Point The Never Branded
by Kristen Cleghorn
Counterpoint The Ever Branded
by Michael Barden
Hipsters: love them or hate them (or you may be one of them), the classification has become a staple in defining prevalent subculture. Jokes about the ‘mainstream’ and hipsters defining what is ‘cool’ before the mainstream becomes popular are as common as society’s distaster for Nickelback or Nicholas Cage. Whether or not hipsters truly do set the trends that determine popular culture, no one can deny that the “hipster” is a marketer’s ideal consumer group.
There are tons of hipsters. They are young, as they range from high school students to post-college 20-somethings. Hipsters are savvy with the Internet and social media because they grew up using it. Not only are hipsters constantly taking in entertainment and the associated advertising, they also have disposable cash to spend. Students in high school don’t have rent to pay or meals to sacrifice in place of their purchases, while many college students are still living off of their parents help or blowing through loan money and accruing credit card debt. Without spending a little cash, how else could hipsters listen to the latest music or go to the movies in order to spew witty banter and relevant tweets?
Yes, hipsters are a great group to target—but only on paper. For most target audiences, making products tailored to certain interests is the most obvious way to make a profit. But we can take an unrelated line from the movie He’s Just Not That Into You, and realize that hipsters are the exception, not the rule. Hipster culture relies on defying mainstream definition and rejecting anything that has lost ‘unique’ status through popular culture at large. Mainstream ‘trends’ were once hipster ‘fads.’ Likes and dislikes are fleeting at best, and are certainly always in flux.
Obviously, this notion should play a large factor in decisions on what products retailers should sell, along with the kind of media that is produced to target and entertain hipsters. The sad part is that the marketers are fighting a losing battle. If the marketers successfully produce a product that encapsulates something a hipster would want, and then distributes that product, it would serve as an indication of finality to that trend. There is nothing that kills a semi-obscure product to a hipster more than seeing it on the shelves of a superstore. As the beautifully poignant and ironic show Portlandia points out, once this happens, IT IS SO OVER.
Where did mustaches come from? Why are they everywhere? First it was hipsters. Then it was Urban Outfitters. Now you can even find mustache-shaped earrings at Claire’s. How about “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis? Mainstream society has finally realized that paying two dollars for a sweater is not *trying* to be cool, it’s *actually* cool and practices smart consumerism. And people get clothes at a thrift shop, not just white elephant gifts on Christmas.
Let’s take a look at yoga. Nice try, Lululemon, but hipsters are smoking now instead of exercising, and they got over yoga after the whole ‘trying out Buddhism casually’ stage. Time to talk about Arrested Development. Yes, it’s a great show, but all of the talk about it getting cancelled made it hugely popular. And now the producers are making another season. Hipsters now watch reruns of the less popular, funnier, and similarly cancelled show Flight of the Conchords.
Have you listened to the bands Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon, or Passion Pit lately? Until Arcade Fire won a Grammy, Kings of Leon’s ‘Sex on Fire’ went viral, and Passion Pit came out with ‘Gossamer’, the bands were seemingly irrelevant regardless of hipster fandom and well-received multiple album releases. Maybe you have given dubstep a try. Many believe that the popular nature of dubstep has actually ruined the musical beauty of dubstep.
Though this is not an exhaustive list, it should at least point out one salient idea: while marketing companies can target hipsters, the people who actually buy the different products are not hipsters. They are twelve-year-old girls in Claire’s, white teens dabbling for the first time in the rap genre, and girls willing to spend over eighty dollars on a pair of spandex pants. These items simply become the very things that a mainstream audience wants. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? And do companies really care about where their money is coming from? It’s hard to know for sure. But in the meantime, hipsters are busy finding another place to browse for clothes and sundresses other than Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, and Target. There is one thing that we do know: once the perfect store is found, no one will know about it. Until eventually, everyone does.
The modern hipster is lost. Once fitting snugly outside the realm of the mainstream, hipster culture has slowly been transmuted into the exact entity it strives to differentiate itself from. While the knee-jerk reaction might be to disagree with this idea (after all, it is hard to see many similarities between the average, polo-and-blue-jeans-wearing twenty something year old and the guy smoking an organic cigarette while wearing a wool cap in July), there is some rather compelling evidence to prove the point. However, for the sake of argument we must first address what exactly it takes to be labeled a “hipster.”
