This year’s London FUTR summit (formerly known as Millennial 20/20) took place in mid-March, sharing the latest innovations and campaigns across marketing, retail, advertising, e-commerce, social media and more.
Rare’s James Hirst and Andrew Piper hosted a marketing and retail innovation panel titled ‘Post Trust - Are we getting what we want from brands?’. Rather than giving a presentation on what Generation Y and Millennials want, they invited rap therapist and Millennial Ric Flow and Generation Y student Leon to sit alongside them to answer various questions. Is there such thing as brand loyalty and trust among the younger demographics? How has this changed over the years and what does it mean for the brands trying to grab consumers’ attentions today? What are the real differences across age demographics and mindsets?
Fresh from the event, we sat down with Andrew, Ric and Leon to find out which brands they think are doing it right (or badly), and their views on branding and changing brand trends.
Rare: Great panel guys, thanks for taking part. On the panel, we covered which brands were doing it well in your eyes. How about the flip side of that, which are the brands that are getting it wrong?
Leon: H&M. That scandal with the monkey t-shirt, that’s not even a mistake to make though, is it? You’ve got people looking at it before they released all the campaigns who thought, ‘Oh, that’s fine.’
The Gucci runway recently, too. They put Sikh turbans on people - you can’t do that with religious objects. People are publicly praising it, I don’t know why. The weird pagoda hats as well - how can you get away with that in this day and age? I get that maybe ten years ago, people weren’t perhaps as politically correct, but, you can’t take a religious object and just do that: you wouldn’t get them using a hijab in that way.
They could have used Asian models for that: Sikh models, there are loads, but they didn’t. They chose to use white models, even drawing on mono-brows.
The Independent newspaper on Facebook too: the memes, the puppies, the irrelevant things. They just post absolute rubbish, and I don’t get any news from them. I’ve unfollowed them and I still get these notifications from people liking a post, and it’s just a video of some cute puppies. Why is a newsp
aper page sharing pictures of puppies?
Rare: There’s a trend isn’t there, because there are a few brands that get a load of exposure for being quite good at social media. Wendy’s got a lot of exposure because they were just being cold, insulting people and owning it. It’s such a fine balance between actually having people that understand social media, and the case of the Independent, which is brands trying way too hard.
Leon: Yes, they’re trying to reach younger audiences: in the last election there were huge numbers of the younger generations who voted, and they’re trying to capitalise on it, but they’re just doing it wrong. Yes, people are interested in memes, but you’re also a newspaper, why are you posting that? I want relevant news coming from you, not just a picture of a dog, a cat or someone falling over every day. I can go on YouTube or follow a meme page for that. The Independent isn’t doing its job.
Andrew Piper: Would you say that makes it less appealing to actually use Facebook?
Leon: Oh, yes, 100%.
Rare: So, it’s not just their feed, it’s the whole experience is spoiled.
Leon: I don’t think Facebook is a very good place anyway, there’s loads of unfiltered garbage on there, you just get so many people posting rubbish.
Rare: Reports now say that Millennials and Generation Y aren’t using Facebook anymore, with older generations taking over the channel. Do you think different audiences are there for different things?
Ric Flow: We grew up with Facebook so it’s like I’m numb to it now, there’s no need to really use it.
Leon: Yes. With the older generation, there’s almost a small sense of novelty: it’s something that has developed in their lifetime rather than being born into it. We’ve grown up with all of this social media and it’s not a big thing for us because it’s always been around, but I can see for my Mum, she can connect to her friends from a really long time ago. That’s a really good thing for her. For me, it’s more, ‘Oh, it’s always been like that, it’s fine.’ She’s caught on late. They also bombard you with adverts, which I hate - it’s annoying.
Rare: Well, it is an advertising platform, isn’t it?
Ric: Yes, Facebook is now. From an independent artist point of view, there has been a lot of emphasis on placing social media ads on Facebook and Instagram because it’s quite effective.
Rare: There’s a business here at FUTR that works out what kind of person you are by looking through your phone’s camera roll, using AI to work out what’s in the picture and then building up a picture of you and what’s going on. So, if you’re moving house there’ll be a lot of pictures of empty rooms, or screengrabs of furniture. It sounds really intrusive.
Ric: Yes, 100%.
Rare: How do you feel about that level of personalisation? I think personalisation makes your life easier to an extent, but how does that sit with you?
Leon: I don’t like the thought of that. I feel like we’re in a day and age where privacy is a hard thing to come by, though. Everyone says, ‘Oh, Google and so on, they all listen to you when you’re talking and display adverts’. I do get scared by that because sometimes someone’s on Facebook on their phone, and we’re talking about cars, or clothes from a specific website. Suddenly, they look at their phone and an advert from that website pops up. They’re listening in to everything - it’s weird, isn’t it?
Ric: I really don’t mind. I need to approve of it, that’s the thing. So, I’m fully aware of how Facebook, YouTube, Instagram work: it’s all good, but I wouldn’t just accept a company just to look through my camera roll. There might be some pictures I don’t want anyone to see, so I have to approve.
Rare: Apparently all the analysis goes on in your phone: no-one’s looking through your photos, it’s all AI, and they’re working out a little bit about you and your background. So, the app, for the individual brand, will generate the right recommendations based on what you’ve been doing. You’re right, though. When you know your data’s being used in a certain way and it’s difficult to avoid, it’s a trade-off between an easier life and, in your case, more exposure I guess, and people just having your information and being able to do what they want with it.
So, we went from talking about brands that are doing it badly onto social media. Are there any brands doing it badly on social media, or any brands that you follow on social media?
Andrew: The corporate Instagram feed is a great place to start, isn’t it? Some of the clients we value have these quite strange channels where they pump out this material which has no value at all. It adds nothing, and one does question what it’s really all about.
Rare: It’s meaningless, isn’t it?
Andrew: I think that’s right, yes, and they have spent huge sums of money to try and create these things sometimes, but you have to wonder if they’re getting the value, given how much annoyance they cause to quite a lot of people. I don’t know how many people really engage with large corporate social media feeds, and do they believe them? We talk about lack of trust. This is the perfect example of where you’re very justified in not trusting a brand that’s posing as something that probably is contrived entirely for that channel without any moment of authenticity.
Rare: The question is, are brands any different to people on there? You’re still curating your feed and you’re putting out stuff.
Andrew: Of course, traditional advertising is no different either. You create an image from scratch and you present that message, traditionally on television. Now it’s in these channels, is it really any different? I suppose the fact that it’s so in our face has made us question it. It’s harder to turn off than it’s ever been.
Ric: Yes, and we’re in the age of personal branding. So, if I think about my Instagram feed, I don’t think I’ve got any big brands unless they’ve done a local collaboration with artists. The last one I was looking at was doing something with Casio and music. They’ve got a lot of artists from London, so I’m following that because I’m thinking, ‘Actually, I like the artist that you’re promoting, and our music’s quite similar. I want that sponsorship.’ Apart from that, I remember following Nike just because I love Nike.
Rare: What are Nike doing so well?
Ric: That London advert.
Leon: Well, the advert.
Rare: Nike always gets put on a pedestal for being a great brand, with great marketing. People seem to love Nike.
Leon: I think Nike are okay, but I think their adverts are really good. They have big up and coming artists.
Ric: Yes, they get big artists, and people who are role models, they basically use people as role models to market them.
Rare: So, brands have their own voice but actually they’re taking the authority from other places. It’s the collaborations and the rivalry: borrowing authority, rather than necessarily holding it. Nike’s well established now isn’t it, so you know that they’re going to have cool sponsorships.
Andrew: That point about the London ad and the wider work they do with artists and sports people: who knows what’s going on in the background, but they are as empowered by the people they engage as those people. It conveys that it’s a real partnership. Those London messages are quite emotionally charged, because they haven’t just done slick: they featured a school boy running down the road trying to get a bus, for example, for a lovely, very, very local feeling.
Rare: A few people have brought up the fact that it’s London again - is it too London-centric?
Andrew: I actually am a London person, so I recognise so much of it as London when I was growing up, so that helps, but it just felt so aspirational and so appealing. I’d be interested to know if somebody from Bristol or Hull would actually feel the same? It takes you on this journey that’s so charged that it somehow makes you feel quite good and I wonder if that’s true regardless of where you’re from.
Leon: I think it is relevant in places but then, before I started uni, before I lived in London, it wouldn’t have had as much of an impact on me because I was from Portsmouth: a tiny little naval town.
Ric: I lived in Bournemouth pretty much all my life. From what I know of Bournemouth, we always used to look up to the city, always used to look up to London as there wasn’t really a scene there. We always used to aspire to do whatever London was doing, pretty much. There’s not really a scene in Bournemouth, like there is in Bristol, let’s say for music.
Rare: When did you first become aware of branding, or realise it’s a thing?
Ric: At uni, doing graphic design, that’s what made me first aware. Getting more into the music industry, and just trying to understand where the money revenue is actually coming from as an independent artist.
Then you start to realise that, ‘Okay, cool, there’s sync bills, there’s brand partnerships.’ You just start to understand how the whole industry works, so I guess that really made me conscious of, ‘Okay, who would I want to actually do a brand partnership with, and do they actually enrich my lifestyle? Do they actually connect, or is this just going to help me as an independent artist?’
