If you possess a rudimentary understanding of trends or believe the majority of Malcolm Gladwell’s infallible truth bombs you’ll know that brands strive to influence the influencers. It’s the kind of top-down ideology that the People’s Republic of The Internet abhors (because we ALL love cute cats equally right?) but until everyone’s Mum has a billion Twitter followers like Shaq it’s optimistic to think the internet democratizes everything.
If you’re still confused let me paraphrase Miranda Priestley, Meryl Streep’s character in the 2006 box office hit The Devil Wears Prada, which, aside from neatly illustrating the hierarchy of influence also contains the most uplifting self-improvement montage since The Mighty Ducks:
Oscar De La Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn’t it, who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of 8 different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic casual corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin.
Thanks Miranda. So all the power is wielded by the magical gatekeepers of influence or as we know they today – Hipsters. You know, the amorphous group of city-dwellers with deep pockets, plaid shirts and Buddy Holly style glasses (we consulted the 2002 edition of Stereotypes Magazine for that last one). That’s how skinny jeans went from a bash-able sartorial offence to the pant du jour for off-duty football players and once-homophobic festival-goers everywhere. That’s why your Mum likes MGMT. And that’s why, as this article published earlier this week in The Age explains, marketers are targeting hipsters with promises of free pizza and lemonade housed in recycled jam jars.
The article (which appeared as part of The Age’s culture blog The Vulture) bemoans a recent Yellow Pages promotion that featured a pop up Fitzroy eatery called Hidden Pizza. In exchange for free pizza and the thrill of finding a secret new haunt, hip young Melburnians were asked to “look it up the way you would any other business”. Unfortunately for Executives at the Yellow Pages, most people (hipster or not) find businesses through Google not a giant yellow tome better suited to smashing windows, pressing leaves or illustrating your inhuman ability to rip things. Once the eatery’s true motives were revealed the writer goes on to suggest that everyone felt cheated and the brand lost a heap of trust. But in a world where most young people are media savvy, hyper-aware of marketing and mindful that nothing comes for free – was this really the case?
Do you trust a brand less because their free pizza was baked with ulterior motives? Well, unless said pizza is a one way ticket to diarrhea town – probably not. So is the marketing at fault? Or, as Anthill brilliantly argues is the antiquated product they’re trying to spruik the problem? We tend to think it’s the latter.
Free pizza or not – the most interesting question to rise (get that shit?) from the Hidden Pizza promotion is this: Does Hipster marketing actually work? Does it engage or alienate? Does it translate to better sales for the brand and who does it target in the first place? Do you target the trendsetters who would rather cut off their own ears than let someone tell them what is and isn’t cool? Or is it the aspirational late majority you’re after? What with the shortened trend cycles and instantaneous spread of information is that even a thing anymore? Like right now someone somewhere is sporting a keffiyeh for the first time and looking to further express their individualism through a product that makes a statement but is also not too crazy. Really? If you look at how brands like Mountain Dew targeted skateboarding and Hip Hop in the 90’s it is entirely possible to repackage youth culture and sell it back to the masses. The main difference this time round though, is that Hipsters are far less definable than the subcultures of yore. They’re also supposedly far more marketing-resistant. So how do you reach them?
I think the answer lies within the brand’s intent. If you try to engage Hipsters by mirroring their culture and imitating their ever-evolving aesthetics you’re bound to fail. There’s nothing more contrived than some middle aged marketers approximation of youth – it can result in some truly cringe-worthy shit. This of course doesn’t stop them from trying and in the interests of transparency I’ll admit that Pedestrian dabbles in it too. In that vein, here are a few Australian television commercials that toy with the hallmarks of hipsterdom, you know, quaint stop-motion, hand drawn titles, tinkering indie soundtracks and hoodies. Lots and lots of hoodies.
Virgin Mobile Australia
Wrigley’s Extra White Gum
Toohey’s Extra Dry
So does this entice or annoy? Does it create awareness within the brand’s target market or does it illicit major eyerolls? Either way, the examples above are pretty innocuous in comparison to their none too subtle American counterparts. The Kin for example, Microsoft’s answer to the iPhone, launched earlier this year with an all-guns-blazing campaign that fiercely targeted hipsters. Aside from video spots that featured Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros, animal costumes and ridiculously deep V necks, Microsoft also launched a video series called “The Journey” whereby a Brooklynite named Rosa traveled across the country to meet people from her social networks in real life. The campaign drew major criticism from Gawker’s tech little bother Gizmodo who assumed that hipsters would “probably scoff at what, to them, will look like an awkward co-opting of obvious urban cliches”.
Then there was last year’s launch of the $399 fixie by Urban Outfitters. A move which spawned such violent opposition, you’d think the frames were composed entirely of infant bones and kitten hides. Around about that same time Miracle Whip released this ridiculous hipster-baiting commercial that promoted Miracle Whip as an individual alternative to mayonnaise. The ridiculousness of the premise was matched only by the ridiculousness of the video. Needless to say it was ridiculed for months.
Then there was this textbook campaign for organic energy drink Guru – a parade of buzzed-out models, hot tub frivolity and sly nip slips that watched like an Am Appy shoot come to life.
As you can see there are a multitude of ad campaigns that target Hipsters. This should come as no surprise because Hipsters by definition are trend obsessed and materialistic (stereotypes again, sorry) but also because everyone is pretty much a hipster these days. Not in the sense that we’re all DJ’s with fluro hair but what was once considered a counter-culture built on individuality is now Planet Earth’s prevailing youth movement. Read any broadsheet critique on the entitled, lazy youth of today and Gen-Y is pretty much interchangeable with Hipster. It can be confusing sometimes.
But if the backlash to hipster posturing teaches us anything it’s this – you won’t woo the kids simply by turning up late to the party. You have to orchestrate the party.Take a leaf out of Apple’s book and create the culture first then let them come to you. Oh yeah, free drinks won’t hurt either.
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