Copy Cats Ain’t Cool Cats

In the corner of a coffee shop, with a cool name like Drip, in amongst the beards and mismatched mugs full of black artisanal coffee, a young man types on a battered Macbook Pro. With his skinny jeans, his ironic moustache, and his vintage shirt, he’s become something of a stereotype.

Once a hipster was difficult to define. Marketers hadn’t sussed out the integral components yet. But now, places like Urban Outfitters mass market ‘vintage style’ clothing, selling out the idea of what a hipster was piece by piece, making it easy to buy the uniform and look the part with zero authenticity. And now, the hipster sub culture is commodified with symbols and tropes attached. You can all probably define what a hipster is, or perhaps more aptly, what it isn’t.

This is an excellent example of brand storytelling on an international scale. From niche corners of cities like Portland, London, Paris, Berlin, New York, and Tokyo, branding experts have pulled together the disparate elements and neatly patched together the perfect image of the hipster.

That wonderful film Withnail and I puts it best. The moment right at the end of the sixties, the moment where hippie wigs were sold in Woolworths, that’s where the hipster idea has washed up. Now, that’s not to say that it’s a terrible thing, nor a particularly sad thing. Sub cultures come and go, but from a marketing perspective there are lessons to be learned.

Nascent Hipsters

Start ups, right at the beginning of their journey, are nascent hipsters. They do things in strange ways, odd ways, unusual ways that mark them out as unique, but not yet cool. Their parts are unpackaged, unassembled, and not ready to be sold to a wide audience. They’re unformed, yet to be defined, and ripe with potential to shape a story that matters. This is important to get right, because the thing is, if you don’t, someone else will tell a better story and you’ll become irrelevant. 

Young brands however need to avoid established trends when thinking about their story. Whatever narrative they decide on has to be authentic.  Startups need to be an original hipster, not the Urban Outfitters variant. They need to be the trendsetter, the trailblazer, the cool kid that everyone aspires to be like. They need to create an identity that people want to associate with. Copy cats are never cool.

It all starts with a story. Your story. And what that is, is up for grabs. So you need to start shaping it.

Hip Drip Coffee

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For our corduroy clad hipster, Drip, our fictional cool artisanal coffee shop is part of his identity. It’s not simply a place to get a hot cup of coffee. It’s a place that defines who he is. He’s bought into their myth, their story, and their narrative.

Picture the scene:

With its reclaimed wooden counter tops, its mismatched, chipped mugs and plates, and its exposed brick walls, Drip is hip. It’s a place that rejects the values of the past, offering up some sort of post industrial aura. A place where good coffee, sourced from real people, in a real country with a real story, stokes the creative fires of Yuccies. Drip is a siren call, drawing them away from their warehouse squats and parties.

Yet Drip is only one purveyor of hipster cool. The hipster aesthetic, long undefined and frustratingly difficult to contextualise, now has a container. And the container is made of retro soft furnishings, Urban Outfitters throws and blankets, and stacks and stacks of Apple products. Hipster cool can be defined so easily, written about in a blog post, thought about in Tesco’s while selecting a bottle of Brooklyn lager, deconstructed, and put back together. It’s no longer on the fringe, out there in the sub culture ether – it’s now on your TV screen, mass marketed to you by Vice.

Inauthentic Authenticity

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Everyone is selling it and everyone is buying it.

The coffee we drink comes with a tall tale of triumph over adversity, our brand new iPhones let us snap photos through an ‘authentic vintage filter‘ , and our avocados are likely farmed by Mexican cartels seeking to cash in on the lucrative vegan breakfast market. The hipster dream that we bought into is gone. And now it’s sold back to us with an increased mark up.

Coca Cola is so last century. Rose petal tea is in.

But all of these unique hipster ideas that held seemingly authentic meaning once, don’t any longer. That upstart, start up is probably VC backed now. That coffee shop with the exposed brick walls? Probably a Starbucks in disguise, or at least aspiring for similar profit margins. 

It used to be difficult to define a hipster. No longer. They’ve been categorised thanks to the vast amounts of data their iPhones generate, Netflix loves those late night chills, and marketers are even happier still to claim they alone know what the millennial hipster truly wants. Gone is the person at the heart of this narrative, and the things they love have become products, cleverly marketed and sold to them as something new.

From London, to Tokyo; from Paris, to Falmouth; from Glasgow, to New Jersey; everyone wants in on hipster cool. But the ‘scene’ is no longer making a scene. Instead it’s familiar, comforting, and increasingly just part of the wallpaper. This is the nadir, the end times, the moment prophesied by pop culture tract Withnail and I.

‘They’re selling hipster cool in Urban Outfitters, man.’

But that’s cool, right? Now there’s space for new things. Now there’s space for new stories, new myths, and new identities. The sixties are gone, the hippies got old, the hipsters have rolled down their jeans and rolled up their sleeves, and everyone is searching for the next big thing. Let’s get busy making that scene.

Here’s to the new wave.

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