Colour Me

Colour of course carries plenty of meaning, but that changes (and often very fast) alongside lived experiences. In this series, Crowd DNA uses semiotics to decode colour trends and unpack cultural shifts in the process… 

At Crowd, we use semiotics as one of our tools, showing where signs and symbols – like words, visual icons, packaging, or logos – are a shortcut for brands to reveal their message or impact behaviour.  

Following on from Gen Z Yellow, we now take a look at what lies beneath the sugary lilac of the Y2K revival. We use semiotics to chart the evolution of new imaginings of technological frontiers – a purple that reflects the optimism of the early years of the dot com era – and how it then shifts in shading to speak to how our relationship with the online world has become more problematic over the last five years… 

In Heritage Purple, we explore:  

_How a generation embracing tech utopia also embraced a purple tone that was as dreamy and other-worldly as the worlds being created by tech giants.   

_How this colour shifted as Metaverse, AR, VR and AI entered the cultural lexicon, to a vibrant futuristic purple as attitudes to tech shifted to endless possibilities.  

_ Now a shade of purple is emerging that reflects how we are returning to a focus on life beyond the computer screen – one that is about stronger bonds, of heritage, and solid systems. A colour purple you can almost hold in your hand.  

_And finally: we show how to leverage Heritage Purple to your advantage. 

Read the full report here.

Semiotic analysis can help brands understand culture and keep ahead of cultural change, and we hope our Colour Me series will help you in  choosing more impactful colours.

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

City Nights: Accra

Alice loves how an evening can go “awry” in Accra. Find out more about the Crowd DNA KIN Network here

Alice Asafu-Adjaye grew up in Accra and returned as an adult having worked in London. In Ghana’s capital city, she runs a boutique architecture and design studio that draws from the art of her Asante heritage, and the unique landscapes and vibrant social milieu of Africa. 

“I would describe the nightlife in Accra by comparing it to food: It’s spicy, it’s hot – I mean, literally hot because of where we are geographically but there’s always an underlying heat of not really knowing what to expect and then suddenly something happens.

Your planned evening goes awry. But somehow you just manage to make work…

“So it’s like when spicy food doesn’t hit you hard in the beginning, it’s just a slow build up of flavors with so many different layers and every once in a while you want a bit of relief, but you still keep going back for more.”

People begin – and usually end – their night in Osu, a neighbourhood by the coast

“The center of Accra nightlife is really Osu. It’s where a lot of communities were formed back in the days when we were colonized because it was right by the sea (trading posts and castles were established along the coast by the Danish and British). So, it has always been the hub. Osu brings together locals, tourists and people from the diaspora. It has all these pockets, but there’s this major thoroughfare called Oxford Street, and from one end to the other it’s just full of life. It’s easily three miles long, and it starts from one big, roundabout and it ends up close to the sea, and you have these side roads that you can branch off for relief.”

It is typically Ghana and Accra that the streets basically evolve.

“While it was a planned city, the structure is a bit more flexible, more informal now. When I say informal, it’s because almost everyone I know has a side hustle alongside their day jobs. Most of these don’t have permits, people basically just get a little shop, or sometimes a disused shipping container – give it a bit of sprucing up – and then boom, they have some sort of business in the nightlife area.”

A night out in Osu – The Republic Bar & Grill, eating Kenkey & drinks at Front/Back

We have some very unique restaurants and bars…

“One of these is The Republic Bar & Grill, which is a small joint but it literally spills out onto the road and it’s grown to the extent that they now block out sections just to allow people to sit partly on the road. Now on the same street there are quite a few copy-cat bars. Their unique selling point is making cocktails using akpeteshi, a local spirit brewed from sugar cane. It’s a potent drink that was previously frowned upon because it was for people who couldn’t afford wine or spirits. But these guys basically upscaled it and use it as a base for cocktails. A couple of streets away is The Pallet Kitchen (TPK), and they use local herbs and akpeteshi in their cocktails.”

One of the things that makes the nightlife so interesting in Accra, is that it’s OK if things go wrong.

“… and that’s when you end up at Osu Night Market. It is a maze of streets with food stalls. We have a streetfood, Kenkey and fried fish, which we normally have with chilli sauce. So you can imagine when people have been clubbing and this is in the early hours of the morning, they all just end up eating Kenkey there. The first time I was there, I was just like blown away. I was like, well, why did we not start our evening here?!”

