We’ve been moving on our How To Speak (Wo)Man work recently, with Crowd DNA’s Elyse Pigram and Joey Zeelen sharing it with clients. One of the key themes: whether we should even be talking about binary expressions of gender in the first place…

This is not the first time we’ve talked about how brands can address gender (in fact, we’re doing it again soon in Singapore), but we’re finding good sense in combining both of our presentations on the topic to deliver a holistic view on ensuring brand messaging rings true. 

First, Elyse has been looking at femininity today, exploring why it is that women still don’t feel represented by brands. This part of the presentation uses a simple Jungian framework of female archetypes traditionally perpetuated in media and culture, of ‘the innocent’, ‘lover’ and ‘caregiver’. The examples from brands of childlike playfulness, domesticated housewives, and barely-dressed women provide evidence of how not to speak to today’s woman.

Moving into the present, Elyse shows that there’s no longer just one archetype – or stereotype-fits-all. Women are seeking to reclaim their identity, in all its varying forms, which means reframing and rethinking the way womanhood is represented to make it more diverse, inclusive and strong. Women as the ‘everywoman’ (think Dove’s Real Beauty, HBO’s Girls), ‘heroes’ (think Always’ Like A Girl, Beyonce, the latest Wonder Woman films), ‘rebels’ and ‘creators’ are the key archetypes to focus on and offer brands direction on how to be relevant and representational.

This shift in female narratives has been boosted by cultural movements such as #MeToo, better trans visibility and open discussion changing the conversation around what it means to be a woman in 2019. Now more than ever, there is a sense of urgency for brands to get it right in the ways they express themselves to the modern woman. Elyse emphasised that this succeeds through brands sharing the fluid and varied experiences of women. (You can download our How To Speak Woman report here.)

Having established that approaches to female identity are changing across society, media and advertising, Joey then looks at how the land lies for masculinity – what does it mean to be a man in 2019? Over the last couple of years, a lot has changed (you can take a look at our 2017 research here to see how things have moved on). Gender is becoming more fluid and non-binary, and masculinity more individual.

We see men speaking more freely about their feelings (Prince Harry tackling mental health), and turning their backs on traditional ideas of what it is to be a man. Mainstream media – such as Beautiful Boy and McCain’s We Are Family ads – has been disrupting ideas of nuclear families and father roles have been represented to be more playful and emotional. But amidst all this, there is still a long way to go. With much talk swirling around of ‘masculinity in crisis’,  Joey identifies three main tensions that need to be addressed by brands:

1. Toxic masculinitystill being peddled by cultural figures such as Donald Trump and Piers Morgan

2. Wellbeing and mental health – male suicide remains the biggest killer of young men in many Western societies

3. How to align feminism and progress masculinity – how can men be authentically supportive and work out their place in propelling the cause forward?

While we’re still figuring out the definition of being a man, brands need to keep opening up the conversation and (as with femininity) challenging stereotypes.

To finish, Joey and Elyse summed up the key takeouts for brands and what this all means for how to speak (wo)man:

– We need to recognise that femininity is all about individuality and celebrating difference

– We need to keep working to define and shape new expressions of masculinity that are nuanced and empathetic – and not binary

– Brands need to walk the talk, and back up their messaging with credible action

– Let’s celebrate and harness male goodwill towards female progress

– Consider producing products that don’t have a  gender – try talking to men and women as one

– Take male relationships out of the locker room, and nurture closer connection

– Talk to your audience, not about them. By engaging people with different experiences, and expressions of gender, we can better express and represent them

If you would like us to come and talk to your company about expressions of gender in modern day culture, please email us at hello@crowdDNA.com

When Gen Z become parents

As Gen Z start to reach parenthood, Crowd DNA New York’s Eden Lauffer forecasts what brands should expect from the next wave of parents...

Pew Research Center recently defined Gen Z as those born between 1997 and 2012 (so, today’s seven to 22 year-olds). From what we know so far, they’re a diverse and open-minded generation who’ve grown up enjoying the benefits of social media at their fingertips. Yet, equally, they’re also a group associated with high levels of anxiety and an overwhelming pressure to project success, both online and off.

