BITE Focus

How new brands hijack cultural trends

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor of BITE



Social media users are impatient, and often, disloyal. Why stick with one brand when you can flick between many in an instant? The visual aspect of online platforms has changed the nature of branding and design, prompting the development of new companies and the reinvention of old.

Driven by wider social and cultural trends, brands have started to work alongside their audiences to invent new products and refresh traditional ones. This close relationship helps new brands to develop products and imagery that their customers can feel a part of, which in turn encourages them to like and share on social media, and ultimately buy.

 “When you like it [a brand], you’re saying something about it, but when you share it, it’s saying something about you.” Sean McIlrath, Global CD, iris

Mobile technology has had a direct effect on new products and branding. Adhering to the desires of today’s culture, the visual identity and messaging is often stripped back and more minimalist than the brands that used to live in print and TV alone. This paired back branding alludes to the simplicity of the company’s customer experience, making people sub-consciously more inclined to choose that over a more cluttered, older brand.

“[As a new company] You’ve got to have the whole package to stand out in a very crowded, very saturated emerging brands ecosystem today.” Livio Bisterzo, Founder, Hippeas 

Below we’ve picked out key brands that are born from cultural behaviour and explore how they’ve married their social media voice and design language to create a consistent image that resonates with a mobile first audience.

The new rock 'n roll

Food is the new rock ‘n roll according to Cassie Eade, Art Director at SevenC3. Photos of food dominate Instagram with everything from #cleaneating trends, to street food, and even the humble doughnut getting its fair share of air time. Faced with such a competitive market, only the food brands with the most assured personalities will find a place on our shelves.

Acting on the insight that food should be nourishment for the mind as well as body, JKR worked with the organic chickpea snack brand Hippeas to create an identity that would appeal to a socially aware and culturally re-appropriatingstand audience - the modern hippy. Taking the conventions of the 1960s they turned a niche snack idea into a credible challenger within the global snacks market.

Individuals, however individual they want to be, also tend to like associating themselves with a pack. And when the pack says they’re bored of crisps and in need of a sexy new snack, a gap opens up for an appealable option. To get themselves noticed in the popular popcorn market, Propercorn teamed up with B&B Studio to launch a brand with a strong visual language that would help this independent start-up compete against some established players. A unique typeface and recognisable imagery, even down to the boxes that the Propercorn is delivered in, helped the brand to stand out everywhere from the shelf to the supermarket store room.

Birchbox - Siegel+Gale

Community-led beauty

Beauty is a sector where heritage and history matter. Traditionally dominated by a handful of major players, these are brands that have worked hard to earn the trust and loyalty of their consumers. For a new brands emerging onto the scene this could be a difficult market to break into.  

The American beauty brand Glossier launched in 2014 and its millennial pink packaging and clean branding quickly appealed to the visual nature of social networks such as Instagram. The platform essentially became Glossier’s shop window, marketing, and r&d platform, allowing the team to develop products with the help of their growing community. Every purchase comes with a sheet of stickers encouraging buyers to personalise their products and share them on social media. This engagement with online fans has been critical for the brand’s success.

We all love to be the first to discover something new. Birchbox is the personalised beauty subscription service that exists to do just that. It gives people access to exciting new products straight to their front door. Siegel + Gale worked with the brand to update its aesthetic, helping them stand out in the increasingly saturated beauty market.

Wish you were here

Exotic travel is the ultimate aspirational social post. It says we're cultural and adventurous, it's the king of experiences. Instead of taking products on an expensive global photoshoot, emerging brands are taking the much more grass roots approach. 

The e-commerce suitcase brand Away is selling more than luggage. Through a combination of beautifully shot films and a magazine 'for travellers, by travellers,' they are building a lifestyle brand through people who are passionate about experiencing the world. 

Similarly watch designer Shore Projects enforced their message that this is a brand for the fun and adventorous by sending new watches to selected online influencers. For the first six months of growing the business, the only platform the brand focused on using was Instagram. The social media feed became a virtual shop window into the brand’s world.


Recommending a friend

Recent Forbes research revealed that 81% of respondents said that a recommendation from family and friends has a direct effect on their buying decisions. New brands are beginning to tap into sectors that perhaps they once wouldn’t have been able to, by using ‘recommend your friend’ schemes to spread their messages.

Monzo, the mobile-only bank, built their brand on peer-to-peer, predominantly digital, recommendations. Quick to order, efficient to use, the bank also randomly generates golden tickets which users can share with friends online, enabling them to jump the queue. In a sector with low trust, this is a clever way to build a new audience. 

We live in an instant world, with instant referrals at the tips of our furiously scrolling fingertips. The beauty appointment website Treatwell recognised this behaviour in their consumers and so made referring a friend part of the booking process. The website allows consumers to book discounted beauty treatments at salons across the UK and in turn rewards them - by giving £12 off a booking - for telling their friends about the service.

Empower your audience

As 'influencers' start to demand huge sums for single posts, brands are begining to look closer to home for the real advocates. A loyal audience can be a brands biggest asset. Creating an opportunity for fans to buy into a brand can open up new and creative directions.

Studio of Art & Commerce worked with the IPA company BrewDog to give thousands of people who love the beer the chance to own a part of the company and shape BrewDog as they moved forward together. Equity for Punks revolutionised the way a business could be run. For their most recent campaign BrewDog photographed 2,500 'Equity Punks' at the brand’s AGM for the #IAMPUNK campaign, sending the individuals their photos to undertake a coordinated social media strategy, as well as a guerrilla fly poster ad campaign. #IAMPUNK harnessed the power of the original Brewdog audience, collating their personalities to form the brand’s, now renowned, identity.

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