As the concept of luxury becomes increasingly intangible in the networked age, brands are experimenting with digital to attract Generation Z says creative delivery exec, Elizabeth Holdsworth...

In the post-recession age of discreet anti-bling (think Kinfolk: rustic, white-filtered and highly Instagram-able lifestyle scenes), the idea of luxury is becoming ever more abstracted, and brands are experimenting with ways to position themselves as aspirational within the digital realm. How do you engage with a generation that has grown up online, visually fluent teens who are skilful digital strategists on Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr? Add to the equation that, until recently, this generation neither expected – or have ever had to pay for – online content.

Burberry’s Snapchat campaigns were an early stride in conquering the ethereal world of teen luxury. Since then Snapchat has morphed into the new catwalk. Meanwhile on Instagram, Calvin Klein’s #MyCalvins campaign rolls around in bed with a flawless Kendall Jenner and takes to the skate park with an open-shirted Justin Bieber. Because Facebook’s biggest growing demographic is 55+, teens are seeking refuge away from older generations on platforms that are exclusive to them. Snapchat has over 100 million daily active users, 71% of which are under the age of 25.[1]

Originally released only on Tidal, Kanye West’s seventh studio album, ‘The Life Of Pablo’, is a haphazard attempt to bring luxury consumerism to the digital world of teens, the Gen Z demographic who are less interested in glitzy material possessions than the allure of new technology and services. Fans could only listen to’The Life Of Pablo’ by signing up to the premium streaming service.

Launched in October 2014, Perez Hilton labeled Tidal as ‘the streaming service for millionaires’, where the music itself takes on the flavour of a luxury status symbol. This sense of exclusivity comes from the subscription fee itself and also from the service’s options and respective price points — differences in audio quality that will only be perceptible to those already owning high-end sound systems. Any difference between Tidal’s so-called Premium and HiFi services will go unnoticed by consumers who are most likely to be streaming on smartphones and listening though headphones.

Tidal’s subscriber numbers reportedly doubled in the two weeks following the release of ‘The Life Of Pablo’, but it seems the tide of exclusive streaming is yet to turn. The platform is still dwarfed by services like Spotify, and has also failed to keep pace with Apple Music, which emerged around the same time. Retracting the original plan of Tidal-only exclusivity, ‘The Life Of Pablo’ has since emerged on other music services, achieving much greater impact. However Tidal’s subscriptions look set to explode following the release of Beyoncé’s video album Lemonade, available to view by subscription only.

This isn’t about luxury sound. Teens don’t care about lossless, hi-fi audio. They care about what’s trending, being part of the peer conversation, keeping up with the world’s biggest artists. This is about aspiration, of belonging, selling a more abstract idea of luxury than ever before — a dreamy Instagram still of the Kardashian Klan reclining in white Calvins. If luxury brands want to connect with Generation Z, they need to learn a life lesson from Pablo and continue to communicate these moments digitally, while constantly being aware of the limitations – though growing potential – of the paywall.

[1] DMR, By the Numbers: 60 Amazing Snapchat Statistics.

The Industries Of The Future

Keen to look into the White House’s crystal ball, Crowd DNA associate director and trends writer Anna Chapman went to hear Alec Ross, former senior advisor for innovation, talk at the LSE Literary Festival...

Predicting the future can be a tricky business: you’re bound to get caught out. But that’s OK, says Alec Ross, because our future selves will be more forgiving of human errors. It’s a useful disclaimer for someone who’s promoting a book called The Industries Of The Future, inspired by his world travels as senior advisor on innovation to Hillary Clinton.

Ross believes that we’ll get used to the lack of privacy brought by the digital world and value the transparency coming in its place. Everyone will experience some sort of social media scandal, he says, but because we’re becoming more accepting, it won’t be such a big deal. Just look at how our attitudes to inhaling changed between Clinton and Obama’s presidency campaigns.

Being open isn’t only important to our future standpoint, it’s also key to a successful economy (bear in mind that Ross did spend four years in the White House). He thinks skilled workers will flood out of authoritarian countries. Soon the world won’t be carved up geographically into developed and developing, he says; instead we’ll be classifying markets as open and closed. Indonesia is somewhere he thinks will be successful for this reason.

So how can we future-proof ourselves for this open world? Ross believes that the key to Mark Zuckerberg’s success is that he’s a talented behavioural psychologist AND a computer scientist. He says we’ll need a similar combination of seemingly disparate skills, plus languages and the ability to code, so we can communicate in a data-driven global economy.