But you can have quieter moments in Accra

“There’s a members club called Front/Back and it has very design-led spaces created by artists. Over the years, they’ve really expanded. I will go there for quieter moments – maybe to avoid traffic because the city is full of heavy traffic or I will schedule a meeting for late afternoon. There’s another place if you want relief called Ghana Club, and it’s where I would say grown ups go. It was the residency of the governor of Accra, then I think around the time of independence it was established as a private members’ club. It has a well-stocked bar, and exhibitions and it’s a good place to meet to debate – whether it’s current affairs, politics. And it’s only a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle.”

But while we are calm, as a people, the nightlife in the city is quite colorful.

“Our reputation for not being the most exciting city I think has really changed over the years. It’s actually quite loud and noisy, but not in an intrusive way. You have someone who has been selling all day you know, like the fruits and vegetables, and when you pass them in the nighttime, they’re still there (and you’re thinking: What’s going on!?). So while we are not like New York in being where a city that never sleeps – there’s always something happening.”

And it’s like a community-based nightlife.

“It’s testament to how important community is because people not only conduct their business in these neighbourhoods but it’s where a lot of them actually live. No one wants to threaten their livelihood or bring a bad name to them or their neighbourhood. So there is a lot of self-policing, and it feels safe there.”

And decibels are quite high…

“There’s a lot of energy – and I can’t think of a nicer word to describe the noise and how loud it is. There’s always someone trading, and you think some people are fighting, but no, it’s just that everything is sort of escalated. People don’t think twice about setting up a boom box!”

If you can describe Accra in three words?

“Spicy, colorful and loud.”

The New Rules

Sport is at its best when it is inspiring us, and we found plenty to be inspired by in our Future Of Sport Survey. We wanted to find out how sports has the power to challenge attitudes around the major forces of Inclusion, Equity & Diversity, Sustainability, Performance & Success, Game Play and Fandom. We used these cultural shifts as a roadmap to what sports might look like for tomorrow’s players and fans.  

For the full survey on The Future Of Sport, contact hello@crowdDNA.com 


In this survey, we got to interesting provocations around:  

Inclusion, Equity & Diversity 

Traditional barriers are being challenged (such as improved equity in sports, whether financial, gender or physical access), and questions about inclusion (especially for non-binary or trans people in sport) and the relationship between sports and politics are under scrutiny. 

We found that…  

96% of Americans agree it’s important to make everyone feel welcome within the sports community 

50% of Americans agree that sportswashing is a problem 

96% of Americans agree it’s important to make sports accessible to everyone


Sustainability  

New solutions are being found to create more climate positive events, for example FIFA has committed to net-zero emission by 2040; and Formula 1 has a strategy to become a net zero carbon sport by 2030. 

We found that… 

87% of Americans feel it is important to reduce the carbon footprint of sporting events and experiences  

37%  of Americans feel the transparency from sporting organisations and events around global issues such as their sustainable impact will improve in the next five years  


Performance & Success 

As athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka withdraw from events to prioritise their mental health, it’s no longer success at any cost.  

We found that…

68% of Americans agree that the mental wellbeing of athletes is more important than their performance 

72% of Americans agree that athletes achievements are rooted in their story off the field, not just what they do on the field

96% of Americans agree it’s important that new technology is developed to protect the physical wellbeing of athletes 


Game Play  

With eSports eventing firmly established, other challengers to traditional sports play includes the rise of player-driven organisations, and a bigger spotlight on player welfare. 

We found that…

20% of sports fans would consider watching eSports in the future 

51% of Americans agree that biohacking will become more prevalent in sports 

64% of Americans feel the use of technology while watching live sporting events will improve over the next five years 


Fandom 

People are changing how they watch sports, turning to creators and technology that builds the personality and profile of players online, while teams are meeting fans where they are most vocal: in Twitch streams, Roblox arenas, TikTok, and Twitter threads.

We found that…

69% of American females identify as sports fan, compared to 81% of American males 

56% of Americans (61% of sports fans) have engaged with athletes or teams outside of the sport, eg on social media, live streams, or listening to a podcast 


For the full survey on The Future Of Sport, contact hello@crowdDNA.com 

From AI chatbots that can simulate meaningful relationships, to algorithms that know our taste better than we do, technology is fast reshaping roles previously reserved for humans.  But not all technology aims to replicate what’s human…  

Instead, emergently in consumer tech there are products that aim to redefine the relationship between human and tech; to assail fears of being replaced through signalling that they can give us more agency to enhance our abilities and experiences. In short? To make tech less out-source, more resource.  

One such brand is Nothing, confidently taking an elusive and non-descript name, cueing a lack of form or emptiness. It requires us (the humans) to give it meaning. Here we look at semiotic queues – how Nothing looks, what it says – to analyse how Nothing takes up a position in this shift to a more collaborative and empathetic relationship between humans and their technology. 

Code 1: Extraordinary Transparency  

Cutting-edge tech is an exciting part of Nothings’ product proposition, but by establishing transparency and humanity in its branding, its users feel familiarity (not fear or intimidation) towards it. 

Nothing uses nature and transparency (matching to visuals in wider culture)

We see images of animals holding up Nothing products, and this suggests worship and positions it as a powerful resource yet still part of nature. On an even friendlier note, technical diagrams – like blueprints or instruction manuals – suggests the brand wants you to develop an in-depth understanding of its products. Meanwhile, revealing people (and animals) beneath translucent packaging symbolises transparency, signalling that consumers’ participation is key to unlocking the power of Nothing’s tech. This provides a sense of reassurance or comfort, coding Nothing again as tech that should be familiar to its user. 

These semiotic cues of power and transparency combine to present Nothing as a powerful tool with beyond-human capabilities. 

Code 2: Curious Discovery 

In redirecting its innovation away from power and dominance, to one of curious discovery, Nothing communicates that its powerful products are built to enhance, rather than replace human experience. 

Nothing signals this by blurring the lines between human and mechanical. We see this in the suggestions of a cyborg-like relationship between the tech and human: a person in white and turquoise dress, calling doctors to mind, while stark white lighting feels sterile and scientific. Phone cameras held over the eye position the device as an extension of the senses – and resembles looking through a magnifying glass, evoking curiosity or discovery.  

Nothing uses discovery (often led by children in wider culture) to remind us that more subtle feelings are valued

Words and images codes this product as fun and intuitive: “play date”; “bringing joy back into the everyday”; and the fish-eye lens and exaggerated expressions adds a self-aware silliness to editorial visuals. Nothing establishes a co-creative bond between living things and its technology by coding its products as tools for curious discovery. 

Code 3: Inclusive Nostalgia 

Tech as superior and exclusive (whether Tesla or the Tech Titans and their rockets) isn’t a good look right now, and Nothing clearly sets itself apart from this by coding its products as familiar, authentic, and inclusive.  

We see saturated, grainy visuals reminiscent of old film photographs and they evoke warm feelings of nostalgia, while thin serif fonts are quiet, unfussy and easy to read. This makes Nothing relatable, inclusive and accessible, especially when the campaigns feature diverse models. The Nothing products are intended for all.  

Nothing uses nostalgia (a popular trend in wider culture right now) to humanise

Meanwhile, there’s another clear line drawn between Nothing and dominant tech brands, who rely on conventionally masculine, dark, and impersonal visuals to create distance and establish power over the viewer. Instead, here are people with their backs turned to the camera or looking away, and with candid and unthreatening expressions. While images of doe-eyed individuals captured from above evoke a sense of innocence. Showing this vulnerability humanises the brand and shifts the power from brand to consumer. 

Conclusion 

All together, these semiotic signals of vulnerability, inclusivity, and authenticity code Nothing’s tech as human-first – and dare we say, even taking us back to a time when we felt optimistic about what tech can do for us (rather than fearful).  

Through visuals and language, Nothing portrays itself as a brand that is here to enhance the human experiences and bring us joy and fulfilment. They encourage us to form a new, human-centred relationship with tech by prioritising our needs for accessibility, collaboration, and curiosity. 

If you’d like to learn more about how we use semiotics to reach real cultural insights, get in touch at: hello@crowdDNA.com 

Club Free Issue One, download it here.

At Crowd, we believe that change presents opportunity.  

