Recently magazines such as TimeOut have announced the death of the hipster. In fact, people have been gleefully announcing his (and it always is a he) death since 2010. Hipsters with their beards skinny jeans have long been the subject of derision. We should be glad to see the back of them. What have they ever done for us?
At first glance, annoyingly, they have given us much to be glad about…
They’ve made coffee much much better
It’s easy to forget just how bad coffee used to be. Just try an 80s-style instant coffee. Revolting. Hipsters have taken the baton from Starbucks and taken coffee to the next level – they’ve made it their mission to create and populate specialist coffee shops, driving up our expectations.
They’ve made beer better
They’ve propelled craft beer into the mainstream so we can all enjoy it. Men with beards start up and staff micro-breweries, work in the stores and drink in the bars. They’re on a mission and we’re all enjoying the benefits. According to the FT, craft beer now accounts for 19% of the US market.
They’ve made food better
Premium but accessible food is booming. Take the burger, which has undergone a renaissance: Byron Burger, Honest Burger, Flip and Dip… the burger scene in London has never been brighter. And in the US hipsters are earnestly serving Bison Burgers. Delicious.
They’ve made nostalgia cool
Nostalgic shows such as Downton Abbey have millions of viewers across the world. Nostalgic pastimes like sewing, baking, pottery and even taxidermy have found enthusiastic (and young) followings. Shooting, once considered stuffy, has become hip. According to the Daily Mail, a British newspaper, it’s grown 30% in popularity in the UK over the past year and is considered “The new golf” – inspired by the old-time glamour of Downton Abbey.
They’ve boosted the fortunes of brands and businesses
The Financial Times talks of a “boom in hipster markets” which has seen double-digit growth plus in sectors such as organic drinks and foods, premium lager and men’s toiletries.
Brands have not been slow to capitalise on the hipster vibe, many finding their roots again. Existing brands such as Bombay Sapphire have tilted their comms towards the past (Victorian heritage) and enjoyed a boost.
Newer brands have emerged trading on hip nostalgia and premium quality cues such as Fentimans and Fever Tree.
So do hipsters deserve knighthoods?
Arise, Lord Hipster of Flatwhite, booster of economies, urban regenerator, saviour of the free world? Not quite.
If we look more closely, a different picture emerges. Let’s look at nostalgia. Hipsters have made nostalgia cool, but they weren’t the cause of it. The deeper causes have to do with all of us, not just with what’s going on in hipster districts like London’s Shoreditch or New York’s Williamsburg. Our foresight model helps us make sense of the underlying causes of trends, linking them to wider social currents and forces.
So what is really behind this market for nostalgia? One of Euromonitor’s 10 macro trends is ‘An Uncertain Future’. Since the global financial meltdown in 2008, we’ve all had a rough ride – double dip recession, recovery, and now geopolitical instability which the BBC’s World Affairs Editor John Simpson has called The New World Disorder. In times of trouble, in an atmosphere of uncertainty, people tend to look to the past for comfort. It is this desire for comfort which has given rise to the market for nostalgia. This is the real driver.
True, there was problem: back in 2008, comfort was not cool. Nostalgia was seen as being strictly for the weak-minded. Hipsters have made it cool rather than shameful to indulge in nostalgia. Their Victorian sense of style, and their beards may seem ridiculous but they have opened up the past for the rest of us.
Hipsters haven’t caused this trend for nostalgia but they have been at the forefront of its, along with other trends such as improving food, beer and coffee. They’ve given each a veneer of cool. We should applaud their enthusiasm, but recognise that as posers they can never be taken seriously.
What does this mean for brands?
Brands should be careful about jumping on the hipster bandwagon. Mainstream brands pretending to be hipster artisan are easily detected, and the public is wary of posers.
While times are uncertain, nostalgia will continue to be a strong emotional draw, something that savvy brands would do well to bear in mind. Rather than try and copy the hipster vibe, brands should dig deep to find their own heritage stories, to connect with the public’s desire for comfort in nostalgia.
Charlie is a strategy director in the London office of FutureBrand. With a background in psychology, he is fascinated by how organisations work and how brands can develop compelling stories to connect with customers and employees. He has worked across a range of clients and sectors, most recently with The English Football League, Microsoft, Merck and Unilever. His work has taken him all over the world- from Japan to Ukraine to Lebanon and back to London.