Critic’s Corner / Trends & Fads

03.04.15

OBAMA RAY-BANIZED: THE MAKING OF A MILLENNIAL VIRAL MASTERPIECE

OBAMA RAY-BANIZED: THE MAKING OF A MILLENNIAL VIRAL MASTERPIECE

Recently US President Obama embarked on a marketing effort aimed at encouraging Millennials to sign up for his signature healthcare legislation, the Affordable Care Act. The challenge was to cajole them into signing up for the plan in order to cross-subsidize older folks (which is vital for the long-term success of the program), while at the same time implying via a casual attitude that it was "no big deal" whether they did or not.
The centerpiece of this campaign was a BuzzFeed video called "Things Everybody Does But Doesn't Talk About" in which the President poses in ways that recall the typical social media posturing of Generation Y without appearing to pander to this all-important demographic (being born in 1961, Mr. Obama is barely even into Generation X himself).
Alternating between a tone of self-effacement and self-congratulation both so common to the Selfie generation, Obama and a Gen Y co-star make cheeky expressions, pout, stick out their tongues and practice speaking in front of the mirror, all while facing the petty tribulations and minor irritations of their pampered App-driven world.
Other than the mobile devices themselves, there is only one consumer product featured in the video. A seemingly "random" shot of President Obama trying on a pair of sunglasses, presumably to look cool and apparently pleased with the results. They look familiar at first glance, but the make and model is not immediately apparent to any but the most devoted fans of this particular maker, and, perhaps, fashionistas who are knowledgable about eyewear trends.
Because this just isn't any random pair of sunglasses. First of all, they are Ray-Bans. Ray-Ban is the global leader in premium eyewear market and by far the best-selling eyewear brand in the world, still largely perceived as a quintessentially American mid-priced brand that is both approachable and aspirational and very much preferred by Generation Y. So, for sure, the choice of Ray-Ban was anything but random.
But what about the model? Caravans? Why not the more recognizable Wayfarers or iconic Aviators? or even last season's super hip Signets? Of course, the initial answers are in the descriptors themselves: too recognizable (obvious), too iconic (me too), too hip (gotta go). No, Caravans are the choice that combines the best of the other three: a classic style that embodies much of the Ray-Ban heritage (worn by the King of Retro Cool Jon Hamm in his portrayal of 60s Mad Man Don Draper), traditional style cues such as understated, sturdy metal construction (the "new" favorite of perennial Ray-Ban icon Tom Cruise) and even hipper than the too-light and too-new Signets, Caravans are currently the model of choice for such relevant Gen Y pop culture figures as Taylor Lautner (Twilight films), Jared Leto (2014 academy award-winning actor/lead singer of 30 Seconds to Mars), Pharrell (song of the year 2014 "Happy" known as a fashion icon with his Vivienne Westwood hat) and Andrew Garfield (new young Spiderman).
So what does our President embody and project with Ray-Ban Caravans? As in the best of choices, it depends on the eye of the beholder. For those who claim not to "care about fashion labels" they are just one sturdy, cool, masculine, confident, understated pair of active yet sophisticated frames that are stylish without being too unusual looking. Perfect. For those who do care to some extent, they can probably guess that the brand is Ray-Ban and, since he's the President after all, one can be sure they are a premium model with all the goodies. And for those who do know about Caravans? The biggest win of all. The choice connotes attention to detail, a mastery of style and substance, and the confidence to make the best choice

Author: Tony Blass

Category: Trends & Fads

Tags: Obama, Caravans, Millennials, Viral videos

01.09.14

BREAKING BAD: THE TRAGICOMEDY OF THE AMERICAN DREAM COLLAPSE

BREAKING BAD: THE TRAGICOMEDY OF THE AMERICAN DREAM COLLAPSE

Just one year after Walter White was selected by Time Magazine as the most influential fictional character of 2013, Breaking Bad bested all the other blockbuster series at 2014 Emmy Awards including current favorites Game of Thrones (HBO), House of Cards (Netflix), Mad Men (AMC) and True Detective (HBO).

