A Hipster-based theory of marketing

In this guest post, Tom Donald argues why adland needs hipsters.

There are few things more reviled on the blogs and Twitter feeds of Adland than the hipster. This, of course, is ironic as Adland is awash in hipsters. (Curiously, some of Australia’s most vociferous hipster-bashers are at some of the ‘hippest’ agencies I’ve seen anywhere in the world.)

But the hipster haterade needs to stop flowing, and here’s why: Adland needs hipsters.

At its core, marketing is about behaviour change – getting large numbers of people to do something. Buy your product, vote for your party, sign up for your service. That said, very few people in marketing have a model for – or have even thought about – how behaviour change actually happens across mass markets.

So here’s a highly unscientific one: It’s because of hipsters.*

This ‘hipster theory of marketing’ is based on one of the more interesting theories of mass behaviour change in recent years: Derek Sivers’ TED talk “How to start a movement”. He posits that when it comes to affecting behaviour change, leaders are overrated and over-valued. Rather, it is the first follower who transforms the lone nut into a leader (Hitler was a lone nut until someone decided to follow him) and later followers are copying the first follower not the leader.

And this is where the importance of the hipster comes into play – they’re often first followers. Trying to escape the cultural blackhole that is the Australian middle-class, hipsters seek out cool things that immigrants, artists, the true fringe, and the working classes are doing, and copy them. In Sivers-speak: for generations Australian hipsters have been responsible for creating the critical mass that enables population-wide change to occur – they’ve been responsible for affecting mass behaviour change.

Hipsters are why we all drink cappuccino. Initially “coffee for wogs”, hipsters from the 60s and 70s copied immigrant coffee culture in sufficient numbers to tip the broader population by the mid 1980s. Hipsters are why dubstep is the new heavy metal out in the Western suburbs. Hipsters are why suburban dads are riding single-speed fixie-styled bikes. Hipsters are why desert boots are in every store window in the city again.

John Lennon was a hipster – an art school student who copied black music from the US, helping to make it “safe and acceptable” for the mass market. Mick Jagger was a hipster, too – a grammar school boy who went to the London School of Economics, before deciding to copy American rock’n’roll (much like Lennon).

Hipsters like to try new things. Driven by ennui, guilt, innate curiousity, insecurity or whatever, they hunt out the niche and copy it. They’re the first followers. They’re the ones who transform the lone nut – or the lone brand, if you’re with me on this hayride – into the leader. They’re the ones who sometimes drive behaviour change through the mass market, which is what Adland claims to be able to do, too. And this is why you need some hipsters in your agency. They’re trying to ride the ‘wave of the new’, and you and your clients need some of that perspective to ensure your ads are going to be right for where the mass market is going.

So love your hipsters.

Please note: Anything I write on Tumblr, Twitter, Mumbrella or anywhere else is me representing me, not me representing an employer… so direct all your anonymous comments right at me, baby.

*If Kevin Roberts can make up LoveMarks and get away with it, I can make up this malarky, too.

Tom Donald is a planning director at Droga5


  1. Chloe
    31 Aug 12
    10:49 am

  2. I agree with everything in the article except that hipsters are into dubstep. No no no no. If hipsters have made any genre of music big again, it’s the folk scene. Look at the explosion of bands like Mumford and Sons, Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver over the last few years. It’s the DIY, etsy loving, vinyl purchasing hipsters that have spurred that movement on!

  3. George
    31 Aug 12
    10:54 am

  4. Correction: Hitler wasn’t a lone nut until someone started to follow him. There was already a movement called the NSDAP, which he followed.

  5. Shabbadu
    31 Aug 12
    10:55 am

  6. You have a beard, thick framed glasses and you used the words ‘haterade’ and ‘ennui’. You’re one of them aren’t you?
    (Good point well made though)

  7. Daniel-Jacob Santhou
    31 Aug 12
    10:55 am

  8. Tom Donald,

    I like where your train of thought lies within this article. The understanding of the term ‘hipster’ now has taken a new meaning beyond the core understanding of this collective.

    What I’ve noticed is that everyone has their own groups or cliques. Look at bars, nightclubs, events etc… It is all about a sense of belonging (sounds familiar Monsieur Maslow?)

