Principles of Hipster Marketing
By Isaac Hellemn
We can all tell who they are: they’re the ones hogging the good chairs in the (free trade) coffee shop, using their MacBooks to update blogs about income inequality. There’s no real definition of a hipster (unless you use dictionary.com’s “a person who is hip”); instead, hipsters are defined more by a constellation of shared qualities. In general, hipsters are young, liberal, and trendy. Their affluence makes them attractive to marketers, but their mistrust of corporations and conventional advertising makes them notoriously difficult for those marketers to reach.
And yet some have pulled it off. Ray-Ban, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Converse were all aging brands in decline before what I’m going to call “hipster marketing” propelled them to new heights of popularity and profitability. And contrary to popular belief, hipster marketing works just fine for major corporations. Ray-Ban is owned by European conglomerate Luxottica Group S.p.A., the largest sunglass maker in the world. Converse is owned by Nike. So how do you make hipster marketing happen?
- Don’t Advertise. There aren’t many demographics that enjoy advertising, but hipsters are one of the few that will actually hold it against you. Pabst spends most of its marketing budget sponsoring hipster enterprises (independent publishers, art shows, music festivals, even bicycle polo tournaments). But they’re careful to keep it small-scale; Kid Rock approached them with an endorsement deal, and they turned him down. The one time they tried a formal campaign (advertising on alternative radio stations) the response was “mixed”.
- Involve the Hipsters (or pretend to). Hipsters love to feel like they’re making a difference. Pabst often holds contests for fans to design its ads (they don’t call it that of course, it’s “consumer-designed art”). Converse opened a recording studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (the hipster capital of the world) for “undiscovered artists” to use. Ray-Ban did things a little differently; they put this video on YouTube. It never actually pitches Ray-Bans, and it looks like a fan-made video (and it also happens to be pretty cool). But it was commissioned by Ray-Ban’s ad agency, and a lot of thought went into it.
- Embrace Social Media. In fact, move in with social media. Get engaged if possible. Converse has three times as many FB likes as its parent company, Nike. One reason: Nike fills its page with pictures of pro athletes while Converse has user-submitted photos, singles from indie music acts, and “101 things to draw on your Converses” (#26 – Mini Animals, #72 – Monsters). Pabst has a full-time social media manager. Ray-Ban used Foursquare and Twitter to hold a national hipster scavenger hunt; fifty locations (clubs, comic stores, vintage music shops, etc.) were given limited edition posters to display. The most active tweeter or Foursquare(er?) at each location won the poster displayed there, and the location with the most active fans won a party paid for by Ray-Ban.
Ambitious brands cannot afford to ignore hipsters (and their cousins, yuppies) as a consumer group. The most effective, and possibly only, way to reach this group is through social-media-driven hipster marketing.
And while you’re digesting all this, here are some more hipster cats: