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.

We're ten years old, so we're taking a journey back to where it all started...

We’re all about culture here at Crowd DNA, so we wanted to celebrate our ten years by flashing back on the good, the bad and the random (we’re looking at you mannequin challengers).

We’ve created ten videos, each covering a year of the last decade, highlighting key moments – from the news stories that shook the world to the fads that became viral. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe and then you’ll remember that in 2008 Katy Perry kissed a girl and Barak Obama became president…

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

Luxury codes are shifting. Senior consultant Berny McManus explores emerging expressions of luxury and what they mean for brands of any calibre...

Last year saw Crowd DNA report on the evolution of luxury, with our LuxDisrupt work exploring the changing concept of premium. Keen to discover the latest industry views and how some of the world’s leading brands are defining luxury, we headed to ‘The Flipside’, a recent exhibition in London’s Old Selfridges Hotel.

After an evening analysing codes of luxury, five dominant themes were still clear. Personalisation (the idea of individually curated experiences) was explored in The Libationary by My Lyan via tailor-made cocktails. The luxury of time (as a break from the daily rat race) was welcomed by Selfridges’ Shadow Dial installation, while luxury as an experience (as opposed to an object) was explored in Louis Vuitton’s travel concept. The luxury of simplicity (as a stripped back display of wealth) was tapped into by Loewe via nature, craft and tradition, while scarcity (and with it, uniqueness) was evoked in Byredo’s dystopian vision of water as a luxury.

What connects these emerging codes is their transient nature; they can’t be quantified. Luxury is experienced, ephemeral and related to ‘needs’ that span multiple elements of a consumer’s everyday life.

So why has luxury changed? In the wake of value shifts, such as the trust deficit, the perception of luxury brands has been reframed. Brands are waking up to consumer expectation around accountability and transparency. We’re seeing a democratisation of the commercial world where luxury brands are measured by the same yardstick as everyone else. They’ve taken on a new meaning, which speaks to the many vs the few.

The experience economy has also helped this gain traction. The reality is the majority of consumers can’t cruise around in Bugattis or go head to toe in Hermes. Instead, a consumer-centric flavour of luxury is emerging where people push back against pre-defined definitions. Consumers are no longer looking to brands as the leaders; brands should be looking for ways to enable their luxuries to be a part of consumers’ lives.

Here are a few thought starters on how to speak luxury in 2018:

The quick win

Leverage social media to offer micro-moments of luxury. Tap into the dialogue by inviting consumers to share their ‘luxury of the day’ or ‘my luxe moment’ via posts or stories – but keep it playful to avoid ostentatious shows of luxury.

Mid-term plans

Create events that delight consumers’ senses, imaginations and intellect. Dial up multi-sensory elements and seamlessly integrate tech to provide an experience that will add unique value to their day and beyond.

And in the future

Optimise tech to elevate your brand beyond category noise and business challenges. For example, in the face of major concerns around the source of diamonds, De Beers (who mine and market 30 percent of the world’s diamonds) have started using blockchain technology to offer total transparency to their consumers.

How to tackle trends

Tips and tricks from our Rise masterclass all about how to spot, track and work with trends...

At our latest Rise session in London, strategic insights director Laura Warby and senior consultant Berny McManus unravelled the tricky world of working with trends. While, for many, trends are still a bit of mystery (and sometimes difficult to justify the ROI), mapping and tracking cultural shifts is central to the work we do at Crowd.

Trends not only help us understand more about the brands and consumers we work with, but also where everything fits into the bigger picture – and, therefore, where opportunity and potential advantage may lie. Laura and Berny used the example of whether a premium beer could survive in its category, if the ever-changing concept of ‘premium’ wasn’t paid attention to? Chances are, it wouldn’t.

Similarly, in our culture of constant change, differentiating between a fad and actual societal progression has never been so important. Our presenters offered a stream of useful definitions and categorisation tips on how to spot meaningful shifts in consumer behaviour. Asserting that trends are far from ‘fluffy’, they also distinguished between residual, dominant and emerging expressions to refine things even further.

Three key macro trends were then highlighted and explored, taking into account their drivers and how they currently manifest within culture and brands, namely: digital decentralisation, radical benevolence and intense-inclusivity. The session then wrapped up with a set of tricks for working with trends; including a useful analytical framework and, once you’ve spotted a meaningful trend, tips on how best to track it and apply it within a business.

Thanks to all that attended and joined the conversation. We’ve wrapped up the key takeouts into a digital magazine, available to download here

 

City Limits

Introducing City Limits, a series of pieces from Crowd DNA exploring the global urban experience...

At Crowd DNA, cities are central to our work. Projects take us to many of them worldwide; briefs often seek to understand how people experience these complex spaces, or where the global commonalities of urban living give way to local nuance and unique challenges. It’s through cities that we find meaning. And, in a time where the global urban population is growing at around one million people each week, cities matter now more than ever.

Which takes us to Crowd DNA’s City Limits: a series of pieces in which we’ll explore these ever-growing hubs of humanity.

Join us as we take a view on the growing loneliness epidemic, how brands represent the urban experience, trends that are shaping the city of today and what our cities will look like by 2060.