    What really captured me was your usage of Hitler as an example. It’s excellent. You cannot be a leader if no one follows you. Give people something worth following, and if this movement is a reflection of others beliefs, you have yourself an army.

    PS: If K Robs created LoveMarks, perhaps you’re not far away from your own HipMark: A collaboration of hip changes in the world we live in.

  9. Jimmy
    31 Aug 12
    11:03 am

  10. Hey everyone! This guy’s right!

  11. Dean Vowles
    31 Aug 12
    11:12 am

  12. So hipsters create the very culture they inevitably rebel from? That’s, like, totes ironic.

  13. Me
    31 Aug 12
    11:12 am

  14. (….Tumbleweed…)

  15. Great Insight
    31 Aug 12
    11:28 am

  16. Maybe I’ll apply it to this brief i have for nappies. Ow….wait…

  17. CJ
    31 Aug 12
    1:36 pm

  18. I agree that Hipsters are the game changes (& I also saw that excellent TED talk). But I don’t believe ‘our’ hipsters of today are true hipsters. They’re fashion-hipsters. They’re ticking all the boxes of what this subculture represents: beards, a short pant and a fixie. That’s the extent of it. They’re really just Middle Class sheep in Hipster clothing. And they’re certainly not contributing/changing anything else in our society. Your ‘Hitlers’ and your ‘John Lennons’ – yes – they had ideas. Dangerous, damaging or exciting, they had a point to make. Where are our game changing hipsters? Can you name any? I need more than a beard to follow. I agree with your points, I guess I’m just disillusioned by the lack of originality out there.   I think the true game changers are still hard to pinpoint, but try a Hipster in Nerd clothing. They’re the ones to watch.

  19. Winston Churchill
    31 Aug 12
    1:55 pm

  20. Didn’t Hitler have a lone nut?

  21. Gillerpy
    31 Aug 12
    2:02 pm

  22. How I love marketing people talking to marketing people!

  23. Dom
    31 Aug 12
    2:15 pm

  24. Hipsters are try hards brah.

  25. Golum
    31 Aug 12
    2:28 pm

  26. a cool article well-written

  27. Mike Watkins
    31 Aug 12
    2:53 pm

  28. Best article I’ve read in a while.

  29. Meeks
    31 Aug 12
    2:54 pm

  30. What interests me is the creation of the term ‘hipster’ and its negative connotation across all facets of society. Clearly a very intelligent marketing nut coined the derogatory phrase in an attempt to rat this species out, or let the hipster eat itself alive. I imagine that they were fed up with their failed attempts at reaching this anti-advertising and often anti-consumerist taste-making group of people that are, indeed, a crucial part of the marketing food chain. The hipster label is genius as hipsters care much more than the average Joe about how others perceive them. The most defining trait of the hipster is the self-belied that they are ‘ahead’ of the crowd, despite whether or not this is in fact true.

  31. Hugo
    31 Aug 12
    3:03 pm

  32. “There are few things more reviled on the blogs and Twitter feeds of Adland than the hipster”

    Haha, So a subculture exists which thinks most expensive new things are worthless crap isn’t liked by people who try to sell new things. Not really surprising is it?

    On slightly more helpful note – I think you can already see a multiple different ideas of what a hipster is on this very page. From those who are try hard’s buying junk – to the complete opposite of this. So hipster probably isn’t a helpful term for Adland, because – to quote Inigo Montoya – “You keep using that word. I don’t think you know what it means”

    Or rather – too many people who don’t know what it means think they do – and so the meaning becomes meaningless. Inconceivable!

  33. Janine
    31 Aug 12
    6:17 pm

  34. Back in my day we called them “influencers”, and I’m only 41 *winks*

  35. Smoke & Mirrors
    31 Aug 12
    9:22 pm

  36. I’m thinkin bad haiku…

    lone nuts into leaders
    escape cultural blackholes
    because of hipsters

  37. Try harder
    1 Sep 12
    12:14 am

  38. “hipsters” are trying to own a disaffected identity that doesn’t even belong to them. They’re not original, ground breaking or remotely confident, and hide behind shallow fashion and bad instagram profile pics on their fixies to make up for a total lack of any form of self worth.

    And to quote one of the original hipsters, ‘if all the hippies cut off all their hair, I don’t care’ – it’s not about a look or organic coffee beans, it’s an idealism you live toward. Bad beards and square frames does not a revolution make. And please, don’t bring John Lennon into this. He was a revolutionary, not a retweeting dweeb.

