Unveiling the Secret Sauce: Building Unbreakable Bonds in the Subculture Era

By Meghan Ann Gruber, Vice President Director, Connections Strategy, Digitas

In the wake of the pandemic, the societal yearning for a sense of community has reached unprecedented heights. The dynamics of cultural influence have undergone a notable shift, with the era of mainstream gradually fading into the background as subcultures rise to prominence. This fragmentation is evident even in one of America’s biggest cultural events: the Super Bowl. Forget your traditional Super Bowl parties, the game is undergoing a massive shift in how people engage with it. This is due to an overall trend of consumers finding short-form video 2.5 times more engaging than long-form, indicating a preference shift. Instead of passively watching the full game, it’s expected that viewers will prefer short clips on TikTok, while others tune in specifically for the halftime show or next-day memes. This fragmented engagement reflects the evolving consumer landscape, characterized by shorter attention spans and a preference for personalized content. The rise of social media and streaming platforms allows viewers to curate their own Super Bowl experience, a stark contrast to the shared, communal experience of the past. These trends highlight how our cultural consumption habits are changing, even for seemingly traditional events like the Super Bowl.

According to Horizon Media, a staggering 91% of individuals aged 18-25 now consider mainstream pop culture a relic of the past. This seismic change in cultural preferences poses a challenge for brands that have traditionally relied on product attributes for differentiation. In this evolving landscape, identity loyalty emerges as a pivotal factor, with consumers increasingly aligning their spending habits with their sense of self.

The contemporary consumer is actively seeking profound connections and shared experiences that allow for the exploration of their multi-dimensional selves. McKinsey’s recent report, “The Changing Consumer Landscape,” underscores this trend, revealing that 60% of Gen Z and Millennials perceive their identity as fluid and evolving. Furthermore, they expect brands to mirror this fluidity in their communications and customer experiences.

For brands seeking not merely survival but thriving prospects in this transformative environment, recognition of the need for deeper connections is paramount. It’s about becoming a champion in the void and standing up for multi-dimensionality. To flourish in the realm of subcultures and among multi-dimensional consumers where identity loyalty is a prerequisite, successful brands must adopt three vital strategies.

Firstly, championing multi-dimensionality involves moving beyond traditional demographics. Glossier, a trailblazer in this regard, actively avoids defining its target audience by age, gender, or income. Instead, the brand focuses on shared values and interests that unite consumers. By embracing a more niche approach, brands may discover that being everything to everyone is not necessary. The key is concentrating on the audience that resonates most or has the highest impact.

Embracing vulnerability and authenticity is crucial. Brands that thrive in this space recognize that they are more than faceless corporations; they are groups of people with shared passions and a genuine desire to connect. A shining example is Ben & Jerry’s, which has effectively communicated support and acceptance in its brand messaging. Similarly, Sephora’s initiative allowing beauty points to be converted into donations for the National Black Justice Coalition demonstrates a commitment to social responsibility. Integrating such values into the brand narrative can create a positive resonance with consumers.

Fostering cross-pollination is essential for brands navigating the subcultures and multi-dimensional landscape. Encouraging interaction and collaboration between different subcultures within the audience can be achieved through joint events, co-branded products, or social media campaigns celebrating diversity and shared values. Ace Hotels stands out as an exemplary model, hosting diverse events that foster unexpected connections and collaborations.

In a world where mainstream influence is waning, brands can not only survive but thrive by authentically connecting with subcultures, understanding the unique desires of their audience, and cultivating relationships that transcend mere transactional exchanges. This era demands a new paradigm of engagement—one where brands become champions of multi-dimensionality, embracing the evolving identities of their consumers with authenticity and purpose.

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