As legislation relaxes, perceptions of marijuana are changing. Crowd DNA’s Eden Lauffer explores how women are leading the cannabis rebrand...

We all know the pothead stereotype: it’s the Dazed And Confused crew or films of Seth Rogen. However, with cannabis now legal in Canada and nine US states, that image is shifting. In fact, a recent poll found that 61 per cent of Americans feel cannabis should be legalized, a number that’s grown 49 per cent since 1969. So what does the future of cannabis look like and who’s driving the rebrand?

Female celebrities push for normalcy

A recent survey found that 56 per cent of Americans find that ‘smoking weed is socially acceptable’. In efforts to push this further, some celebrities have stepped up. However, widespread acceptance won’t come from brands led by the likes of Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson; celebrities who don’t fit the stoner stereotype also need to get involved. Coming out with Whoopi & Maya and advocating for cannabis relief during menstrual cramps, Whoopi Goldberg has helped bring normalcy to the market and destigmatize usage. Similarly, Melissa Etheridge is working on Etheridge Farms in hopes of offering products such as arthritis balm to a wider audience.

Women and moms enter the market

It’s not just celebrities starting brands. Take Miss Grass, a shop and blog for women, which has a cannabis focus but also provides typical women’s magazine topics, like fitness tips. In an interview with W, Miss Grass co-creator, Anna Duckworth, spoke of their mission to dissolve the stoner stereotype, which lacks a female narrative. Duckworth’s counterpart, Kate Miller told W, “There’s a lot of ways of using cannabis, and many don’t even get you high,” in reference to their products like CBD lube and lotion. Women report using cannabis for menopause and menstruation, but also to relax and enhance sex.

According to a BDS Analytics study, of the 49 per cent of women who use cannabis as medicine, 54 per cent report they are mothers with children under 18 in the home. Publications like Splimm and The Cannavist Mom stand with moms, serving as a newsletter for parents who indulge in cannabis, offering articles as well as a safe space. Mom-friendly products have landed in the market too. Mother & Clone, a CBD spray that lasts only 60 seconds, was created by a mother dealing with postpartum depression. Similarly, TONIC was started by a female personal trainer who struggled with anxiety and found benefits in CBD (as it lacks THC, the psychoactive ingredients of cannabis).

Beyond female friendly products and publications, women are taking the business side of cannabis by storm, too. Already recognizing the buying power and influence women have had, organizations like Women Grow, the largest network of cannabis professionals, are empowering female leaders to strive in the cannabis market in hopes of starting more women-led companies.

This is clearly a space to watch. According to Forbes, by 2021 the cannabis industry is set to grow 150 per cent. That, paired with the 70 to 80 per cent spending power women hold in the US, means that female cannabis users are a group to focus on. As legalization sweeps the US and cannabis continues to enter the beauty and wellness space, brands preparing to tap into the market shouldn’t neglect the huge share of voice women hold.

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.

How are brands relating to the way women view the world? Crowd DNA semiotics expert Roberta Graham explores…

Recent feminist movements have fostered a cultural pressure for work created for women by women. As more female narratives appear, this challenge to the established representation of women has been labelled as the ‘female gaze’.

You’d be forgiven for assuming this was, as the name suggests, the antithesis of the well established ‘male gaze’ (a phrase coined in 1975 to describe the position of women in cinema as objects of heterosexual masculine desire). While the male gaze focuses on how the patriarchal world looks at women, the female gaze is not only about broadening representation, but how women look at the world themselves. Here we explore examples of culture and branding through female eyes.

Femininity on film

With a host of Oscar-nominated films about the female experience directed and produced by women, surface-level representation is being taken over by real control. The multifaceted women in Three Billboards, Ladybird, and I, Tonya all signal progress made in front of, as well as behind, the camera. Not limited to traditional female narratives, the gaze is also expanding representations of race, gender and sexuality. For example, Ava DuVernay has been broadening the African American narrative in mainstream cinema with Selma and, most notably, 13th, for which she became the first black women to be nominated for an Oscar in a feature category.

Still life and sensuality

With emphasis on texture, composition and light, photographers such as Harley Weir, Petra Collins and Eloise Parry create dreamlike realities where softness is often their strength. Weir, in particular, gained attention by disrupting the still life tropes of fruit and flowers as symbols of sexuality, by transforming them into portrayals of the female form. By making the inanimate animate she subverts the familiar objectification of women’s bodies, taking ownership of a lazy and stereotypical shortcut to femininity. This has been echoed in Weir’s commercial work, most recently for Calvin Klein.

