THE ANTI-AESTHETIC – podcast transcript

Jessica Kingman
Hello everyone and welcome to The Richards Group Digital Trends podcast. I’m your host and Digital Strategy Group Head, Jessica Kingman. And in every episode, I’ll be diving into one of our 10 Digital Trends for 2020. And today, I’m talking with brand planner Lauren Kaindl about her trend, The Anti-Aesthetic Era. Hi, Lauren.

Lauren Kaindl
Hello.

Jessica Kingman
So talk to me about your trend a little bit and why advertisers/clients/brands should care?

Lauren Kaindl
Sure. So it was really cool writing an article this year going into 2020, because I was able to take a look at the 2010s in general. And as we’re turning the page into a new decade, what does that mean for the shifts in the culture? And so looking at the social media culture in the 2010s, that’s when the rise of the influencers came to be and when we were all taught you have to have a very curated, professional, personal brand on every single social media platform. And then moving into 2020, you can kind of see this shift in how people are operating on these social media platforms. It’s this rejection of the curated feed and the perfectly polished pictures on Instagram, in favor for a more authentic and real and raw version of yourself. And people are loving this authentic way to just express themselves on social media. It’s cool to see it on Instagram. And it’s also finding its way onto other channels as well, which is a really interesting trend that we could see unfold into the next couple of years.

Jessica Kingman
So talk to me a little bit about – you know, I know this is hard to talk about visuals in a podcast where you’re, kind of, relying only on your voice – but talk to me just a little bit about what the, kind of, old aesthetic, that personal brand, perhaps, on social media used to look like, as compared to what you’re seeing now. This new anti-aesthetic that you talk about?

Lauren Kaindl
Sure. So it’s very posed/polished. There’s the perfect product placement with the label exactly facing the camera. It’s just everything seems so planned out and perfected for this social media placement. And so you see that in both the posts that you get straight from the brands, but also the influencer posts that you get. And also I see it in my friends’ posts as well. It’s just like everything is perfectly planned out. And if the pose was not quite right, they want to take it 10 times. And so it’s such an emotional tax on everybody to try to get this perfect pose and this perfect picture posted, to be able to convey the message that they want to convey. And then contrasting that to this trend that we’re seeing today – it’s just way more instantaneous, way more spontaneous. And it’s showing, kind of, this real glimpse into the everyday life of the people that we are seeing. And you see that both with the influencers and also the – just individuals and the users that are using Instagram as well.

Jessica Kingman
So, I think there’s something also really interesting about the title of your trend, the Anti-Aesthetic. And to me, you know, if, you know in the world of the time-poor consumer, if somebody is just reading the title of your trend, they may think that we are just advocating, or you’re just advocating, for brands to start posting ugly content. And I kind of want you to address, perhaps, that misperception and really talk about, you know, what it is that we’re advocating for brands to do.

Lauren Kaindl
Sure. I think it’s like you said, it’s way beyond just the, the way that this might look and the visual aspects of it. It’s not just the graininess, it’s not just the 90s-vintage vibe, it’s not just the photo, the light, or “just for the sake of it” looking bad. I think it’s, it’s more a medium to the message that is – that they are just craving this authenticity, and borderline nostalgia to a time that was more genuine and grounded in reality. We live in a time that is so virtual and so augmented and digital and everything is out into this ethernet, and they want to be able to grasp onto something that’s real. And so this is really just an homage to this period of time when they could feel connected to something that was true and relatable. And it gives them a glimpse into how other people are living their lives. So it’s not so much just a random filter that you throw on, check the box, you’re done, you’ve lived up to the anti-aesthetic. It’s, it’s more the message that you are communicating through that, of “I’m putting myself out there and I’m willing to connect to a more genuine type of user.”

Jessica Kingman
So why do you think this anti-aesthetic is so popular among users today? Do you see it as more of a generational divide or do you see it as something that is kind of growing bigger and bigger by the day?

