We're back with a second offering of ideas from our KIN network of creators and connectors, as we start to formulate creative springboards for life after the lockdown...

With so much of the world still in lockdown, there is a shortage of reliable data out there for longterm strategic decision-making post-pandemic. But you’ve got to start somewhere. For us, that somewhere includes checking in on the perspectives of KIN – Crowd DNA’s proprietary global network of creators and connectors.

KIN provides us, and our clients, with access to people who are at the leading edge of their cultural space, their commercial endeavour or their community. This means we can not only look ahead, but also understand local, on-the-ground change as it happens. 

From families to work to experiences – with so much in flux, it’s a significant time for brands to consider what they should continue with, and what they should change. Here are some provocations from our KIN network to use as points of inspiration in brainstorms, scenario planning sessions, or whenever else you need a quick shot of creativity.

Rebekah Abdeen: creative director, fitness trainer (Zurich)

Rebekah is a sports expert involved in the subcultures that spring up within and alongside the category, such as the fitness/music scene. She’s based in Zürich, where she’s creative director and head trainer at Open Ride, a boutique gym. We caught up with her about self-care and whether virtual workouts will live on post-Covid-19.

Fitness brands need to think beyond the live Covid-19 workout 

“Live streaming of fitness content is a very overloaded space: there’s an abundance of workouts with nothing beyond a trainer in front of a camera, performing another workout to the masses. It’s a short term fix that won’t change how we exercise. Daybreaker is doing well in a virtual world by spreading vibes and good energy, rather than joining the overload of live content. We’ve also avoided it at Open Ride. We’re posting humour, music, insights and promoting our team as humans going through the same struggles.”

Covid-19 has cemented self-care as part of fitness

“There’s now major traffic for our self-care products, such as vegan protein powder. People seem to be digging into more self-care practises and the fitness industry needs to continue driving that energy, but with a focus on quality over quantity – we shouldn’t be encouraging manic consumption. Coming out of the pandemic, campaigns around elevated consciousness will be what’s most needed.”

Music culture remains strong

“When music venues were forced to close, the bookers, producers and studios were the ones to step in. Usually tucked away behind the booth, or locked away in studios, they’re now driving the entire nightlife scene, breaking into a cultural void and supporting the next generation of talent. Ozelot Studios in Zürich set up a community stream within three hours of the closures. They’re injecting new life into a space in danger of falling apart. They also streamed from the Open Ride studio and I was happy to further facilitate the cross-over between fitness and true music culture.”

Julius Kensan: editor in chief of lifestyle and culture magazine, Manual (Jakarta)

As Jakarta has switched from buzzing nightlife and art scene to a slumbering city, the content of Manual has had to change as well. Here Julius reflects on how the crisis is shifting the values of the hospitality businesses, but also how impending economic challenges will impact what we value, buy and wear.

A chance to build deeper relationships  

“With the city in lockdown, bars and restaurants are closed, and some will never return. It will be the businesses that are able to maintain a deep relationship with their customers remotely during the lockdown that are more likely to survive post the pandemic. Most hospitality brands had apps pre-crisis, but now those with a strategy are developing their functionality and building loyalty. The apps will carry on being an essential part of the relationship between brands and customers from now on.”

We’ll care more about fewer material possessions 

The economic downturn means people will be able to buy less, but when they do spend money, they’ll care more about the quality and the unique story of that item – whether it’s fashion, tech or other luxury items. The few material things we’re willing to invest in will need to really prove they’re worthwhile; something their user can feel passionate about and cherish.”

Slow and sustainable fashion 

“The fashion industry, in particular, will see a big change. Fast fashion will disappear and people will want to buy clothes that last. The trend where brands go to remote villages in Indonesia and train the people who live there how to make clothes and bags in a sustainable way will carry on after the crisis. The slow fashion trend fits with a more mindful mindset, with more focus on the relationship between a healthy planet and a healthy body and mind. Fashion will be more expensive, but consumers will buy less – but with more meaning.”

Hector Pitt: videographer, parkour athlete (London)

Hector is a parkour athlete and videographer, with a strong connection to the UK urban music scene. Aside from the inevitable postponement of many shoots, he’s still been able to focus on some areas of production. He told us how Covid-19 is changing the way he works and the knock-on effects seen on social media.

Captive audiences

“I’ve noticed there’s been a lot more music video releases, albums and new content; an increase in volume, basically. Brands are getting really good engagement with their fans as a result of these times.”

Efficiency is important, even when there’s more time

Shooting a video requires contact and can’t be done remotely, but networking, pre-production and post-production are all still possible. Currently, my process involves loads of emails, file transferring, WhatsApp, editing programmes… there’s definitely a gap for a platform that integrates all these existing softwares together. It would speed things up, giving me more time to work on other things.”

An endless stream of… streaming 

“Everyone is at home right now using social media more than ever. As bad as the situation is, there’s never been a better time to run a social campaign or drop a new release – but only if your product is something that can be streamed. People aren’t as able to buy non-essential goods, but there’s no restrictions on streaming.”

JD Shadel: writer, strategist, LGBTQ+ activist (Portland)

A writer, strategist, multimedia journalist and lo-fi producer based in Portland, Oregon, JD Shadel’s work mainly focuses on culture, travel and technology. We spoke about how to go beyond one-way streaming, why mundane games are the best form of lockdown escape and what type of travel will be popular post the quarantine.

Blending video calls and VR 

“Several months into lockdown and the novelty of Zoom happy hours is wearing off. As we settle into the realities of pre-vaccine pandemic life, forward-thinking brands will find ways of innovating beyond the one-way live stream. They’ll move toward more interactive experiences, which incorporate a strong social component – by blending video calls and virtual reality. Online Town is an early example of this move toward more immersive chats.”

Socially enabled games – a happier version of social media  

“We’ve already seen the gaming industry grow in the early phases of the pandemic. Socially enabled games like Animal Crossing, which takes the Sims experience to another level, will do particularly well. These games allow people to curate their own alternative and much happier version of social media.” 

Return of the road trip

“International travel won’t be fun for a long time. Until there’s a widely distributed vaccine, restrictions on travel, mandatory quarantines and intrusive movement-tracking initiatives will likely deter travelers from taking big trips abroad. While young Americans have traveled internationally at unprecedented levels in recent years, 2020s will be all about the road trip. Watch for a surge in the ’50s California aesthetic, roadside attractions and close-to-home getaways.”


From 28 markets and counting – across the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia – we work with our KIN network of leading edge collaborators to help brands stay at the forefront of culture.

Briefs they work on range from trends exploration to brand strategy and product and experience innovation. Since Covid-19, we’ve collaborated with them on identifying cultural signals that will impact on categories, pinpointing innovation opportunities and modifying brand comms to meet with new audience expectations. 

To find out more about how to work with KIN, do get in touch

We don’t have a crystal ball but, working with our KIN network of creators and connectors, we are starting to formulate creative springboards for life after the lockdown...

With so much of the world still in lockdown, there is a shortage of reliable data out there for longterm strategic decision-making post-pandemic. But you’ve got to start somewhere. For us, that somewhere includes checking in on the perspectives of our KIN network – Crowd DNA’s proprietary global network of creators and connectors.

KIN provides us, and our clients, with access to people who are at the leading edge of their cultural space, their commercial endeavour or their community. This means we can not only look ahead, but also understand local, on-the-ground change as it happens. 

From families to work to experiences – with so much in flux, it’s a significant time for brands to consider what they should continue with, and what they should change. Here are some provocations from our KIN network to use as points of inspiration in brainstorms, scenario planning sessions, or whenever else you need a quick shot of creativity.

Piercarlo Panozzo: food entrepreneur, writer (Bologna and Shanghai)

Piercarlo is an Italian and Chinese food and beverage entrepreneur, an academic and writer, currently reaching the end of an MBA program. We spoke to him about his latest research endeavour, a paper exploring the digital transformation in the food and beverage industry pre- and post-Covid-19.

Food innovation previously only seen in science fiction 

“The crisis has already accelerated the digital transformation in the food and beverage industry all over the world. In the future, we’ll see new technologies transforming the eating experience in ways previously only featured in sci-fi movies. Cloud kitchens, real-time traceability of produce, mood food, drone delivery methods, lab grown meat – these are just some of the innovations that can lead to a more affordable and safe restaurant experience.”  

‘Smaller entrepreneurialism’ will lead the way 

The pandemic means digitalization is worthwhile for smaller restaurants and retailers, not just the big chains with IT and research departments. There’s a real democratisation of digital tools going on, which means smaller entrepreneurs are transforming the industry through verticalization of supply chains and educating consumers about ingredients and sustainable eating habits.” 

Fine dining goes back to basics 

“Post the pandemic, the economic downturn means we’re entering into an era of ‘making do’ food consumption. It will be closer to nature, and more resourceful – not only for everyday food, but also for higher-end restaurants. Dishes will have simple ingredients, executed in a down to earth manner. Advanced techniques replaced by ancestral cooking. The quality, provenance and seasonality of ingredients will be the chef’s primary focus.”

Cassie Harner: drag performer, artist, aspiring coder (Cleveland)

We spoke to Cassie about the changing face of the entertainment industry before, during and after Covid-19 – from long distance drag parties and the networking opportunities therein, to what brands like Instagram can learn from webcam modelling sites when this is all over.

Breaking boundaries now includes breaking time zones

Now that distance isn’t an issue, there are artists from around the world all able to perform together online. I did a show in Birmingham, UK – and I love watching all the acts being put on from Cleveland to Berlin, Chicago to LA. My hope is that when we open up again, we’ve made these distant connections permanent and can perform together in new places.”

What big brands can learn from webcam modelling sites

“Brands need to engage differently with people, both now and post-pandemic. Perhaps they can take inspiration from webcam modelling sites, where there’s often a built-in tipping system for performers. Imagine if sites like Instagram had tokens, too. It would be such an easy way to support someone – just a dollar at a time.”

Burlesque dancers and sex workers deserve respect, too

“One problem with my form of performance is that burlesque is considered sexual content, so it’s often disqualified from grants or aid. Legal sex workers, like strippers, are also denied emergency funding. But people are yearning for entertainment – and yes, sexual content, too. If one day the world realizes who we turned to for comfort during lockdown, maybe entertainers of all forms can score a living wage and respect for what we do, free of stigma.”

Kate Nightingale: consumer psychologist, lecturer (London)

Kate is a future of retail consultant, specialising in consumer shifts and brand psychology. She had lots to talk to us about regarding life after the pandemic – including personalisation, online experiences and the appeal of impulsiveness.

Our spending habits will change post-lockdown, but for how long?

“One way people are reacting to existential threat is to indulge and become more impulsive. It is already happening and once restrictions are lifted, we will see even more of it. What we’ll spend on will differ – but for some, it will be about something more mindful. Experiences will end up being even more important than they were already with initial preference for their slightly cleaner versions, with hygiene top of mind; quickly followed by getting dirty and more involved, simply because we can.”

Covid-19 will supercharge consumer expectations  

“Another way people react to existential threat is to become more prosocial – meaning trust and authenticity, but also certainty will be things they look for in brands. Sustainability and wellness will be given new life and meaning. There will also be more micro-behaviours, depending on the type of customer profile and location, so all brands should be more personalised and not just take the general outlook”.

Brands need to up their game in line with new digital retail behaviours

“We haven’t recently had access to the usual level of multisensory stimulation, but our brains are seeking it. Online experiences are currently not designed to deliver this, though science shows us that we can easily create all senses online. Brands which succeed in doing this, utilising more emotive and sensory language, upping their storytelling to get to telepresence, or adding more escapist content, can win with customers long-term. Perhaps, because of the crisis, we can even achieve a new standard of online experience.”

Cath Shanks: skateboarder, youth coach (Manchester)

Cath is a skateboarder from the UK. She’s concerned that many of the skateparks that have closed will struggle to reopen, especially the smaller, charity-funded spots. She spoke to us about Covid-19 vs skating, and what happens when skaters re-imagine their living rooms.

A lesson on re-looking

“People are having virtual games of skate inside their homes: videoing a trick and sending it to someone, who then has to film themselves doing it and vice versa. Carpet skateboarding is now a thing. People are calling each other with new tricks to land on the carpets in their living room skateparks.”

Payback loyalty, without fuss

“I wish big companies would put money into local skateparks to keep them afloat during these uncertain times. It’d be even better if they did so without asking for anything in return, like branding the park. It should just be a token of support for the community. The same community that buys all their products and keeps them alive in the first place.” 


From 28 markets and counting – across the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia – we work with our KIN network of leading edge collaborators to help brands stay at the forefront of culture.

Briefs they work on range from trends exploration to brand strategy and product and experience innovation. Since Covid-19, we’ve collaborated with them on identifying cultural signals that will impact on categories, pinpointing innovation opportunities and modifying brand comms to meet with new audience expectations. 

To find out more about how to work with KIN, do get in touch

Scenario planning Is one of the essential ways we get from culture to commercial advantage at Crowd DNA. Here’s how it works…

Creating culturally charged commercial advantage: it’s a term that everyone who works at Crowd DNA gets to hear pretty incessantly. And communicated very enthusiastically – it’s utterly central to how we go about our work; to how we reach high quality solutions for our clients.

While we bring a wide range of methods, techniques and frameworks into play, few speak to fusing cultural understanding to addressing business needs quite as explicitly as scenario planning. It has been one of our go-to approaches for years but – as per sourdough bread and jigsaw puzzles – Covid-19 has seen it rise to even greater prominence in our world.

With a history heading back to the 1950s and early uses in the military and think tank organisations, scenario planning is a strategic method which allows us to explore credible alternative futures – and then what opportunities and threats these futures might precipitate for our clients. We’ve used it for objectives such as product and experience development, brand positioning, comms activation, new market entries, investments and partnerships strategy.

Importantly, we don’t consider scenario planning as being about hard and fast predictions. More as well evidenced hypotheses that allow businesses to start considering less routine, less linear, multiple futures and to start a process of honing the right strategy, or strategies. Scenario planning also enables our clients to think beyond the ‘official future’ – which, though generally little more than an extrapolation of present day realities, often looms too conspicuously on the roadmap in large and complex organisations.

There is a diversity in how we use scenario planning across projects. Sometimes the field of vision is wide; at other times narrower. We may work with just one set of four scenarios; though other projects require us to develop several sets to work with. While it is always a collaborative process with our clients, the depth and frequency of the collaboration certainly varies.

We pour culture into our scenario planning work and we extract commercial advantage from it

What’s less variable is that, for us, it starts with culture. We pour culture into our scenario planning work and we extract commercial advantage from it. Numerous references to changing needs and emergent tensions – often derived from our Crowd Signs methods (trends analysis, semiotics, culture-at-scale and our KIN network)  – go in. Commercial factors such as spending habits and category developments are considered, too. From there, we edit down – often with a need for considerable ruthlessness – to the ‘critical uncertainties’ we will work with.

This gets us to two axes on which we place the critical uncertainties; generally using a two-by-two matrix as our format (it’s the most commonly used format for good reason, striking a balance between allowing for different futures without overcomplicating the issue and losing the audience).