Freedom of movement

As women take ownership of their bodies, value is shifting from physical appearance to expression through movement and dance. Spike Jonze for Kenzo, FKA Twigs for Apple, and Misty Copeland for Under Armour all show women using movement as a means of breaking free from the confines of social ideals. These abstractions show the female form as strong, capable, dynamic and unique.

More recently, H&M’S female tango by Holly Blakey depicts a diverse crowd of women united by dance. After rejecting a male lead, they become a collective of individuals passing on their infectious confidence from one to the next.

Strength in numbers

In the push for equality, healthy tensions have arisen within females bonds. Contrast can be seen between soft, easy sisterhood (think Solange’s ‘Cranes In The Sky’) and the power of female group resistance (Beyonce’s ‘Formation’). In 2017, Barbie also re-evaluated Girlness in a gently rebellious collaboration for iD magazine; while Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ celebrated the strength of diversity within female collectives using the words of Maya Angelou to encourage women to come together by enforcing their individuality: “I’m a woman, phenomenally, phenomenal woman. That’s me.”

The experience of being a woman is clearly multifaceted but, while we celebrate the women breaking boundaries and the diversity of narratives, there’s a hope that the female gaze will one day become so commonplace we won’t even need to discuss it.

Masculinity Report

Another nice download from Crowd DNA...

This week we hosted a Rise breakfast event in Amsterdam which explored changing attitudes to masculinity, and in particular, what being a man means among millennials. For those who missed it – and our earlier session in London – here’s a PDF on the topic. This download looks at the tensions that have evolved around male identity and is designed to help brands harness opportunities – and speak better to men AND women. Once again, there’s a playlist to soundtrack the insights.

Check out the PDF here

How to Speak Man

Our next Rise breakfast event in Amsterdam sees Crowd DNA's Joey Zeelen set about reframing masculinity...

Date: September 27

Time: 8.15am-9am

Location: Crowd DNA, Sarphatistraat 49, Amsterdam

Brands are increasingly taking political, environmental and social stands. Many are addressing female aspirations and feminism with great effect.

But what are we doing about men?

This session explores changing attitudes to masculinity and, in particular, what being a man means among millennials. Looking at the tensions that have evolved around male identity, we’ll help brands harness opportunities – and speak better to men AND women.

Join us for delicious pastries and even more delicious insights. Contact Judith Lieftink if you and/or colleagues would like to attend.

Watch the trailer below:

First published in the MRS' Impact magazine, Crowd DNA associate director Jake Goretzki explores the fast-shifting attitudes to masculinity and male identity...

In May I presented ‘Gendershift: How To Speak Man’ at Crowd DNA’s regular breakfast event, Rise. This piece looks at shifts in attitudes to masculinity among Millennial men in the West and the opportunities this presents for brands.

Male identity is ‘hot right now’, in and beyond our sector. From Stormzy’s musings on male mental health to comedian Robert Webb’s forthcoming book ‘How Not To Be A Boy’. At Crowd DNA, we’ve developed a close interest in masculinity working with clients seeking to remain relevant to a young male audience – in an age where men aren’t the ‘lads’ they were a decade ago. The debate about ‘what makes a man’ isn’t, of course, new (remember the ‘New Man’ and the ‘Metrosexual’?), but is especially visible today.

For Gen Xers like me, raised by feminists and moisturising since their teens, opining on male dilemmas still feels, frankly, uncomfortable. Look: we still live in a patriarchy. Power is male. Wealth is male and the UK pay gaps grants men a 9.4% bonus over women. Outmoded ideas of men as promiscuous risk-takers and women as meek and emotional remain ubiquitous. ‘My heart bleeds for you’, my mum would tell me.

Male identity has been changing among Millennials. The drivers range from the (slow) advance of women in society to the mainstreaming of gay male identity. Male and female space has converged (from pubs to stag dos). Health and body are greater male preoccupations than ever before.

Today we see a more fluid, ‘individual masculinity’ that’s less binary and less ‘one size fits all’. Only 2% of men aged 18-24 said they were ‘completely masculine’ in a YouGov survey in 2015. Closer in, men have become more intimate and emotional (‘bromance’ is a word and US Presidents can cry now). When they do have children, men are more ‘Involved’, embracing fatherhood and not trying to escape the fact.

Yet for all this heartwarming progress at the leading edge, we’re seeing new tensions around masculinity. Most prominent is what’s called ‘toxic masculinity’, embodied by the (paradoxically make-up-wearing) Leader of the Free World (we did the crying when he was voted in). And behind him is a parade of back-to-the-kitchen growlers, ‘pick up artists’ and alt-right misogynists.