Both events are telling. Though mobster sagas have a long-standing and successful tradition on TV (Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, Magic City), Breaking Bad is a story apart: it tells how an unpretentious John Doe can become a meth lord under the pressure of everyday stressful circumstances, such as finding the money to pay for serious medical treatment and, ultimately, providing for his family upon his apparently imminent death.

Of course, the paradoxical screenplay, the thrilling plot, the gallows' humor, the bravura performances (especially the stunning Bryan Cranston), and the masterful direction, all contributed to the success of Breaking Bad. But none of the individual achievements comes close to explaining the riotously visceral gestalt of this work and its deep connection with the American psyche.

Perhaps the key factor is the same that enabled Walter White to beat out the dapper Don Draper, the sinister Frank Underwood or the troubled Rust Cohle as "the most influential character of the year": neither the most charismatic, fascinating nor aspirational figure (in fact, too often Mr. White is grotesque, desperate and hopeless). Rather, he arouses empathy through his vulnerability, encapsulates the common needs and fears of his audience, and embodies their lost confidence in the future.

In the age of the Middle Class crunch, Walter White pleads the most traditional values (family, money, welfare), throwing caution to the wind and raising Holy hell (which is, according to series creator Vince Gilligan, the exact meaning of the term "breaking bad") to champion them. No matter how, no matter the price, the end is justified by any means necessary. Walter White claims to be a survivor but, in fact, doesn't survive. He imagines himself the last defender of the collapsing American Dream, but in fact reveals himself as more likely the first hero of the American Nightmare.

Author: Tony Blass and Luca Vercelloni

Category: Trends & Fads

Tags: Emmy Awards, TV series, influential fictional characters

26.08.13

THE MILLENNIALS: THE NEW WORLD IS LIVING NEXT DOOR (AND WE NEVER EVEN NOTICED)

THE MILLENNIALS: THE NEW WORLD IS LIVING NEXT DOOR (AND WE NEVER EVEN NOTICED)

They have been harangued as the Dumbest Generation, the Boomerang Age, iDisordered or even Peter Pan’s emulators. The recent issue of Time Magazine finally did them justice, highlighting an epochal evidence: that despite being so lazy, narcissistic and disconnected from «real» life (indeed, as if any generation could know finally what is real and what is not, especially in the beginning of their lives), Millennials represent with their a 80 million people, «the biggest age group in American history».

Despised, underestimated, misunderstood (both by politicians and marketers), this social group is in the running to become – after baby boomers – the new biggest generation of reference that, like it or not, will mold the future of the world through their dreams, expectations, self-representation and peer relationships. A social group that, beyond the geographical barriers and the discrepancy between the economical context in which they live – thanks to the unstoppable generational grapevine crossing the web – is more similar than any other global group in the world, making them simultaneously disconnected from the previous generations they happen to live with (parents, teachers, colleagues, older brother and sisters).

Let’s watch them, hear them (even better if eavesdropping on web conversations), learn to understand them. Because till now well-meaning adults have interceded to help postpone this group having to come face-to-face with its future. The truth is they have no intention of integrating with our worn-out society. Why should they? They will not accept the leading social and cultural paradigms of the past millennium. New myths, new rites and above all now communication technologies, were their nannies that allowed them to forge a completely new sensibility and mindset.

A new social phenomenon against which traditional marketing looks speechless and goofy. Everybody who is familiar with consumer research knows very well how is difficult interact with, understand and above all to engage the Millennials. As a consumer group, they are shifty and unreliable: disloyal, defensive, introverted, ready to fall in love with the latest fad and the day after to forget it. However, the coolness temperature is controlled by Millennials, since traditional marketing tricks (especially TV commercials) don’t work on them. Far from the herd, but prisoners of their peers, they are completely open to new suggestions, new imageries, new dreams. Clinging to the public stage of the self that social media provides, the mirage of memorable experiences, not important if virtual or real, prevails over Millennials, to relieve their everydayness dullness: «new experiences are more important to them than material goods», as Time Magazine properly argues.

