Nostalgia At The Super Bowl

Last Sunday’s halftime celebration of all things West Coast rap depicted a nation searching for shared meaning in its 1990s past, writes Crowd DNA’s Peter Lane and Julia Smaldone

Every year, the Super Bowl attracts northward of 100 million viewers (this year: 112 million), suckering them in from across the generations. If it’s not for the football, then it’s for the ads, or all of the other bits around it. Certainly, it’s fascinating analysing the manoeuvres of some of the world’s biggest brands. 

Then there’s the halftime show, featuring artists that threaten to eclipse the worth of any S&P 500 company, with the carefully orchestrated performances a snapshot of the dominant trends in America. The spectacle needs to appeal to a broad swathe of society. Therefore resonating with the current state of the nation is essential.

As such, the Super Bowl is a barometer of US culture. Last year, this was a deliberately constrained performance from The Weeknd; who, in keeping with 2021’s unsettling vibe, restricted himself to the stands, and swapped out dancers for robots. 

This year, the show dripped with nostalgia – the current and pervasive US mood. Headlined by Dr Dre and Snoop Dog (showing only a few signs of wear), the West Coast originators guided the stadium through a tour de force of 90s and early 2000s hip hop classics. With guest performances from 50 Cent, Mary J Blige and Eminem, the show harked back to a golden era of hip hop. It was down to Kendrick Lamar alone to represent the present day.

Given it’s designed to appeal to a broad audience, it’s probably no coincidence the halftime show felt so nostalgic. The US, concerned about the future, is going through a deep swoon of retrospection at the moment; glorifying an apparently sunnier past that is remembered fondly by some and imagined (perhaps even more fondly) by others.

Beyond nostalgic appeal, this year’s halftime show represented the steps being made to repair the relationship between the NFL and the Black community after the mistreatment of Colin Kaepernick in 2019. That same year, Atlanta played host to the Super Bowl and halftime headliner Maroon 5. It was a completely missed opportunity to represent the city of Atlanta and its rich history of rap. 

Since then, the NFL has partnered with Jay Z’s Roc Nation to bridge the gap and curate halftime shows that are more representative of American culture. Hip hop isn’t just nostalgically appealing and representative of a moment in time. It has been, and continues to be, a dominantly popular genre of American music, and representative of American culture. In featuring artists like Snoop and Eminem, this year’s halftime show brought that celebration to the forefront – using nostalgia as a means to drive mass appeal and celebrate a genre and its legends. 

The Super Bowl has been a means of emboldening social movements before. In 2013, amid a call for female empowerment – recognised as fourth-wave feminism – Beyonce headlined. The first women to do so, her confident gaze, uncompromising demeanour, and characteristic strut became a blueprint of female assuredness, recognised by all genders. The show reflected an again triumphant America, finally moving on after years marred by the 2008 financial crisis.

Though nostalgia is often framed in a negative light – navel gazing and unoriginal – the Super Bowl halftime show this year was searching for unity through a vision of the 1990s. Some watching had lived it. Others just wished they had lived it. But either way, it made America feel better about itself.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but a lack of human connection has forced us to completely rethink our love lives. Our new edition of Crowd Tracks opens up...

The fifth edition of Crowd Tracks is now live and available to download here. Crowd Tracks is our regular exploration of unstructured social data, uncovering emerging trends using our Culture At Scale method. This time round, we’re covering the fascinating world of sex and relationships, analysing relevant conversation and interactions over the last four months.

After a year quite unlike any other, the way we discuss and approach dating, sex and relationships is in flux. Following a Covid-staggered start of ‘can we, can’t we?’, many of us have succumbed to yet another lockdown of minimal romancing. While dating culture has stalled and the novelty of Zoom dates has fizzled out, people have been experimenting with new ways to find fulfilment. Whether that’s looking inward and practicing self care or navigating the burgeoning worlds of sex tech and science, pleasure will always prevail. 

The full report features:

Viral stories from around the world – from Jojo Siwa’s announcement on TikTok, to a new, openly-gay Indian podcast and the Japanese government’s investment in AI matchmaking

A language tracker highlighting the shifting discourse and tone when it comes to love, relationships and online dating culture

– An Instagram-based image analysis unpacking over 450,000 images relating to romance, revealing the most popular backdrops and colour choices

– A closer look at Lora DiCarlo – the brand on a mission to destigmatize sex tech with help from Cara Delevingne, with discussion around the pitfalls of inclusivity in this area

Trends analysis of the increasing presence of data and science in our bedrooms, as well as the rise of singledom as an act of self care.

Download the full copy of Crowd Tracks: Sex & Relationships 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.

Crowd DNA New York’s Eden Lauffer explores our changing buying habits and how 2020’s events influenced this season's holiday shopping…

In more ‘normal’ times, holiday shopping and gift giving can feel a little monotonous – a set of pots and pans as requested on a wishlist, the regifting of a yet another scented candle. But in 2020, as with most other aspects of life, things looked a little different.

