‘Subculture is the most powerful tool we have’

Louis Persent, Co-Founder and Creative Director at Weirdo on the power of embracing the niche

Georgie Moreton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


“It's not about creating something that's super super fanciful or inventive when we can find this truth. A person that represents that truth and put that at the heart of the work.” Louis Persent, Co-Founder and Creative Director at Weirdo is sharing the importance of authenticity and engaging with sub-cultures to drive creativity.

It is a tactic which was essential in creating the agencies’ well-loved Maria Petri campaign for Arsenal football club. Spotlighting the authentic story of a lifelong Gooner, Maria, the campaign resonated with audiences because it amplified a shared truth between fans who know what it's like to spend a lifetime dedicated to their team. But to speak to fans authentically, it couldn’t be an actor, it had to be Maria.

Finding those genuine stories in the intersections and at the fringes of subcultures, the agency has produced a multitude of work for clients, including Arsenal football club, that challenge the traditional parameters of marketing. “The closer you can be to someone's identity as a brand, the more relevant you can be and the more authentically you can speak to people,” says Persent.

The power of the niche

In an era in which brands are battling to be at the cutting edge of culture, Persent questions what culture even means within a brief. “Culture is a really broad term that isn't necessarily helpful because it doesn't really mean enough,” says Persent.

“We prefer to think about subculture than culture.” he says, “Brands recognise that people care about other things more than brands… It's about those things that give people their own identity and bring meaning about who they are.” Instead of a broad culture-first approach, Weirdo’s ethos is to delve deeper into society, think intersectionally and find the things that make the people who make up a culture who they are.

Subculture is the most powerful tool we have in a world where everything is entertainment.

Louis Persent, Co-Founder and Creative Director at Weirdo

“A subculture is where things are interesting because it's not the sort of broad brush identifiers like your gender, or ‘I like football’, it’s thinking actually what kind of football fan are you and how does that relate to how you think about yourself?” he says.

It is a framework of thinking that has transformed the agency's approach. It means they can find ready-made stories and narratives from within the existing fabric of a brand and its advocates.  He explains: “Yes there are Arsenal supporters but then you have these different artists and musicians that in themselves have their own fandoms, there's a way to grow with this bubble around the club. Subculture is the most powerful tool we have in a world where everything is entertainment.”

It is an approach with powers the agency’s creative lens. “We get really excited about shifting the conversation away from culture in a broad sense to subculture and the power of the niche versus the mainstream,” adds Persent.

Broadening the lens

Working with Arsenal, Weirdo has had a real opportunity to put this thesis into action. “The work is culturally relevant but it's culturally relevant to a really specific section of culture and we build a halo effect from there,” says Persent. From the campaign staring superfan Maria to the launch of the club’s away kit, each campaign spotlights a different section of the wider community that shares the same overall values.

Persent is passionate about working to highlight the women’s game and showcasing women’s football at an elite level. Where much of women's football marketing focuses on the grassroots game, Persent wants to give airtime to a different story and broaden the lens.

If we are thinking about the future of [women’s] sport and making the sport bigger, more profitable, more commercially viable and more sustainable, we need more stories about what it means to be elite.

Louis Persent, Co-Founder and Creative Director at Weirdo

“It’s exciting that we’ve got access to elite women's football. Even the Lionesses story has been so connected to inspiring young girls to get into sport. That is amazing and so worthwhile but there’s a whole other space around what that elite sport is in its own right.” says Persent.

In women’s football, the elite level is critical because it shows the true potential of the sport and the athletes. “It’s what sets the pathway for a young kid to end up having the resources to commit to training because there's money flowing from the top down. It’s also the most inspiring story that you're going to be able to give a young person,” says Persent.

He adds: “Brands know how to show up at a grassroots level of something like women's sport, they know how to do that really really well. But if we are thinking about the future of the sport and making the sport bigger, more profitable, more commercially viable and more sustainable, we need more stories about what it means to be elite. That will benefit everyone.”

Beyond structures and profit, looking to an elite level also provides more excitement and injects drama into the game. As someone with ‘Professional Athlete’ on their resume, Persent an ex-400 meter runner, speaks passionately about the need for theatre in sport. While his experience means he understands the hard yards of maximising your performance on the field.

“Sport needs drama, it needs rivals, it needs good and evil, it needs a bit of an edge. The competition needs to be inspiring,” he says, continuing: “The athletes that are involved in these sports are not only so talented but incredibly determined. We can lose that emotional range in favour of the feel-good.” Broadening the lens to shine a light on the breadth and depth of the stories at elite level, Persent hopes to help facilitate new avenues for the women's game.

The intersection of sport and creativity

Where sport and creativity were once seen to be at odds, Persent is optimistic that this gap has closed and finds sparks in the intersection of sport and creativity. He explains: “When I was training, I felt very much I kind of had to sacrifice the creative side of myself, whereas now in track and field, there are so many amazing athletes that are visibly expressive when it comes to style or fashion or creative pursuits.”

Marketing is so much more messy but sport gives you that lens to be able to step back and look at the big picture.

Louis Persent, Co-Founder and Creative Director at Weirdo

This observation mirrors the agency's passion for finding unique stories within different communities. For Persent, intersectionality is everything. “The reason there's a lot of diversity within our work but we aren’t necessarily shouting about inclusion is because intersectionality is like the magic for us. What is that diversity of stories that you can find within a bigger group and how do you open up to those perspectives?” says Persent

Beyond the stories and the people that sport has introduced Persent to, he has also learned leadership and creative lessons from his approach to training.

“There’s a shared mission in sport that simplifies things down. There are rules like the fastest person wins. It's super simple, everyone can understand the objective and you work back from there. Marketing is so much more messy but sport gives you that lens to be able to step back and look at the big picture.” says Persent.

He adds: “Personally for me, it was an experience of always looking for what's next, pushing yourself, you can't sit still in sport because someone will be training smarter than you or harder than you.”

For Persent, it is evident that great work comes from finding and facilitating great stories. The honest experiences which can only be found through genuinely engaging communities and having a finger on the pulse of what is going on.

Finding the overlapping identities of a brand and its audience, Persent pushes expectations of what creative communications can be to create work that truly reflects the people it serves. The result is entertaining, exciting work underpinned by unexpected and untold stories.

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