Safety First

Brands need to pay attention to our perception of safety like never before. Crowd DNA’s group managing director, Dr Matilda Andersson, offers five new safety cues to consider as society opens up...

A sense of safety is one of the most fundamental needs for human survival and wellbeing. The feelings associated with being safe have had many manifestations in the past, but never have they been so complex, confusing and important for brands to acknowledge. As society opens up (albeit at different rates around the world), hygiene, health and protection will be firmly front and center of people’s minds. 

We used to take the feeling of being safe for granted in the Western world, but certainly not anymore. People are now searching for it, their decisions strongly driven by it. With the web of safety cues already embedded in design, language, experience and behaviour, it’s necessary for brands to understand these changing cultural codes and how to create a sense of safety for their customers, employees and wider public. Every channel is up for grabs and no brand is exempt. Leaders need to recognise that perceptions of safety happen subconsciously, meaning that tiny nuances in design or behaviour can make or break a brand. Here are five cues of safety to consider as society opens up.

Safety is consensual 

Safe and healthy relationships, whether personal or transactional, are all about consent. They’re about how to interact and use our bodies, what information to share and what to hold back. Covid, in many ways, has also been about consent: negotiating how close to get, when and where to wear face masks, even giving someone a hug now requires an extra layer of consensual decision making.

It’s important for brands to communicate with transparency and without pressure so that consumers feel in control and able to consent at all stages (from signing up to newsletters, to navigating staff at IRL checkouts). Gen Z, who have always championed safe spaces and consensual interaction, are leading the way and have the opportunity to educate older generations on consent. 

Safety is local, empathetic brands 

Small and local outlets are seen to care much more about their consumers than big, global brands. Over the past year, constant changes to restrictions have meant that local stores the world over have become well versed in adapting to shifting safety requirements. There’s a general perception that big businesses think profit before people, so smaller outlets can often ‘feel’ safer as they have the flexibility to adjust to new standards.

In London, for example, boutique retailer Glassworks upgraded their personal shopping offer to include ‘lock-ins’, where the entire shop is closed for a more personal (and safe) experience. This is another reason why local brands are winning out. Safety is dependent on being empathetic; genuinely listening to consumers’ fears, and quickly modifying the environment to make them feel safe at every turn. 

Safety is being equal and part of a network 

Safety can’t discriminate. Brands who leave people behind, ignore calls for diversity and inclusion, or fail to keep their workers safe need to be held to account. It’s not an option to protect only some; everyone needs to be included in order for individuals to feel safe. For example, despite the fact that Covid disproportionately affected marginalised communities around the world, entire populations have felt shaken. It’s about creating a sense of networked safety for everyone (including the environment).

This can also be seen in brand responses to the BLM movement. Promoting and uplifting Black-owned businesses (often side-lined in white, big brand-dominated industries) is one way forward. Beauty icon Glossier set aside $500,000 in the form of grants to be distributed to Black-owned beauty businesses, and delayed the launch of their latest product ‘in an effort to focus attention, and that of their audience, on the ongoing fight against racial injustice.’ It’s important to remember that brands are also part of a wider network. 

Safety is the ultimate luxury

Constantly being vigilant about safety is exhausting. Taking a break and indulging in a care-free moment is the ultimate pleasure nowadays – yet, without safety, we can’t have this kind of experience. To truly sit back and relax, everything needs to be safe. This includes safety from infection, but also from physical and psychological harm, bullying, racism, misogyny, and all other forms of harassment. This doesn’t mean that brands need to hunker down and promote a secluded form of protection to be considered premium. It’s about looking after your consumers in a holistic way – their body, mind and emotions – to signal that everyone is safe, but included, and everything is in hand behind the scenes.   

Safety welcomes a new design standard 

The last year has placed a spotlight on how reliant we are on nature for our safety and wellbeing. We’ve seen many examples of design changes because of previous pandemics (the introduction of private chambers after the Black Death; urban parks and water sanitation after cholera outbreaks). This time round, the interaction between outdoor and indoor is the most important for brands to acknowledge – bringing the outside inside, or vice versa, and celebrating the great outdoors as part of overall consumer wellbeing.

This could be literal space that adjusts to the needs of people in the moment, or longer-term air purification devices that are installed in public spaces, such as shopping centres. But designing for safety doesn’t have to mean rigidity and sheets of wipeable plastic; brands should experiment with materials that are both aesthetically pleasing and naturally hygienic, such as wood and copper, too. 

This post is based on conversation from Matilda’s appearance in the Style Psychology Human Discussions podcast

If you’d like to discuss the changing cues of safety and what they could mean for your brand, please get in touch: hello@crowdDNA.com

Join Crowd DNA Amsterdam’s Luzie Richt and London’s Dr Jennifer Simon for our latest webinar in Amsterdam, as we look at the changing articulations of womanhood and how brands can respond...


April 22, 15:00-15:45 CET – sign up

(Access via Demio; 45 minutes, followed by Q&A)


We’re very excited to confirm our latest webinar in Amsterdam, in which we’ll explore how women are represented in culture and how brands can engage with a more future-facing portrayal through gender literacy.

With 80 percent of Gen Z women identifying as feminist, but around half of young men claiming that feminism has ‘gone too far’, there’s plenty to discuss. This webinar will join the conversation by exploring the female story – from current representations within the themes of family, relationships and self expression; to examining how narratives are being disrupted and reimagined by culturally relevant brands.   

Presented by Crowd DNA Amsterdam’s Luzie Richt and London’s Dr Jennifer Simon, this session will consider:

– The dominant representation of ‘womanhood’ in three key areas – sex and relationships, family and self expression

– What the new, emergent codes are, and how semiotics can help unpack them

– How brands can take inspiration from the multitude of ways women live their lives

– What all this means for brands looking to future proof and remain culturally relevant to their audience

– How to keep up as more expressions of identity evolve and scripts of gender are rewritten.

We hope you can make it!


April 22, 15:00-15:45 CET – sign up

(Access via Demio; 45 minutes, followed by Q&A)


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.

Join Crowd DNA Sydney’s Erryn Balzan, and our friends at 72andSunny, for a session mastering how brands can engage with new expressions of maleness…


March 18, 1pm-1.45pm AEST – sign up

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


As narratives of gender continue to evolve in pretty much all corners of the globe, the way we express and represent masculinity is changing. A male misery epidemic, the exposure of toxic masculinity and a progressive Gen Z agenda are reframing what it means to be a man today. Without intervention, brands that speak to men are at risk of falling behind.

This session, presented by associate director Erryn Balzan and co-hosted with 72andSunny, will consider:

–  The cultural shifts impacting narratives of masculinity and the new, emerging expressions

–  How brands can harness these opportunities to drive comms, product innovation and more

–  What we can learn from recent brand and cultural examples in Australia and beyond

–  How to communicate authentically, while avoiding the slippery slope of tokenism.

We’ll round off our discussion with a Q&A panel made up of modern male representatives, featuring: Jason Ball (start-up founder and mental health advocate), Kyle Hugall (head of creative strategy, Lion) and Jimmy Nice (musician and artist).

With the image of a ‘true, blue, Aussie bloke’ so deeply ingrained in our psyches, we look forward to uncovering fresh narratives to help brands rethink and remain culturally relevant, but also challenge our own biases too. Hope you can make it!


March 18, 1pm-1.45pm AEST – sign up

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


 

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?

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.


Sources:

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

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.