In his inauguration speech, President Biden (phew!) declared the US to be “Restless, bold and optimistic.” He was, in effect, rebranding the country. Our Crowd Signs team investigates...

Under the Trump administration, Brand America underwent some serious semiotic shifts. The consistent news feed of arrogance, ignorance and lies untethered the idea of America from its long held position as a dreamland of freedom, opportunity, courage and comfort. As the world looked on, how could US brands continue to leverage their own exceptional American-ness in an aspirational way?

And, more importantly, what can they do now that the pendulum is shifting toward America as a humble (but still tenacious) crucible of hope and unity? Using a semiotic lens, we’ve analysed a selection of US brands that are delivering against Biden’s vision of a restless, bold and optimistic America.

Restlessness: Discovering New Frontiers Within Ourselves

Apple is a brand associated with the pursuit of knowledge. We need only look at the crisp bite taken from the eponymous logo to know that when we buy into the brand we’re buying into courage and a hunger for understanding beyond the limits of everyday thinking. The comms around the Apple Watch Series 6 represent a continuation of this restless discovery. Product imagery is a direct reference to Space Age depictions of technology and the surfaces of planets.

The deep, dark background, glowing lights, close ups and abstracted images of ambiguous terrains all combine to code the idea of an out-of-this-world discovery. It’s an opportunity to explore new worlds; not out in the universe, but within ourselves. 

The brand plays perfectly into the sense of American restlessness for the new by channelling the Space Race, which is strongly associated with American ideas of greatness. And as, post Trump, America emerges from a period of discord, division and literal walls, Apple allows the restless consumer to see that the final frontier is within themselves. The experiment can begin again – and this time, it’s about self reflection, not expansion. 

Apple taps into the American restlessness for discovery. But, after the events of the last four years, this time, the search is within ourselves.
Apple taps into the American restlessness for discovery. But, after the events of the last four years, this time, the search is within ourselves.

 

Boldness: Proud, Playful Self-Validation

As women around the globe are increasingly encouraged to embrace their natural bodies and accept their visible ‘flaws’, Parade’s narrative of boldness deeply resonates. The name itself communicates pride and uplifting celebrations of the body. Its uneven, red and white all-caps lettering and oval lock-up resembles retro American signage and logos. Together, this codes boldness as returning to the fun and excitement associated with vintage American pop-culture (but with a distinctly modern celebration) grounded in internal, rather than external acceptance.

With minimalist backdrops and assertive poses, Parade borrows cues from the classic US clothing brand American Apparel; known for its voyeuristic and risqué boldness in the mid 2000s. However, American Apparel’s boldness, which demanded conformity to Eurocentric standards of beauty, primarily for male enjoyment, is modernised by Parade. Imagery of stretch marks, tummy bulges, blemishes, diversity in body size and ethnicity, along with consumer generated photos, codes inclusivity, self-acceptance and proud authenticity.

This combination signals boldness that is flexible and self-defined, empowering everyone to embrace their realistic selves. This emergent boldness connects particularly well with Gen Z consumers, as they demand and expect authenticity, inclusive community building and nuance from both brands and institutions, including the US government. 

Parade celebrates a new vision of American boldness – one that is proud, authentic and inclusive (and much needed in 2021).
Parade celebrates a new vision of American boldness – one that is proud, authentic and inclusive (and much needed in 2021).

 

Optimism: Personal Determination 

Typically, the Coca-Cola brand has been about celebration and savouring a particular moment. The cursive Spencarian script codes a hint of premium, but also a 130-year-old tradition. Previous campaigns, like the yearly Christmas adverts and ‘Open Happiness’ have used conventions of celebration – popping (cap top) bottles, bubbles, and personalised packaging – to code Coca-Cola as a sentimental toast to good times.

In 2021, the Cola-Cola brand of optimism is shifting toward active determination. Language on the site features strong calls to action that code both resolve and support, with mission statements of ‘together we can, must, and will’ do better and bring about change. The Open To Better campaign foregrounds this literally, replacing the brand logo on the can with customised resolutions. 

The repetition of the first person direct address, ‘I will’, codes this new positioning as a mantra and also a pledge. This is not ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke’ – it’s articulating a much more committed optimism, where your hope is insured by personal resolve, intentionality and accountability. This new brand of optimism is about informed and articulated purpose, factoring in the reckoning of a year of global protest and demands for greater accountability, both on a personal and institutional level.

