Dragons and Hashtags: A Cultural Phenomenon

MayBlog

When A Game of Thrones—the first book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series—was published in 1996, names like Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, the Red Keep and The Wall were confined to those first 694 pages. More than 20 years later, those stories have erupted beyond any number of pages, through eight seasons of appointment-viewing television into a cultural phenomenon which may not ever be matched.

So, it comes as no surprise that in today’s digital world where conversations are happening online, brands have not been shy about entering into the #GameofThrones conversation during the final six-episode race to the Iron Throne.

Bud Light got the ball rolling with its crossover Super Bowl ad in which Bud Light’s Bud Knight was unhorsed by Game of Thrones’ the Mountain and subsequently killed in an extremely “Game of Thrones” fashion. Shake Shack for the past month has offered special menu items, the Dracarys Burger and Dragonglass Shake, paying homage to #FortheThrone. Johnnie Walker released a special White Walker Scotch. And in the lead up to the premiere, the Minnesota Timberwolves became the Direwolves on social media, creating cross-branding content and merchandise.

But what happens when the cultural phenomenon surrounding a work of art becomes bigger than the art itself? On the same weekend that Avengers: Endgame broke domestic and international box office records, nearly 18 million viewers tuned into the climactic third episode of Thrones’ final season and show-related hashtags trended up and down Twitter and round and round again. When so many brands enter the fold, trying to grab a slice of the pie, is the overall effect diminished? Or does it allow creatives the opportunity to use the cultural event to produce something unique for their brand?

We may never see another television show like Game of Thrones again, but our culture craves transcendent events—an opportunity to be a part of something that extends far beyond our couches, online communities or hashtag. As millions sit down to watch on Sunday night, brands will be looking for a way to say goodbye and take one last bite of pie. They’ll also be looking for the next one—and that’s a good thing. Brands would be wise to let creatives be creative. Game of Thrones has shown us that culture drives the conversation and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a small part of it.

Beyond the Binary: Trending Toward Genderless

A Young Business Girl Uses Megaphone

He/him. She/her. They/them. Singular pronouns. The way we talk about gender is fundamentally changing, with the concept of fluidity and non-binary gender identifiers becoming commonplace. It should come as no surprise that as public conversations surrounding matters affecting the transgender community are growing, so too is the conversation around the idea of a gender spectrum.

It reflects a larger change in how gender is depicted and discussed. A commitment to inclusivity, driven by Millennials and Gen-Z, has deeply impacted the political and cultural landscapes. Activists have helped bring attention to the discrimination they face, as with access to bathrooms that align with their gender. Television programs and films are more frequently including transgender characters, in turn opening up roles for transgender actors.

Similarly, visibility of non-cisgender identities is impacting how brands are communicating with audiences. Last year, Coca-Cola made headlines with its “Wonder of Us” Super Bowl commercial, in which it included the gender-neutral “them” pronoun along with “him” and “her.” It was a small moment, but represents how brands are addressing changing gender norms.

This shift is not exclusively because of changing attitudes toward gender politics, either. According to a recent study, 74 percent of women said they prefer gender-neutral messages, rather than those geared specifically toward women.[1] It’s happening across age groups, too—especially in the toy aisle. Barbie, long known for outdated and unrealistic gender norms, has started showing boys playing with Barbies in its commercials. Stores have heeded the call as well, with Target re-labeling the toy aisle simply “Kids” rather than “Boys” and “Girls.” While toy packaging still seems intended to overtly appeal to one gender over the other through color, it’s a step toward granting children the space to explore what they like, rather than telling them what they should like, based on gender.

Beyond inclusive messaging, product categories that once existed in gender-specific buckets have been embraced by people for whom they were not initially intended, prompting savvy brands to create actively ungendered versions of said products. Consider Fluide, a company that offers “makeup for everyone.” Its social media feeds are filled with people across the gender spectrum wearing bold lipsticks, nail polishes and eye shadows. Similarly, Zara created a clothing line called “Ungendered” with unisex items like jeans, sweatshirts and shorts. While communicating an inclusive image is a start for brands, actively creating gender-neutral products is a snapshot of the potential for a gender-fluid future.

As this cultural shift continues to grow, it’s important to be aware of the sensitive nature of the conversation. People with non-binary gender identities are fighting just to be recognized, so when handled with care, expanding a brand’s conversation to include them can be a way to show support. For brands inclined to address social changes happening in society, respect is always the best path forward.

[1] https://www.odwyerpr.com/story/public/6894/2016-05-12/study-women-prefer-gender-neutral-marketing-messages.html

Silver is the New Blonde

A Young Business Girl Uses Megaphone

For decades, Americans were told to preserve their youth, because to age was to become irrelevant. Once a person grew out of the coveted 18–49 demographic, they were relegated to a space to be considered only when absolutely necessary. In fact, in a 2005 survey, nearly two-thirds of companies indicated that they had no plans to target consumers over the age of 50 in their product development, marketing or advertising.[1] But a lot has changed since then. The entire process of aging is being redefined by healthier lifestyles and longer lifespans. Aging adults are active participants in culture, refusing to sit on the sidelines. More than ever, brands have no choice but to consider mature consumers not just as a niche audience, but as a core part of their strategy.

At its core, the decision to appeal to an older crowd stems from undeniable numbers. The segment is already large—nearly one billion people over the age of 60—and it’s growing. By the middle of the 21st century, this age group will outnumber those under 15.[2] Add the fact that people over 50 currently comprise 35% of the U.S. population but contribute 43% of the national gross domestic product.[3] Is it becoming clear that brands are selling themselves short by not considering this segment?

In 2019, inclusivity is the name of the game, particularly for brands that are focused on appearance, like fashion and beauty, representing a major reversal for industries that previously framed aging as a negative. To that point, more people over 50 have been featured in high-profile advertisements in recent years. Helen Mirren starred in a L’Oreal commercial. Joan Didion fronted a Céline ad campaign. Instagram-influencer/grandma Lyn Slater became the face of clothing brand Mango.

As with all messaging, connecting with the 50-plus crowd requires a carefully considered sincerity and authenticity, showing this segment that brands consider them people and understand their needs. Slater told W Magazine, “I would rather pressure MAC Cosmetics to think of me as a consumer, than help promote a separate over-50 makeup brand.” This cuts to the heart of the silver revolution: shifting away from a mindset where older age groups are excluded, to one where they aren’t just included, but celebrated. Brands would do well to reject ageism—or any other deterrent of inclusivity—and embrace this segment. We could take a cue from L’Oreal, which did it with panache when they deemed “Silver Chic” the hair color of 2019.

[1] https://www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-2014/advertising-to-baby-boomers.html

[2] https://msb.georgetown.edu/newsroom/news/rise-of-silver-economy

[3] https://www.aarp.org/research/topics/economics/info-2015/longevity-economy-economic-growth-new-opportunities.html