The most difficult aspect of dealing with hipsters is defining the term itself. Any hipster worth his salt would deny accusations of being such, as would most other people. Therefore, a comprehensive list of hipster characteristics needs to be established. Archetypal hipsters can be identified by their fashion sense, hobbies and interests, and attitude. Clothing style is the first thing that most notice upon encountering a hipster in the wild. Distressed skinny jeans, thick-rimmed glasses, and shirts that are either vintage, bearing ironic slogans, or purchased from stores such as American Apparel are all staples of the average hipster’s wardrobe. Other telltale signs of hipsterdom may include shaggy, androgynous haircuts, ironically bad facial hair, fedoras or trucker hats, and the occasional chest tattoo. Interest-wise, hipsters will typically favor PBR beer, American Spirit cigarettes, indie rock with folk influences, and obscure films and literature. Macbook Pros and the latest iPhones are often seen peeking out of two dollar satchels purchased second-hand. However, these factors alone do not represent a hipster. The final and most pressing factor of hipsterism is attitude.
Pretension is the personality trait most commonly associated with the hipster and is reflected in many of their fashion choices and interests. For example, hipster fashion sense is often accompanied by the belief that it is a step ahead of mainstream fashion (or, in the case of vintage clothes, a stand against consumerism). PBR (or other similar trappings of the “trashy” that are ubiquitous in hipster culture) is seen as an ironic criticism of class divisions. Obscure films, music, and literature are simply signs of the intellectual capacity to appreciate art that is eschewed by the mainstream. Many modern hipsters simply seem to pick up on and emulate a general attitude of superiority that leads to such widespread derision of hipster culture. This watering-down of hipster convictions is what has led to the hipster having such a susceptibility to marketing by the very mainstream they strive to avoid.
Hipster culture has been branded. Notice the number of brand names mentioned in the above paragraph. PBR, American Spirit, Apple, American Apparel - all of these companies often tend to be mentioned whenever hipsters are discussed, and with good reason. Brand loyalty such as this can be explained by the aforementioned cultural “watering-down.” Take Apple for example. Recently, Apple has become one of the most successful modern tech giants. However, its hipster fan base only seems to grow. In the late 90’s/early 2000’s, Apple was still a bit of an underdog. The iPod was brand new and the iPhone was yet to revolutionize what people used to expect from a cell phone. Apple computers were usually the “go-to” for the artistic types who wanted to “think different” and avoid the starchy-clothed businessman image that went with Microsoft. Given hipster avoidance of anything mainstream, it is easy to see why Apple became a favorite in their circles. However, the modern hipster lacks these convictions, and has since only continued relations with Apple out of conformity. American Spirit tobacco is billed as all natural and organic, which would have attracted early hipsters with a desire to step outside of mainstream American consumption of additive-rich products. American Apparel is based on conscientious consumption, creating products free of sweatshop labor and featuring a catalogue of pictures that seem to have been taken with a 1970’s crime scene camera. This appeals to the hipster’s love of both all things vintage and condemning mainstream consumerism. PBR used to have a reputation as a cheap beer for those with the reddest of necks, but is now sipped by 20-somethings with $2000 laptops and designer glasses in a grand statement of irony. Brand recognition has become, in a backwards way, an integral part of hipster culture.
In keeping with the hipster theme, I’d like to end with what I consider to be the ultimate irony of the branding of hipster culture - despite whatever ironic statements might be made with the purchase of some hipster favorites, consumption is still consumption, and a hipster’s dollar is just as good to the executives at huge companies as anyone else’s.
About the Issue
Point author: Kristen Cleghorn is an Art & Design and Communication Studies dual-degree student. She’s a co-managing design editor at The Michigan Daily and is a member of the non-Panhellenic social sorority Phi Rho Alpha.
Counterpoint author: Michael Barden is a 20-something Ann Arbor townie who, when not nursing a PBR hangover, spends his free time studying the filmography of Wes Anderson or memorizing quotes from Die Verwandlung.
Edited by: Carali Van Otteren, Preeta Gupta, and Sara Yufa
Cover by: Danyaal Rangwala