Brands, Subcultures & Social Activism

Subcultures are increasingly influencing Brands. Brands are drawing new inspiration from subcultures and learning from them how to start new dialogs about particularly important topics, such as social activism. Why is this change so important and where does it stem from?

  1. The majority of consumers demand brands to be vocal:
    We, as consumers, now expect a fundamental change in how organizations communicate and use their communications platforms, particularly when it comes to inclusivity, hate speech and racism. Neutrality won’t do. Ongoing support, open dialogue, and action are what's expected.
    From the topics of diversity and inclusion within the luxury and beauty sectors, to that of sustainability within the automotive industry, brand reputation is getting directly associated with a new approach to corporate social responsibility. Read here for more.
  2. The younger audience will revolutionize the path to a brands growth:
    The new generations will be the main engine of market growth in the coming years. Gen-Z and Millennials will account for about 55% of the market share in 2025 and are set to contribute with a 130% growth between now and 2025.
  3. By 2025, cultures and subcultures will increasingly influence consumer dynamics:

The continuous evolution of cultures and subcultures is set to increasingly influence brands in the coming years. Cultural and subcultural groups will drive consumer choices more. Brands, especially luxury and lifestyle brands, will have to learn how to recognize and embrace these groups and how to engage with them to stay relevant.

What’s a subculture?

A subculture is “an identifiable subgroup within a society or group of people, especially one characterized by beliefs or interests at variance with those of the larger group.”

Since the beginning, youth subcultures have been in constant conversation with mainstream society, appropriating and remixing its products to their own ends. And though it's common to assign political beliefs to subcultures, however, that’s not always necessary either.

Subcultures can and do exist also without overt political identities. They don't need to stand for or against something. They just need to stand apart, separated from the mainstream. They do that by taking aspects of that culture and subverting them in ways that can create meaningfulness for their members. Read more here:

Some subculture examples can be seen below:






Brands self-disrupt to gain authenticity and legitimacy

To compete and stay relevant among demanding young consumers, traditional brands are disrupting their own identity, offerings and business models, looking at subcultures for inspiration. Fashion brands, and luxury houses in particular, used to be successful because of their heritage: this is no longer enough. An increasing number of heritage brands are turning to streetwear labels to create a cooler image for themselves. This appears quite clear in their talent selection strategies and their new ads, as we will see below, but this trend affects other lifestyle markets, from electronics to automotive.

Source: The State of Fashion 2019, BoF, McKinsey & Company.

A great example of this is a comparison between two Gucci ads, quite self-explanatory.

If “subculture is the new pop culture”, this is apparent in several recent campaigns, where subcultures are dictating new aesthetics & contaminations. Some examples are below:


  • Gucci - #GucciGrip
    Gucci launched a new watch range, #GucciGrip, “inspired by the way trainers stick to the griptape on a skateboard”. Not only skateboarding gets a definitive mainstream validation, but one of the campaign endorsers is trans punk rock professional pro skateboarder Cher Strauberry. Luxury, fashion and beauty establish unseen new standards.
  • Gucci with its #GucciCruise film: independent director Harmony Korine shoots #GucciCruise film, featuring the godfather of punk, Iggy Pop, and avantgarde rappers Tyler, The Creator and Asap Rocky. Underground culture now represents the so-called luxury lifestyle.


  • Jeep - The Middle
    Super Bowl 2021: Jeep aired a campaign with a strong social and ethical message, featuring Bruce Springsteen, celebrating an ode to The ReUnited States of America, right after the demise of President Donald Trump. Here communication conveys positive social values, such as pacification and inclusivity.


  • Puma - #Reform
    Puma introduced #Reform, a container of different initiatives to support different social issues in the US: broken criminal justice system, LGBTQ+ rights, gender equality. The brand collaborated with its athlete Kevin Prince Boateng to produce a special pair of "Black Lives Matter" ULTRA football boots.


  • Google - The Most Searched
    This campaign outlines a number of Black American leaders, icons and athletes that have (among other achievements) topped its searches: the most-searched performance, held by Beyoncé at Coachella 2018, LeBron James for most-searched athlete, MLK’s ‘I Have a Dream’ as most-searched speech and many others. This is probably one of the most capillary and relatable communication campaigns ever, as it’s got something to say to everyone.


So how can we apply all this evidence to our work as advertisers? Here are some tips:

  1. Make acts, not ads - Help your client brands to trigger real change, whether in their company or for their communities, not just to communicate it.
  2. Don’t research advertising when advertising. When you look for inspiration don’t look for it by simply researching other adverts and campaigns. Try to look at what new cultures and subcultures are saying and let those values and messages influence your advertising ideas.
  3. Listen to the kids: they’ll be your next audience. Get closer and listen to younger audiences as they will be the clients of tomorrow. They grow up within the subcultures and influence society more than ever.

Read more

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