At SXSW last week, panelists from Snapchat, Giphy and Instagram creator @ka5h debated the topic Wacko World and the Rise of Memelord Brands.
The thing about weirdness, that the panel really wanted to impress on its audience, is that weird and wacky is what is shaping and creating internet culture of today. Snapchat’s puking rainbows and dancing hotdogs were the cultural moments that put AR on the map for many of mainstream America. You can thank weird for that.
Seth Godwin’s book We Are All Weird was what first started this cultural narrative back in 2011. It defined the new era of diversity and how it is impacting marketing. He called for an end to mass marketing once and for all, as mass consumption, mass politics, mass education and mass production was dying. Instead thanks to the internet we have more information, more freedom, more choice, more interaction and most importantly, more permission to follow our passions. In other words, to be our own weird and unique. There is now more power in being you – in being something important to a few like-minded and passionate people who share your interests, hobbies and obsession with pink coloured dogs (or whatever your weird is).
Although subcultures are not new, the new permissibility of weird is giving subcultures of individuals more power. The internet is bringing together small groups of people, breaking certain social taboos and helping us find others with likeminded interests. These subcultures grow into personal one-to-few communities where authentic self-expression is celebrated and people previously isolated are free to be themselves.
What happens next is that these subcultured groups, turbocharged by the digital sharability of their passion, fun and enjoyment of their weird, become, what we at Pulse are calling the ‘Minorstream’. These groups leapfrog into the mass media where something magic happens…they are celebrated, appropriated and somehow normalised. They are in fact no longer weird at all.
So by targeting the few, you now reach the masses. We have proven it. By building creative that appeals to the Minorstream, these outliers, those on the fringe or those underground, we break into groups who are the real trendsetters of today. The ones shaping culture and making it real.
In fact, campaigns built to target these sub-cultured segments can enable you to reach 38% more than those targeting broad audiences and achieve up to 75% higher engagement compared to those with broad distribution strategies.
In a world where influence has been democratised (like the US President competing equally with the kid who squeezes lemon into his eyes), we are seeing a competition for clout which the SxSW panelists describe as ‘a post-taste visual culture’. Where crazy aesthetics and surprising moments compete for the eyeballs, shares and attention of more mainstream audiences.
So, what’s the role for brands in a sub-cultured future of individualism and ordinary?
When powerful attention is being gained by the humble egg, it’s understandable that brands want to get their attention the same way. But, according to the Wacko World commentators, brands are more likely to be seen as cringey hangers on than genuine participants in culture. The most authentic brands are those who act as the patrons and facilitators of creators - sponsoring and providing a platform for them to make and be great at their craft – without there having to be a sales punchline.
Let the weird, small or unique community you have discovered lead the idea, not the brand itself.
One of the more successful but also controversial brand examples of this is Gucci. They recruited 31 meme creators from within the Minorstream - some with barely 20,000 followers at the time – to create memes about the brand’s Le Marché des Merveilles collection of watches using the #TFWGucci hashtag. A riff on the popular “that feeling when” meme construction. While this was celebrated by some – others criticised it for not giving them enough of a leash to really be themselves and deliver their meme punchlines in their own tone of voice.
The more brands can take the risk of giving away traditional ROI to a few, the more authentic, and in fact wide reaching, the results can be.
Instagram creator @ka5h on the SxSW panel very reluctantly agreed that brands can and do have a role in content creation – and that their entry is an important moment in normalising weird culture. This means brands should consider their moment to adopt the weird, the unique, the highly individual as it could pay dividend.
The caution from experts? Choose your moment well. The McDonalds Rick and Morty weird Szechuan Sauce stunt may have failed after ignoring the potential size of that one sub-culture - yet Apple including weird animojis in its new IOS 12 was just the right amount of weird altogether.
Sub-cultured segmentation of the minority groups out there has the power to take you a long way when done right. So embrace the ordinary, the unknown and the weirdly surprisingly, it holds more clout than you think.
Written by Jacqui Abbott - Managing Director, Pulse Communications