Millennials think logos are a joke, LOL.

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Dan Vasconcelos, associate creative director in London, recently presented at eurobest, the festival of european creativity, where he was president of the design jury. The below discusses the points he touched on. 

The 2016 fashion must have: a DHL logo t-shirt.

Really?

Yes, a plain yellow DHL top produced by fledgling Parisian label Vetements, retailing for £185, no less. The frenzy was such that it sold out in days despite the original one selling for £6.50 on the DHL official website.

Corporate logos being referenced in apparel is nothing new. Go to Camden Market in London and you will find various stallholders selling all manner of nostalgic wares emblazoned with logos from defunct companies such as Pan Am and Polaroid.

But a new subversion is taking place. Carrefour, Boots and WH Smith serving as motifs on Anya Hindmarch handbags, boots and jumpers. And McDonald’s being referenced in Moschino’s catwalk shows. Fashion is usually a good barometer for millennial attitudes – so does this trend suggest that they think logos are a big fat LOL?

After turning their backs on traditional media long ago, Generation Y now seem to be turning their backs on traditional branding too. Making a fashion statement out of corporate symbols is just another way of poking fun at the establishment. In the 1990s cultural manifesto ‘No Logo,’ Naomi Klein said: “the public psyche is delighted to see the icons of corporate power subverted and mocked.” Twenty years on, this sentiment is alive and well. The trappings of traditional branding are now memeworthy to an entire generation.

Much has been said about the millennial mindset and its contradictions but while there are theories aplenty, many brands are quickly adapting to cater to the largest consumer demographic in the US with a spending power of over $200 billion. Beyond statistics, Gen Y are digital natives whose reliance on peer affirmation and desire to change the world is impacting the way companies are doing business.

So how can brands create experiences to engage this audience?

Useful is the new cool

Brands that understand customers on a personal level have a competitive advantage. And for millennials, utility and customisation converge naturally in digital platforms.

UK insurance company AEGEAS launched a tinder-style service called Back Me Up. Users pay a monthly flat free to insure up to three items. Adding stuff just requires a photograph taken by the app. No longer need to insure that old guitar? Just swipe left.

Live your purpose

Gen Y pays no attention to traditional marketing fluff. Actions, not words, will resonate and create a sense of shared values.

Outdoor clothing brand Patagonia lives by its mission of “building the best product, causing no unnecessary harm, and using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” As a proof-point, it runs its ‘Worn Wear’ programme whereby garments are repaired for free across locations worldwide, successfully reinforcing Patagonia’s commitment to product longevity and environmental responsibility. The brand is also known for anti-consumerism advertising. The ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ campaign placed during Black Friday sales urged consumers to consider the environmental effects of their purchases and buy only what they need. Although this approach might seem risky, it has helped to establish a strong sense of community amongst its millennial customers who appreciate such values.

Membership, not ownership

Millennials are less bothered about owning stuff. Across many categories, they’d rather just subscribe to a service. Uber, Airbnb, Netflix and Spotify are typical examples.

Birchbox has been at the forefront of the recent subscription box phenomenon. Born digital and social, it sends its customers a mix of five beauty product samples every month that can be reviewed online in exchange for Birchbox points – a currency that can be used at their brick and mortar store. When Siegel+Gale refreshed their identity, special focus was given to design of the experience, rather than the products inside the box.

Curiously enough, the focus on utility, purpose and experience are key tenets of brand simplicity. Whether or not logos are becoming jokes, branding-fatigue and millennial mindsets are evolving how businesses engage people. Brands that embrace simplicity and keep up with the times are likely to win big – and have the last laugh.

Dan Vasconcelos is associate creative director in London. Follow him on Twitter: @dan_vascon

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