Martin Adams
13-Feb-2017 16:56:21

Brands and Counterculture: How brands react to cultural trends to become more than just a ‘product’


Successful brands stand for something - by commenting on culture, they become more than just their products. When they rebel against the cultural orthodoxy, they inspire loyalty from their audience.

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Dove and Real Beauty

Let’s start with the example of Dove. Dove recognised that many women felt alienated by the traditional messaging in the beauty industry, which had built itself on a very narrow concept of ‘beauty’. Women were encouraged to aspire towards the generic, size-zero models they saw on billboards. This was the cultural orthodoxy around beauty products.

As this ideal was usually unattainable, people began to rebel and the counter-cultural narrative of ‘real women’ emerged. Women wanted to embrace who they were, instead of fruitlessly chasing an illusion of what a woman should be. Dove saw this narrative emerging, changed their message and created ‘Real Beauty’. They disowned the size-zero as a paragon of physical perfecttion, and instead championed real, everyday women, whether they were size 4, 14 or 24. The result is a brand that now resonates with millions of women.

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Jack Daniels and the Spirit of America

Jack Daniel’s also achieved success through embracing counterculture. Whiskey used to be for the sharply-dressed Wall Street guy. He comes home in the evening, his wife stops cleaning the house to bring him his glass of whiskey, which he sips as the loosens his tie at the end of his working day. The message being sent was that whiskey was the drink for businessmen in America.

Then Jack Daniel’s started looking for the counter-cultural narrative, an unorthodox version of the whiskey drinker - a man or an emerging cultural narrative that is not about power but is about something else. They identified another frontier: a bearded lumberjack, the type of male that represented something traditional, something ancient at the Wild West core of the American spirit. It is this image that is now associated with Jack Daniel’s, even as it continues to be drunk by executive types.

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The key for brand growth and sustainability is to correctly identify the most powerful trends in counterculture. By eschewing the mainstream and embracing counterculture on the upswing, brands can resonate with their audiences who see them as change-makers and innovators. 

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