City Limits has landed. This time we're looking to cities less as places to live, but as places to visit. With international travel now back on the agenda for many, destination cities, both big and small, are waking up...

Check out the full pdf here.


We’re careful right now not to label everything as post-pandemic. After all, for many the hardship goes on. But, in a way barely entertained for the last two years, actually travelling to another city is back in consideration. Meaning this felt the right time to turn the attention of City Limits – our ongoing exploration of the ever-changing urban experience – less to the places we live in and more to those we visit.

And so the Crowd DNA team have been busy making sense of the new-found appreciation of tourists that some cities are cultivating (distance makes the heart grow fonder). The refreshingly different types of relationship now forming between visitor and destination, often with sustainability as the guiding principle. Elsewhere, we follow the digital nomads to Dali, and pause to consider what Instagram and TikTok are doing to the way we explore. The home share trend gets a look over as well, as do some of the lamest places in Texas. And we send you postcards loaded with stories of traffic, pizza, cannabis, risking it all in 4x4s, and miscellaneous chocolate spreads.  

While we start planning for volume nine of City Limits, we hope you enjoy everything we’ve packed into this one. And if you’d like to hear more about our own work in areas such as tourism, travel, hospitality and placemaking, we’d love to hear from you.


Check out the full pdf here.

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.

Crowd Signs: Whiplash Living

Even for the most seasoned cultural consultant, events are getting hard to predict. But unpredictability is a cultural force in its own right. Our latest Crowd Signs trends film takes a look…

Buckle up for a pithy dose of cultural foresight in Whiplash Living.

At Crowd DNA we’re feeling cautiously optimistic about the coming months. You don’t have to be an epidemiologist to sense that, yes, the pandemic may be over. But if these past two years have taught us anything it’s that the power of wishful thinking is immense. We’re not saying optimism is delusional, but what we’ll take from this time is the knowledge that everything can just, all of a sudden, change. This is Whiplash Living.  

So what is it?

When planning for the future, hope will be mixed with an understanding that we must also prepare for the worst. Carefree living will never be the same. We’re now used to our lives careering between extremes: intense isolation to explosive celebration; saving for the apocalypse to spending like there’s no tomorrow. This has changed how we relate to freedom, and feel about the future. Freedom is now something we must engineer, the future something we must protect.     

What’s next?

Whiplash Living is the cultural force of no-one knowing what’s coming next. What we can say for sure is planning with resilience in mind will get more common. As such, we will get better at preparing ourselves for sudden change. When it’s simply impossible to effectively plan or reassure each other, people will seize the day, for who knows when the next whiplash might come…  

 

Is it us or has everything been really weird for, like, ages now? Our Crowd Signs trends film takes a look...

The latest short-but-sweet film from our Crowd Signs team is Mainstream Weird

Here we show how distinctions between the centre ground – so-called ‘mainstream culture’ – and the peripheries – ‘weird things’ – are being continually questioned. As a result, weirdness has reached a premium in the economy of culture. We’re seeing this in social media, fashion, TV and elsewhere. Stuff that once was simply too strange is finding wide appeal. People’s capacity for nonlinear thinking is expanding, as sheer weirdness becomes a mainstream means of carving out your identity online.

So why is this? 

Today’s digital world is one where subcultures are continually pushed to the foreground. Social media means that the most unconventional image or opinion moves quickly to the centre. This is part of a greater social movement which has seen visual culture become radically democratised. Everyday, from the comfort of your own home, you’re able to significantly disrupt traditional ideals of beauty, entertainment and opinion. This means that brands, especially the big ones, are often playing catch up.   

Today, weirdness goes mainstream so fast, it’s like it was never weird in the first place.

What’s next? 

Our time is marked by a blurring of traditional definitions across the cultural board. We predict that the distinction between ‘weird’ and ‘conventional’ will continue to dissolve. Trends spotters have long been obsessed with what’s ‘in’ and what’s ‘out’, what’s ‘dominant’ and what’s ’emergent’. This hierarchy is fast disappearing, and will soon be entirely displaced by a flattened multiplicity of choice.

And, at Crowd, we say amen to that. Power to the (weird) people.

Crowd Signs: Radical Rest

Our latest Crowd Signs trends film takes in some radical rest...

Our Crowd Signs videos give us an opportunity to share concise takes on cultural change. In the latest, Radical Rest, we’ve noticed that whereas rest was once thought to be downtime, a chance to recharge between periods of work, work, work, recently the right to rest has become something that individuals are fighting for. A part of our lives we individually protect and actively nurture.

Rest has become something to militantly carve out, rather than squeeze in to a busy schedule.

Why is this?

More than anything, people are increasingly wary of the ‘always on’ lifestyles, where productivity is the only measure of a person’s worth. These are lifestyles where burnout and exhaustion are badges of being busy, and privilege. As a result, people are looking for actively unproductive ways to unwind, rising above the grind. 

In short – rest has become radical 

So What’s Next? 

We predict that our definitions of rest will become increasingly active, not passive. As individuals indulge in a more radicalised version of downtime, the highest quality rest will be seen as a right, rather than a luxury. Its practice is considered a key ingredient to a fulfilling life. 

Check the vid – while we take a quick nap. 

 

 

Crowd Tracks: Sports Fandom

Our Crowd Tracks report is back. This time we’re turning our attention to the global goings-on of sports fandom...

Download the new report here.


Crowd Tracks is our social data series, where we use our Culture At Scale method to highlight and analyse trends at the intersection of brands and culture. At what feels like a watershed moment for supporters of all types of sport, we’re bringing you the latest in fan experience, values and culture. 

In this edition we uncover how fan protests have mobilised on social platforms across the world, analyse Instagram data to track emergent fandom, and explore the rise of new, immersive experiences for fans, featuring 5G stadiums and VR.

So what’s happening in sports fandom around the world?

Sports experience is diversifying globally and fan culture is becoming more complex and inclusive. In the UK we saw a diverse team GB bring home a historic win of golds, silvers and bronzes, providing a balm for a divided nation; while in India eSports has boomed, with fantasy cricket leagues becoming nice little earners for some. Japan’s Naomi Osaka became a style icon on the cover of Vogue after pulling out of the French Open due to mental health concerns. And in rugby: global following of the sport continues to rise, with World Rugby publishing a report stating plans to attract 10% more followers by 2025.

But that’s not to say things can’t get tense out there…

2020-21 saw sport become increasingly embedded within the thorny issues of global politics. Racism and ongoing BLM protests have seen conversation spikes in the US, Europe and around the world. America has been divided by opinions on NFL players taking the knee, as has the UK where racist abuse of black players during the Euros saw widespread condemnation. 

Mental health concerns have been firmly thrust into the foreground in most recent sporting events, with athletes such as Simone Biles speaking out. Indian cricket became highly politicised, getting entwined with farmers’ protests. 

The ethics of sports partnerships have also come under the spotlight, with many calling for a boycott of the T-20 league after what were seen as unethical sponsorships from the Chinese company Vivo. 

What trends are on the rise? 

People want more muscles. While gym culture is a mainstay of IG culture, images of muscular bodies have increased by 45% in the last nine months. Wrestling is up by 70% and Boxing has seen a 55% rise. TikTok has caused dance to quite simply soar. Dancing has risen by a whopping 215% and cheerleading too is up by a similarly impressive 163%. And more young women are skating, the sport’s searches rising by 98%.   

Which brand really pushed the boat out?  

The last year saw the NBA get seriously phygital. They tapped into the emergent interest in NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) with Top Shot, a platform that allows fans to buy special, unique digital souvenirs. But it doesn’t just stay in the ether. The NBA are looking at ways of making this physical as well, bringing the digital collectables into the IRL sport experiences.  

What’s the future of fan experience? 

In short – TechnologyTechnology is set to offer new revenue streams for clubs and preserve the stadium experience for decades to come. 69% of fans report the use of emerging technologies has enhanced their viewing experience both inside and outside the stadium. Sports brands need to act fast on this or risk losing out to the ever-dominant tech industry.

And finally: how have fan values changed? 

Fan communities used to be defined by one thing: their shared support. Now, sports fandom – and fandom in general – is built around cultural values beyond the sport itself. Whether it’s a desire for accountability, transparency, or greater representation, fans are now banding together around shared causes, calling on clubs and athletes to use their power for good.

Thanks to social media, fans can share information and mobilise, take issues into their own hands and vocalise what matters. Sporting institutions need to prioritise the voice of the fans, and make smart appointments – such as heads of diversity or culture – to ensure their businesses are run fairly and in line with their fans’ values.


You can download the full Crowd Tracks: Sports Fandom report here

Culture At Scale is a powerful new addition to how Crowd DNA pinpoints and tracks trends. Supported by the advanced NLP, AI and machine learning capabilities of strat7.ai, we tap into the sheer size and incredible pace of the online conversation, presenting future scenarios and defining credible opportunities.

 

Crowd DNA New York’s Simi Olagundoye explores how reality dating shows misrepresent those of marginalized identities and what they should consider instead…

Dating shows have long been criticized for their lack of representation and regard for contestants from marginalized backgrounds. With race and sexual misrepresentation rife, viewers are ready for a reckoning. But this must be responded to in an educated and intentional manner. Firstly producers need to eliminate racist, homophobic, and sexist tropes from their narratives to positively affect and inform viewers of all backgrounds. They then need to provide ongoing training and therapy for casts and crews to ensure that physical and emotional safety for marginalized identities is achieved.  

Since its start, dating show The Bachelor has been in hot water for racial insensitivity. And recently, conversations reached boiling point. The season involving Matt James, the first Black Bachelor, was revealed to have a history trodden with racism. 

Following an outcry for the franchise to examine its racial insensitivity, longtime host Chris Harrison was removed. Rachel Lindsay, the first Black Bachelorette, denounced the show. This spawned important conversations around how to create a safe environment for people of color (POC) on reality dating shows. 

‘Can a show that’s built on stereotypes handle race well?’ – Rachel Lindsay, Bachelorette 

Many shows employ colorblind casting, insisting that they ‘don’t see race’. POC, especially Black people, are expected to exist in a raceless space. But we cannot pretend that dating shows are devoid of racism or racial stereotypes. And while colorblind casting means representation might increase, race is rarely being discussed. An exception to this is Netflix’s Love Is Blind. Couples engage in discussions around race in a manner that is both impactful and entertaining. 

These conversations about race are key in creating a safe environment for POC. When broadcasters omit them, they revert to aged racist tropes, feeding into biases. These tropes have the power to influence viewers’ perception of the world. They signal to marginalized communities that they don’t belong. To the non-marginalized, these tropes are a dangerous guide to how others should be treated.

‘I get why they are hesitant to do it, but I don’t think it’s working when they chuck in one bisexual person.’ – Megan Barton-Hanson, Love Island

 

Built in a heteronormative vacuum, dating shows often get it wrong when it comes to representing sexualities across the spectrum. Love Island executives have expressed challenges placing queer contestants into heterosexual-aligned spaces. But instead of trying to squeeze queer people into straight spaces, networks should place queer communities at the centre. 

In 2007, A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila challenged existing dating show formats by being the first to feature a bisexual lead. However, the show is infamous for a homophobic plot twist, pitting queer women and straight men against each other. This perpetuates the false stigma that bisexuals have to ‘pick’ a gender. 

Season eight of MTV’s Are You The One? exclusively cast sexually fluid contestants and was highly lauded as groundbreaking reality TV. Unfortunately, fans were disappointed that there wasn’t a reunion episode, unlike every other season, reinforcing feelings of exclusion for the queer community. Give queer-focused shows, and queer cast members, the same exposure that their straight counterparts receive. Viewers are acutely aware of tokenism and want to see real action being taken, so they enjoy their guilty pleasures, guilt free. 

Attitudes to the representation of marginalized identities is changing. Viewers expect openness, diversity and a sense of commitment to progressive programming. First comes the conversations, then decisive action. This action must reconfigure broadcasting around the struggles of previously marginalized voices, while providing real and sustained support for any harm caused.

With subscription online streaming now the norm, audiences are increasingly discerning and selective when it comes to the content they watch. People are less passive. They’re done with the couch potato identity. This means that meaningful engagement with the issue of representation will pay off, for TV and across the board.   

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