IYKYK: Subcultures are Breaking the Marketing Mould

November 9th, 2022 by

Niche interests, cultures, and communities have always been enticing vessels for brands to influence audiences, but they’ve never been more important than now. Gen Z is a fluid generation, with interests and values evolving regularly. For Gen Z, popular culture is obsolete and has been replaced with subcultures and niche communities—91% of those aged between 18 and 25 believe there is no such thing as mainstream pop culture anymore. 

Subcultures have become the new demographics. Gen Z connects and identifies with what they are most passionate about. On social media, they are more likely to remember content created, rather than the influencer creating the content. Because of this, subcultures have provided a place online where Gen Z can connect with like-minded users in a more intimate way and on a personal level. These subcultures often share the same core values, language, and lifestyle. 

The isolation experienced during the pandemic thrust Gen Z deeper into their online communities. The development of social media algorithms has left a desire and need for personal experiences online, not just in terms of interactions, but content presented to them. To ensure they receive the online experience they desire, Gen Z have their fingers in multiple social pies, and use smaller apps that serve particular functions. In order to succeed in their marketing efforts, brands need to understand the purpose of each platform. 

A report by Horizon Media has identified five categories—and 12 accompanying subcultures—that have become crucial in understanding the next generation of consumers. 

The subcultures shaping culture

The five major categories for leading the subculture wave are: gaming, entertainment, education, fashion, and beauty. Within these categories, some key named subcultures are Gamer Girls (gaming), Poetic Connectors (entertainment), Adulting Hackers (education), Maximalists (fashion), and Beauty ASMR-tists (beauty). 

Each of these subcultures have their own passion points, engagement tolerance, and communication methods that brands need to be hyper-aware of. Brands also need to be aware that marketing to these subcultures requires an element of nuance; they can’t just open the app and expect to understand how to communicate to these subcultures. Brands need to fully immerse themselves into these cultures to understand the passions behind them. 

For example, the Gamer Girls subculture of 3.1 million female gamers regularly play in a field that’s male-domninated and sometimes misogynistic. Naturally, many women within this subculture are incredibly passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

The subcultures shaping culture

Male-skewing brands that focus on gaming will be able to reach Gamer Girls without alienating their core consumers. But, more interestingly, it opens a doorway for non-endemic brands to target Gamer Girls. Brands that are typically female-skewed can get into gaming by partnering with all-female esports teams or sponsoring Twitch streams with all-female gamers to promote DEI. Many Gen Z consumers resonate with more than one subculture, so brands have the chance to reach multiple different cohorts. 

Demand for authenticity remains

As with any marketing or brand activity, the demand for authenticity from consumers remains. Brands need to be crystal clear about what they stand for, and understand how those values will connect with subcultures. 

This doesn’t mean brands need to alienate consumers aligned on different ends of a spectrum. The rate of change among Gen Z is rapid, so brands should follow suit and remain fluid in their media and creative marketing strategies. 

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