Tribal Blending – self expression via mashing personas

Youth today in Western and Eastern cultures are tribal blenders. They no longer belong to one specific youth tribe or culture, but too many, chopping and changing. Social media has seen the rise of the BLENDER, or as the guys from Pedestrian TV call it, ‘ SLASHIES.

 Blenders are all about creating their identities (both on and offline) via mashing together elements of different subcultures to create ‘blends’.  Just as they’re into remixed music, art, cinema, they’re also into remixing their own self image. Think of them as Emo SLASH Supergeek, Surfie SLASH Supergeek Entrepreneur Slash Eco Warrior.  Sasha Molitorisz in his Youth Tribes piece  states, ‘shallow membership of many tribes is replacing embedded membership of one tribe’.

Being a hybrid blend is in in 2010.  Social media has turbo charged the opportunities for Blenders self expression. You just have to look at any 21yr olds Facebook photo page to see that impressing your mates is about showing off how many different events/experiences you’ve been able to cram in to one summer.  It’s also the fact that through technology, anyone can become an expert in a subculture – just spend 45mins scanning a fashionista blog and you be considered at least knowledgeable about a certain fashion genre.

Tribal blending is as much about young people’s internal resistance to definition by culture around them, they’re constantly looking to be chameleon like and change their stripes based on what or who grabs their fancy. As a 21yr old Sydney Uni student told me last year “If there’s one thing I don’t want to be viewed as, it’s being one dimensional’. The tribal blending and the hybrid nature of youth means that marketers have to be sure they don’t pigeon hole youth by assuming that all Indie Hipsters are into Punk Grunge for example. I believe what engages young people is the cultural mashing of fresh and interesting social objects which create a new perspective for young people to see the world through.

Me, We, The World – key youth development stages and implications for marketers

This is a short presentation I put together based on some primary research I’ve been doing into the different developmental stages youth go through and the implications for marketers.

These phases are by no means completely linear, they are intertwined and kids experience several at a time eg: they could be in the ‘play’ phase whilst also ‘achieving’ through sports etc. This is meant to give marketers a bit of an insight into the different mindsets of young people and also the key social differences between boys and girls. The social focus shifts from ‘Me’ to ‘We’ to ‘The World’ as kids move through to teenagers and their sphere of influence broadens.

I am NOT a psychologist, but this is my perspective based on work I’ve been doing  in the kids,tweens and teens space. Hopefully there are some interesting take outs for marketers who are looking to engage with young people through ideas.

Don’t be lame

I’m always getting asked what the Do’s and Dont’s are when it comes to engaging with todays youth. One of the first and most obvious things I always say is…’Don’t be lame’.  Now this probably sounds quite vague and generic, but when you think about it, it’s the most critical part of your engagement checklist.

Brands today trying to engage young people must understand that young people (in particular) have fiercely guarded ‘personal brands’ and identities that they spend years creating (both on and offline) and they just aren’t willing to associate with anything lame. Think about it, they spend hours each week on Facebook uploading pics of the parties they’ve been at, their holidays and life in’s all about showing off online and earning status within their tribe. They are super quick to judge anything that’s lame, so basically ideas only get a short period to ‘sink or swim’..the incubation period for ideas to light up is now far shorter than a few years back. If they aren’t willing to socialise the idea on their own, your pretty much dead. Conversational currency is gold within their tribes.

 I overheard some 20yr olds talking the other at the train station and they were talking about a brand (I won’t name names) who they feel has become totally lame…”XXX has just become totally lame, as if i’d ever associate myself with them in any way..they just don’t get me”.   The ‘they just don’t get me’ is the critical thing here, most brands forget to do immerse themselves in youth culture, beyond the focus group room and really understand the heartbeat of youth culture at that point in time. Rarely are you going to get a culturally relevant insight or truth or understand a cultural code to break, from listening to some kids in a paid environment. You have to strap your backpack on and get amongst it. That’s what I always try and do and I’m constantly judging my work and the creatives I work with on the ‘Lame’ test.Capturing their imagination and creatign a new reality for them is a good place to start.

Sydney youth tribes- meet the SLASHIE


Just read an interesting article on Sydney youth tribes by Sascha Molitorisz where she profiled a handful of Sydney youth tribes. The most interesting part of the article was more the behavioural traits that are now crossing all elements of youth culture.

Last year I wrote abit about youth displaying CHAMELEON like behaviour whereby they dip in and out of different subcultures at any one given time and that they hate to be seen as one dimensional. They have splintered personas and their online identities are carefully constructed to reflect this. It was great to see my thoughts confirmed by Sasha who spoke about ‘shallow membership of many tribes replacing embedded membership of one tribe’. The emergence of social media platforms has meant that the opportunities for self expression have been magnified and kids these days are judged by how ‘interesting and diverse’ their Facebook pages are in terms of the experiences/photos/ events they are attending.

So as Sasha says, ‘tribalism is labyrinthine’, meaning it’s super complex and kids these days belong to many different groups, all at once. Kids today don’t just define themselves as an Emo or Gamer or Skater. This chameleon type behaviour is personified by the HIPSTERS who’s whole subculture is about picking different elements of other subcultures and mashing it together to form their own take on it. It’s all about the resistance to definition.

This has given rise to the SLASHIE – a term created by the boys at Pedestrian TV…a ‘slashie’ is a kid who sees himself as a complete hybrid..they’d call themselves a ‘DJ slash photographer slash skater slash entrepreneur’. Slashies are fluid beings, their self identity is being built around the fact that they lead multi-dimensional and quite spontaneous lives and over a weekend are more than capable of dipping in and out of different subcultural interest groups.

