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.

Crowd DNA New York’s Eden Lauffer examines the ways in which film and TV teen narratives must evolve to resonate with the complex identities of Gen Z...

Today’s teens draw from an array of influences that weren’t available to generations before them. Consider the effects of teenhood played out alongside the internet, versus an analogue adolescence of decades gone by: the worldwide web alone provides inspiration and opinions, outlets for creative expression and peer pressure in equal measure. As the challenges and motivations of teens have changed drastically over time, media responses have shifted to reflect this complexity.

Here, we challenge film to stray from the traditional and highly stereotyped coming-of-age story – as portrayed in high school classics like The Breakfast Club (1985) and Mean Girls (2004) to speak more authentically to Gen Zers. 

Smashing stereotypes

In the early 2000s, film began to sympathetically make light of the awkward teenage years, rather than mocking them. Recall the lead in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) getting too drunk at a party and dancing on the table, or American Pie’s (1999) lead unknowingly doing a strip tease on a livestream for the whole school. These embarrassing moments of 90s film read as negative.

Julia Stiles's character Kat 'getting trashed because that's what you're supposed to do at parties' in 10 Things I Hate About You
Julia Stiles's character Kat 'getting trashed because that's what you're supposed to do at parties' in 10 Things I Hate About You

The early 2000s instead celebrated the sheer embarrassment of being a teenager and told us not to take it too seriously. Those who were previously labeled outcasts or geeks now reigned as sarcastic, witty leads. For example, in Superbad (2007), the protagonists were nerdy boys striving to impress girls they’ve always crushed on, while in Easy A (2010) our bookish lead hilariously conquered the double standard against high school girls and sexuality.

Emma Stone's character, Olive, takes back 'the scarlet letter' in <em>Easy A</em>
Emma Stone's character, Olive, takes back 'the scarlet letter' in Easy A

Meanwhile, outside of the US, millennial teens got an even more raw narrative on the teenage experience. Humour was a vehicle to tackle teen challenges often viewed as taboo – from sex, drugs, bullying and teenage pregnancy. In Canada, Degrassi (2001) allowed teens to fumble through mistakes without neatly tying episodes up with a moral message (as was done in the 90s). In the UK, Skins (2007) showed awkward struggles, with taboo teenage moments served with a side of surrealism. But while these dramas were seen to be more gritty and ‘real’, they were also criticized for glamorizing teenage rebellion. 

Embracing the messiness of teendom

Moving on from the Skins and Degrassi’s kids breaking the rules, recent depictions have looked at the more everyday struggles of Gen Z – from online bullying to FOMO. 

While remaining extremely innocent, Eighth Grade (2018) used actual kids (acne and all) to make each painful moment of being 13 palpable, coupling awkwardness with the complexities of being a teenager in the age of social media. Similarly, Lady Bird (2017) shone a light on the tension-ridden mother-daughter relationship, making its angsty, precocious protagonist relatable. These kinds of ‘everygirl’ leading ladies would both have previously been sidelined in teen film, but now their limelight gives teens someone strong, yet familiarly flawed and smart, yet naive, to relate to. 

<em>Eighth Grade</em> - growing up online
Eighth Grade - growing up online

This summer, Booksmart (2019) graced us with something perhaps more akin to the ‘regular’ high school experience. Like Superbad, the story follows two hard-working girls who feel they’ve missed out on the classic high school experience. As they seize their opportunity on the night before graduation, going to a party and kissing the boys and girls they like, they interact with a range of different teenage characters along the way. This film sourced its relatability through letting the audience know that everyone lives out high school in their own way, and that’s okay. 

Complex and hybrid

While Booksmart successfully captures relatable high schoolers, each character is still fairly one dimensional, defined by a single characteristic: nerdy, stoner, slutty, etc. For Gen Zers, identity is defined by several factors existing alongside each other – race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, political views, social justice involvement – the list goes on. They don’t want to be pigeon-holed or defined by a singular trait. 

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) weaves the lead’s Asian heritage into the storyline, making it a celebratory narrative. Euphoria (2019) plays on the typical teen archetypes, but muddies them with complexity. We still have jocks and popular girls, but each sits on a spectrum of gender identity and sexuality, insecurity and confidence. In Big Little Lies (2018), a child suffers a panic attack because of her overwhelming anxiety about climate change. Both in Euphoria and 13 Reasons Why (2017), toxic masculinity (used to conceal one’s sexuality) has an extremely detrimental impact on said character and those around them. Of all the titles mentioned above, only one (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before) has a rating that would even allow teen viewing. 