Coca-Cola codes optimism as determination as the brand issues out a series of mission statements to bring the nation together.
Coca-Cola codes optimism as determination as the brand issues out a series of mission statements to bring the nation together.

 

As we have seen, Brand America cannot simply shrug off the political and cultural pains of the last four years. To do so would be to continue the line of domineering bluster that characterised Trump’s presidency. But hope always remains and it’s clear that hope will have to work hard to rehabilitate the image of America; both for Americans and people around the world. 

Look out for an upcoming instalment of Semiotics At Crowd where we tackle Brand Britain post-Brexit – how can the UK maintain its cultural relevance while undermining its cultural relationships?

We’re anticipating less sofa-bound times ahead in our latest edition of City Limits, all about the future of offline retail...

City Limits Volume Six – download it here.

So far in our City Limits series – Crowd DNA’s ongoing exploration of the urban experience – we’ve looked at city living, youth culture, mobility, city-centric solutions and the night economy. We’re now back with our sixth edition, exploring the future of offline shopping. In what has been a savage time for the retail industry, we hope to provide some much needed respite, inspiration and kudos to a sector so integral to urban culture.

Shopping has always played a huge part in the fabric of our cities. And while much does look bleak for the high street, we firmly believe all is not lost. Our Retail Therapy edition of City Limits goes in search of innovations and experiences that celebrate IRL shopping in all shapes and sizes. There are tough times ahead, but we steadfastly believe there will always be a place for browsing in real stores; for seeing, touching, feeling products, and gaining a deeper sense of connection with the brands and we love.

The full magazine includes:

– A semiotic analysis of shopping in the context of the experience economy

– Interviews with local retailers in APAC, with learnings for global brands

– Four emerging trends to keep an eye on in the new era of retail

– Spotlights on the lasting appeal of pop-ups and the resilience of shopping malls

– A round up of concept stores that will get us heading back into cities in no time.

City Limits Volume Six – download it here.

Crowd DNA New York reflect on their Culture At Scale election predictions and what we can learn about trends in American culture...

This post is the final part of our Click State series covering the US election, analyzing digital activations and online conversation (using our Culture At Scale method) and turning emergent trends into valuable learnings.


Post election day (week), Americans across the country have felt a whole slew of emotions; loss, relief, joy, confusion – to name just a few. Looking back over the emergent trends we spotted during our analysis of online conversations, we can see how our hypotheses have since performed in the wake of Biden’s win.

Connecting with young Latinx voters in Arizona flipped the historically red state blue.
Connecting with young Latinx voters in Arizona flipped the historically red state blue.

Localizing The American Identity

In our first post, we explored the idea that the collective American identity doesn’t feel relevant to the localized needs of specific states across the US.

We saw both Wisconsin and Arizona flip blue after leaning red. There was a huge turnout of Black voters in Wisconsin, a state where this community has long fought voter suppression. With messaging from the Democratic party around Black Lives Matter and programs urging Black citizens to vote early, it’s clear that directly speaking to a population with their specific needs in mind can drive change. Similarly in Arizona, Biden’s campaigning to young Latinx voters drove them to the polls for him.

However, in Florida, where Democratic candidates focused on hyper-local issues, they missed a huge voter bloc: Cuban and Venezuelan-Americans. Because of their countries of origin, this population was immediately deterred by notions of the party’s ties to socialism (despite other unfavored ideals of Trump). In juxtaposition with Wisconsin and Arizona, we see that while candidates catered to Floridians’ needs, the party’s overarching story failed to address the concerns of important voting blocs. This proves the importance of focusing on local identities while ensuring they’re cohesive with the larger story.

Democrat or Republican, Americans on TikTok find unity in the faults of our political system.
Democrat or Republican, Americans on TikTok find unity in the faults of our political system.

Mobilizing On TikTok

In our analysis of TikTok and the election, we investigated how the platform makes the world feel smaller, builds camaraderie and empowers its users.

Immediately following the result, conversation about the election gave way to a sense of coming together as Americans. TikTok users on both political sides hashtagged states like Texas and Florida to discuss the nail-biting races in those locales. Jokes were made about Wisconsin and Pennsylvania flipping at the last minute, and Texas defaulting red despite speculation. This shows that no matter how divided America may feel politically, we can still find common ground in a shared ability to laugh at elements unique to American politics. It’s through this ability to poke fun at ourselves that Americans find unity on platforms like TikTok.