Now that older Gen Zers have started to enter the workforce and, generally speaking, more of them will begin having children a few milestones down the road, it’s interesting to think how this group will approach and redefine parenthood. Furthermore, with a personal shopping power of $143 billion (according to Forbes), brands should be prepared for this generation to soon take family household shopping by storm. They may still be young, but we thought we’d wish away their years with a few key ways to start thinking about this next generation of parents.

Breaking The Mold

According to NPR, 48 percent of Gen Zers in the US are non-white and, according to Ipsos Mori, only 66 percent identify as ‘exclusively heterosexual,’ making them the most diverse cohort in history. This has already built a generation of outspoken individuals, taking a stand on issues like LGBTQ rights, racial bias and inequality, and plenty of other issues. As parents, Gen Zers are likely to value empathy and teach their children tolerance and acceptance of others.

Naturally, brands that embrace diversity will continue to thrive. Many parents have already strayed from typical gender norms when it comes to baby toys and names – and this will no doubt extend further. In the realm of fashion, for example, brands that were born genderless, like Phluid Project, will continue to prosper, with genderless clothing something more children’s fashion brands should definitely consider (Gap are already paving the way with their neutral baby clothes).

The Power Of Social

Gen Zers are also stereotyped for spending hours curating their lives on social media. While this may have negative associations with mental health, it could also have positive use cases for parenting.

In a study done by Collage Group, over 70 percent of Gen Z females without children felt FOMO regularly, but only 36 percent with children felt the same. It seems the presence of kids may actually reduce some of the negative impacts of social media. For example, Gen Zer Kylie Jenner has spoken about her desire to keep her role as a mom private from her (very) public life. This change has bled into her overall social media use: cutting back on what she posts and the amount that she does so.

Furthermore, being a generation known to trust recommendations from social media feeds when it comes to brands and products, this may also bleed into their shopping choices for children. They currently respond well to the recommendations of peer influencers, which may later translate into parenting purchase decisions and kid-friendly brand advice.

Everyday Coping Mechanisms

In recent years, the teen suicide rate has increased drastically – over 70 percent among 10-17 year-olds from 2006-2016, according to USA Today. However, 37 percent of Gen Zers also reported seeking help from mental health professionals (CNN), which is significantly higher than millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers.

As parents, Gen Zers are likely to emphasize the importance of mental health. They’re expected to help their children deal with life stressors in a different way than their parents did for them. Digital-native brands that help promote good mental health, such as Headspace and Talkspace, will likely thrive and give way to like-minded services designed for kids. Mindfulness apps aren’t just to benefit adults – Gen Z parents will likely get their children in the practice of using tools of their own. Apps like Calm, which tells stories to soothe users to sleep, have been recommended for kids, as have other apps that help kids with anxiety through journaling, body awareness and meditation.

Gen Zers are already firmly taking the reins on social issues, such as mental health, as well as paving the way for new types of family units, via genderless purchases. Brands will need to pay close attention to Gen Z’s values in order to keep up with this high spending, change-igniting generation on the brink of parenthood.

When Social Meets Semiotics

Crowd DNA social listener, Benjamin Long, and semiotician, Roberta Graham, discuss the power of combining two distinct methodologies to bring online conversations into real life strategy…

As the world, replete with all of its complexities, continues to be uploaded online, social media platforms are vital for keeping up with fast-moving trends and the conversations that happen around them. But, as cultural analysts, how can we effectively and structurally make sense of all of the noise (and emojis)?

At Crowd DNA, we believe that fusing two methods together is usually better than just one. With understanding online culture, for example, applying a semiotic lens to the analysis of social data helps us make concrete sense of trends in real life, in real time.

Using semiotics in this manner provides current cultural context, which can help to validate or disprove the social listening insights. Here’s how we go about it:

Start With A Solid Question

The huge sample sizes generated through social listening are both a blessing and a curse. It can sometimes feel like finding a needle in a haystack. Having a solid question in mind is the best way to ensure that the insights you surface actually align with your original business objectives. Starting with wider cultural research can also help find more nuanced or emergent ways to target the demographic that you want.

