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.

Didn't make it to Glastonbury this year? Fear not - for the second instalment of our Listening In series, consultant Benji Long transports you to the fields of Worthy Farm (via social media) to uncover the festival's biggest talking points...

As won’t have escaped you, Glastonbury 2019 saw 200,000 revellers – a number equivalent to the population of Colchester –  descend on to Worthy Farm, Somerset.  To track the buzz as things unfolded, we set up a social listening monitor that gathered over 320,000 mentions online over seveb days. In that time, Glastonbury conversation surpassed chat about who will be the next British prime minister, and the even more British topic of the (hot) weather. So, what was all the fuss about at Glasto?

Stormzy makes history

There was one clear winner in generating the most online hype. London-based grime artist Stormzy took the largest slice of online mentions, with 61% of the top eight artists combined. His headline performance drew attention for a number of reasons. Firstly, that this was the first British black male to headline the festival in its 50 year existence – something he was not afraid to capitalise on. Characteristically, Stormzy took the opportunity to speak out about racial inequality in the UK and even sampled MP David Lammy’s influential interview on racial prejudice in the British criminal justice system. Continuing his political crusade, he orchestrated his liberal-leaning crowd to chant ‘f*?@ Boris,’ knowing it would be broadcast well beyond the farm fields to millions watching live via the BBC coverage.

Thiago Silva rap goes viral

You might suspect the most engaging post of the weekend to be about another of the weekend’s stars – Kylie’s come back perhaps, or Lewis Capaldi dressing as Noel Gallagher anyone? But no. Instead it was Alex (no surname required), die-hard fan of rapper Dave, who came on stage and perfectly recited the track ‘Thiago Silva’ during the rising star’s set, fittingly dressed in a PSG shirt with said footballer’s name on the back. Having been published on Saturday evening, one Twitter post about this stage-crashing went on to be retweeted 20,400 times and garner 119,000 comments. Looking at the virality map below, we can see how the initial tweet at 22:40 spread across the platform, before being picked up by BBC news which helped it to go stratospheric.

The greenest Glasto yet

In other festival news, Michael Eavis’s announcement that Glastonbury would ditch plastic bottles was praised on stage by 93-year-old David Attenborough in a deafeningly-cheered surprise appearance. “That is more than a million bottles of water that have not been drunk by you,” he told the audience from the Pyramid Stage, just before Kylie Minogue’s set.

However, Glastonbury’s environmental efforts were also met with backlash. While ‘Attenborough’ and ‘plastic-free’ dominated the positive conversation, there was negativity around the state of the site after the festival. ‘Rubbish’ and ‘tents’ highlight the waste that was left behind as festival-goers ‘desert[ed]’ the site.

The power of Glastonbury

Once again, Glastonbury makes a claim for being the world’s best festival (though we might be biased here in the London office, having waved a few of our own off to it last week). But this is also reflected in the festival-goers’ online conversation, making headlines for all the right reasons; supporting diverse and emerging talent and using the magnitude of the event as a vessel for wider societal change.

Social listening is a powerful tool for tracking events as they unfold, and analysing trends is part of how Crowd DNA provides culturally charged commercial advantage to brands all around the world. If you need to understand more about an event, category, theme or topic, and want to find out if social listening can get you to answers, contact us at hello@crowdDNA.com.

 

Rise: New Hedonism

Ignore the rumours: hedonism is alive and well. Join Crowd DNA associate director Berny McManus at our next Rise breakfast session in London, as we explore the changing dynamics of having fun – and why we’re all still party people at heart...

Date: July 11

Time: 8.15-9am

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

Hedonistic pursuits – you know, the ones driven by pleasure and indulgence – have traditionally been grouped as facets of ‘letting go’. Drink, drugs, sex and other forms of escapism have always dominated. But what happens when you add wellness, environmental concerns and other topically 2019 themes into the mix? 

According to the ONS, Gen Z in the UK are consuming 20 per cent less alcohol than their millennial counterparts drank at their age. Similarly, the portion of young Americans reporting having had no sex in the past year more than doubled between 2008 and 2018. The rise of Generation Sensible, who are more interested in mindfulness than MDMA, is fuelling a growing consensus that hedonism is dying. 

But can we ever reach a point in culture where pleasure takes a permanent backseat? 

Join us on Thursday July 11, as we redefine hedonism, our host Berny taking us on a journey through scenes of the past (from 90s rave culture up to the yoga enthusiasts of today); before diving into the new hedonistic occasions of 2019. 

Using a unique need states model, we’ll share a revamped definition of hedonism – demonstrating that the fundamental human desire to let off a little steam still prevails. And, naturally, what this means for brands – from shaping comms to products to experiences.

For coffee, croissants and hedonistic insights, please fill out this form or contact rise@crowdDNA.com. And feel free to pass this invite on to any party people who might also be interested. 

Our new thinking around Gen Z has landed. Here's our Hybrid States model, including a chance to download the full Hybrid Generation report...

Download the full Gen Z: Hybrid States report here.

Gen Z are many things. They’re health obsessed, alcohol avoiders with a plan to save the planet; but they’re also everyday teenagers intent on breaking rules. While this duality can be a daunting prospect for brands to engage with, one thing is very easy to grasp – Gen Z are now the biggest generation on earth.

With that pressing fact in mind, our latest Rise breakfast was dedicated to the launch of a new framework for getting to grips with Gen Z – a model that we’re calling: Hybrid States. Presented by Crowd DNA’s London managing director Dr Matilda Andersson and senior consultant Rachel Rapp, today’s young adults were described as a generation defined by their own duality.