From serious to humorous, brands expressed opinions on the election's outcome in a range of ways.
From serious to humorous, brands expressed opinions on the election's outcome in a range of ways.

Brand Allies

In our third installment, we discussed how brands are presenting themselves as institutions we can look to for guidance – and, in turn, how Americans are expecting more from the companies they choose to spend with.

We explored how brands are being expected to pick a side. We saw Patagonia, for example, clearly standing against Trump. But what does this look like post-election? So far we can see brands either blatantly or more subtly celebrating Biden’s win. Brands like Oreo have promoted the result (and themselves) with messages like “It’s a Double Stuf Oreo type of day.”

But the brands we should keep a closer eye on are the ones who stay true to their claims now that the election is over. For example, MTV put its resources into urging young voters to get out to the polls. Now, they’ve taken a clear stand with the president-elect, reminding young Americans that the fight isn’t wrapped up. This both shows solidarity with their audience and a long-term commitment to social justice and political influence.

Through this exploration of conversations during the election, it’s clear we can no longer lump Americans together as one nation. Brands need to consider the individual, and very specific, identities that define our citizens and make up our states. Similarly, taking a stand and picking a side shouldn’t be shied away from. But, even with these points in mind, brands can still play an important role in unifying the country via humor, creativity and helping us laugh at ourselves.

Crowd Tracks: Gaming

No longer reserved just for those locked in bedrooms, gaming has become democratised and more diverse. Our latest edition of Crowd Tracks loads up...

The fourth edition of our regular social data report, Crowd Tracks, is here. This time, it’s all about gaming as we explore unstructured data surrounding the category using our Culture At Scale method.

Gaming has triumphed as one of the saviours of 2020. In a year of uncertainty and confinement, it provides us a tool to escape on the one hand, but remain connected and plugged in on the other. Narratives within gaming culture are also shifting. No longer seen as (entirely) harmful to mental health, games are being presented as a space for self-care. And, while it may be long overdue, the industry is now taking steps toward greater representation and inclusion. 

The full report features:

– Viral stories around the world – from BTS launching their latest single in Fornite, to the UK government calling for a public enquiry into paid-for loot boxes

– A brand leaderboard ranking the social juggernauts of the gaming world and continued dominance of MMOGs (massive multiplayer online games)

– A global hashtag analysis of Instagram, unpacking the conversation and importance of community, humour and creativity in gaming

– A spotlight on Dontnod’s latest game Tell Me Why – a brave and complex adventure confronting issues of sexuality and mental health

Trends analysis of the evolution of games into entertainment ecosystems and the ongoing issues of diversity in gaming.

Download the full copy of Crowd Tracks: Gaming here.

Culture At Scale at Crowd DNA

At Crowd DNA, we’re constantly tracking conversations online across a range of categories. We deploy social media and other unstructured data sources in a number of ways; either as a stand-alone method (including producing one-off and periodical reports for our clients) or integrated alongside semiotic, ethnographic and quantitative approaches. If you’d like to find out more about how we can use Culture At Scale to meet your business challenges, get in touch.

We're hosting an APAC and PST-timed second session of our Storytelling From A Distance webinar (Nov 19), with Tom Eccles and Elyse Pigram exploring how narrative building is evolving, to be captured and told from afar...


November 19, midday AEDT | 9.00 SST | 17.00 PST | 20.00 EST – sign up

(Access via Demio; 45 minutes including Q&A)


Storytelling is not as straightforward as it once was. Not only is it harder to physically capture stories in a distant world, it’s also harder to capture the attention of those you’re telling stories to. In a time of rapid and unpredictable change, storytelling– from the method of delivery to the content itself – has pivoted and adapted at speed.

In this session, we’ll look at what has changed about how we tell stories in a time where most things are done at a distance. We’ll consider not only what different forms of remote storytelling have emerged in popular culture, but also how we – as researchers – can continue to build empathy with people, and understand our audiences without visiting or seeing them in person.

Presented by Crowd DNA’s global film lead, Tom Eccles, and Sydney/APAC director, Elyse Pigram, this session will consider:

– What new forms of storytelling have captured the spotlight in 2020

– How brands can use these new forms of storytelling in their communications

– How we can help stakeholders build empathy with their audiences and understand them without being face to face

– Ways research teams can continue to socialize their projects in a distant workplace

– How we capture and create impactful content at Crowd DNA

We hope you can make it!


November 19, midday AEDT | 9.00 SST | 17.00 PST | 20.00 EST – sign up

(Access via Demio; 45 minutes including Q&A)


 

Click State: Brand Allies

In the third part of our Click State series, Crowd DNA New York explores the changing role of brands in America through an analysis of digital activations and online conversations...

This post is part of our Click State series in the lead up to the US election, analyzing digital activations and online conversations (using our Culture At Scale method) and turning emergent trends into valuable learnings. You can read the previous post here.


‘Vote’ was once a message used only by brands already engaged in politics. Now, it’s a must for all. Just as Covid-19 turned parking lots into outdoor movie theaters and parks into yoga studios, brands are reimagining their role as influencers of American culture. By analyzing how a selection of brands are activating digitally and the subsequent conversations online, we can spot the new, emerging standards that they are being held to. Americans are demanding a whole lot more from the businesses they support – and during the intensity of the election, those demands are being met, even if it means losing customers.

Pick A Side

With this year’s surge in Black Lives Matter activism, Americans got comfortable boycotting brands. This also brought a wary eye to performative activism. No longer is a vague post in solidarity enough. This election, consumers demand that brands clearly state candidate allegiance as there’s an understanding that shopping a brand can translate directly to campaign funding. Movement for and against brands is swift, too. Always left leaning, Patagonia took the plunge with playful messages on their tags, driving up social support for the brand. Goya, on the other hand, shocked Latinx brand loyalists by pledging support for Trump, sending consumers into a fierce boycott. Such breaks in brand loyalty show how deeply Americans value businesses that pledge a side regardless of a loss in profits.

Holding Space For Voting

Whether it’s physical space or virtual space on an app, brands are lending themselves to the fight. Just like the perfume brands that manufactured hand sanitizer in response to Covid, KITH and NBA are repurposing their spaces to house voter registration, forgoing business as a result.

Virtual spaces are being transformed too. While Uber and Instagram seem unlikely places to get informed, they’re trading app real estate for voting resources. Voting, registration and ballots can feel intimidating – but brands can use their established and trusted relationships with Americans to educate them in spaces that feel familiar and less intimidating than the Board Of Elections office.

Speaking Youth

With campaigning geared toward older voters, aging candidates and low tech voting options, the election can feel out of touch for younger Americans. These voters are also new to traditional politics; unsure where to register, get information, or actually cast a vote. Taking advantage of their credibility factor and ability to relate to young Americans, brands like Snap and ATTN: are bridging the gap. These brands are using colloquial language, emoji and relevant references to speak the way these voters talk among peers. Key to this is that these brands usually relate to younger Americans with similar messaging, making these efforts feel natural.

As Americans raise the bar on their expectations, we see the role of ‘brand’ change. Generic messages that speak to the entire population, or t-shirts that read ‘vote’ without any larger action, no longer have the wow factor. In a climate where most Americans feel a lack of guidance from the government, social conversations and digital activations prove that relationships are being elevated. With brands now being seen as trusted partners and institutions, consumers demand their dedication – whether that be explicitly stating candidate allegiance; genuinely committing to political education; or even giving up valuable resource and space for voting activity, Americans expect full devotion from the businesses they support, just as they would from a political candidate.   


Source: Brandwatch tracking data from Jul 1, 2020-Oct 20, 2020

KITH: (“voter registration” OR voterregistration OR “register to vote” OR registertovote) AND (kith)

NBA: nba AND (“voter resgistration” OR voterregistration OR “register to vote” OR registertovote)

Goya: goya OR “goya foods” OR goyafood

Join Crowd DNA New York’s Tom Eccles, and London’s Phoebe Trimingham, for a session exploring how storytelling is evolving, to be captured and told from a distance...


November 11, 9am PST, 12pm EST, 5pm GMT – sign up

(Access via Demio; 45 minutes including Q&A)


Storytelling is not as straightforward as it once was. Not only is it harder to physically capture stories in a distant world, it’s also harder to capture the attention of those you’re telling stories to. In a time of rapid and unpredictable change, storytelling– from the method of delivery to the content itself – has pivoted and adapted at speed.

In this session, we’ll look at what has changed about how we tell stories in a time where most things are done at a distance. We’ll consider not only what different forms of remote storytelling have emerged in popular culture, but also how we – as researchers – can continue to build empathy with people, and understand our audiences without visiting or seeing them in person.

Presented by Crowd DNA’s global film lead, Tom Eccles, and associate director Phoebe Trimingham from our Socialise team, this session will consider:

– What new forms of storytelling have captured the spotlight in 2020

– How brands can use these new forms of storytelling in their communications

– How we can help stakeholders build empathy with their audiences and understand them without being face to face

– Ways research teams can continue to socialize their projects in a distant workplace

– How we capture and create impactful content at Crowd DNA

We hope you can make it!


November 11, 9am PST, 12pm EST, 5pm GMT – sign up

(Access via Demio; 45 minutes including Q&A)


 

In our second installment of Click State, Crowd DNA New York turns to TikTok to uncover learnings from a platform full of politics, creativity and a lot of personality...

This post is part of our Click State series, analyzing conversation online (using our Culture At Scale method) in the lead up to the US election and turning emergent trends into valuable learnings. You can read our first post here.  


To uncover the full force behind TikTok, we have to debunk misconceptions – it’s not all lighthearted, silly content, and it’s not just a playspace for Gen Z. Instead, TikTok’s short form layout lends well to disseminating punchy information. If Twitter and Instagram forged the way for concise content, TikTok enables creators to add drama and flair to that same message. The platform’s democratic nature also provides everyone with the ability to post to the homepage. And it’s that accessibility that makes TikTok a level playing field when it comes to mobilizing around the election.

When browsing other social platforms, we see similar memes, clips, headlines and infographics. Yet the content on TikTok is always something new. By conducting social media analysis we can examine those differences further and start to uncover emerging, TikTok based themes around the upcoming election.

Democratizing Knowledge On #TikTokTaughtMe

From iPhone usability hacks to science explained, #TikTokTaughtMe enables users to share and expand their knowledge. This hashtag, paired with others like #Election2020, has given TikTokers a way to quickly educate themselves and others. From how to debate someone with opposing views to what certain laws mean, the hashtag creates a safe space for learning and sharing knowledge. This type of openhearted content highlights TikTok’s ‘come as you are’ ethos. It sets the platform up to welcome a diversity of opinion, while always striving to be better and learn more.

TikTokers utilize #TikTokTaughtMe to share and build knowledge
TikTokers utilize #TikTokTaughtMe to share and build knowledge

Making The World Smaller

Actor and rapper, Daveed Diggs, released a song denouncing Trump supporters as white supremacists. Users then merged it with the national anthem, which liberal TikTokers from conservative families are now using to confront relatives and catch their reactions on film. This is TikTok making the world feel smaller. Rather than being isolated in a town of people with opposing views, TikTokers are able to take to the platform to feel camaraderie. Such content empowers users to start difficult conversations, knowing they have the support of an online community behind them.

Challenges can provide TikTokers with a common space to relate to one another
Challenges can provide TikTokers with a common space to relate to one another

Being Your Authentic Self

TikTok Trump supporters are using #MAGAchallenge to show their love. The videos are varied, but all express proud support regardless of the opinions of others. Many use the song ‘I Like Trump,’ which voices similar sentiment and unifies the posts. In every election, some Americans shy away from voicing support for ‘unpopular’ candidates. But, with TikTok’s vast niches, there’s a place for everyone to express their true selves and feel heard. And when TikTokers feel supported, they feel empowered and free to speak their mind.

TikTok makes space for its users to be themselves and find others like them - near and far
TikTok makes space for its users to be themselves and find others like them - near and far

By analyzing these themes coming from conversations on TikTok, we can see the ability that social media has to create safe learning environments, build support systems and empower its users. But it is also clear that content can no longer be recycled across all social media outlets.

For brands to cater to their audience in authentic and impactful ways, it’s important to realize each platform’s use cases. Authenticity, empathy and camaraderie are built into all of TikTok’s features. So in a year where there’s a new breaking headline everyday, learning how to wield these features (as well as TikTok’s creativity) will help brand communications cut through.