Branch Out

While being specific is essential, analysing how other categories play out on social media can also provide new perspectives as, when different themes collide, unique trends can be formed. Semiotics helps this exploration by casting an analytical eye across broader culture and making stylistic or attitudinal connections to suggest relevant shifts within your own market or category.

Context Is Everything

While some cultural phenomenon exist only online – such as memes or Instagram flop accounts – most do not. Here is where the blend of social listening with semiotics really comes into play. It’s vital to combine social data insights with a broader analysis of the cultural landscape that they operate within to gain a rich understanding of the interplay between digital and physical worlds.

What They Say Isn’t Always What They Mean

As in real life, what people say (or do) online is not necessarily reflective of how they behave in their everyday lives. To crack through this contradiction, we often look beyond the words that people use and conduct a semiotic analysis for greater understanding. This type of exploration can be key to unlocking the hidden insights within a post’s imagery, semantics, or lineup of emojis!

Not Everyone Talks

Remember that public social data will likely be skewed to those more confident in voicing their opinions, which is obviously problematic. Meanwhile, the quiet majority who use the internet to absorb information and inspiration (rather than shout their opinions) are more likely to engage with posts by liking, sharing and commenting on them. Looking to engagement data is therefore as important as the post itself and can help provide a valuable measurement of the many – not the few.

If you’d like to learn more about how we fuse social listening with semiotics to reach real cultural insights, please get in touch: hello@crowdDNA.com

Crowd DNA New York's Eden Lauffer takes aim and explores which of this year's Super Bowl ads soared - and which ones flopped...

This year’s Super Bowl can be described in one word, ‘meh’. By halftime, the score was a whopping 3-0 Patriots-Rams. The game was the lowest scoring of all time and fans were less than impressed with the halftime show. While the much-hyped ads were mostly well-received, not many stood out particularly strongly. We’ve looked into a few ads that worked well – and some that didn’t work as well.

Amazon Alexa – “Not Everything Makes The Cut”

In the 2018 Super Bowl, Alexa lost her voice, allowing celebrities to step in to help answer user questions. This year, Amazon Alexa took a similar approach, leaning on celebrities to poke fun at the voice assistant device, reminiscing on fictitious failed Alexa products such as an electric toothbrush and a dog collar.

Both playing on a theme from last year and poking fun at itself, Amazon hit the mark with this ad. The celebrities chosen for this year’s spot appealed to a wider audience, with the likes of Harrison Ford and Forest Whitaker, but also Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson of Broad City. With the final season of Broad City now airing – plus a pairing with Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now,’ tapping into the Golden Globe wins for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – this makes this ad deftly pop culture relevant.

Verizon – “Team That Wouldn’t Be Here”

Like in 2018, Verizon used the Super Bowl to comment on their link to first responders. This year, they tied in NFL players who had been rescued by first responders after near fatal accidents.

An improvement from last year’s ad, this year Verizon worked off of the link to the NFL rather than just reporting how they helped first responders do their jobs. However, as with last year’s spot, claiming to be responsible for part of the work first responders do feels to be a bit of a stretch for a telecom brand.

T-Mobile – “We’ll Keep This Brief,” “What’s For Dinner?,” “We’re Here For You,” and “Dad?!”

This year, T-Mobile ran a spot in every quarter of the game, playing off the same concept – text conversations. Each spot in the series showed a common text scenario most people have experienced, paired with a brand partnership for T-Mobile users at the end. For example, in “What’s For Dinner?,” a texter struggles with how to respond to a text from their friend about what to get for dinner. The offer at the end features free Taco Bell on Tuesdays for T-Mobile users. In the fourth quarter spot, “Dad?!,” a user deals with her not-so-tech-savvy father; the end card reading, “you can’t change your dad, but you can change your carrier,” offering non T-Mobile users a chance to switch.

With a recognisably similar spot in each quarter, viewers had a reason to pay attention to each ad, staying engaged. Further, each ad built up desire to be a T-Mobile user, so when the final spot played, non-users may have been curious as to how they could benefit from T-Mobile too. In past Super Bowls, T-Mobile has run several spots, but usually poke fun at competitors. This series was far less uptight and kept viewers engaged to see what came next.