We saw gifting trends this season reflect a yearning for simple joys with reciprocal benefits for both gifters and receivers. Using the three trends below as a springboard, we’ve deployed our Culture At Scale unstructured data method to explore social conversation around gifting, and provide direction on what to expect from 2021 shopping behaviors.

While sex tech remains stigmatized, brands are starting to position it as self-care. And with major celebrities involved, it’s sure to turn heads in 2021.
While sex tech remains stigmatized, brands are starting to position it as self-care. And with major celebrities involved, it’s sure to turn heads in 2021.

Intimacy meets technology

In 2020, we spent months without in-person gatherings and meetings. For many, this meant an end to dating and casual hookups. And with more time spent in isolation and shopping online, consumers warmed to new forms of intimacy. FaceTime dating aside, sex tech sales skyrocketed. This includes toys that link to apps (think Fitbit for sex) and VR sexual experimentation. Discussion about gifting last year had an emphasis on treating oneself, making sex tech a popular purchase.

In 2021, as economies begin to revive themselves and the hardship of last year fades away, treating oneself doesn’t feel as frivolous. And wellbeing doesn’t just mean meditation and mindfulness – expect consumers to be investing in themselves and others via the sex tech space, too. We’re also noticing intimacy sites sparking conversation around this unique junction between technology and self-care.

As consumers lean into DIY gifts, TikTok serves as an incredible source of inspiration and learning
As consumers lean into DIY gifts, TikTok serves as an incredible source of inspiration and learning

Mutually beneficial DIY gifts

Consumers have acquired new hobbies after a year of having to find different forms of entertainment. Through activities like baking and crafting, we feel mental health benefits like a sense of pride, an antidote for depression, an outlet for anxiety. With gifting, sharing homemade items delivers a sense of empowerment to givers. Recipients feel a stronger emotional connection to these gifts, too, because they place sentiment over the need for generic material items.

Moving into 2021, social conversations continue to highlight the sustained value creative expression brings to mental health. And in a shift toward more conscious buying, making things for others or yourself feels more enriching.

At the start of lockdown, conversations around gift cards and supporting local surged. This interest was reinvigorated around the holidays
At the start of lockdown, conversations around gift cards and supporting local surged. This interest was reinvigorated around the holidays

The revamped gift card

Businesses continue to suffer as Covid prohibits many stores and restaurants from operating as usual. But we’re still finding ways to support local businesses. Gift cards – once associated with dull, last-minute presents courtesy of generic stores – have become popular and thoughtful gifts. They allow us to support the businesses we have a relationship with from afar, or invest in future IRL shopping or dining. Gift cards make shoppers feel good and also help local businesses stay afloat in the interim.

As we enter 2021, we can expect consumers to continue going out of their way to support local businesses in this fashion. With the 2020 wave of the Black Lives Matter movement fresh, many will shop conscious of supporting BIPOC owned outlets. And having experienced financial struggles themselves, consumers post about how they empathize with the plight of small stores. We will see more interest in mutually beneficial shopping that helps communities and makes consumers feel good – and gift cards allow anyone to show support, even at a distance.

2020 took a lot away, but it also gave consumers a deeper appreciation for the simpler things in life. A collective understanding that we all face hardships left us with a desire to give to others, and also invest in our own happiness. Amid financial strife and isolation, with both our mental and physical health in flux, we became more creative in the ways we care for ourselves and those around us. Moving into 2021, consumers feel more gratitude for life’s simple pleasures and are willing to spend the time and money to bring a little joy after a rough year.


Gift card economy: ((giftcard* OR “gift card*” OR “gift certificate*” OR giftcertificate OR giftvoucher OR “gift voucher”) AND (localbusiness* OR “local business*” OR smallbusiness OR “small business*” OR supportlocal OR “support local” OR “shop local” OR shoplocal)), Nov 1, 2019-December 31, 2020

Intimacy meets technology: Brandwatch: ‘sex tech’ OR sextech, Nov 1, 2020-Jan 4, 2021

Mutually beneficial DIY gifts: TikTok: #giftideas, #diy

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.

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

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.

In the run up to the US Election, Crowd DNA New York will track the conversation online, turning emergent trends into valuable learnings. First up in the Click State series, a fresh look at localization...

Elections have been playing out digitally for years, but 2020’s presidential race – with its virtual conventions, TikTok meddling, basement broadcasts, corporate activism and Twitter declarations – is like no other. As we hit the final stretch, Crowd DNA New York’s Click State series will track the conversation online, using our Culture At Scale social media data method to identify emergent trends.

Our first post is below. By analyzing conversations coming out of swing states, we can see how a polarizing election is fast accelerating the shift from a collective American identity to a more local one.

Challenging the idea of a blanket ‘American identity’

In a year where governor mandates took precedence over presidential guidance on the pandemic, we’ve seen an accelerated shift from nationalism to a locally focused mindset. The events of 2020 have fuelled a drive away from a collective American character. Now, pride and trust in states and counties, even individual cities, resonates more strongly with American’s sense of self than the country as a whole. This, crossed with the nation’s individualistic nature, has been challenging the idea of a blanket ‘American identity.’

Then came the election. With polls neck and neck, especially in swing states, causes that hold local significance have come to the fore. We’re witnessing demand for attention to local issues and representatives who support each state’s unique needs. Candidates always pander to swing states, but this year, with a reinvigorated sense of local self, these states are armed with demands for their locales. By analyzing online conversations in three swing states, we can see how disparate voices are replacing one American narrative. Listening (socially) to these divided voices helps us learn how to speak to a fragmented, local leaning country.


With Covid-19 already making voting in the US precarious, Wisconsin reduced polling stations from 182 to five, disproportionately impacting low-income Black and brown communities. After months of Black Lives Matter protests and strong demonstrations in Kenosha, Wisconsinites feel empowered, rallying behind these communities. Rather than sitting out the election, they’re activating and driving change online, teaching us the value demonstrations can have on a location’s spirit.


Climate change is a very real threat in states like Florida, which have been ripped apart by coastal flooding. Cross this with Gen Z, a generation of first time voters who have continually ranked climate change as a top issue. As climate change continues to harm Florida, the state’s voters seek candidates who prioritize the cause. Using social, Florida politicians rally the state by speaking to local climate initiatives. By referencing impacted locations and drawing from local experiences, politicians can relate to voters as fellow Floridians.


If Arizona’s votes go to Biden, as polling suggests, it would be the first time the state favored a Democrat in 24 years. This shift is thanks to the state’s growing Latinx population. And as more US-born Latinx Arizonans turn voting age, they will add up to a significant voting bloc. Social outcries appeal directly to these voters through the use of language and cultural references. In speaking to Latinx Americans, authentically addressing the cultural nuances in their culture is crucial.

Looking at these states, and understanding their fragmented identities, presents implications for speaking to American consumers. Messaging will feel more relatable if brands consider local identities first.

The sentiment ‘we’re all in this together’ is tone deaf to America’s transitioning sense of self. Americans don’t feel a sense of camaraderie with states whose needs differ from their own. They want brands to speak to an identity that exists beyond the singular American character.

Source: Brandwatch, tracking data from Jul 1, 2020-Sept 28, 2020

Wisconsin: Jul 1, 2020-Sept 28, 2020, Wisconsin, United States: ((election OR election2020 OR “election 2020” OR presidentialelection OR “presidential election” OR 2020election OR “2020 election”) AND (votersuppression OR “voter suppression”) AND (wisconsin))

Florida: Jul 1, 2020-Sept 28, 2020, Florida, United States: ((election OR election2020 OR “election 2020” OR presidentialelection OR “presidential election” OR 2020election OR “2020 election”) AND (“climate change” OR climatechange) AND (florida))

Arizona: Jul 1, 2020-Sept 28, 2020, Arizona, United States: ((election OR election2020 OR “election 2020” OR presidentialelection OR “presidential election” OR 2020election OR “2020 election”) AND (latin*) AND (arizona))

How To Speak TikTok

July 22 - more webinar action from Crowd DNA. This time, we're digging into the TikTok phenomenon, including the opportunities offered to brands...

  • Session 1: July 22, 08.30 (BST)/17.30 (AEST) – sign up here
  • Session 2: July 22, 16.00 (BST)/11.00 (EDT) – sign up here

(Access via Zoom; 45 mins including Q&A)

TikTok seemingly came out of nowhere in the West in 2018. Despite many dismissing it as unlikely to gain traction, an ever-growing audience have soundly disagreed, with the platform spawning an infinite array of trends and cultural crossovers – while rocketing to a reported 800 million monthly active users.

It’s now impossible for brands to ignore TikTok and its dancing, singing, laughing legions of users – and TikTok is actively courting brands, too (with Chipotle, NBA, Washington Post and Crocs among the many to jump on board).

In these two sessions, led by Crowd DNA senior consultant Chris Illsley, we’ll be exploring all you need to know about TikTok – from its origins in China, to how it carved out a space for itself in the West; why it has gained so much traction during Covid-19 and, importantly, how brands can successfully leverage TikTok for marketing strategy.

To help brands ‘TikTok’ to the best of their abilities, we’ll consider:

– Where has TikTok come from and what is really driving its popularity?

– How does the platform actually work and what makes it different from other social media competitors?

– What are the TikTok rules of engagement for brands?

– What should great branded TikTok content look like?

Late breaking news: If turning up wasn’t essential enough already, we’re excited to confirm that Sherice Banton will be with us to discuss life on the platform and where things go from here.

Sherice has over 1.6m followers (and counting) and is considered one of the most popular TikTok creators in the UK. She’s also worked with brands such as Adobe, Warner Brothers and Burger King.

We hope you can make it. Bring your best dance moves.

  • Session 1: July 22, 08.30 (BST)/17.30 (AEST) – sign up here
  • Session 2: July 22, 16.00 (BST)/11.00 (EDT) – sign up here

(Access via Zoom; 45 mins including Q&A)