Worse still, Millennial men are living with a ‘misery epidemic’. As the charity ‘CALM’ reminds us, suicide is the biggest killer of young men (a subject touchingly covered by Professor Green). Being told that ‘boys don’t cry’ and appeals to ‘just be a man’ aren’t helping.

There are lesser tensions too. We see an increasing divergence between generations over what ‘being a man’ is, and a tendency among older men to misconstrue today’s men as ‘victims’ of female success (ask the Boomer icon Jeremy Clarkson how he feels about male identity today). We see a continued grapple to pin down an aspirational male archetype for today (strength and grit still dominate; witness the surge of Weekend Warriors and Tough Mudders).

Brands are increasingly reflecting changes. Unilever’s ‘Find Your Magic’ campaign for Lynx/Axe has long been a gold standard case study for us, celebrating a more nuanced, diverse idea of masculinity – the more so coming from a brand once associated with a laddish posture that irritated women. Fashion brands have been relatively brave too – Diesel’s ‘Make Love Not Walls’ doesn’t hide whose proposed wall it’s talking about.

In drinks, Coors now lets us laugh at Jean-Claude Van Damme’s faded machismo; Southern Comfort liberates with a pot-bellied beach walker. Over in the Deep South, Jim Beam is now fronted by Mila Kunis. (And suddenly, Jack Daniel’s gruff men of Lynchburg Tennessee are looking a little unreconstructed).

There are many opportunities for brands to speak more meaningfully to today’s young men. Brands can take a stand against toxic masculinity by talking to men and women as one, not two camps – tapping into male goodwill for female progress. Nike’s ‘Unlimited You’ is a bracing male and female story. ‘Walking the talk’ as an organisation is essential as well (American Apparel’s seedy casting of young submissive women won it few friends and bordered on the ‘toxic’). As Elina Vives, Senior Director of Marketing at Coors has said “Any brand nowadays has to stop insulting women first and foremost and be much more inclusive”.

Brands can also work on the ‘male happiness project’: stoicism and old masculinity are a straitjacket and, frankly, young men need ‘cheering up’. Friendship is now a kinder, warmer experience than the ‘lad bantz’ and locker room of old. It’s time too to banish the stock ‘doofus dad’, bemused by parenting and shopping. As Axe/Lynx’s shift showed, disrupting conventions of masculinity and bringing greater nuance to the man you portray can invigorate a brand and win over enemies. Today’s man? He’s not the man he was. And a good thing, too.

How To Speak Man

Crowd DNA associate director Jake Goretzki discussed the changing face of masculinity at our latest Rise breakfast event in London. Find out how to master the language below...

Masculinity has changed. In the past, the man used to be the man. He was strong, could fly solo, didn’t understand women and defined himself as ‘not gay’. He was the foundation of patriarchy. But as society challenges traditional attitudes and gives a voice to all, how should brands speak to men?

First, let’s make it clear that we’re talking about leading edge Millennials here and tensions remain from the persistence of toxic masculinity personified by the likes of the alt-right, Trump and Jeremy Clarkson.

We’ve observed that today’s man is more emotional: being open, supportive and communicative is key to overcoming issues of loneliness and depression. Women are now his peers and friends… so long to the old bantz and #everydaysexism. Progressiveness is a value he holds dear, and he welcomes gender and sexual fluidity. Finally, he’s an involved dad, loves it, and doesn’t want to escape ‘the bloody kids’ anymore.

Brands like Diesel, Lynx and Old Spice are doing a great job at talking to this new ‘thoughtful man’. What’s their secret? Speaking to men and women as one, working on male happiness, talking to the involved dad, portraying the many nuances of masculinity, but most of all being bold! Enjoy disrupting and subverting traditional category conventions when it comes to gender – men and women will love it.

We enjoy talking about men so much that we’ve made a digital magazine about How To Speak Man. Please email hello@crowddna.com for your copy.

Our next Rise breakfast event in London sees Crowd DNA duo Jake Goretzki & Ken Wallraven set about reframing masculinity...

Date: May 4

Time: 8.15am-9am

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

Brands are increasingly taking political, environmental and social stands. Many are addressing female aspirations and feminism with great effect.

But what are we doing about men?

This session explores changing attitudes to masculinity and, in particular, what being a man means among millennials. Looking at the tensions that have evolved around male identity, we’ll help brands harness opportunities – and speak better to men AND women.

Join us in the Lux Building for delicious pastries and even more delicious insights. Contact Jason Wolfe if you and/or colleagues would like to attend.

Watch the trailer below: