From AI chatbots that can simulate meaningful relationships, to algorithms that know our taste better than we do, technology is fast reshaping roles previously reserved for humans.  But not all technology aims to replicate what’s human…  

Instead, emergently in consumer tech there are products that aim to redefine the relationship between human and tech; to assail fears of being replaced through signalling that they can give us more agency to enhance our abilities and experiences. In short? To make tech less out-source, more resource.  

One such brand is Nothing, confidently taking an elusive and non-descript name, cueing a lack of form or emptiness. It requires us (the humans) to give it meaning. Here we look at semiotic queues – how Nothing looks, what it says – to analyse how Nothing takes up a position in this shift to a more collaborative and empathetic relationship between humans and their technology. 

Code 1: Extraordinary Transparency  

Cutting-edge tech is an exciting part of Nothings’ product proposition, but by establishing transparency and humanity in its branding, its users feel familiarity (not fear or intimidation) towards it. 

Nothing uses nature and transparency (matching to visuals in wider culture)

We see images of animals holding up Nothing products, and this suggests worship and positions it as a powerful resource yet still part of nature. On an even friendlier note, technical diagrams – like blueprints or instruction manuals – suggests the brand wants you to develop an in-depth understanding of its products. Meanwhile, revealing people (and animals) beneath translucent packaging symbolises transparency, signalling that consumers’ participation is key to unlocking the power of Nothing’s tech. This provides a sense of reassurance or comfort, coding Nothing again as tech that should be familiar to its user. 

These semiotic cues of power and transparency combine to present Nothing as a powerful tool with beyond-human capabilities. 

Code 2: Curious Discovery 

In redirecting its innovation away from power and dominance, to one of curious discovery, Nothing communicates that its powerful products are built to enhance, rather than replace human experience. 

Nothing signals this by blurring the lines between human and mechanical. We see this in the suggestions of a cyborg-like relationship between the tech and human: a person in white and turquoise dress, calling doctors to mind, while stark white lighting feels sterile and scientific. Phone cameras held over the eye position the device as an extension of the senses – and resembles looking through a magnifying glass, evoking curiosity or discovery.  

Nothing uses discovery (often led by children in wider culture) to remind us that more subtle feelings are valued

Words and images codes this product as fun and intuitive: “play date”; “bringing joy back into the everyday”; and the fish-eye lens and exaggerated expressions adds a self-aware silliness to editorial visuals. Nothing establishes a co-creative bond between living things and its technology by coding its products as tools for curious discovery. 

Code 3: Inclusive Nostalgia 

Tech as superior and exclusive (whether Tesla or the Tech Titans and their rockets) isn’t a good look right now, and Nothing clearly sets itself apart from this by coding its products as familiar, authentic, and inclusive.  

We see saturated, grainy visuals reminiscent of old film photographs and they evoke warm feelings of nostalgia, while thin serif fonts are quiet, unfussy and easy to read. This makes Nothing relatable, inclusive and accessible, especially when the campaigns feature diverse models. The Nothing products are intended for all.  

Nothing uses nostalgia (a popular trend in wider culture right now) to humanise

Meanwhile, there’s another clear line drawn between Nothing and dominant tech brands, who rely on conventionally masculine, dark, and impersonal visuals to create distance and establish power over the viewer. Instead, here are people with their backs turned to the camera or looking away, and with candid and unthreatening expressions. While images of doe-eyed individuals captured from above evoke a sense of innocence. Showing this vulnerability humanises the brand and shifts the power from brand to consumer. 

Conclusion 

All together, these semiotic signals of vulnerability, inclusivity, and authenticity code Nothing’s tech as human-first – and dare we say, even taking us back to a time when we felt optimistic about what tech can do for us (rather than fearful).  

Through visuals and language, Nothing portrays itself as a brand that is here to enhance the human experiences and bring us joy and fulfilment. They encourage us to form a new, human-centred relationship with tech by prioritising our needs for accessibility, collaboration, and curiosity. 

If you’d like to learn more about how we use semiotics to reach real cultural insights, get in touch at: hello@crowdDNA.com 

Club Free Issue One, download it here.

At Crowd, we believe that change presents opportunity.  

Our latest editorial insights series, Club Free, is about groups seeking a new way of thinking about their individual liberty. It’s not freedom that’s unchecked or selfish: we talked to people who are providing each other with the support, empathy and community to exercise their freedom effectively.  

In chapter one: The Poly-Normals, we heard from married couples, young daters, content creators and community spokespeople in the US and UK who by choosing to engage in multiple romantic relationships make room for more creativity, more sharing and more openness. 

Here we dig a little deeper into this relationship energy and identify how fringe movements like polyamory can inspire more emergent strategies for mass audiences. 

The Poly-Normals are a manifestation of deeper cultural shift toward more uninhibited forms of connection. These moments can help us think differently about the way we craft product, position brands and hold a mirror to modern relationships in our communications. 

  1. Purposeful Pleasure.  

At the core of polyamory is a celebration of meaningful release; the idea that ‘letting go’ (of stereotype or expectation) doesn’t need to be a reckless act that compromises our values or the things we hold important.  

How can we create moments or new messages that lean into conscious, deliberate joy without the underbelly of guilt, shame or judgement that often comes hand in hand with prioritising our own enjoyment. 

  1. Breaking the stalemate. 

Increased understanding of intersectionality, greater social recognition of non-binary identities and a growing community of people reimagining sex and relationships. These movements don’t exist in isolation – and all point to a need for less dualistic thinking. Culture is messy, people are messy and adopting a ‘this or that’ view on how people go about life is increasingly inaccurate (and unproductive).  

How can we reframe how we understand our audience, and how we craft our strategies to connect with people in ways that are less monolithic? 

  1. Unzipping our assumptions 

Of course, not all relationships down the track will look like this. But it does suggest that there’s a growing schism between old and new ways of thinking. How can we help to challenge how we think about (and cater to) family and community? 

Learning about The Poly-Normals is part of our commitment to look at (and be inspired by) groups of people who don’t fit neatly into tick-boxes, well trodden segmentations or traditional pathways.     

We hope you find these stories interesting. And please do feel (yes) free to reach out to the Crowd DNA team to explore how this type of thinking could apply to your brand challenges.  

Club Free Issue One, download it here.

What’s all this then? Thanks to new technologies, we may soon be able to unlock the inner workings of our minds, and capitalise on our subconscious. We’re arriving at a new horizon, one that lights up the dimly-lit corners of our brains. And this will mean that cognitive liberty, ie the freedom to control our own thoughts, is set to become one of the most important topics of the next decade.

Sounds dystopian. That’s only because it is. 

Not sure if I like the sound of that. Big Tech doesn’t care. This is the final frontier for brands to stake a claim on. Did you know Apple quietly filed a patent for AirPods that monitor and track biosignals and brain activity last summer and start-up NextSense aims to sell earbuds that can collect heaps of neural data — and uncover the mysteries of grey matter for health benefits. Writing about Apple’s patent, tech expert Gautam Hazari described it as a big step in the so-called ‘Internet of Thoughts’, explaining: “The bio-sensing electrodes as on-ear EEG sensors built into the AirPods fit the generic, multipurpose device, opens the door for the IoTh to become a mainstream reality…”

But does anyone really care outside of Silicon Valley? Funny you should say that. You might have noticed that Ariana Grande’s new album and music video riffs off of the cult movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – a movie about memory-hacking 20 years almost to the day after it first hit cinemas. And while brain-hacking, and memory-altering tech has often been part of our creative inspiration, the key difference now is that this technology may well have caught up with our imaginations.

That’s pretty meta. So I’ll be able to erase memories of my ex? Not exactly. But we could, for example, be able to induce lucid dreams. One product in development is The Halo, an AI headband that will use a combination of ultrasound and machine learning models to allow users to control their own dreams. “Together we will pursue the answers to life’s biggest questions,” it teases. If we can hack our subconscious, we could access a whole new level of human understanding. Already the practice of using lucid dreaming as therapy is becoming more accepted, with more patients open to learning how to disrupt their dreams to process debilitating symptoms.

What’s the down side? Well, this scenario pretty much is an advertiser’s dream (pun intended). Think of all that untapped real estate in your brain. Forget DTC – we’d be going DTS (direct-to-source). In fact, A24’s recent movie Dream Scenario shows us a world where this can happen. And you can imagine how that pans out. Not to mention the implications for productivity – why rest when you can be on 24/7, conscious or not? – and our ability to exercise autonomy over our own thoughts. 

Seems like a dodgy threshold to be crossing. It’s a double-edged sword, a Faustian dilemma of the modern world: would you trade understanding – and access to a higher level of consciousness – for your own cognitive liberty? 

TL;DR: Brands and Big Tech are starting to reckon with the potential of our subconscious and our dreams in a way that might be equal parts enlightening and sinister, and we’re seeing these ideas trickle down into mainstream culture. Sweet dreams™. 

Club Free Launch

Club Free Issue One, download it here.

A bold claim, but we’re going with it. We’re taking Freedom back – celebrating manifestations of it that are about community and shared responsibility rather than purely self-interest.

This editorial insights series will share the many positive and motivating stories emerging from people getting to live their lives just how they want to live them (and therefore more brands needing to move on from squeezing people into old fashioned little boxes).

