve been working with HSBC on the Enrich List – aimed at their high net worth Jade customers – combining cultural analysis and interviews with our Kin network to understand motivational trends for those who have achieved a certain level of wealth; then finding 50 rewarding experiences for personal growth. You can find out more about the approach here. And you can check out the full Enrich List here.

Crowd Tracks: Alcohol

Thirsty? The first in a series of Crowd DNA social listening reports, Crowd Tracks serves up the frothiest alcohol trends from the last four months...

Crowd Tracks is our regular social listening dispatch, examining trends taking place at the intersection of brands and culture. First up, we get the drinks in, focusing on alcohol and uncovering some of the viral stories and category shifts that have encouraged the most engagement over the last four months.

Using social data, we’ve dug deep into global conversations to track trends and measure their impact over time, including pinpointing the brands that are making the most noise. 

Inside the first Crowd Tracks you’ll find: 

Viral stories from around the world, including the state sponsored Qingdao Beer Festival in China; the rise of craft beer in the Philippines; and a new vodka made with ingredients from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

– A brand leaderboard charting the organic conversation around Guinness, Heineken and Bud (who successfully tapped into the viral Area 51 story)

– We dive into the American summer phenomenon that was White Claw and the growth in hard seltzers (even for fraternity bros) 

– We also track the worldwide growth in alcohol-free living through the newly dubbed ‘sober curious’ trend, as well as the shift towards sustainable drinking, in which the environment takes centre stage for both consumers and brands 

Exploring Hard Claw in Crowd Tracks
Exploring Hard Claw in Crowd Tracks

You can download a full copy of the report here.

Social media at Crowd DNA

We deploy social media data in various ways at Crowd DNA; either as a stand-alone method (including producing one-off and periodical reports for our clients) or integrated alongside, for instance, semiotic, ethnographic and quantitative approaches). If you’d like to find out more about how we can use social media data to meet your business challenges, get in touch.

 

Our last London breakfast event of the year explores how we use social listening to get closer to culture, category and consumers...

Date: November 21

Time: 8.15-9am

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

Social media has changed the way we communicate. In fact, social media has changed almost everything. Our feeds are places for influence, inspiration, staying in touch and endless memes. For consumers, these ever-evolving platforms are increasingly – for good or bad – an extension of identity. For brands, the raw data they host presents a near-endless source of insights. But how do we make sense of it all?

In this session, our in-house social listening experts – associate director, Anna Stuart and consultant, Benji Long – will present the case for how social data can lead to powerful strategic learnings across culture, consumers and category, using (drumroll, please…) The Seven Deadly Skills Of Social Listening. 

This killer toolkit puts multi-tentacled social data into action, highlighting the techniques used to dive into passionate communities; pinpoint the concepts which drive brand, trend and product perception; and recruit the perfect creator-collaborator from social users driving the highest engagement.

We’ll also bust the most common misconceptions around social listening and explore some more detailed case studies. From worldwide trends in beauty, to the functional tensions of car travel and the emotions running high in response to a new campaign, social listening offers a way to decode so much that’s vital to brands, and to their products and comms. 

If you fancy coffee, croissants and smart learnings on social listening, please fill out this form, or contact events@crowdDNA.com. And feel free to pass this invite on to any colleagues it may interest, data-sceptics and fans alike.