Perhaps much to the chagrin of the skinny-jeaned masses that pride themselves on being anti-commercial, over the past year or so we have seen popular culture take a sharp turn towards hipsterdom. Indie rock darlings Arcade Fire and Bon Iver both won Grammys in 2012, appealing to wider audiences and thus shaking off their hipster credentials. Thick-framed glasses, which only a few ago were found hand-in-hand solely with snow caps and flannel shirts, are now spotted on rappers, NBA players, and the ultimate anti-hipster, Tom Brady. Even Instagram, the social media platform that as recently as February was considered the only “cool” social network left, was purchased by now un-cool Facebook, and is garnering 12 million visits each week.
It’s only natural to assume that eventually major brands would follow suit, and they have. Case Study A: Campbell’s. Earlier this week, trying for “youth appeal” the popular soup brand announced the release of new, retro-looking packaging inspired by the art of 1960’s pop-culture luminary Andy Warhol.
Case Study B: American Airlines. On Wednesday, Fast Company published a feature on a proposed re-branding of the airline, and the new theme looks very…old. Replete with wooden panels and low-slung chairs, minimalistic black and white logos, and a vastly simplified online ticketing UI, the new American Airlines looks like it received a complete makeover from Don Draper and the rest of the trendily outdated crew at SCDP. The most commonly used word among those in the comment thread of the article? “Hipster.”
I find this approach interesting for a few reasons. First, why the obsession with the early- to mid-1960’s? Has Mad Men really had such an effect on what is currently considered “cool” that brands are willing to invest significant amounts of their marketing budget to try and emulate that era? Maybe it has. The early sixties are collectively remembered as being that-time-right-before-the-time that everything exploded from a cultural perspective. Maybe brands are trying to tap into a feeling of impending excitement, that something revolutionary is about to happen, thus associating themselves with excitement and allure. Or maybe people just really like skinny ties.
Also, is it a good idea for brands such as Campbell’s and American Airlines to proactively pursue a “cool” image in this fashion? Campbell’s has all but said that they want a younger demographic. Now, I’m no hipster, but I am relatively young. I will buy Campbell’s if the flavor looks good, but I will also always buy Progresso’s chicken noodle, because I like it. And their packaging is about as un-cool as it gets. With American Airlines, shouldn’t airlines try to appeal to the widest array of people possible? Cornering themselves with the Mad Men look might be attractive to a certain group of people, but does its urban, upper middle-class connotation appeal to everyone? I have a feeling it does not.
Every generation has those in charge of pushing culture forward from a “cool” perspective (often times those people take it upon themselves to do so). It appears that some brands have determined that hipsters in the contemporary iteration of this cycle. What do you think? Will this strategy play out in the end for Campbell’s and American Airlines? Or, by trying to be cool, are they not being cool?