Chapter One, The Poly-Normals & Chapter Two, The Financial Outsiders

First up in Club Free, issue one, The Poly-Normals and The Financial Outsiders. The former: a set of people changing sexual relationships for the better, for all; the latter: an equally community-minded group living and giving outside of elitist money systems. Brought together: clear signals of just how far and wide our Club Free adventures can take us.

The two chapter report includes: 

_Introduction to the shared culture of this new freedom: embracing community, contribution and shared responsibility

_Spotlight on what brands can learn from this 

_Sharing the stories of people who are getting freedom back on track.

We hope you find these stories interesting and inspiring. And please do feel (yes) free to reach out to the Crowd DNA team to explore how this type of thinking could apply to your brand challenges. 

Club Free Issue One, download it here.

Though this is issue one, we in fact trialled some freedom material in a rather good webinar last summer – you can download our Reframing Ageing APAC and Un-Dependents reports here and here


What’s all this then? We’ve had #GutTok (over 800 million views) and posting a stool sample to a nutrition app for analysis. Now comes the next big branding of bodily functions: the drive to tap menstrual blood as a valuable health resource. 

Has ‘period positivity’ come this far? Yes. Content creator wild.witchy.woman (26.9 followers on TikTok) is among the advocates for actually drinking menses for optimum well-being… Meanwhile, healthcare start-ups are capitalising on this with research into the medical value of menstrual effluence (which contains blood, vaginal secretions, cervical mucus, and endometrial cells), and demonstrating its value to a consumer.

Tell us more… Theblood (www.theblood.io) offer a kit that will give insights into individual menstrual cycles from a sample, and can be studied for conditions such as endometriosis. Founders Isabelle Guenou and Miriam Santer believe: “Menstruation can be the answer to problems and pain”. Meanwhile, Qvin™  has designed the Q-Pad (qvin.com) for the supply of a sample of menstrual blood that can be then tested for critical health information like biomarkers for diabetes. 

So why is this ‘waste’ product being re-valued now? It’s time to take the female body seriously – all of it and especially the bits greeted with disgust. Healthcare services are being called out for failing to do so; from ‘medical gaslighting’ to blaming terminology (eg, ‘geriatric mother’; ‘hostile uterus’) and the so-called Gender Data Gap where treatments efficacy may only have been tested on male bodies. 

It’s a long way from hiding tampons up sleeves… Absolutely. To have the option of giving a blood sample that is not only for research into overlooked health issues, but taken from a bodily process often treated with unease by medical professionals (or much worse) is empowering. As one of the participants in a Qvin™ study to assess if menstrual blood can be used to screen for cervical cancer put it: “For me, it’s just a win overall if this becomes a product because it will reduce my anxiety and will give me more control over what’s going on with the testing.”

And let’s not underestimate how this research is needed: Note, in a recent review of scientific papers, Leah Hazard finds that there are about four hundred studies on menstrual effluent compared with more than fifteen thousand for semen or sperm (Womb, published 2023).

Where else is this health empowerment happening? Plugging the data gap on hormones, individuals track their cycles – to then sync to exercise, diet, skincare, mood or productivity (and yes, bypass a visit to the docs altogether and download one of the many apps to get personalised insights). There’s more and more options like this for people to choose – and therefore control – the process of tracking their health themselves. 

TL;DR: While looking at periods with wonder may have happened because people feel let down by traditional medicine, it has forced new insights, research and empowered attitudes to health. So the opposite of waste – thankfully. 

Semiotics At Crowd: Feeld

We know today’s daters are tired of the ‘self-imposed pressure for conventional labels’ (Tinder, 2023) and many seek the freedom to define their own relationships. They are wanting an invitation to self exploration and freedom to seek out a bit more of what they fancy.

And this more intentional approach to romantic life is reshaping dating culture – and of course, dating apps. It can even be a direct antidote to the downsides of dating app culture (ie the 35 percent who experience unwanted sexual images, or the 80 percent exposed to emotional burnout, Pew 2020; Singles Report 2023). 

While it’s something that Tinder and Hinge have recognised by adding open relationships to profile options, dating app Feeld is leading the way (not least by referring to daters as ‘humans’). Below is our semiotic analysis of the Feeld brand to show what this reshaped dating culture looks and sounds like…

Heightened Intimacy 

Visuals of gentle skin-to-skin embrace suggests touch is used as a means of intimate discovery, and a level of trust and support. Warm colour palettes and references to physical softness (foliage and nature, hazy images) creates an approachable space. Meanwhile, imagery of people smiling and mutually embracing each other evokes a feeling of closeness and deep connection. By coding Feeld as facilitating intimate depth that goes beyond carnal lust, dating culture can explore the possibilities of more meaningful relationships.