Example 2x2 scenario matrix for comms development work
Example 2x2 scenario matrix for comms development work

 

Thoughtful and empathetic storytelling is used to make sure our clients can imagine their way through every dimension of a scenario

Creating the narrative that will populate each square is key – thoughtful and empathetic storytelling (strong naming principles advised) to make sure our clients can imagine their way through every dimension of a scenario, and understand the sequence of events that leads to each of them. To bring further credence to each narrative, we also look for the early signs of life. The first traces and initial manifestations of each story. Generally an extension on the work that goes into defining the narratives in the first place, again, we often leverage our Crowd Signs methods for this (engaging with our KIN network invariably reaps great results), alongside qual and quant insight.

Getting to a high level of credibility is a recurring focus point throughout a scenario planning process. It’s a consideration we often meet via socialising the work, creating films, editorial content, frameworking tools and immersive sessions to make each scenario as relatable as possible – and thus making sure that the strategies developed are truly attuned to each story.

And whether we’re working with four stakeholders or 40, face-to-face or remotely, on projects more ‘sprint’ or extended in format, strategy development is always our ultimate aim in this work. What strategy means of course depends on the context – brand or innovation, global or local etc – but it’s the essential outcome; and our clients must be left better armed to survive and thrive in the future than when the process started.

Criticisms of scenario planning? There are a few. One is that it can function as an abdication of leadership, concentrating on multiple options over a confident and unswerving path ahead. But we consider that more of a communications challenge, in how the role of scenario planning, and the scenarios themselves, are messaged to the wider business, and integrated into future objective setting.

Consider scenarios as living, breathing, evolving entities

It is also important that scenarios aren’t used once, then discarded. We encourage our clients to consider them as living, breathing, evolving entities. They need to be revisited; the narratives refreshed; the strategic implications kept sharp and prescient.

There are variations in how we use scenario planning. Sometimes the four scenarios are considered equally; in other projects, one scenario functions as the dominant ‘base case’. And then there are future-looking projects where we choose not to use scenario planning at all. It can, in some instances, be more appropriate to work with stand-alone cultural shifts and to innovate against these discreetly. In other circumstances, it may be more fitting to build our thinking around a singular forecasted future.

But scenario planning remains the framework we come back to most often. It’s balances simplicity with dexterity. Focus with range. It is easily understood, cultivates a shared language, and encourages contribution and action.

So how have we used scenario planning recently? It has helped us plot post-pandemic futures for a major water brand; plan communications, with capitalism’s fast-changing trajectory in mind, for an upmarket media title; innovate around nascent drinking and socialising moments for an alcohol portfolio; forecast our future relationship with money, and the opportunities this presents, for a fintech business.

To learn more about scenario planning at Crowd DNA, and how it gets us to culturally charged commercial advantage, do get in touch

 

 

 

More observations from our Crowd Numbers quant team as - in partnership with Norstat - they investigate some of the mid- and post-pandemic themes that are emerging...

We are now six weeks, or 43 days, into the UK’s coronavirus lockdown. Almost a month and a half of living under imposed conditions, causing us to change many things about the way we live. Some of our habits are no longer possible: socialising at the pub, going to the gym, commuting to work. Some of our habits have been compounded: watching TV, eating snack foods, ordering online. And then some of us will have formed new habits: working at home, video calling friends and relatives, cooking with new ingredients, helping others in our community.

Research suggests that forming new habits can take as little as 18 days, and as many as 254, with the sweet spot landing around 66 days. So, at day 43, we are well on our way to breaking in some of these new habits – meaning that even when things return to normal, we may find ourselves continuing some of our lockdown behaviours.

In our Covid-19 study with Norstat, we have seen a notable uplift in the way the crisis is affecting spending habits. Between early April and mid-April, the number of people claiming that the crisis will have a long term effect on their spending habits jumped from 46% to 57%. Now into early May, this increased figure is holding. The longer the lockdown lasts, the less likely it is that life will return to an old ‘normal’ and the more likely it is that some of the habits we have picked up during corona will simply be the ‘new normal’.

For brands navigating through this crisis, knowing which habits will stick (because, of course, many will) and which will twist, is a difficult call to make. It’s a topic we’ve started exploring for clients across categories such as alcohol, water, media and home; reaching powerful outcomes that are having an immediate impact across comms, brand and innovation. Check in to find out more.

Previous Crowd Numbers/Covid-19 content here

*  Crowd DNA’s Numbers team collaborated with Norstat on this work, surveying an 18+ nat rep UK sample; most recently on May 1.

Crowd DNA New York’s Lizzy Hussey and Eden Lauffer unpack the semiotic codes of control in the newly booming feminine care space...

For decades, the femcare market has remained unchanged. Seen as taboo or ‘dirty’ and laden with stigma, periods have been framed as unpleasant medical inconveniences best kept out of sight. However, a cultural shift instigated by a new wave of feminism – and nourished by startup culture and the Instagram aesthetic – has brought new category disruptors to the fore.

Through a semiotic analysis of 35 sources (primarily US and UK based), we’ve identified the dominant, emergent and future-facing codes that chart femcare’s shifting relationship with control. Crucial to how we understand the category, this lens offers guideposts to navigate femcare evolution.

Dominant code: Control as external expertise

Walking down the ‘feminine hygiene’ aisle of a drug store, blue and purple tones fill the shelves. Take sanitary pad market leader, Always: the indigo and magenta color scheme is reminiscent of hues used by banks, pharmaceutical companies and even royalty, to cue authority, safety and control. This alignment with enforced expertise signals control over periods – they’ve been taken out of our hands.

This message is reinforced by imagery of smiling, carefree young women and girls, suggesting lives free from the ‘mess’ of periods. Rays of sunshine peek into these images, hinting at a protective higher and external power taking control. Language is concise and instructive with taglines like, ‘feel confident and protected for less’ implying a sense of guidance. Clean, standardized, sans serif fonts (synonymous with road signage, prescription labels and instruction manuals) also push this sense of external direction. It’s perhaps, then, no surprise that the emergent code of femcare is all about reclaiming agency and control through self exploration and acceptance.

Clean, concise fonts like that of bank offers (left) align with the sense of control Always' messaging conveys
Clean, concise fonts like that of bank offers (left) align with the sense of control Always' messaging conveys

Emergent code: Control as something to be taken back

Brands like ohne and Yoni feature close up shots of human bodies, cropped to draw attention to their flesh and physicality. Unlike the clothed images used in the dominant code, these intimate visuals signal an exploration, reclamation and acceptance of one’s body. The focus on, and visibility of, the body also indicates that this code is very much rooted in the self.

Liberal use of symbolic representations of vaginas (both visual and verbal) is another way these brands signal body intimacy and ownership. Fruits, often papayas with their suggestive shape and dark seeds, are a popular choice; as are flowers, calling on metaphor from O’Keeffe’s paintings. Yoni’s namesake is one of these stylized representations of female genitalia. Other language choices alternate between the euphemism-free (simply ‘vagina’) and the more stylized curses, like ‘pussies’ and ‘bullshit.’ These images and words communicate that this is a creative, pleasurable subject, not a clinical one, introducing a degree of permissiveness around the category totally unseen in the dominant code.

However, the vernacular of this code remains largely rooted in symbols – partially objectifying the topic to permit its discussion.

The representation of vaginas as papayas in ohne's brand comms is reminiscent of Georgia O'Keefe's flower paintings
The representation of vaginas as papayas in ohne's brand comms is reminiscent of Georgia O'Keefe's flower paintings

Future-facing code: Control as social change

Moving past authority to acceptance, the future-facing emergent code sees control manifesting as social change and purpose, evidenced by socially conscious cues that demand action.

While visuals of the body still abound in this code, the tonality of brands like Thinx has shifted. Several of the images are of embrace, of people holding each other, opening themselves up to contact. This conveys a message of support and community, standing in contrast to the previous code’s more self-focused narratives. Diverse portrayals of body shapes and skin tones, alongside fluid language choices like ‘human’ over ‘woman’ and ‘girl,’ are signals of inclusivity and bolster this sense of solidarity.