Leon:I noticed it when I started GCSEs. We were doing art and we were looking at one artist compared to another artist and why they were famous, and then that’s when I really first noticed what branding was.
Then, at uni, even though I don’t do graphic design, I do visual communication and illustration, the people that I hang around with are all graphic designers. You start noticing more and more about how every bit of a brand and packaging matters and how it’s done to target a certain audience and stuff like that. I think it depends what kind of person you are because, I know people who do subjects like history, and they don’t really pay as much attention. They take it in subconsciously obviously, because that’s what they’re supposed to do, but they don’t realise how it is marketed towards them.
Think about the Kardashians, that’s a whole brand in itself and the target audience is huge, and it hits people that you wouldn’t even expect. I know some guys who are really into it. I’m like, ‘Why are you watching that?’
Andrew: My son talks about that, because we admire Kanye, and he thinks that Kim is a personal project of Kanye and that Kanye is a real artist. This is hypothetical.
Ric: He’s a genius.
Andrew: He’s quite an interesting discussion: she’s like a project, and he’s running this project. It’s quite a fun idea isn’t it? But it speaks volumes to that point about this idea of everything being contrived to the point where a whole globe is being played on this nonsense. Why are they famous? They don’t have an actual reason for being famous, apart from being famous. They’re so cleverly engineered from the ground up.
Rare: It’s unashamed as well, isn’t it? ‘I don’t want to be known as an artist or a creative, I just want to be famous and make as much money as possible.’ There’s no substance under there.
Leon: That comes with being Insta-famous, though, doesn’t it? Instagram famous. I think that perhaps the real quirk of the era is the ‘no-lebrity’ fame thing where people come from nowhere.
Ric: Andy Warhol’s, what is it, fifteen minutes of fame?
Andrew: Well, these people want fifteen years, don’t they? This sense of that being normalised, I think, as somebody who grew up surrounded by independent coffee shops, imagine that. To living through the rise of this high street brand where everything is just an absolute cookie cutter of the one next to it, to seeing it decline.
That’s the thing that I’ve noticed most, I think, in the last five years is this: everything targeting us, everything engineered to the nth degree. There’s more choice as well, that’s the thing now. But we’re on the return now: there are so many smaller brands popping up. That shop around the corner, this sense of independence seems to be aspirational now.
We’re bored of plastic logos and the generic language. I think that was indicated by the boom in independent coffee shops as well, because people like that it feels more personal, like they can be, ‘Oh yes, my local coffee shop.’
Rare: Then it’s moved on deeper than that, it’s all about local produce and local creators.
Andrew: It’ll be interesting to know if that sort of thing is going to ever gain. In theory it can’t be anything more than what it is, otherwise it ceases to be what it is. If you’re an ‘independent local’, if you scale up because you become successful, you’re no longer independent and local. Then you have to have a logo, and then you have to have a website, and a social media feed, and before you know it, you’re posing with your freshly picked carrots.
Or you get bought out by somebody else anyway. And so wealthy tht you go, ‘Oh well, stuff all that.’ Pukka tea has been bought by Unilever, which is quite interesting.
Leon: Yes, the big corporation is now buying anything it can find. People don’t really know that though. Disney bought Marvel, and now they’ve got Fox, so they own everything. Google own everything, they’ve got an umbrella corporation, Alphabet, haven’t they, so they own everything as well. Is everything just going to merge into one?
Andrew: It will then become like the Wall-E film with just one corporation high and low, just one company that owns everything.
Rare: There are a few key pillars that people always cite as brand trends, and what Millennials want, and what these new consumers want, and I wanted to get your opinion on whether they’re important or not. So, sustainability is one. Is sustainability in the supply chain and the product important to you all?
Leon: Yes, I think it is. I think that’s due to education as well, though: we’re getting more educated about our impact on the environment, climate change and what that could mean for the future.
Ric: Yes, same. I think we’re more conscious and mindful of what we’re doing. I guess seeing Leonardo DiCaprio fronting the climate change talks, even TED Talks, we’re just more aware of what’s going on in the world. So, sustainability, yes, it’s a thing.
Andrew: It’s very difficult because if you want your clothes made in England you have to go around the corner to that little shop and buy them at £95 for a t-shirt. This is the tension in the West. Nothing’s cheap, it’s just where the money is assigned. Sustainability is more important than ever, I think. You only have to look around.
I mean, I’m not a coffee cup Nazi, but you only have to look in a bin in this place and think, ‘Where is all that stuff going?’ You only have to look in our bin in the office at the end of the week when we’ve put all our lunch deal plastic trays in the bin and it’s stacked to the brim with plastic trays that three people have used to eat lunch on for three days.
That’s nine lunches, and you can’t get anything else in the bin because there are so many trays, and pots, and bottles, and all of this stuff that goes with it. Where’s all that going to go? Why do we need all that stuff?