Toyota RAV4 – “Toni”

Toyota used this 2019 spot to introduce its new hybrid RAV4. The spot features Toni Harris, the first woman to be offered a football scholarship with hopes of being in the NFL. The music and tone of the spot convey female empowerment. The ad finishes with Toni driving a RAV4 hybrid, the narrator stating that assumptions have been made about her, but Toyota doesn’t stand for assumptions.

While the bulk of the spot is empowering and relevant to the Super Bowl, the brand and product it’s pushing don’t match. The closing statement of the ad speaks to those who assume SUVs can’t be hybrids. It also compares Toni Harris to a car and further, to a hybrid, causing the ad to feel confusing, off base, and a little insulting.

Pepsi – “More Than OK”

No stranger to star-studded Super Bowl ads, Pepsi’s 2019 spot featured Steve Carell, Cardi B and Lil Jon. The ad plays on the common scenario of ordering a Coke in a restaurant and being asked if a Pepsi is okay instead. Using the humor of all three celebrities, Pepsi builds up that their brand is more than okay, poking fun at itself.

While previous Pepsi Super Bowl ads flaunted their heritage, this ad acknowledged that they have a strong and unforgettable competitor. Seeing an iconic brand poke fun at its downfalls makes Pepsi feel more human. This ad also plays directly into each celebrities’ own character, taking advantage of their catchphrases rather than just dropping them into the ad.

In total, this year’s ads felt a little tired, with several borrowing tactics from last year’s, such as brand partnerships (Bud Light and Game Of Thrones) and reoccurring series (T-Mobile). Let’s hope for better, on and off the field, next Super Bowl.

With urban environments changing rapidly, our third issue of City Limits dives into youth culture's past, present and future…

Having first delved into the urban experience in Volume One, then taken a ride into mobility in Volume TwoVolume Three of City Limits has us exploring urban living from the perspective of young people.  

It’s impossible to think of youth culture without thinking of cities. Traditionally, they’ve gone hand in hand; it’s within our urban hubs that young people have ignited new trends, with creativity delivered direct from the streets. But cities are changing – free spaces are being squeezed out, gentrification is altering their complexion – and youth culture is changing along with it. 

In this issue, we explore the history of youth culture claiming its space in the city; we pinpoint the urban tribes of today; the challenge the online world presents to the city; and highlight best-in-class examples of brands connecting with young urban trends

City Limits Volume Three is available to download here.

And you can watch the video trailer below: 

Decoding The Ads Of 18

Last post of the year from us: Crowd DNA semiotician Roberta Graham decodes some of the year’s most successful campaigns, identifying the key stylistic themes connecting them to wider culture...

2018 has been an interesting year in cultural insight. With global discussions around such huge themes as gender, sexuality, racial equality, political polarisation and the death of truth driving major shifts, there’s been no end of contradictions to get our heads around.

These factors have made a great impact on the world of advertising (Adweek ads of the year) and how brands are communicating with their consumers.

To round off the year, we’ve honed in on a few key themes, to give you a run-down of some of our favourite adverts. We’ve decoded their hidden meanings to understand why they have resonated so strongly with consumers around the world. Let’s go.

Polarisation – Black and white and everything in between

In their striking campaign featuring NFL star turned activist Colin Kaepernick, Nike used the traditional simplicity of black and white photography to communicate strength, honesty and authenticity. The exclusion of colour strips the star bare, as does the frame of the image, which focuses keenly on his facial expression, as he gazes directly back at the viewer, determined and unshaken. The caption, ‘Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,’ refers directly to Kaepernick’s forced departure from the NFL, due to his political beliefs on racial equality. This is also reflected by the pointed use of black and white imagery, which makes clear reference to issues of racial inequality, as well as the stark contrast between right and wrong. However, the greyscale of Kaepernick’s face, central to the images also represents connection between the two and offers potential for soft, empathetic and human centred change.

Truth Seeking – Comedic conspiracies

Taco Bell created an irreverent response to our post-truth society’s obsession with anti-establishment, truth-seeking documentaries in their comedic ‘Web Of Fries’ campaign. Set in the format of a movie trailer, the campaign uses classic motifs and tropes of conspiracy movies to paint the picture of an establishment cover-up of their product – Nacho Fries. This perfectly pitches Taco Bell within the zeitgeist, while maintaining their brand positioning as a playful indulgence and antidote to reality.

Liberation – Autonomy of automation

Apple, of course, made two of the most striking adverts of the year. Their Homepod advert, featuring FKA Twigs, and ‘Unlock’ for the iPhone X were both widely praised. They both leverage the themes of female autonomy and independence which have been making waves throughout culture. But the way in which this has been communicated is particularly interesting. ‘Unlock’ sees a central female character throw open her entire world using only her eyes, linking the functionality of the product directly to physical empowerment and freedom of expression. The bright block colours of the advert, primarily orange and blue, echo this by communicating ideas of democracy and simplicity. This is also reflected by the setting of a school, representing future potential and broadened horizons.

Visibility – Highlighting greatness

Visibility has been another key theme for discussion this year. Increased awareness of intersectionality drives calls for diversity in the media, beyond physical appearance alone. Brands are going out of their way to highlight the achievements of people from marginalised groups within society. One brand is doing this in the most literal sense possible: Stabilo Boss’s campaign ‘Highlight The Remarkable’ used its own product to flag up forgotten heroines across history, from mathematicians to first ladies. The iconic fluorescent yellow of the highlighter disrupts the simplicity of black and white photographs, drawing attention to those who would be forgotten among the crowd. This bestows these historic moments with a renewed vibrancy and significance. Placing the highlighter pen itself as the silent hero, this allows these stories of greatness to be retold many years later.

Gender and sexuality – Reimagining romance

Among much global discussion of gender and LGBTQ+ visibility, these themes have been reflected in advertising, as we reimagine what romance can mean. Japanese cosmetics company Shisheido created a surreal romance in their short Halloween themed film, ‘The Party Bus’. The lead character, a young girl, moves between the physical space of the bus and surreal imaginary landscapes, as she tries to choose between three romantic suitors. Each are dressed in unique costumes made up of traditional Japanese dress, classic Halloween costumes and contemporary streetwear. This communicates strong themes of self-curation and individuality among hyper-traditional tropes of ‘romance’. The film ends with the protagonist unmasking and kissing her androgynous choice of partner. This coupling drives home a message of inclusion within individuality.

With such richness across comms this year, particularly at a time when so many brands are going above and beyond to engage with wider cultural meanings, it was tricky to narrow our list down. We can’t wait to see what 2019 might bring…

Rise: How To Speak Woman

We need to stop talking about women, and start talking to them. Our next Rise breakfast session in London sees Crowd DNA’s Elyse Pigram and Roberta Graham explain how, as they set about future-proofing the female position...

Date: November 1

Time: 8.15am-9am

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

They say we’re in the era of women. That true, diverse representations of womanhood are finally shining through in brands and culture. This is due, in part, to women taking charge of the conversation – and business – surrounding femininity, gender roles and the female body; as well as huge cultural shifts, such as the #metoo movement and strength of mainstream feminism.

But what’s more: we’re welcoming in a new generation, with new rules. 80 percent of Gen Z women in the UK feel 100 percent female, and 39 percent would consider wearing clothes marketed to the opposite gender. These are the women revolutionising workspaces and sectors; transforming communities and businesses; starting families while inventing new ways of living – all with completely different expectations and priorities.

So as more expressions evolve and scripts of ‘womanhood’ are constantly rewritten, how can we keep up?

This session explores the past, present and future of female representation. Using this trajectory, we’ll ask how the female position can flex to be more open and off-script. In particular, we’ll explore what this means for brands looking to future-proof and remain culturally relevant to their female audience; many brands are still struggling to pitch the conversation right. And should we even be targeting women and men in a binary way at all? By looking at leading categories – such as personal care, sport, inclusive cosmetics and fashion – we’ll help brands harness new opportunities, while avoiding the slippery slope of superficial tokenism.

Join us in the Lux Building for delicious pastries and even more delicious insights. Contact Pauline Rault to come along – and pass this invite on to colleagues of any gender.

Watch the trailer below:

Moving The Goalposts

From streetwear ambitions to curated content platforms, Crowd DNA's Gabriel Noble spots five talking points in football...

With the season well underway in Europe’s high profile leagues, we’re getting to see the innovations and cultural connections that football is trailblazing, as it looks to compete with other major global sports – and indeed for a share of audience time versus other entertainment options more generally. Here’s what we’re seeing…

Football meets streetwear

When PSG played Liverpool earlier this season, you might have noticed something unusual. Rather than wearing jerseys with the Nike tick, they were emblazoned with the Jumpman logo of Air Jordan, a brand rooted in streetwear and basketball. The PSG x Air Jordan collab illustrates how football clubs are beginning to realise their potential as brands in popular culture and, as a response, building on their own merch capabilities. PSG have set the standard, but as lines between football and fashion continue to blur – Poet & Yinka’s collaboration with Puma on their LDN City pack boots, Virgil Abloh’s Off White kit, or Nigeria’s World Cup kit – other teams will surely follow suit.

We expect to see kit sponsorship deals balloon, as the likes of Nike and adidas capitalise on this development and integrate the clubs they sponsor into their lifestyle ranges. On the flipside, as streetwear continues its journey to the mainstream, more brands like Palace (see their adidas Wimbledon collab) and Air Jordan are likely to play in this space with limited edition ranges, or, at the very least, third kits, football apparel and boots.

PSG x Air Jordan
PSG x Air Jordan

Championing football’s new cultural angles

As football continues to secure its place outside of sports culture, so the media outlets diversify also – from the likes of Versus who ‘showcase the cultural convergence happening across the worlds of sport, music and style’; to Mundial, who build on football’s casual culture and produce a magazine filled with fashion features and untold stories of the game. Diverse voices are coming to the fore too. Through the likes of Caricom, which explores the space where football and the black experience intersect; and Season Zine: dedicated to empowering female fans. This year has also seen Eniola Aluko join the Guardian as their sports columnist, giving further credence to this progressive shift. In 2019, women’s place in football will no doubt rise, as the Women’s World Cup edges nearer. 

Season Zine
Season Zine

Owning the conversation

Over the last few years, clubs and players may have been asking themselves where they fit in the content landscape, and how they can own the conversation with their fans. Through Amazon’s partnership with Manchester City in their All Or Nothing doc, we might be getting a taste of what’s to come, as top clubs put out their own long-form content. The same goes for players, as we saw the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Raheem Sterling feature on Player’s Tribune, a platform that connects them directly with their fans. However, this trend doesn’t come without others losing out. Many commentators fear it might lead to less transparency and an exclusion of traditional media, with clubs and players looking to control their own message.

Player's Tribune
Player's Tribune

Integration of football and eSports continues

Football leagues and clubs have been getting more involved in the eSport space. The MLS introduced the eMLS Cup for the first time this year, with each club being represented by a Fifa gamer. Its success hasn’t gone unnoticed, and it has now been announced that the Premier League are doing something similar. In the past, eSports and traditional sports have seemed disparate and incompatible, as League Of Legends and Dota dominate. It’ll be interesting to see whether this push by top clubs and leagues can put Fifa at the same standing as eSport’s incumbents, giving the game a more meaningful place in the eSports category.

eMLS Cup
eMLS Cup

La Liga goes global

Probably the most controversial of developments, the 2018/19 La Liga season will potentially see Barcelona play Girona in a competitive game in Miami, at the Hard Rock Stadium. As clubs and leagues look to grow their fanbase across the world, it was only a matter of time before this was trialled. But the backlash to this demonstrates that there’s a way to go before football mimics American sports like the NFL, who have been present in the UK since 2007. In the meantime, we can continue to see pre-season as a way for clubs to connect with fans across the world, through the likes of the International Champions Cup, where the world’s top clubs play matches across the US, Europe and Singapore.

Miami's Hard Rock Stadium
Miami's Hard Rock Stadium

As well as these five areas, other interesting developments include the way tech is being used to produce immersive fan-focussed experiences as Siemens, The Economist and Bayern Munich provide the opportunity to track a game’s big moments through the voices of fans. Amazon have also finally made a break into Premier League rights, while OTT service DAZN continues to expand and grow in size across the globe, most recently setting up shop in Italy. From the pitch upwards, a lot is changing in football.