Sasha’s article is posted here and it goes into detail on the following tribes: The Emo’s , Supergeeks, Jock Dollys, Gangstas, Punk Lite, Glamazons, Techno Bohos and the mercurial Hipsters.  She’s hit the surface on urban tribes but if you dig deeper you’ll find alot more sub tribes for example there are many different types of ‘Gamer’ tribes who would form part of the Supergeeks as well as the fact that youth tribalism in Sydney and Melbourne is very much class and ethnic based, like in most big cities. But that’s a post for another day.

Aussie music festivals and tribes

Great little presentation from Sally on the Australian music festival scene. Last summer she went to a whole heap of festivals and captured the key vibes of each.

Festivals have become really important to Aussie youth, primarily because it is something they all use to create their own identity and as a form of self expression. It’s a chance for them to escape the rules and restrictions of the everyday and express themselves through dance and social interaction.  Whether you’re a festival rat who is addicted to the music, or a kid who just goes for the social scene and chance to dress up, it all comes down to a statement of belonging.

It’s impossible to classify all the youth tribes that have been born out of music genres and festivals. Over the past few years we’ve seen the emergence of the INDIE KIDS, as there’s been a move away from techno and hard house, toward more indie electro sounds at major festivals. The reality is even within ‘indie kids’ there are man different variations of dress, lifestyle, even they way the speak, based on what there other music interests are. So it’s all about fusing and mashing music and festival tastes together so you’re seen as fluid and up to speed with the latest. Even more traditional ‘rock’ festivals have seen an increased number of indie bands and indie electro acts in the lineup. However, don’t ever try and box a kid in and say they’re just an ‘indie’ or rock chic. According to Erica, you can be a rock chic who likes a side of hip hop and a dash of pop.

It will be interesting to see which festivals rock this summer in Australia and whether we’ll see an emergence of a new youth tribe born out of a specific festival.

Hot Hatch Tribes – looking into the Mini Cooper, GTI and Subaru WRX drivers

A while ago I did some research into the HOT HATCH market. I looked at understanding all the tribes associated to the different brands, eg: Mini Cooper, VW GTI/R32, Subaru WRX, Civic Type R, Volvo C32, Mazda MPS. It’s amazing the different mindsets that fall out of this super popular car category amongst Gen Y’ers, from the Subaru WRX ‘Boy Racer’ tribe to the Mini Cooper ‘Fun Fashionista’ tribe.  I also looked into the semiotic codes of advertising in the hot hatch sector – essentially they are all marketed as ‘creatures of the night’, as brooding menacing beasts that transform their drivers, bringing out their devilish side if you will. This is all based off qual interviews I did as well as my own observations of who drives these cars in Australia.

Influencer Interview with an arbiter of cool: Meet Erica

Erica partying at Playground Weekender

Erica partying at Playground Weekender

I’m lucky enough to work with a super cool chick called Erica who totally has her finger on the pulse when it comes to youth culture, especially in the music space. We’re collaborating on some cool projects and I wanted to get her viewpoint on one part of youth culture I’m weak on, the world of music. Love your work E.

What do you think are the most popular/interesting youth ‘tribes’ at the moment? What’s emerging?

The ENTREPRENEURS – I’m amazed at how many 20 something’s and younger are starting their own businesses and non for profit projects in really niche areas. They have the eye for the angle and the drive to make it happen. They’re leaders in their peer group and it’s not uncool to be successful

The ALTERNATIVES – tattoos are back and have been in for a while. Think full sleeved tattoos and facial piercings. Interestingly they are actually very ‘normal’ and mainstream. Even the beautiful glam girls are getting in on this scene, thanks to Kat Von D and celebs like Megan Fox.

 The DRESS UP- friends that fancy dress at any given opportunity. The spontaneous fancy dress trend has been emerging for the last few years and continues to grow. You’ve seen them at festivals, at the beach, at mates parties. It’s all about having a laugh and becoming someone else for the night. (i’ll admit my group falls into this category)

What’s the most important thing for a brand to think about/understand when looking to engage with youth?

You need to have a reason to belong and a right to be talking with them.  You need to understand exactly what tribe you’re talking to and the language they speak. If you get it wrong you’re immediately on the outer. It’s all about gaining credibility over time and once you’ve got it to keep following through

Ask yourself what you offer them, what’s your awesome brand experience that they can take away with them and preferably share with their mates….. Some things haven’t changed over the years – now more than ever kids love free shit.

What’s the key formula for putting on an amazing youth event/experience in the music space?

Younger consumers actually embrace brands presence at music festivals and other events, they’re savvy enough to know that hosting big events costs money. What upsets them is when a brand either (a) doesn’t try to engage specific to their environment at all (eg just sticking up  a tent with some promo staff in it) or (b) tries to be too ‘down with the kids’ and ends up getting cast as a try hard.

 There are lots of genres of music popular with youth: 80’s, hip hop, indie, folksy, electro, reggae….what’s going to be big this upcoming summer do you think?

80’s is going to be huge, huger than it already has been with the electro phase that’s been around for a few years . We’re already seeing it with  the success of La Roux – who’ve been upgraded from the Gaelic to the Enmore with fairly limited push from their record company. It’s permeated into fashion, i noticed that at the start of this year the chambray shirt and Degrassi Junior High wardrobe was back….

Aussie Hip Hop continues to go from strength to strength. I was at Splendour this year and the Hill Top Hoods drew the biggest crowds of the festival.

 Do teens/20 somethings belong to many different music tribes at once, or are they fixated on one genre typically?

You’re still definitely more ‘something’ than ‘something else’. Like an indie with an emo slant. Or a Rock chick who likes a side of hip hop and a dash of pop.

It’s all about being a chameleon with musical taste.

With the ipod playlist came the freedom to have all sorts of music genres at your fingers tips- and to proudly share them with the world  🙂