Lauren Kaindl
Sure, I think it’s kind of a product of the world that this younger generation grew up in. If you think about it, they did not have to learn how to use digital technology in their day-to-day life. They were just brought up and grown up in this environment. Like, people will be at restaurants, and if their baby is crying, they’re not just handed a coloring book, they’re handed a phone, which is a little crazy. But it’s interesting to see that impact on the way that they then interact in this digital world. It’s just so native and instinctual for them. A telling trait of Gen Z is that they are not afraid to take charge on a movement, and they’re not afraid to stand up for what they believe in and push it forward. And they have a lot of power in that, in that bravery. But this genuine relatable, the younger people, I find myself gravitating towards people that I can relate to, everybody does, I think there’s a hint of a human truth in this. That we’re just looking for a reflection of ourselves in the content that we see, but we’re also looking for some new spin on it and some new perspective. So I think that this has the ability to connect to a variety of individuals, because it shows them that everybody has this weird, quirky side to themselves. Let me show you my version of that. And then if you think about, then the content that they are exposed to, they kind of know the behind-the-scenes making of that content, because they see it themselves. They see it in their friends. And so they kind of have this really rigorous BS filter, if I were to be candid about it, where they can kind of know what is the perfect, polished, curated form of it and what is a little bit more authentic and instantaneous, just-shoot-and-post type post. Another really interesting thing about this younger generation is that they are way more fluid than generations in the past. We can see that in their gender identity, we can see that in all the different communities that they’re a part of, whether it’s professional or whether it’s their social, or whether it’s educational. They have a variety of interests. And they love being able to explore all these different interests and a lot of different places, and they don’t want to be just labeled as one box. And so you can see that diversity in the way that they interact on social media as well. And then finally, I think what’s really interesting is that they’re way more visual of a generation than they are verbal. Part of being able to be instantaneous is that they don’t really want anything that’s like, super, overly thought out, very lengthy version of what they’re trying to say. They just want to be a quick read, and let’s move on. And it’s interesting. It’s in a world that we’re living in, where we’re held accountable for every single word that we say. And so what better way to then express yourself and express what your thoughts are and your perspective on the world and actually showing them through the eyes of your posts.

Jessica Kingman
So, you mentioned something about the fact that, you know, it’s not overly posed, it’s kind of a spur-of-the-moment, authentic, in a word, communication with this younger generation. Do you think that’s a mark of carelessness, perhaps, in how they approach social media? Or do you think that’s something else entirely?

Lauren Kaindl
Sure, it really depends on how you look at it. It could be they’re just being lazy and they don’t want to put in the effort of editing and being thoughtful about what they’re posting. But I like to see it more as, they’re way more of a brave generation than I think we give them credit for. They’re willing to be adventurous and spontaneous and put themselves out there. I think it’s way more of a positive spin on what they’re doing than a, than a negative one. And it’s something that’s really scary. I give them full credit for putting themselves out there and just trying to connect with these individuals that they might even not know in person, but they can make themselves relatable and have this genuine connection with others by just be – taking that risk and taking that leap and putting themselves on the line.

Jessica Kingman
A couple of years ago, we saw a lot of the more traditional Instagram influencers begin to break the fourth wall a little bit and let their guard down and talk about, you know, not only the process that it takes to create these, you know, wonderfully curated and perfectly posed imagery, but also just the mental toll that that platform takes on them on a day-to-day basis. Do you also think that, you know, this younger generation saw that mental toll? And because of that, began to reverse course, a little bit as well?

Lauren Kaindl
Definitely. I think that this is definitely them trying to put up their guard and trying to take this opportunity to change the conversation. There’s a recent study that was done by Cigna, which is a global health service company, where they found that 46% of Americans always or sometimes feel alone. And 54% of Americans feel that they are left out of the conversation, left out of these experiences. 54% feel that no one knows them well, and so there’s this really emotional impact that social media is having on society and on the people that are making up the culture that we’re living in today. And so I think that this is kind of them taking grasp of social media and using it for their own accord, and understand that there’s a lot of power in the content that they’re posting. So how can we use it to our advantage, not to put people down, not to make people feel left out? The FOMO is real, and we do not need to spread that around. And so how can we include people in the conversations and give them a glimpse of the real side of their lives and how they’re not alone in the way that they conduct themselves, in the way that they live, and there’s other people that are just like them?