Then clothing, of course. I know what happens because I looked it all up, they shred all those clothes that they don’t sell, they go straight back into landfill. So, they go from raw material, to some poor soul in a Chinese factory making it, into a shop, alongside thousands of identical other things, most of which don’t sell, or half of it sells, and then all the rest of it gets shredded and put into landfill.
I find quite troubling when you walk around shops and you see endless new stuff coming in. Who’s buying all this stuff? People don’t think about where everything ends up, that’s the thing I find. That’s why we’ve got five mile stretches of plastic in the Caribbean ocean. You don’t think about where things go after you put them in the bin.
I actually wrote to Pret on this. I was sitting in there and I noticed that they now have a napkin dispenser at the cutlery-come-bin station thing, just like every other coffee shop. Previously, they didn’t. They would give you a couple of napkins in the bag when you bought your lunch, which was sometimes quite annoying because there wouldn’t be quite enough and if it was a bit of a mess, it would be annoying.
I noted that they put them out there for the public to take, so I wrote them an email and said, ‘I’m interested in this, this all looks a bit Starbucks or a bit McDonald’s to me, with handfuls of napkins.’ They wrote back, ‘Well, it improves our sustainability and gives customers what they want.’ I think, ‘They may give customers what they want but I just can’t see how it improves your sustainability.’
At the end of the day, they’re going to be burning through napkins in a way that they never did before, because nobody will take two, you can’t even get just two out of the dispenser. So, even our best friends at Pret (and I think they’re amazing) seem to have caved in on something which seems quite simple and they already had it solved, which is paper waste.
Ric: There is a bright side. I can’t remember which supermarket it is, but they’ve opened up a plastic-free aisle. All the packaging is plastic-free, or biodegradable, or 100% recyclable, it’s really good, I can’t remember which one it was though, it was in the news recently.
And there’s a business I read about recently, talking about how something like 60% of the world’s plastics wash up on the shores of Haiti for some reason. So, this company set up a business in Haiti, employing local people to collect the plastics from the beach, and then recycling that plastic and selling it on to manufacturers and engineers. It’s a sustainable industry, and they’re selling it to global manufacturers now because they’ve got their own environmental targets to hit. If they can say, ‘80% of our plastics come from recycled plastics,’ it’s a self-fulfilling bit of good. That’s really inspiring businesses that aren’t necessarily set up as a social kind of company to focus on CSR.
Andrew: That’s usually the best way around it, if you’ve got a sustainable business model, you can do sustainability.
Rare: Final question: is a brand that has a mission or wider purpose important to you, or do you just want the stuff they sell?
Leon: I would try to choose those brands. If I can afford it I’ll buy Ecover, the sustainable washing up liquid, because it’s not as harmful to the environment. That leads to another problem of pricing because, obviously, most things that are sustainable are more expensive. Actually, a really weird point is, if you look at junk food and how cheap that is compared to vegetables and healthier options, it’s ridiculous. It’s £2 for 12 doughnuts in Asda, but then if I want an avocado it’s £1.
Andrew: It’s a huge discussion, too big really, which is that the poor, or the less affluent, are targeted and are the biggest victims. I remember seeing a programme about a family who ate McDonald’s every night, because it was cheaper than going to the supermarket. Their strategy was, ‘Well, this is really cheap, and the kids love it,’ obviously.
The bit about purpose which I struggle with is all these slightly vague retro-fitted purposes that have come along suddenly. We talk about Innocent a lot, but they they began with some ideas and they thought, ‘Maybe we can do something with this idea.’ It became their product and it became an incredible thing, but it began with the idea. I don’t know that you can overlay the idea twenty years later and suddenly say, ‘We now mean something different.’ What are you going to do in another twenty years, just change it again to suit the national mood? It feels literally skin deep.
Ric: I’d like to think that I like buying something with purpose, but I just can’t think of any right now. I mean, I said Toms the other day, but that’s because I read the book and I was quite inspired by his come up. I apply it to myself for what to do, in the sense of foster kids, because otherwise I just feel like I’m just making music for music’s sake. Which I sort of do with my group, but as a backlash from that I’m just like, ‘You know what, if I’m going to make music, I need to give back to the community that I was a part of.’ Actually, it is a challenge that I’m doing something that’s important for the scene rather than just doing the usual trend or whatever with music.
Rare: Yes, and so a brand that aligns with those values is going to be good for you.
Ric:If I really think about it with other brands, I probably don’t apply it, but for myself, just to know that I’m actually doing something that’s relevant to this lifetime, I have to do it.
Thanks to Andrew, Ric and Leon for taking the time to talk to us.
For more on brands and branding, take a look at our blog.