Just like BRAT: A lesson in branding from Charli XCX

FutureBrand Australia's strategy director, Emma Waterman, takes a look at pop culture sensation Charli XCX's BRAT phenomenon, and what brands can learn from it.

Last month the internet lit up in a shocking shade of acid green. Accompanying it was some low-fi type and high-octane energy. Behind it was the music mastermind Charli XCX.

The velocity at which Charli – and her sixth studio album BRAT – has taken the internet by storm is truly something else. All ears and eyes are turned towards her. If it weren’t the case already, Charli has now well and truly cemented her critical, cultural and commercial cachet.

BRAT is an ecstatic and vulnerable collection of pulsing hyperpop anthems from the 31-year-old East London songwriter. The album rollout has transcended what I’m sure even Charli could have imagined. BRAT is a noun (“that’s so BRAT”) and an adjective (“BRAT summer”), it’s a meme and a movement that has brought people across the world together.

Beyond the music, Charli has given us a masterclass in branding. She’s living proof that a brand is what a brand does. So neatly enmeshed, there’s no sign of where Charli ends and BRAT begins. BRAT is Charli, and Charli is BRAT. It’s her way of life. It’s her brand. It’s her.

So, what can brands learn from the viral sensation that is Charli XCX?

1. This is me

We’re living in the era of the relatable pop star. Charli knows the power that comes from being your true, authentic self: “I went my own way and I made it. I’m your favorite reference, baby”.

In BRAT she perfectly captures the nuances and contradictions of what it means to be human. The album oozes confidence and anxiety, hedonism and envy. She’s nothing but honest when she sings about the dichotomy of being in your early 30s when half your friends are having babies while the other half are entering their club rat era. It’s this radical and raw relatability that makes BRAT so sticky.

You might call her unfiltered, unhinged, unfussy, unashamed and unapologetic. But ironically, for all those ‘uns’, there is one thing that Charli truly is. Herself.

2. Own your niche

Charli’s meteoric rise to fame hasn’t happened overnight. She’s been at it for years now. But what we can see in BRAT is the confidence that comes from growing up and into your own skin.

In acknowledging “I’m not everybody’s cup of tea”, Charli has the freedom to really lean into her niche. And in creating something for someone, not everything for everyone, she’s been able to craft an album that stands out with purity and distinctiveness.

Knowing exactly who she is and who her audience is, means Charli’s been able to go where they are. From a Boiler Room set that made history with 25,000+ RSVPs, to a burner Instagram account where Charli focussed on building connection, loyalty and hype with her (chronically) online superfans.

Charli knows she doesn’t need to fit in. Instead she’s built an all-consuming brand universe for the people who get it.

3. Power to you

Charli’s album rollout has been all sorts of marketing genius, but she’s had some help along the way. Leveraging the energy and enthusiasm of her fans, she’s quite literally put her brand in their hands, giving them the tools to bring BRAT to life.

Her open-source brand toolkit creates a blank canvas for fans to engage and express themselves through her brand. Key to this is an online generator which makes the brand so replicable and usable, allowing people to put their own unique stamp on BRAT-inspired content.

Charli knows the more her brand’s used, the further it travels, and the greater impact it can have. It’s power to the people, at its very best.

Be your own BRAT

Maybe all you’ll take away from BRAT is the music – in all its powerful and passionate glory. But for me, it’s been a welcome reminder that the best brands are built on sincerity.

Charli has captured the hearts of so many with her piercing honesty and beautiful simplicity. She is who she is. No more, no less. She’s all for the ones that love her, and she loves them back just as hard, inviting them in to be part of her story.

And while not all of us can be just like BRAT, we could all do with the confidence – whether in our personal or professional lives – to build ourselves up to shine just as brightly.

Emma Waterman is strategy director at FutureBrand Australia. 


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