Controlling big data will be a big deal in the information age (like land was in the agricultural age or iron in the industrial). However, thanks to cloud robotics and AI, hard-working droids will provide cheap labour, stealing white-collar as well as blue-collar jobs. Ross’s dad is a lawyer in Hurricane, West Virginia, and he thinks a robot will be able to do his job in the next 10 years.

But it’s not all bad news for us soon-to-be unemployed humans – at least we’ll have our health. Ross predicts that the next trillion-dollar industry will be built on genetic code. He’s particularly optimistic about the commercialisation of genomics, despite ethical issues around designer babies and liquid biopsies (a blood test that can spot cancer cells before symptoms develop, 1/100th the size of anything than can picked up by an MRI scan).

If you’re interested in learning more about the innovations that Ross thinks are set to shape our lives, further topics are tackled in The Industries Of The Future. And remember if he’s got it wrong, he predicts that you’ll go easy on him.

Tech Transformations

Introducing our global tech transformations study for Facebook...

We’re delighted to be able to share a first instalment from our major study on how technology is transforming lives in partnership with Facebook IQ. Titled Tech Transformations, this project identifies, explores and ultimately celebrates a host of new forces that are impacting lives globally.

This study had us on the ground in Nigeria (Lagos), South Korea (Seoul), the UK (London) and US (Brooklyn and San Francisco), interviewing experts and early adopters, and conducting ethnographic and remote-ethno methods. We also ran a quantitative survey in all markets, dug deep into secondary trends sources and were informed by internal data analysis from Facebook.




We’ll be able to share much more about the work, including film content, in the coming months, with the trends falling into these five thematic areas:

Personal Sustainability 

In an age where we can monitor, map and predict what’s going on inside of us, technology isn’t just about simplifying our lives. It’s about giving us the ability to engineer the best possible version of ourselves, with the ultimate aim of ensuring our own personal sustainability. 

Mobile Empowerment

As underserved populations in emerging markets gain access to the internet for the first time – notably through mobile devices – they are discovering the benefits of economic, entrepreneurial, educational and other opportunities previously unavailable. 

Playing With Food

As food culture expands online and local cuisine becomes global, there’s a growing consciousness around sustainable food production to combat future shortages and environmental drawbacks. 

Reinventing Rituals

As technology penetrates our everyday lives, it’s altering how we interact with each other, reshaping rituals, transforming old traditions and amplifying celebrations.

Embracing Identity

How people express themselves in terms of age, gender, looks, sexual orientation, relationships, spirituality and more is no longer binary.

Tech Transformations For 2016 And Beyond

Five Trends from CES 2016

With CES over for another year, Crowd DNA creative delivery exec and self-confessed tech addict Tom Eccles takes a look at five key trends coming out of this year's show...

In the world of technology, January means one thing: CES. The Consumer Electronics Show, now in its 48th year, is a showcase of everything up-and-coming in tech, ranging from the regular (televisions, headphones and computers) to the not-so-regular (autonomous vehicles, drones and virtual reality). It is a seemingly endless few days of product launches, demonstrations and conferences. Here’s a look at five key trends coming out of this year’s show.

Virtual reality finally takes off

After being on the horizon for years, it seems like 2016 will be the year that VR finally takes off. Oculus, having launched on Kickstarter back in 2012 before being snapped up by Facebook for $2bn, has finally announced the start of pre-orders for its Oculus Rift VR headset. The goggles go on sale in April, and retail for a hefty $599 – probably out of reach of the mainstream consumer, but an unmistakable step forward for the technology. Along with it comes a raft of competitors: namely the HTC Vive, and the PlayStation VR – both planned to launch this year.

As the technology powering VR moves forward, so too do the applications it is used for. While the most obvious application is gaming, VR is beginning to expand to other realms such as education and retail. Audi, for example, plans to outfit dealerships with VR headsets, allowing potential buyers to virtually customise and explore any Audi model to their liking.

Wearables MK2

Rewind to last year’s CES, and wearables were all the rage. It was the year of the long-awaited Apple Watch, the year wearables would finally grow up and be adopted into the mainstream. Initial releases, however, fell short of expectations. This year, tech innovators have moved towards single-application devices, designed to do just one thing – and do it well.

New products include the Digitsole, a shoe that houses an in-built fitness tracker, and the Samsung Welt – a digital belt designed to detect bloating, and warn of your impending weight gain. Wisewear’s SOS bracelet turns an innocent looking bracelet into a personal attack alarm, with a double tap sending a distress signal and GPS location to a friend via text message.