Our latest editorial insights series, Club Free, is about groups seeking a new way of thinking about their individual liberty. It’s not freedom that’s unchecked or selfish: we talked to people who are providing each other with the support, empathy and community to exercise their freedom effectively.  

In chapter one: The Poly-Normals, we heard from married couples, young daters, content creators and community spokespeople in the US and UK who by choosing to engage in multiple romantic relationships make room for more creativity, more sharing and more openness. 

Here we dig a little deeper into this relationship energy and identify how fringe movements like polyamory can inspire more emergent strategies for mass audiences. 

The Poly-Normals are a manifestation of deeper cultural shift toward more uninhibited forms of connection. These moments can help us think differently about the way we craft product, position brands and hold a mirror to modern relationships in our communications. 

  1. Purposeful Pleasure.  

At the core of polyamory is a celebration of meaningful release; the idea that ‘letting go’ (of stereotype or expectation) doesn’t need to be a reckless act that compromises our values or the things we hold important.  

How can we create moments or new messages that lean into conscious, deliberate joy without the underbelly of guilt, shame or judgement that often comes hand in hand with prioritising our own enjoyment. 

  1. Breaking the stalemate. 

Increased understanding of intersectionality, greater social recognition of non-binary identities and a growing community of people reimagining sex and relationships. These movements don’t exist in isolation – and all point to a need for less dualistic thinking. Culture is messy, people are messy and adopting a ‘this or that’ view on how people go about life is increasingly inaccurate (and unproductive).  

How can we reframe how we understand our audience, and how we craft our strategies to connect with people in ways that are less monolithic? 

  1. Unzipping our assumptions 

Of course, not all relationships down the track will look like this. But it does suggest that there’s a growing schism between old and new ways of thinking. How can we help to challenge how we think about (and cater to) family and community? 

Learning about The Poly-Normals is part of our commitment to look at (and be inspired by) groups of people who don’t fit neatly into tick-boxes, well trodden segmentations or traditional pathways.     

We hope you find these stories interesting. And please do feel (yes) free to reach out to the Crowd DNA team to explore how this type of thinking could apply to your brand challenges.  

Club Free Issue One, download it here.

What’s all this then? Thanks to new technologies, we may soon be able to unlock the inner workings of our minds, and capitalise on our subconscious. We’re arriving at a new horizon, one that lights up the dimly-lit corners of our brains. And this will mean that cognitive liberty, ie the freedom to control our own thoughts, is set to become one of the most important topics of the next decade.

Sounds dystopian. That’s only because it is. 

Not sure if I like the sound of that. Big Tech doesn’t care. This is the final frontier for brands to stake a claim on. Did you know Apple quietly filed a patent for AirPods that monitor and track biosignals and brain activity last summer and start-up NextSense aims to sell earbuds that can collect heaps of neural data — and uncover the mysteries of grey matter for health benefits. Writing about Apple’s patent, tech expert Gautam Hazari described it as a big step in the so-called ‘Internet of Thoughts’, explaining: “The bio-sensing electrodes as on-ear EEG sensors built into the AirPods fit the generic, multipurpose device, opens the door for the IoTh to become a mainstream reality…”

But does anyone really care outside of Silicon Valley? Funny you should say that. You might have noticed that Ariana Grande’s new album and music video riffs off of the cult movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – a movie about memory-hacking 20 years almost to the day after it first hit cinemas. And while brain-hacking, and memory-altering tech has often been part of our creative inspiration, the key difference now is that this technology may well have caught up with our imaginations.

That’s pretty meta. So I’ll be able to erase memories of my ex? Not exactly. But we could, for example, be able to induce lucid dreams. One product in development is The Halo, an AI headband that will use a combination of ultrasound and machine learning models to allow users to control their own dreams. “Together we will pursue the answers to life’s biggest questions,” it teases. If we can hack our subconscious, we could access a whole new level of human understanding. Already the practice of using lucid dreaming as therapy is becoming more accepted, with more patients open to learning how to disrupt their dreams to process debilitating symptoms.

What’s the down side? Well, this scenario pretty much is an advertiser’s dream (pun intended). Think of all that untapped real estate in your brain. Forget DTC – we’d be going DTS (direct-to-source). In fact, A24’s recent movie Dream Scenario shows us a world where this can happen. And you can imagine how that pans out. Not to mention the implications for productivity – why rest when you can be on 24/7, conscious or not? – and our ability to exercise autonomy over our own thoughts. 

