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



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