Jessica Kingman
One of the things that you mentioned a couple questions ago is that this younger generation has developed this rigorous BS filter as you put it. Do you think that this anti-aesthetic that we’re seeing crop up and become really prevalent within social platforms is an act of radical transparency in order to create some more of those connections that social media was originally, you know, invented to foster?

Lauren Kaindl
Yeah, yeah, I think that social media was originally intended to connect individuals within a community and give them a platform in order to connect. What has happened, though, over the last couple of years is that it’s turned into this mass audience platform. And everybody needs to appeal to everybody. And you need to be able to kind of fit into this one-size-fits-all mentality in order to be successful. But what this younger group is doing is that they’re finding ways to appeal to more niche communities and these different subcultures, like I said, that they love being a part of and they get to explore different sides of themselves. And so this is a way for them to have deeper connections with a very specific group that gets them, that understands where they’re coming from, and understands why they do the things that they do. And so it’s not going to be this broadly appealing message that people are used to and that social media, kind of, has fallen into. But it’s a way different use of social media. And it’s going to be really cool to see how this builds out in the future as well.

Jessica Kingman
I’m interested in some of the implications beyond just the way that this younger generation is using social media. I think, selfishly, being a digital strategist, it’s something that I am always constantly thinking about. One of the tactics that we tend to use quite frequently to, you know, gain some of that mass reach, gain a little bit of, perhaps, some shared equity, is influencers and putting our brands in the hands of these traditional influencers. And you mentioned that Gen Z is really this generation that not only is trying to, maybe not appeal, but create content that is geared towards niche cultures, as well as a generation that craves authenticity. I’m interested in what a younger generation in this anti-aesthetic era, what that influencer looks like.

Lauren Kaindl
Yeah, I mean, everybody wants to have some version of themselves reflected in the content that they see. And so we see that in some of the ads that are out there, that they’re trying to incorporate a more diverse look at what a family is, or more diverse look at what a company could be like, and things like that. So I think in an individual level, we look at the influencers, it’s going to be those people that are way more reflective of all the different people that they could connect to. So we’re not just going to have one size fits all for an influencer. So that kind of makes this question actually kind of hard to answer. Because I don’t know what the influencer might look like, because it’s going to be so unique and so dependent on the specific type of culture that they’re appealing to. So maybe the influencer that would work for me, or maybe the influencer that would work for my little brother who’s a little bit younger than me and probably hipper and trendier than me, might not work for the person down the street that we’re trying to sell to for a different brand that we’re working with. So it’s really, is important that we understand the target audience and the unique quirks that make up that target audience’s needs and interests and motivations, to be able to figure out what that ideal influencer means, or what that ideal influencer is. But then celebrating those little quirks and celebrating the things that make them different, I think, will be a way better use of the influencer culture.

Jessica Kingman
So one of the things that interests me is influencers, especially when we talk about, you know, the rigorous BS filter that this, you know, younger generation has, and I think a lot of it may be propagated by some of the, kind of, less effective influencer partnerships that we’ve seen throughout the years, where it feels very transactional. So, I’m interested, with this, you know, new lens of authenticity, if you will, in the younger generation, how they partner with brands, if at all.

Lauren Kaindl
Sure. It seems like, in the past, the way that we’ve treated influencers, as brands and as the agencies of brands, is understanding what the return on investment could be. And they have such and such number of followers, and so that means such and such potential visitors to our retailer or potential buyers of this product. When in actuality, what we could use this as, is an opportunity to really connect to that person’s lifestyle and that person’s ideology on life, to be able to build a brand and the space that brand could live in in someone’s head to build a much, much deeper connection with this future generation of shoppers. And so I think it will be a bigger shift away from the perfect product placement and the perfect situation, and towards highlighting this person’s lifestyle and the way that they are unique and individual and the way that they operate, and being able to set up a platform for these customers to then relate to the influencer that we’re working with.