From our city to yours, welcome to City Limits. Volume One is available to download here.

Watch the video trailer below:

Roll up to our next Rise session in London, where Crowd DNA's Laura Warby and Berny McManus will give a masterclass in how to work with trends…

Date: May 31

Time: 8.15am-9am

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

We all know that spotting and understanding trends is the key to staying ahead of the curve. But in this world of constant innovation, differentiating between a fleeting fad and meaningful cultural progression is actually pretty difficult. Knowing your micro from your macro, or your emergent from your dominant, has never been so important.

So what exactly is a trend, and at what point should brands take notice? 

In this session, we’ll unravel what trends are all about and explore some recent cultural shifts that brands need to pay attention to in 2018 and beyond. We’ll provide a guide on working with trends; including tips on how to future-proof strategies and build lasting connections with consumers.

If you’d like to join us for coffee, croissants and a ‘how to’ guide to working with trends, please contact Pauline Rault. And feel free to pass this invite on to colleagues too.

Watch the trailer below:

 

Here’s what went down at our Rise event all about modern families (where we welcomed our youngest ever Rise attendee, too!)…

At our latest Rise session in London, Crowd DNA’s managing director Dr Matilda Andersson and associate director Lucy Crotty (who also happen to be mums) spoke about modern parenthood in all its glory and grossness.

Starting bright and early (naturally, they’ve both got young kids), our presenters highlighted the need for family-centric brands, businesses and society to start taking note. With 90 percent of all new parents being millennials, what a family looks like – and what a ‘family’ even means – is fundamentally changing. And, despite some recent reworkings in popular culture, this pair of millennial mums still feel misrepresented.

But it’s not all bad. The key shifts shaping modern families reveal much to be celebrated: women’s empowerment, working mums and an appreciation of multifaceted female identity; the move away from ‘doofus dad’ to ‘involved dad’ and a focus on male roles in family life; and, crucially, the backlash against ‘perfect parenting’ towards a more diverse, realistic and relatable portrayal of parenthood.

The question, then, stands of how to speak properly to these shifting families. Matilda and Lucy offered loads of thought-starters on how brands can recognise opportunities with modern parents. By being representative, tapping into their sense of purpose, embracing creative play, or helping them carve out quality time via tech-convenience – just some of the ways to speak better to families of all shapes and sizes.

Thanks to all that attended, ate croissants and help distract a crying baby. We’ve wrapped up the key points and more hints for brands into a digital magazine, available to download here.

Crowd DNA’s Joey Zeelen looks at the sobering-up of Gen Z through his own experience of teen drinking...

Growing up in Holland in the noughties, my use of alcohol – or drugs, we’re talking Holland here – wasn’t any different to others my age. I started drinking at 15 and, like most millennials, alcohol was a big part of life. It formed my identity; it was the centre of socialising and the entirety of my teenage fun.

Saying that, it’s sometimes surprising to read about the sobering-up of Gen Z. Most explanations (health consciousness, well-being) fall flat when I think of the importance of alcohol during my own teen years. To understand this shift, I sought out some explanations on an internal level. When looking at my own drivers for teen drinking, Gen Z’s rejection of alcohol starts to make a lot more sense…

Identity

As a teen, alcohol shaped my sense of self and influenced the people I looked up to. Liam Gallagher, Kate Moss, music from Nirvana and gabber house – they were all inseparable from alcohol (and drugs). Now, icons like Lil Yachty and Adwoa Aboah promote a new culture of abstinence where it’s okay to say no. Intoxication is no longer a requirement of ‘cool’.

Discovery

A big driver for teen drinking was experimentation. Alcohol made me feel different, brave; it enabled me to do things I’d not dare otherwise. But is this still relevant? When talking to Gen Z, it always strikes me how open they are to subjects that were once alien or embarrassing to me (unless drunk). Perhaps alcohol isn’t needed for experimentation anymore, and they are simply more capable of discovering on their own, sober, terms. It’s no doubt, too, that the online space has become a better and more efficient vehicle for discovery.

Social Connection

While socialising played out in the pub/club in my teen years, social connections now form in different spaces: usually in isolation, on social media or at home. Similarly, online entertainment and platforms now provide young people with the stimuli and experiences that would have once been gained by going out drinking with friends.

Enjoyment

Long-story-short, I enjoyed alcohol because it enabled me to ‘let go’. Now, young people are so focused on results and prospects (not surprising when you look at the societal pressures they face), which must influence their ability to go wild or be unproductive the next day. On top of that, when they do party, they’re image conscious – why become embarrassingly drunk when it might be immortalised on social media?

But I doubt the desire to ‘let go’ has gone for Gen Z; it’s just taken on different forms. New indulgences now exist, which are better suited to their needs. We only have to look at the growing Xanax culture – linked to rappers like Lil Xan or Lil Peep – to see how, from a cultural stance, it makes sense. The effects of these drugs are less noticeable (or embarrassing), and offer a potential way of dealing with the pressures and anxieties of modern teenage-hood.

Secondary sources can help inform insights, but to really get to know young people and understand their drinking habits, we need to deep dive into their actual lives, needs and daily motivations, too. Sobering-up then makes a lot more sense through the eyes of a boozy millennial – cheers!