Authentic Connections

Introducing a new wave of daters who are ‘experimental’, Feeld signals a dating culture that’s abandoning tradition. While other mainstream apps use the term ‘preferences’, that can often make dating feel like you’re headhunting a mate, Feeld instead uses the term ‘desires’ . This reestablishes the priority of pleasure and joy in dating. We’re also seeing unposed visuals of diverse couples passionately and full heartedly engaging with each other in private spaces, as well as documentation of personal stories, evoking a feeling of trust and honesty not only between connections, but among a like minded community. In all, Feeld is a safe place to explore an inclusive and authentic approach to dating.

Encouraged Exploration

The app positions itself as always in a “dialogue” with its users. It uses open language with a comforting tone of voice when addressing ‘taboo topics’, similar to a teacher-like quality of benevolent guidance, enlightening daters about the spectrum of intimacy. We also see visuals that evoke a feeling of being welcomed –  boards that encourage users to “come on in” resemble signage we’d see outside of spaces of hospitality, ensuring that there’s a place at the table for everyone to explore and to truly “Find Your People”.

Through very careful and thoughtful use of imagery and words, Feeld reveals a whole-hearted commitment to showing how using dating apps can be a safe, inclusive and most importantly, joyful, experience. In this light, it’s doing even more than reshaping dating culture, it’s showing how we can reshape how we connect as humans.

If you’d like to learn more about how we use semiotics to reach real cultural insights, get in touch at: hello@crowdDNA.com

What’s all this then? People, we don’t have to take a clean, pristine and pure approach to life — dirt, grime, mess, and mud are being accepted as a new (likely to be rusty) gold standard.

Phew! No more wipeable sofa cushions! So where are messy aesthetics being celebrated? They’ve moved on from just a social media-fueled shock tactic as people have grown desensitised to yuckiness. Now mess and dirt are making an impact by appearing in everyday, big ticket pleasures. 

Tell me more… There’s a lot of mud being thrown in high fashion — think Elena Velez models and mud wrestles on the runway, or Kylie Jenner’s recent Acne Studios campaign clothed in thousand dollar garments and splatters of mud. We’ve also seen the return of the moto and rain boot, and also niche creations like Crocs’ new Shrek-themed shoes (“get out of my swamp!”-core).

How else is messy realities making an impact? Meanwhile, on social media you’ve probably noticed the dirty/messy trend. Think: glass tubs filled with paint being rolled down stairs for ASMR videos, or wine bottles being thrown into walls. And if you can bear to watch it, there’s the ‘is it cake’ trend’s viral older sister — the zit popping cake and the bloody cake smash trend.

Ok, give me the dirt on dirt – what’s really going on here? It’s way more than just surface level spillage. It’s a manifestation of our collective desire to embrace imperfections and chaos in an overly curated world. It’s how Kylie appears with a dirty double of herself in the Acne Studios advert, signalling that this aesthetic is an acknowledgement that we all – yes, even the supremely manufactured Kardashians – have a good and messy side…

So no more clean fun? The world is literally boiling and the clean movement just didn’t seem to capture the overall dirtiness of how people have been feeling. We’re living with dirty realities all around us, and there’s a collective sigh of relief in being honest about it.

TL;DR: As the earth boils and the ground muddifies, everyone and everything is welcome in this swamp! 

Colour Me

At Crowd, we use semiotics as one of our tools, showing where signs and symbols – like words, visual icons, packaging, or logos – are a shortcut for brands to reveal their message or impact behaviour. 

Colour of course carries plenty of meaning, but that changes (and often very fast) alongside lived experiences. In this new series, we take a look at the semiotics of colour, and where culture is flipping its use on its head. 

First up, what lies beneath the sunny, happy-go-lucky exterior of Gen Z yellow? We use semiotics to chart the evolution of a colour ascribed to Gen Z – a yellow that suits the brash, outspoken kids on the block – and how it mirrors what has mattered to this group during the last five years…

In Gen Z yellow, we explore: 

_How a generation refusing to be ignored and feeling an urgency tinged with optimism (eg climate activism) took ownership of a yellow tone that was just as loud and unmuted as them.

_How this colour mellowed after the pandemic to a gentle, sunny yellow as Gen Z shifted to  groundedness and simplicity?

_ Now a shade of yellow is emerging that reflects how Gen Z are reacting to the so-called global ‘permacrisis’ – one that has tranquil hues to tap into their seeking solace in spirituality and escapism. 

_And finally: we show how to leverage Gen Z yellow to your advantage.

Read the full report here.

Semiotic analysis can help brands understand culture and keep ahead of cultural change, and we hope our Colour Me series will help you in  choosing more impactful colours.

If you’d like to learn more about how we use semiotics to reach real cultural insights, please get in touch: hello@crowdDNA.com