  39. Why we don't need hipsters...
    1 Sep 12
    12:21 am

  40. “hipsters seek out cool things that immigrants, artists, the true fringe, and the working classes are doing, and copy them.”

    Isn’t that the problem with advertising today?

    The only reason there are so many hipsters is because general pants have changed their clothing line.

  41. Flared Pants
    1 Sep 12
    5:47 pm

  42. Lennon a hipster? Jagger a hipster? Not the ones I grew up listening to.

    I suggest you clear the rear-view mirror because your vision is pretty darned clouded.

  43. Matthew
    2 Sep 12
    12:27 am

  44. Love the Lovemarks (re)mark made in this article.

  45. Ellery B
    3 Sep 12
    11:25 am

  46. Could the people commenting on this page please try and be a little less pathetic and self revealing?

    People hate ‘hipsters’ because they are jealous (despite the fact that every generation seems to have a different view of what a ‘hipster’ is; the standard definition seems to be ‘someone who is younger and dresses differently than me’).

    ‘Hipsters’ are fashionable young people. Soon they will get older, and no longer be fashionable. So what? How does that harm anyone? “They are so shallow, etc etc”. ALL fashion is shallow, for crying out loud. Mod clothing was shallow. Hippy fashion was shallow. Punk clothing was shallow. And they were all dismissed and mocked by older generations of the time.

    And the comments about John Lennon are incredibly apt; speaking as someone who was there, of course he was a goddamn hipster. (Nah man, he was a real revolutionary, man! etc). But so what? Jagger was the most pathetic, fur wearing fashionista around, doesn’t make the songs any less appealing. Jesus. Try to relax.

  47. Colonel Bogey
    3 Sep 12
    1:40 pm

  48. up vote for winston churchill’s comment. Apparently Himmler has something sim’lar.

  49. zeffd
    3 Sep 12
    3:52 pm

  50. if the core of marketing is “getting large numbers of people to do something” then the chino, boat show and fixie bike shop owners are the true gods. Having a whole subculture based around doing nothing more than slavishly following a trend – ka-ching! For every bearded, no-socked inner city douche there’s someone laughing into a pile of cash. And while they’re busy being ironic and paying for overpriced rims with their dad’s money, there some young guy or girl just making it happen without the need to put on the suit. Hipsters….. give everyone a break.

    And bon iver got famous because he made a great album – to mass appeal. Don’t pat yourself on the back just because you buy up whatever drivel Pitchfork put out.

  51. New for old
    3 Sep 12
    5:22 pm

  52. @ janine

    From memory the old marketing speak term for them was the ‘Innovistics’.

    Anyone got an old Reiss and Trout textbook?

  53. Tom
    4 Sep 12
    4:09 am

  54. Great comments on all fronts. Mucho gusto.

  55. Tom
    4 Sep 12
    8:44 am

  56. [Hit send too soon.]

    Great comments on all fronts. Mucho gusto.

  57. Tom
    4 Sep 12
    8:45 am

  58. Hmmm… buggy comments Mumbrella…

  59. Tom
    4 Sep 12
    9:43 am

  60. Fourth time lucky… here we go:

    Great comments on all fronts. Mucho gusto… That’s hipster for “Thank you”. ;P

    In case it wasn’t blindingly obvious, this bit of writing was intended as a light-hearted, end-of-the-week ramble. Not science.

    More “Please look in the mirror and stop bagging and/or bullshitting yourself” than anything else.

    And for the record, I certainly wasn’t suggesting targeting hipsters. That smells like influencer marketing, which I’m highly dubious of.

    Now I must get to work on designing that Victorian-owl-riding-a-penny farthing-while-drinking-organic-cider-and-smoking-a-pipe tattoo…

  61. David Rowley
    4 Sep 12
    9:53 am

  62. We’re talking “taste-makers”, right? The ones who were growing beards, wearing skinny jeans and losing their socks around 2006/7, the ones who were “trendies” in the late 70s, the ones me and my contemporaries were also calling hipsters in the early 80s and the ones who bought Nirvana’s first album in the early 90s?