Seems like a dodgy threshold to be crossing. It’s a double-edged sword, a Faustian dilemma of the modern world: would you trade understanding – and access to a higher level of consciousness – for your own cognitive liberty? 

TL;DR: Brands and Big Tech are starting to reckon with the potential of our subconscious and our dreams in a way that might be equal parts enlightening and sinister, and we’re seeing these ideas trickle down into mainstream culture. Sweet dreams™. 

City Nights: Nairobi

Shishi Wanj works as a DJ, writer, curator and model, and is passionate about being part of the creative community in her hometown of Nairobi. 

“Nightlife is important to Nairobians because we live in a very stressful city.

It’s hard and chaotic, so we see dancing and laughter as a sense of release or a purge.

It’s our time to finally stop thinking for a minute, to dance the night away and have fun with friends.”

When I picture nights in Nairobi it’s with dancing, laughter… and a lot of drinks

“There is a lot of club-hopping because there’s so much to do in the city. I like to joke that Covid switched our brains up because I feel like people party a lot harder now than they used to. I think that’s from the cabin fever of that time and making the most of being out again. And there is now a lot more intentional support for creative events.”

You might want to go to ten shows in one weekend

“… and you wonder how to go to all of them. We are more intentional about showing up for artists because we really understood their value during the pandemic because we missed it. People want to attend events, to support artists or organise and connect people.”

Dancing till the sun rises at The Alchemist, The Kenya Rooftop and The Mist

We have a reputation as a party city

“We have lots of ‘underground’ or cool places – right now the cool kids, up and coming artists and DJs go to The Mist, Shelter, The Alchemist and The Kenya Rooftop to see experiments in dancing, sound and visuals. Most of the clubs and events usually take place in the Westlands area.” 

Bars close at 2am but the party continues…

“Oh yes, yes. I could send you some videos! When people come to the city they are like: “Oh my goodness!” And then they want to stay longer. Our parties start at 6pm with our pre-game of dinner or a local drink, then it’s on to a club, which are packed by midnight. Then it can continue on and on and on and on. Until it’s daylight. We definitely have a reputation for lots and lots of dancing and lots and lots of partying and music that keeps us together and up and alive! Nairobi is a party city.”

We have a lot of creative artists in the city

“There are so many people who don’t want to work in an office, they want to be musicians, rappers, set designers or promoters and it’s natural that then leads to us all thinking, let’s create a good time for people. The party scene is a fusion of both a natural release, but also an expression of what people can do. We’re now seeing the next generation after the Nu Nairobi scene from 2015 – and these up and coming artists also know how to grow and reach global audiences, helping the outdated assumptions of what Kenyan music/art should look and sound to rapidly fade off.”

If I can describe Nairobi in three words… “Vibrant. Bold. Gritty.”


To delve into more city life read City Limits, our series of pieces exploring the urban experience here.

Club Free Launch

Club Free Issue One, download it here.

A bold claim, but we’re going with it. We’re taking Freedom back – celebrating manifestations of it that are about community and shared responsibility rather than purely self-interest.

This editorial insights series will share the many positive and motivating stories emerging from people getting to live their lives just how they want to live them (and therefore more brands needing to move on from squeezing people into old fashioned little boxes).

Chapter One, The Poly-Normals & Chapter Two, The Financial Outsiders

First up in Club Free, issue one, The Poly-Normals and The Financial Outsiders. The former: a set of people changing sexual relationships for the better, for all; the latter: an equally community-minded group living and giving outside of elitist money systems. Brought together: clear signals of just how far and wide our Club Free adventures can take us.

The two chapter report includes: 

_Introduction to the shared culture of this new freedom: embracing community, contribution and shared responsibility

_Spotlight on what brands can learn from this 

_Sharing the stories of people who are getting freedom back on track.

We hope you find these stories interesting and inspiring. And please do feel (yes) free to reach out to the Crowd DNA team to explore how this type of thinking could apply to your brand challenges. 

Club Free Issue One, download it here.

Though this is issue one, we in fact trialled some freedom material in a rather good webinar last summer – you can download our Reframing Ageing APAC and Un-Dependents reports here and here