Owning your heritage as part of your identity in To All The Boys I've Loved Before
Owning your heritage as part of your identity in To All The Boys I've Loved Before

There’s still room for progress

There’s evidence that film is beginning to consider the multidimensional, contradictory nature of Gen Zers, but more can be done to make characters feel authentic to teens in a setting that’s PG enough for them to watch themselves. Diversity also remains an issue, with Zendaya becoming one of the first black, teen female leads in a major channel show, and Hunter Schaffer the first trans actor (Euphoria). 

However, tension will forever lie in the contrasting needs to achieve both entertainment and realism. Film is meant to help us escape our own realities, so run of the mill house parties are unlikely to ever be featured on screen. But where is the happy medium between truly relatable and glamourized? Continuing to build on representing a range of teenage voices seems a good place to start.

There are currently more than 2.5billion Gen Zers worldwide. For more thinking on how to speak to this generation and its duality, check out our work on the Hybrid States Of Gen Z

The Cashless Backlash

Amazon’s first cashier-less convenience store has opened in New York. Crowd DNA’s Tom Eccles pops in for a browse…

New York recently became the fourth city to feature one of Amazon’s cashier-less ‘Grab and Go’ stores. The stores offer a selection of typical convenience food – think sandwiches, drinks, ready meals, cook-at-home kits. But the appeal of Amazon Go isn’t really the products on offer – it’s the store experience itself; from the lack of any kind of checkout process, to the novelty that you simply take your items from the shelf and walk straight out the door. No lines, no one fumbling for quarters and no “unexpected items in the bagging area.”

Along came lunchtime on Friday – it was time to test drive the future of retail. I jumped on the subway, tapping my phone on the turnstile using NYC’s new contactless payment system, OMNY. To enter the store, I had to download the Amazon Go app, sign in and, again, scan my phone on the barrier. I browsed around, picking up and replacing a few items to try and fool the system, before deciding on some lunch and walking straight out.

Sure enough, a few minutes later I had a mobile notification with a receipt, helpfully informing me that I’d spent six minutes and ten seconds in the store. All in all, a pretty seamless, stress-free experience – and I didn’t use a single coin, banknote, or even a physical card.

So why, if the cashierless experience is so quick, easy and painless, is there a backlash against cashless stores on the rise? Earlier this year, Philadelphia became the first US city to ban stores from not accepting cash. New Jersey followed suit with a state-wide ban, joined soon after by San Francisco. New York City is now working on similar legislation. In response, fancy salad outlet Sweetgreen – after going card and app only in 2017 – has pledged to resume taking cash in all stores by the end of this year.

The main argument against going cashless is the exclusion of those who often don’t have the means to access digital forms of payment; namely lower-income families, the disabled and elderly. According to the FDIC, six percent of American households (8.4 million) don’t even have a bank account. Furthermore, a lack of adequate banking facilities disproportionately affects households of color: 17 percent of African American households have no bank account, and therefore no method of accessing cashless stores and services.

There are other arguments too. Privacy campaigners point out that a transition to electronic payments means yet more personal data being handed to corporations and governments – the latter a particular concern in China, which is well on its way to becoming the world’s first cashless society. It also increases the risk of potential exposure to identity and financial fraud.

As the option to pay with cash is disappearing from our streets, the ability to actually get hold of cash is also vanishing. In the UK, an average of 460 cash machines closed every month last year, while the number of bank branches is now less than 8,000, down from 18,000 in 1989. Here in the US, 6,008 branches closed between 2008 and 2016, resulting in ‘cash deserts’: areas with no banks and no access to ATMs.

Of course, times change – and as technology advances, the tech industry must find ways to include lower income and minority communities in the cashless revolution. For brands, while it is clearly important to embrace new and more efficient ways of working, they should do so in the most inclusive way possible too. As for Amazon Go, it is undoubtedly a futuristic and novel concept, but whether it is the future of retail, or an unnecessary pit-stop on the road to an e-commerce based future, is up for debate.