    I’d debate that many of the people now being defined as “hipsters” are, in fact, those genuine taste-makers but more the bandwagon jumping second line following the real “hipsters” (see 2006/7). Nicely written and the points are all valid – but am I assuming too much by thinking “isn’t this stating the obvious”? Maybe not….

  63. John Grono
    4 Sep 12
    11:07 am

  64. David I like and agree with your line of thinking.

    But what I find interesting is the word ‘hipster’ itself (and I don’t mean the low-slung pants of the ’60s and ’70s). Today hipster is generally taken to mean someone who is ‘cool’ or a ‘trend-setter’ – that sort of realm.

    Its origins in the ’50s was around a sense of alienation from the establishment and social norms, characterised by isolation and disengagement. In the ’60s with the hippy movement it came to represent very liberal views in both politics and lifestyle (Leary’s “turn on, tune in, drop out”). Today hipster is generally taken to mean someone who is ‘uber-cool’ or a ‘trend-setter’ – that sort of realm, but still rejecting the social norms but consciously trying to set the new norms..

    I’m a hipster, who parties with loads of hipsters and loves it. It’s an educated life choice, not a fad.

  65. Experiencegirl
    4 Sep 12
    12:30 pm

  66. All I can say is “totes” right on article

  67. Librarian
    4 Sep 12
    1:14 pm

  68. Kevin Roberts did what any good marketer/sales person does: get something that works (in this case, the main ingredient being the Q score developed in the 1960s), package it nicely, come up with a good brand for it (the irony of talking about a brand for “lovemarks” is not lost on me) and upsell its benefits.
    Can’t say the same thing about the “hip theory”…

  69. Me
    4 Sep 12
    2:08 pm

  70. Hipsters are so mainstream brah….

  71. LOL
    4 Sep 12
    4:45 pm

  72. Someone must of completely missed the substance of this story… oh well.

  73. Offal Spokesperson
    4 Sep 12
    5:28 pm

  74. Great creatives can make anything fit their opinion

  75. Wondering
    4 Sep 12
    5:31 pm

  76. I’m not sure exactly what it was the writer has come up with.

    Is it that you should have some hipsters in the creative department, because hipsters know about what’s going to be fashionable next because they’re the first followers?

    It might be great for design or fashion, how important is that for coming up with ideas?

    Just asking.

  77. Who are the hipsters?
    4 Sep 12
    5:57 pm

  78. They certainly can’t be the people wandering around with scraggely beards trying to look like they’re part of the Sydney Push.

    As David Rowley mentions above, that look is old news. The current crop who look like that would best be described as early majority.

    I want to know what really is new.

  79. Sangeeta
    5 Sep 12
    1:50 pm

  80. Nice one Tom. Like the idea of the first followers.

  81. Tom
    5 Sep 12
    2:07 pm

  82. I think you may be confusing the term “hipster” with “bohemian,” the latter of which actually made lasting contributions to culture. The hipster assimilates and gives nothing back in return where as the bohemian/hippie (Lennon/Hendrix/Jagger/Simon/Dylan etc. etc.) appropriated and created something new. The hipster is like “taking a chair and putting a clock in it.”

  83. Who are the hipsters?
    5 Sep 12
    3:53 pm

  84. @ Tom

    But aren’t the hipsters trying to look bohemian?

    Of course it’s just vacuous fashion, but it happens that’s the look they’re trying to cultivate.

    As such, having hipsters in your department is no different to having mods there. Both are fashion-based sub cultures, one is just more dated than the other.

    They’ll both become fashionable again too.

  85. MicheBel
    5 Sep 12
    5:14 pm

  86. Love your viewpoint on hipsters. Excellent points.

    “John Lennon was a hipster.” Have to say I never thought of it that way, but it rings true.

    My friend also wrote a great article about hipsters. Hope you enjoy it.


    Thanks, Michelle

  87. lazyphuka
    5 Sep 12
    7:45 pm

  88. aren’t the hipsters/trendsetters/market leaders, what ever you wanna call them, just the people who do or say what they think is relevant NOW? Thus give the mass of parasitic dullards something to latch on to?

    i’m think john coltrane not john lennon btw.

  89. Richard Moss
    6 Sep 12
    11:27 pm

  90. Damn! he’s basically right.

    I hate it when an article proves to be an “Artickle” which creates an itch, which results in me having to pop my lid and look inside, only to reveal the truth staring me in the face.