Jessica Kingman
One of the things you also mentioned is the fact that this younger generation, they’re using social as a way to showcase, not, you know, necessarily one side of the personality, but multidimensional sides of their personality. I’m interested, how do you think that brands should begin to understand that and respond to how this younger generation is using social in that way?

Lauren Kaindl
Sure. It’s interesting when you look at the way that someone uses LinkedIn, for example, is way different than the way that someone uses Snapchat. And that’s because there’s different audiences, there’s a different mindset that they have as they log into the social platforms, and there’s different types of content that we expect to see on those platforms. And so that’s not anything new. That is something that’s baked into every media strategy that anyone ever develops. But what’s cool about this anti-aesthetic spin on things is that it’s going to take those differences and almost separate it out, to be able to celebrate then, the professional side of this younger generation, and also the more funny, spontaneous side of this generation, and also the artsy, express-yourself, creativity side of this generation. So it’ll be interesting to see how social media platforms then evolve to make – give the users the tools that they need to feel out these sides of themselves. But also, it’ll be interesting to see how brands will then also explore different sides of themselves. And it should all come from a core brand promise and a core understanding of what that brand could be. But there’s also some room for a little bit of exploration within the different pieces and elements of this brand’s communications. And so it’ll be cool to see how that all comes to life in the various aspects.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah, I think you bring up something really interesting there, because I think brands, by definition, are pretty curated, right? I mean, when we think about even the way that they communicate on the social platforms, it’s very much for the most part, within a specific brand persona. So do you think that that’s going to change as they try to reach and connect with this younger generation?

Lauren Kaindl
Yeah, I mean, I think I’d be out of a job if I were to say that brands need to ditch who they are and completely go rogue. So I’m not by any means saying that we need to alienate who we were before and completely explore a different side of themselves to the point where we are losing where we came from. That is not the message of this at all. But it’s more so, that we don’t have to be so rigid and saying that we are stuck into this one box and that is who we are. And if we stray whatsoever outside of that box, then we’re going to make some people mad and lose customers and we’re just gonna be out of business. That type of risk-aversion actually might get you more in trouble these days than it would to just take a risk and be more relatable and be more human, by tailoring yourselves to these different sides of those social media platforms. And so I really encourage brands, actually, to see how much flexibility could be baked into their core of their brand. And so, maybe on Instagram, they try something a little bit different than they would on broadcast. And customers actually respond really, really well to that. And I think that that is almost the expectation of these younger users.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah. So as brands begin to, you know, try to gear themselves towards this younger audience, I always am interested in how they can begin to learn to speak, whether it is the verbal language or the visual language of an audience, in a way that doesn’t seem like they’re pandering to a specific audience. So I’d love to hear your thoughts on perhaps how brands can do that in a way that passes that rigorous BS filter that that younger generation has.

Lauren Kaindl
Yeah, I think the biggest key to this is deeply listening to who we’re trying to talk to. In the past, marketing was so much of a one-way street, and that we are the only ones – we as the businesses are the only ones that are talking. You, audience, you’re going to listen. And now there’s so many more channels that it’s two-way and we can, we can set up a platform that they can actually have their voices be heard too. And we have the responsibility to actually listen to what they have to say, because we only see a glimpse of who they are when reading industry reports and, and looking at the sales revenue and, and all those business-y tactics of learning about our customer. But there’s so much power in these social media opportunities to actually listen to what they have to say. So I think hearing what they have to say, keeping track of the changes that are being made, and then understanding the why behind it. I think a lot of brands get in trouble when they copy the structure of a meme or a joke or a filter or an aesthetic, but they don’t understand the core of where that came from. And this is, this is a trend that I think is a risk of that – is that someone can just post grainy visuals and put light orbs in their pictures and think that they did it. They’re, they’re good. But really, there’s something that’s ringing true to this audience that is making it a lasting trend, not just a fading fad. The more that you actually understand the deeper connection that this trend is built off of, the more you actually would be able to relate to the audience. So, listening and understanding the motivations behind what we’re doing.

