︎ Cultural Impact is Sexy
Written by Giacomo Felace
It’s hard enough to define what’s normal—but what’s so normal that it’s Normcore?
Normcore is a unisex fashion trend characterized by normal-looking clothing that includes jeans, t-shirts, sweats, button-downs, and sneakers. Clothing is considered to be Normcore when it is attractive and comfortable and is viewed as "normal" by the majority of people. Normcore is the blend of the words normal and hardcore. The word first appeared in the webcomic Templar, Arizona before 2009 and was later employed by K-HOLE, a trend forecasting group, in an October 2013 report called "Youth Mode: A Report on Freedom".
As used by K-HOLE, the word Normcore referred to an attitude, not a particular code of dress. It was intended to mean "finding liberation in being nothing special". However, a piece in New York magazine that began popularizing the term in February 2014 conflated it with what K-HOLE referred to as "Acting Basic", a concept which involved dressing neutrally to avoid standing out.
Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg represent the idyllic versions of Normcore.
They who decided that fretting over what to wear was a needless waste of time and energy and thus opted for a consistent looking that required little to no thought, but was almost universally accepted. Cultural credibility, after all, is the secret ingredient that turned Apple and Facebook into icons in the last 15 years. In the process, Apple subverted the definition of “lifestyle” to a point where high prices and fresh design are no longer the sole drivers of desirability. Apple personality is about imagination, liberty regained, passion, dreams and aspirations, power-to-the-people through technology.
Cultural credibility is untouchable. It transcends space and time and isn’t created by one group only. It's ambiguous and imbued with nuance, making it hard to define and put into practice. Brands that try to place themselves as authentic to youth culture [that is about freedom and not age] via strategy alone are basically inauthentic.
So how do brands reach cultural credibility?
Whether you are a marketing agency, a fashion brand or a restaurant, core of your brand is your product. And by product I don't mean what we buy but what we could buy. For consumers, the product is the trophy that both unifies them with fellows and sets their “mode”.
But what’s perceived as coveted today will have changed by tomorrow and for those wanting to keep up with their customers, it's vital to create products responsively. In other words, being real and find your purpose is key.
Speak through, not to your people. Relevant product alone won’t be enough to engage today’s fragmented
social expectations. Today, being culturally relevant means one must know when, where, and how to speak to your audience. For years, traditional messaging has remained the same and, as the use of social media became oversaturated, consumers have become immune to homogenous, disengaging content. Generational linearity is gone; the increasing density of online established and maintained human interconnections formed new socially significant clusters.
What differentiates a brand is its attitude, tone, and activity. Only by having a distinctive voice can a brand generate valuable content that resonates. Companies can’t anymore vomit out content for the sake of it and let engagement metrics overshadow narrative-driven marketing.
Problems occur when brands see their communication channels strictly as additional ways to push out new products. This approach is anachronistic because brands are essentially telling their followers that unless they’re consuming, they can’t fully take part in a party. Instead, brands should see social media as a tool to inspire, to expand their voice with content that digs deeper into the company’s backstory, product, and community, while acting as a square for discussion among people.
Brands should treat their community with honesty and respect as if they were part of the gang, just because they’re actually part of the gang. This is still a difficult thought for many companies, but it's something that gives a brand meaning beyond product alone. Brands only become authentic by supporting culture, not by hijacking it. At the same time, they need to focus on being anything other than a faceless corporation. For sure that's easier said than done.
So how can brands can build, nourish, and then support their community to grow their cultural impact?
First of all, cultural impact is about implanting ideas into your own system
and not in others' heads. And it depends heavily on the creation of pillars and mantras. Organizations with a strong sense of what they are will adapt to change far better than those without. These are brands with the most potential for cultural impact.
Where brands often fall down is when they identify the wrong people to spread the message, often prioritizing popular influencers over those with true influence.
A cultural voice is someone who’s earned their stripes and not just told a story. They’re the ones who have been part of the change and have helped shape the culture. Some of those people don’t even have social feeds, but they’re the ones making stuff happen. If you want to talk to a community of people, you get these cultural voices in to do it. Hopefully, your brand values are the same and you can come up with something that’s important and relevant. Without values, you stand for nothing.
What defines cultural credibility can’t be encapsulated in one formula, but some ingredients are described above. In the end, nobody knows how long it takes to build a cultural impact brand. Some brands happen overnight and some take years but if you start to build a good foundation, which [includes] sustainability, community-building, being direct-to-consumer, knowing what you stand for, and being consistent with it, it’s a sexy start.