    The further I go back, the more mirrors I encounter……….I am now convinced that this man is right. ……..Tom…..Donald…..Oh god! my Dad was called Thomas Donald…..
    This is getting like Twilight Zone.

  91. Cam
    8 Sep 12
    8:57 am

  92. You have just described the early adopter theory and replaced the word for hipsters.

  93. Jack Wilde
    11 Sep 12
    9:09 am

  94. Totally down with that. In Fact I am one of the hippest hipsters and are looking to work with adland chk out http://www.nomadnrg.com and http://www.globalrethinkmeia.com both my creative companies are at the cutting edge of Mobile Culture both here and round the Globe.
    From Mobile App and Fan Engagement Systems that make them hum, to Powered Mobile Accessories like Solar Powered Backpacks and battery cases for iPhones and Galaxy’s that can be branded and can quite literally “empower fans” with the most relevant PowerMERCH on the planet.
    If you are looking for the next wave then give me a call and we will make you the coolest agency or adland creative with the most exciting ‘fresh’ new wave branding opportunities available.
    Get this hipster to help you deliver the most engaging solutions for your clients.
    Yours in M-Powerment

  95. Tom
    11 Sep 12
    11:54 am

  96. “You have just described the early adopter theory and replaced the word for hipsters.”

    Shamelessly, too.

    This was never intended as a massively serious bit…

    Though I will be trademarking HipsterMarketing(TM) and claiming it’s a unique, superior and proprietary process unlike anything anywhere else in Adland.

    … and whoever the other “Tom” is in this comments thread, it’s confusing! Get your own name! 😉

  97. RR
    11 Sep 12
    1:48 pm

  98. Early Adopter- someone who is on the wave of a trend before it breaks
    Hipster- someone following the current trend of all that the term encapsulates

  99. Adrian
    13 Sep 12
    3:01 pm

  100. Have to agree with Tom here. They’ve already coined this one and I’m pretty sure it’s early adopters. I thought John Lennon was a mod? or a rocker? either way I think the Beatles are just super.

    You can’t just take a trend or a style and say it applies to everything. In your scenario the 80 year old lothario waiting on the latest release erectile enhancement pill to spice up the funk in his junk is a hipster.

    Although he might break a hip.. ster. Hahaha get it.

    Anyhow, the saggy skin on his once muscular legs doesn’t even fit in skinny jeans anymore.

    But wait.. there’s the cardigan and thick framed glasses…

    Hmmm now I’m more confused than when I see that pretty boy at the coffee house who makes me my soy mocha each morning.

    Arguments aside, great article I enjoyed reading it. Thanks.

  101. Soy mocha latte
    17 Sep 12
    10:08 am

  102. Seems anyone in a social setting can crack a joke about hipsters at the moment and get people to give a laugh of approval. Everyone is calling people hipsters, even the hipsters themselves, and it’s typically with a tone of disapproval. The term is getting a bit tired for mine, and soon I think that anyone who talks about hipsters will be the ones being shunned in the same way that hipsters are reviled at present.

  103. Michelle
    19 Sep 12
    12:10 pm

  104. The problem with getting older is that you start to see the same ideas hashed out as something new. Read Malcolm Gladwells Tipping Point. I’ve no problem with hipsters, early adapters or whatever we’re calling them now though we always need people who see beyond the rest of us

  105. Mark S
    21 Sep 12
    8:42 am

  106. Surely a true hipster would never work in Adland, a true hipster would be earning from the pursuit of creativity for its own sake and for the sake of hip and not to push some unsustainable packaged product.

    (For the sake of hip? Did I say that?)

  107. Ella
    21 Sep 12
    10:54 am

  108. http://www.amazon.com/Six-Degr.....0393041425

    What you’re talking about is network theory I think. Read this book ^^^

  109. Riley
    27 Sep 12
    1:36 pm

  110. so that’s why 9 out 10 youth focused car ads are shot on reservoir st, have a lame indie sound track you paid modular records 100k for and the talent look like hipsters did 12 months ago. Bravo

    Shouldn’t marketers be a step further ahead of the curve instead of trying and failing to copy the cool kids

    Has anyone seen that xxxx beer ad on the roof top in bondi with the guy with the moustache? Who’s apartment was that? Own up to it agency people.

    Please go away hipsters and thosetajo try to copy them