Game of drones

Drone tech reached new heights at this year’s CES. From the carbon fibre Yuneec Typhoon, equipped with a 4K camera, to the world’s smallest and lightest drone – the Mota JetJat Nano – drones are clearly well on their way towards the mass market. As drones become smaller and more affordable, they also become more advanced – able to automatically follow owners for the ultimate in-action selfie, avoid impending obstacles, and keep out of restricted areas.

Not content with drones only being used for aerial photography and small deliveries, Chinese company EHang became the first to unveil a drone capable of carrying human cargo. Equipped with in-built 4G WiFi and air-conditioning, the EHang 184 can hold one person and fly anywhere within a 23-minute radius. The passenger simply inputs their destination into the onboard tablet, before being whisked away. The EHang 184 could be yours, for only $300,000.

Connected automobiles

Despite only exhibiting at CES since 2007, auto manufacturers have taken the show by storm – demonstrating the continuing convergence between vehicles and technology. With a 200-mile range, and a relatively cheap $30,000 price tag, the Chevy Bolt could be the electric car to finally break through. BMW’s Air Touch allows drivers to control their vehicle’s infotainment system using gestures, while Ford demonstrated integration with Amazon’s Echo voice recognition – allowing drivers to issue voice commands such as “close the garage door”.

The journey towards driverless cars was also centre stage at CES. General Motors announced a $500m investment in ride sharing service Lyft to create a network of driverless cars, while Kia took to the stage to promise a fully-autonomous vehicle by 2030.

Smarter homes

The ‘Internet of Things’ has long promised a home full of connected devices, from fridges that automatically replenish food, to intelligent thermostats that adjust the temperature based on your proximity to the home. Despite an apparent lack of consumer appetite for such products, manufacturers unveiled a raft of new connected devices at CES. With Samsung’s new smart fridge, you can view inside the fridge remotely – allowing users to check the contents while in the supermarket. It can even alert you to food about to pass its expiry date.

Other smart home devices are simply improvements on already existing products. The Netatmo Presence is a connected outdoor security camera. Where it differs from competitors is a smart algorithm enabling the camera to distinguish between people, cars and animals.

If anything, the latest CES shows us that 2016 will be a year of refinement, rather than brand new innovations. It will be the year that long promised tech, such as virtual reality, finally delivers – while the quest for an all-in-one wearable will be parked in favour of multiple devices, each focusing on one function. Drones, having finally become affordable in 2015, will continue their flight towards mass market adoption; meanwhile, our cars and homes are both gradually becoming smarter, promising to interact with each other and respond in ways previously only seen in science fiction.

Fandom On Film

Video outputs from our ESOMAR award-winning work for Twitter...

Among plenty of Crowd DNA highlights in 2015, a particular biggie was winning ‘best paper‘ at ESOMAR’s global conference in Paris, for our work with Twitter. ‘Future Fan’ explored the evolution of the music fan; also the meaning of fandom more generally; the relevance for brands and the role of social media.

One of the outputs from the project was a 12 minute documentary that we created, celebrating the energy of fandom and revealing exactly what makes fan communities tick. That video is currently outside of the public domain, used by the teams at Twitter, but we can show off this two minute edit, which focusses on how Twitter has reshaped the universe of music fandom.

Future Of Music Streaming

A few hastily assembled notes on the predictions offered at's very interesting roundtable on the future of streaming (sorry, it was early, didn’t catch the name of all of the roundtable guests)…

It’s not a battle. It’s time to stop thinking of physical product and digital/streaming in conflict with each other; the way forward will see more interesting ways of blending the two, and a greater understanding of how they can co-exist in a broader eco-system.

Playlists – they’re a big deal. Getting included on a Spotify ‘Your Morning Coffee’ playlist (or similar!) can have a previously unknown artist racking up plays at a supersonic rate. Playlists sustain track plays better than almost anything else. Bands, platforms and brands all need to be looking at new, increasingly innovative ways to make playlists stand out.

Niche services. Lots of predictions that people will be willing to pay, say, a fiver on top in future for more specialised streaming offerings – one dedicated to classical music, for instance – alongside their more standard monthly subscription.

Higher quality streams. While the offerings may not succeed (hello, Mr N Young) at the very least they spark new debate and keep the big players on their toes – as such, we need the outliers, those who can disrupt and challenge.

Direct from artist streaming services. It’s getting easier to do and the price of the tech is coming down. Expect to see some artists considering what they can do on their own.

Brands and streaming. Automobile and sports/fitness companies predicted to lead the way in terms of brands innovating in streaming-centric music partnerships.

Big challenge! Getting to a mindset where we cherish our playlists and saved tracks on streaming platforms in the way we once/still do cherish our record collections. Rather hard to picture but there’s people working on it…