Whenever you grew up, there must have been certain things that would have influenced your lifestyle. Some of those influencing factors have been steady for many decades and others (notably music) changes with each passing year, but it is the brand with which young people associate, the one that seem to endure.
How Brands Influence Youth Culture
Much has been made about the influence of brands on youth culture, with associations being both sought and denied by brand owners. Brands such as Wrangler jeans have survived for over a decade as a ‘cool’ brand to own and wear, with Levi jeans offering its 501 model for over 50 years now. It’s clear that some of these brands have had a profound influence in contemporary culture, with movie and music associations pushing further the brands on the buying public.
Recent trends for brands such as Ugg boots have shown that brand and product take-up by younger members of society don’t follow logic. These boots, which were originally designed as indoor wear are now being snapped up by female teenagers as the latest ‘must have’ footwear brand despite their obvious failings as outdoor wear in less than sunny environments. Being made of sheepskin, these boots leak horribly, are designed to be worn without socks (so end up very smelly) and aren’t hard wearing on concrete, yet because of youth trends are massively popular.
Some brand associations are driven directly by the media. You will see a number of ‘rap’ videos featuring the ‘Courvoisier’ brandy label and the Cadillac Escalade – both symbols of ‘bling’ and ‘success’ as far as a certain part of youth culture is concerned, whilst product placement in movies and music videos has really pushed brand awareness into the mass market in an almost subliminal way.
Recently, Harrison Ford wed his bride dressed in a pair of Wrangler jeans, which goes to show how brand owners can benefit from the association with top movie stars (as Levi jeans did with Elvis). Advertisement like this is like gold dust for brand owners for general sales.
Bad Association – Brand Take-up Gone Wrong
Some brand owners have fought tooth and nail to avoid association with certain parts of the media and youth culture – Burberry has fought hard to show that its brand should not be associated with the ‘chav’ image, that section of society which consumes soap opera, eats nothing but chips and drinks cheap lager in the street. Once the likes of Daniella Westbrook appeared dressed head to toe in Burberry check, it was time for Burberry to drastically change its marketing strategy.
Famously, brands have also paid certain celebrities NOT to wear their clothes – this type of paid brand disassociation may seem crazy, but it’s sometimes worth it for the brand as the wrong association can really damage the perception of the brand.
Reality TV shows are perfect breeding grounds for this kind of bad brand association and have led to brand owners seeking withdrawal of their brands from these shows. It seems the old adage that ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ isn’t true after all!
In the end, brand association with youth culture is driven by youth culture itself – if something becomes ‘cool’ to own or wear then it becomes very hard to break the association. Take the association of ‘Dr Martens’ boots with the skinhead music movement in the 1970′s in England – even today skinheads wear ‘Doc Martens’ as they are a badge of honour for the wearer. Even later take-up by different music movements can never break the association.
It’s clear there are many drivers for youth culture, but brands are one of the strongest and long- lasting.