Taking this further, brands like Thinx and Freda who tap into this code also use words like ‘smash,’ ’ ‘rise’ and ‘manifesto,’ employing the language of revolution, power and violence to signal confrontation with hegemonic ideals and an overthrow of existing order.

A departure from the flesh-forward imagery employed by Yoni in the emergent code, Thinx paints a picture of embrace and self-love
A departure from the flesh-forward imagery employed by Yoni in the emergent code, Thinx paints a picture of embrace and self-love

Understandably, for established brands, this idea of drastically upending existing conventions is probably a little unnerving. But the reality is that culture has the power to transform, and that categories with major players are often subject to disruption through seismic cultural shifts. Femcare is undergoing one of these moments, and the brands that identify and unpack these cultural shifts will be best placed to weather this disruptive storm.

Reach out if you’re interested in learning more about semiotics at Crowd DNA, and how it can help you identify and unpack cultural shifts.

Crowd Tracks: Beauty

From ‘skintellectuals’ to K-pop collaborations, our new instalment of Crowd Tracks exposes the changing face of beauty over the past four months...

Download the full copy of Crowd Tracks: Beauty here.

We’re back with round two of Crowd Tracks – a social data dispatch highlighting emerging trends using our Culture At Scale method. This time, the spotlight is on beauty, as we look back at the viral stories and online conversations sprucing up the category.

The last few months have been turbulent (to say the least) and we completed most of this edition before the full extent of the Covid-19 crisis became clear. While the observations still have relevance both now and post-pandemic, we’ve also made some adjustments to reflect the new beauty behaviours that we’re starting to see.

The full report features:

– Viral stories from around the world – from female politicians breaking beauty taboos, to the growing appetite for halal and vegan cosmetics in South East Asia

– A brand leaderboard highlighting the companies that are making the biggest waves in beauty through nostalgic throwbacks and K-pop collaborations

– A spotlight on how UZ deployed a cloak-and-dagger campaign at New York Fashion Week to ignite a cult following

– Deep-dives into active beauty, the industry-wide paradigm shift putting power in the hands of consumers and creating a new generation of DIY dermatologists

– Our view on how Covid-19 is set to accelerate the virtual beauty space as people stay home and get creative with AR filters and lenses

Download the full copy of Crowd Tracks: Beauty here.

Exploring the virtual beauty spectrum from 'creative face' to 'perfect face'
Exploring the virtual beauty spectrum from 'creative face' to 'perfect face'

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.

Virtually Together

In a second week of isolation, the Crowd DNA NYC team have been recording their experiences…

As the world is driven further into isolation, and terms like ‘quarantine’ and ‘social distancing’ become commonplace, you’d be forgiven for thinking that our lives just got a whole lot lonelier. At work, we no longer sit directly next to our colleagues. We no longer meet our friends for coffee, go to the movies together, or exercise in a room full of strangers. As for most brands, the in-store experience is indefinitely on hold. Yet despite our new found physical isolation, we’re finding interesting ways to connect.

At Crowd DNA New York, we wanted to explore how we’re now doing that connecting. Whether it’s shifting social gatherings online, virtually supporting local businesses or simply getting nearer to ourselves, we’re finding new ways to boost our sense of closeness in this physically isolated world.

Check out the video below.

How To Care

Crowd DNA New York’s Eden Lauffer and Lizzy Hussey interrogate the semiotic codes that brands are employing amid the Covid-19 crisis, as they reach out to let people know that they are there for them...

If you’re living on planet Earth and have email, chances are you’ve received a few (or tons) of missives informing you how various brands are reacting to Covid-19.

We’ve stretched our semiotic muscles, analyzing email marketing received over the last five days to uncover what these brands have been saying – and more importantly – how.

Readers of our semiotics content hopefully recall that normally we explore a relevant topic through the lens of one brand. But these are not usual times. What’s noteworthy at the moment is that most brands have felt compelled to communicate their response over the same medium. Looking at the different ways they’ve done so lets us unpack how verbal and visual cues affect the ways we culturally understand ‘responsibility’ and ‘care.’

Care as a formal reassurance

As crisis grips, the need for voices of confidence, clarity and unwavering strength become more important than ever.

One company we see leaning into this code is Target. A recent email from their CEO was filled with strong, guiding language like ‘committed,’ ‘determined,’ and ‘purpose.’ Cueing confidence and decisiveness, this language works to ensure Target’s customers feel protected and enables the brand to adopt the position of a responsible and trustworthy leader.

Further underscoring this sense of respect and formality is the email’s left-aligned text, which acts as a visual manifestation of order. And where the brand usually relies on lively, bright red visuals and images of smiling people, this email forewent heavy branding or imagery.

By visually deprioritizing the brand, Target is literally conveying that it takes a backseat to public safety and the national interest. The email closes with the CEO’s signature, a final signal of formality and personal responsibility, and one that indicates how some brands are semiotically behaving more like public institutions than commercial enterprises. This alignment with a national message, as almost a civic call to duty, engages the brand with the people they seek to comfort and bolster.

Brands such as Target address customers using formal, left aligned text; while the likes of Seamless instead convey a message reminiscent of a poem calling for unity
Brands such as Target address customers using formal, left aligned text; while the likes of Seamless instead convey a message reminiscent of a poem calling for unity

Care as community support

As we’ve retreated indoors, concern for small and local businesses has spurred social posts urging us, as neighbors, to get creative in our support. We’ve also seen brands such as Uber Eats adopt this code of community into their outreach.

Speaking with collective nouns like ‘our’ and ‘we,’ and choosing to write from their entire team (vs. an individual CEO) establishes a peer-to-peer tonality that emphasizes community, and positions Uber Eats as part of it.

This is supported by language choices like the header: ‘We’re in this together. Let’s support local restaurants,’ and the deliberately local-first tone, which highlights small business owners and workers, delivery personnel, and first responders in need. The subtle use of green throughout the note bolsters cues for growth and community renewal.

Though this is expressed differently, in aligning themselves with the community, Uber Eats is another example of a brand behaving like an institution rather than a commercial offering.

Care as a brief respite

While the previous two codes of care confront Covid-19 head-on, a few brands have taken a different approach.

Local fast-casual chain, Dig Inn, for instance, does not explicitly refer to Covid-19 once in its communication. Instead, its language – with the opening line ‘A lot of things are changing, but your lunch doesn’t have to be one of them’ – offers both support, but also respite from the constant flow of coverage; it reassures readers that some elements of normalcy and their routine can remain.

While the font is simple and the message concise, even the use of Dig Inn’s typically bold and bright images of their natural and vibrant food permits a sense of respite, cueing the pleasure and sensory stimulation that is lacking in more formal brand comms (eg Target, Uber Eats).

Rather than a letter from the CEO, Uber play to community, signing off from the team as a whole. Dig Inn's bright imagery and messaging evokes normalcy
Rather than a letter from the CEO, Uber play to community, signing off from the team as a whole. Dig Inn's bright imagery and messaging evokes normalcy

How to care

We all care. And demonstrating that care as a value is more important than ever right now. It’s admirable and vital that brands are ready and willing to take up their social roles and help the planet manage and recover from its current plight.

It’s also very important, as a brand, to be able to express a sense of responsibility and offer reassurance in a way that is both culturally relevant and effective. What this post underlines is that there are many ways to express this care, each with differing implications for how it positions you in the cultural landscape.


At Crowd DNA, we’re learning fast about how to work under current conditions. We’re adjusting our methods and already working on Covid-19-related briefs for clients in areas such as alcohol, media, retail, home and luxury. Check in with us if you’d like to find out more.