Thanks to the unique context that they’ve grown up in (think polarised, yet hyperconnected), Gen Z’s values and motivations are combining in unconventional ways. Combinations that we’re now labelling, and embracing, as Hybrid States. Using Schwartz’s Theory Of Basic Human Values, our presenters showed how their motivations are blending and fusing together. As it turns out, Gen Z’s value states are never binary and don’t plot easily on the map, which, when you think about it, is pretty exciting.

We’ve identified nine of these Hybrid States that we see Gen Z occupying. Providing fertile creative ground for brands of all shapes and sizes, you can read more about opportunities for winning with Gen Z in our full Hybrid States report – available to download here.

And keep an eye out over the next couple of weeks as we bring Gen Z’s Hybrid States to life in nine short films.

The nine hybrid states of Gen Z...
The nine hybrid states of Gen Z...

Download the full Gen Z: Hybrid States report here.

Benji Long from Crowd DNA’s Futures, Semiotics & Listening team kicks off the first post of our Listening In series - demonstrating how we get to cultural meaning through social data. First up, a look inside the fandom of K-pop superstars BTS...

K-pop (that’s Korean pop music) is taking the West by storm. With precision-perfect choreography, EDM riffs and bubblegum melodies overlaid on Korean rap lyrics about mental health, there’s something distinctly novel about this phenomenon. K-pop support is also huge on social media: in the last year there were 541m tweets relating to the genre in the US, and 11m in the UK. Disconcertingly, it’s a hotter topic online than climate change…

In the UK and US, K-pop is provoking more conversation than global warming - and the volume keeps growing
In the UK and US, K-pop is provoking more conversation than global warming - and the volume keeps growing

Amid the wider conversation, one band totally dominates. BTS, aka Beyond The Scene, are a seven-piece boy band that have been drumming up wild support, including seeing their supporters win Best Fan Army at the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Awards. But what is it, exactly, that has built up this fan-force, and why should we be paying attention? Faced with this extraordinary phenomenon, we decided to use social listening to dig a little deeper and understand more about what BTS represent.

First, The BTS hype

Fan love for BTS
Fan love for BTS

BTS have an intensely intimate relationship with their fans. While fan devotion of this kind is nothing new, their constant online conversation with the ‘army’ is staggering. There’s a real sense of religious fervour towards them. too: in the last six months, there have been 350,000 posts online containing BTS and ‘angel’.

Individual group members regularly come out with personal stories, connecting with their fans at every opportunity. From their rags to riches narrative – one that sets them apart from other groups in the K-pop industry – to their willingness to open up to their fans, BTS play strongly to themes of authenticity (whether engineered or not!). But it’s not just about keeping it real: they’re also provoking conversation and challenging norms in two areas:

1. Identity Fluidity

RM inspires young people to be themselves
RM inspires young people to be themselves

The band actively confront gender stereotypes by dressing in ‘feminine’ clothes and wearing make-up. They speak up for the need to be true to yourself. By normalising this, they are reaching out to a mainstream audience with a powerful message about being who you want to be; particularly resonant for those in their formative teen years or those feeling marginalised.

Their latest album, ‘Map Of The Soul: Persona’, is titled after a famous book about Jungian theories on identity by Dr Murray Stein. In the first song, member Kim Nam-joon (aka RM or Rap Monster) wonders: “‘Who am I?’ is the question I’ve had all my life / And I’ll probably never find the answer.” Joining BTS on this journey of self-discovery ranks highly in their appeal to fans.

Make way for feminist kings BTS who took lessons from Korean professors of feminism to write their lyrics and treat everyone equally regardless of their gender!” – Twitter user

2. Talking About Mental Health

The important stuff
The important stuff

Either through their music or sharing views in very public forums, BTS strongly encourage their fans to acknowledge mental health issues and to be more understanding of the emotional struggles we all face.  RM (that’s right – Rap Monster) spoke about mental health at the Unicef Love Myself fundraiser, encouraging young America to follow their dreams, and to ignore social and cultural obstacles.

More recently, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, BTS member Suga discussed how important it was for those who have a platform to use it to talk about mental health: “If they talk about it openly – if they talk about depression, for example, like it’s the common cold, then it becomes more and more accepted.” Their fanbase are responding. In the last six months, there have been 3.2 million social posts containing BTS and ‘thank you’ – and with 85% positive sentiment.

BTS are Asian men that are open about talking about mental health and stressing the importance of emotional intelligence. Let that sink in.” – Twitter user

The K-Wave Keeps Rolling

Thanks to their cultural impact, the BTS septet are credited with fuelling the number of Hallyu (or Korean Wave) advocates across the globe to almost 90 million – playing a lead role in the increase in popularity of South Korean culture since the 1990s. You might also have been enjoying more Korean cuisine of late (kimchi), drama (Netflix’s Okja) and even footballers (Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min).

Hallyu is a deliberate initiative started by former Korea president Kim Dae-jung, mobilising cultural resources to build up positive associations with the country. But beyond this official promotion, BTS has shown how powerful people-to-people diplomacy can be. The band has over 18 million followers on Twitter, and in 2017 had the most liked tweet worldwide.

It’s estimated that around 7% of all tourists visiting South Korea were motivated to do so by their love of BTS.

Fan Purpose For Brands

BTS x Converse collab - as seen in 'Fake Love' video
BTS x Converse collab - as seen in 'Fake Love' video

Fan purpose is a powerful form of currency for young people, especially when they can connect through shared experiences across cultural divides to promote positive values and ideas. BTS make a case for not being afraid to stand up for what you believe in – and fans can join the cause by showing their allegiance. While brands might not have the dance routines or rap rhymes, BTS show the value in representing issues and themes that maintain relevance across borders.

Measuring and analysing social trends is part of how Crowd DNA provides culturally charged commercial advantage to brands all around the world. If you need to understand more about a category, theme or topic, and want to find out if social listening can get you to answers, contact us at hello@crowdDNA.com.

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