Jessica Kingman
I’m interested if you’ve seen any brands out there today that you think are taking this anti-aesthetic and running with it in a way that is successful and has gotten some really nice response, perhaps, from the younger generation using social media.

Lauren Kaindl
It was interesting, as I was writing this article, because I knew that that’s the direction that this needed to go. We are doing this for an advertising agency, so I need to put a marketing spin on this somehow. And it was actually kind of difficult to find brands that are doing this – well, like you said, the nature of a brand is to be very curated and consistent and not to stray too far away from that polished, produced look that they know and love. But there are a few brands that I think are starting to tap into it, and you could see that in – like, I mentioned Chipotle and Balenciaga in the trend article – where they’re not afraid to take that kind of unpolished, real look at the way that the customers are interacting with their brand and incorporating that into their social media feeds. There’s a couple of brands that I didn’t mention, but like Marc Jacobs is, is starting to have this new anti-aesthetic type of look to it and incorporating more types of influencers and more types of people in their posts, and then also having this “We’re just throwing it out there, let’s see how you react to it” type of take on things. But it’s hard to find brands that are willing to be bold and take that risk and not go straight to the produced look that they, they’re used to. And so I’m hoping that this, that this will encourage brands to be more comfortable of just acting fast and responding and being that authentic brand that the, the people are craving. But it’s hard to see that in the established brands, so far. It’s definitely prevalent in the user side of things. It’s almost overwhelming how many examples I could have pulled from that piece of the puzzle. But to see those two come together, and almost mirror each other would be the next step into this whole trend.

Jessica Kingman
So just to wrap it all up, and all the great conversation that we’ve had today. If I’m a brand and I’m, you know, interested in connecting with this new generation, this younger audience, how should I begin to think about responding to the new anti-aesthetic era?

Lauren Kaindl
I would say take time to really take an audit of, not only what are you doing, but what is your audience doing? How are they authentically acting, both on, on Instagram, but also on LinkedIn, and also Twitter and all these different platforms? And truly understanding what is motivating them to their core? Like, yes, we can see all the different jokes and the memes that are trending, but what is actually ringing true to this audience? And then another thing that they could do is enlist some individuals that we think are doing it right, and not in a forced, sell-out type of way, but in a very genuine – “We know that we’re making an impact to this individual and to this subgroup that they’re a part of.” So how can we take that and almost support it and feed it and build that momentum up even further? And then finally, I would say, just be brave, just like this audience is being brave. They’re putting themselves out on the line. And I think that they’re hoping that there’s a brand that could also put themselves out on the line and there’s this collaborative support system that could be built. And so don’t be afraid to, kind of, take those risks and show the more authentic side of what the brand could be.

Jessica Kingman
One of the things that, you know, I think about is, is this something that is wholly new? And even thinking further from that, is this just simply a visual style? Or is this something that as brands, as marketers, that we should begin to latch onto as a new social strategy? I’m just kind of interested in what your thoughts are on that.

Lauren Kaindl
Sure, I think that this trend is starting to recognize that the pendulum is swinging back. That for the longest time, brands and users alike were prioritizing this polished perfection on social media. And this is really taking a step into the complete opposite direction, of “Let’s look at how customers are actually living in their day-to-day lives.” And “Let’s show the unpolished version and the unfiltered, candid aspect of their lives.” So it’s way beyond just a style. It’s a conscious effort to be intentional about the situations that we are showing. And recognizing that a lot of the values of today’s culture are genuine, authentic, taking a stance on the things that you – that matter to you most, and so that’s recognizing that, and matching the style with the culture, to be a real strategy for our brands.

Jessica Kingman
To read more about Lauren’s trend, The Anti-Aesthetic Era, as well as other trends that we predict will make an impact in the advertising landscape in 2020, please go to trends.richards.com. Lauren, thank you very much.

Lauren Kaindl
Thank you.

 

Back to trend >