No longer driven by the need for social climbing (the old myth of status symbols), no longer content with a prepackaged lifestyle (the blunt attraction of aspirationality), but instead desiring to live here-and-now, led by the uncontrollable compulsion to discover one's own self in the ephemeral gauge of the present, expanded as absorbing horizon of the desired experience: «Scale back your long hopes to a shorter period. While now, while we speak, time has already fled, as if it envied us!»

Author: Luca Vercelloni

Category: Trends & Fads

Tags: Millennials, Me me me generation, Social Media

17.08.13

WEB INSIGHTS AND DIGITAL WORD OF MOUTH

WEB INSIGHTS AND DIGITAL WORD OF MOUTH

In January 2012 Harry Styles, best known as one fifth of One Direction, the boy band put together from among contestants of the British edition of X Factor, tweeted: «Lost my Ray-Bans … did they fall in the toilet». This post was quoted, commented upon, shared and re-tweeted in every language for many months among hundreds of social network users, who in turn posted messages making Harry’s Wayfarers a trending topic, and for his devoted female fans, the odd misadventure became indisputable evidence of Styles’ coolness and charisma: «He throws away the Ray-Bans in the toilet. And after just 5 days breaks his iPhone 5. He goes to the Nike convention wearing Converse. He arrives in Italy to buy a tuna sandwich from the vending machine just to tweet it. He goes around in 50° temperature with short sleeves. He is the reason I breathe...». It’s difficult give a meaning to this phenomenon, or evaluate its impact on the re-launching of Wayfarer. However, it is impossible to overestimate the symbolic and contagious strength of these verbatims within the community of internet youth, who are often rejecters of classical advertising. The story of Harry’s daily foibles is a meaningful example of digital word of mouth, the viral power of the web that makes the spread of information infinitely quicker and more contagious. As with offline word of mouth, the digital one is endemic, it is a kind of blablabla that takes a life of its own, independent from the origin, the truth, the facts, and acquires relevance within the social group in which it is spread limited only by the strength of its lifespan and the size of its diffusion. However, the similarities end here. The subtlety and nuance that make such exchanges so intriguing in real life, are lost on the web. There people post messages to be read, liked, shared and re-tweeted. To post means to publish (i.e. to make public) a message that, differently from the ephemeral life of the spoken language, leaves a virtually indelible mark. While the traditional word of mouth happens without an intermediary, being accomplished through personal speech, digital word of mouth is a media phenomenon that due to the viral intermediation which transforms, revitalizes and popularizes what might have otherwise been a fleeting comment or idea into something of substance and importance. If the web is the virtual stage where we project our idealized identity, the digital word of mouth is the mirror of our narcissistic desire to achieve consensus and approval. Any conversation on a social network is always intentional, never neutral or disinterested, because it is imbued with the desired self-image. If somebody tweets about a brand or a product is because they are inscribed in the self-projection and as such they reveal meanings and values that these goods hold in the symbolic and social exchange. For this reason the digital buzz is a warehouse of insights, because the conversations are always emotionally charged being always subjected to self-expression desire. The digital buzz begins and spreads widely, spontaneously and contagiously, promoting products and brands through unconventional ways of diffusion. Indeed, sifting the web conversation via social networks, and following their proliferations within the web labyrinth makes it possible to get consumer insights which capture in a live broadcast the relationship the internet generations have with brands, fashion, fads, music, entertainment, lifestyles and emerging subcultures. They are insights that traditional marketing could neither hear, interpret nor even understand.

Author: Luisella Feroldi

Category: Trends & Fads

Tags: web insights, social media, Harry Styles

02.08.13

WHY CAMO IS BOOMING

WHY CAMO IS BOOMING

According to Marta Mull (www.purseblog.com) «for fall 2103 Camouflage is more visible than ever». The camo fever seems to have contaminated the most famous stylists, such as Armani, Prada and Valentino, but it started as a fashion of the street. Without warning Carhartt, a respectable company producing working uniforms for blue collars, manual laborers, game-wardens, woodcutters, became a fad among teenagers.

Basically because of its camouflage pants and shirts. But the brand DNA was meaningful as well: because Carhartt means zero degree of fashion, it is reputed for robust, functional, serious, sturdy, no frills kind of clothing, that the camouflage collection makes even more evident.

So the most intriguing question, from a sociological point of view, is not what why the fashion designers copied the camouflage trend, as the key theme of the season, but why the young people adopted it as a badge.

Indeed it was during the Rambo era that camouflage became popular, but between Rambo- influenced style and the current one, there are striking differences. Rambo style was military, masculine and encapsulated the American pride of winning of the cold war, while the Carhartt camouflage is unisex, lacks military evocation (nobody in the States wants America once again involved in foreign wars) and has a clear generational origin.

Millennials adopted this style exactly because it is the denial of the mainstream idea of fashion: if fashion means show-off, bling-bling, richness, exclusivity, sophistication, in one word everything is interwoven with the aspiring dream machine.

Aspiration has for a long time now been one of the key inspirational strengths of marketing: it conveyed or suggested the idea that by buying that product or that brand you were climbing the social pyramid. This supposed evidence pampered our self-esteem, reinforced our public image and revolved around the confidence in the future.

Unfortunately, aspiration is no longer an exciting concept for Millennials: the myth of increasing expectations is shattered, so the social pyramid is seen as a wall more than a ladder. Basically they don’t want be involved symbolically and psychologically with the stress of the future.

In this sense the camo stands for a rejection: the rejection of the ideals of their parents, lack of opportunities that they gave them, the naive belief that shopping for luxury brands can improve your standing.

Maybe camo has also a further implication: indeed it stands for mimetic, and mimetism is a classical topic of sociology. It means the need to be part of a group, be accepted by peers, hiding or downsizing your own identity. A typical attitude of Millennials.

Author: Tony Blass

Category: Trends & Fads

Tags: camo fever, Millenials, Carhartt

23.05.13

SURPRISING, CONFIDENTIAL AND CAMOUFLAGED: SPEAKEASIES ARE BACK

SURPRISING, CONFIDENTIAL AND CAMOUFLAGED: SPEAKEASIES ARE BACK

Traditionally, speakeasy bars were clandestine boozers during the Prohibition era in 1920s America. Now they are booming in London as the trendiest and coolest spots to drink good cocktails and have fun. Especially in East London, an area patronized by the young generation for innovative, cutting edge nightlife. 

The formula is quite simple: to exploit a camouflaged scenography to delivery memorable experience, conveying the feeling you are far ahead of the curve, far from the madding crowd. They are special venues, for sure, but due to the underground word of mouth and not to the exclusive (read: excluding) high prices (indeed they are more affordable than downtown classic cocktails bars).

From here on the most extravagant solution is the best: for instance, Evans & Peel mimics a detective agency and before the door is released, you must repeat the password “I have an appointment with the detective”. Then you are allowed onto the staircase, where another satirical interrogation takes place. Finally you are allowed into the bar hidden behind the bookcase. Whereas at Major of Scared Cat Town the clandestine entry is the door of a fridge placed in an unpretentious diner. Many others chose simple unmarked doorways: no sign out front, no boards, no door plate. According to the hard-to-find principle: or you know about it or you don’t come in. 

Once inside the inner sanctum, humorous play continues: cocktail menus hidden in books and alcohols served in tea cups or marmalade jars. But beverage quality is generally high and the choices are wide and original. 

Maybe it is just the latest fad, but it reveals a lot of interesting aspects of  consumer experience: in the long tail era, cookie cutters (predictable, mass marketed, stereotyped) are not desirable, even if upscale; the aspirational appeal – especially for the Millennials - is supplanted by the surprising, the unexpected, the unique; finally, more and more the habit makes the friar. 

Author: Luca Vercelloni

Category: Trends & Fads

Tags: night spots, cocktails and alcohols, London, Millennials