I wrote this piece for the University’s Point-Counterpoint Magazine, ‘Consider.’
Hipsters: love them or hate them (or you are one of them), the classification has become a staple in defining prevalent subculture. Jokes about the ‘mainstream’ and hipsters defining what is ‘cool’ before something gets popular are as common as society’s distaste for Nickelback or Nicholas Cage (can we move past this?). Whether or not hipsters truly do define what becomes popular culture, no one can deny that the hipster is a marketer’s ideal consumer group.
There are tons of them. They’re young; high school students to post-college 20somethings would be a good estimation. They’re savvy with the Internet and social media because they grew up on it. And besides the computer, they watch, listen, and read. Not only are hipsters constantly consuming entertainment and its associated advertising, but 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; many college students are still living off their parents or naively blowing through loan money and accruing credit card debt. Without spending a little cash, how 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, capitalizing (and making products tailored to their needs and interests) is the most obvious way to make profit. But we can take an unrelated line from He’s Just Not That Into You and realize that hipsters are the exception, not the rule. Hipster culture relies on defying 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 certainly always in flux.
Obviously, this 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—that is to say, if they successfully produce a product that encapsulates something a hipster would want, and distributes that product, then it would serve as an indication of finality to that trend. There is nothing that kills something semi-obscure 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.
Examples are the next integral step to this illustration.
- Where did mustaches come from? Why are they everywhere? Hipsters. Then Urban Outfitters. Now you can even find mustache-shaped earrings at Claire’s.
- “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Mainstream society has finally caught on that paying $2.00 for a sweater is not *trying* to be cool, it’s *actually* cool and really smart. And people get clothes there, not just white elephant gifts at Christmas.
- 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.
- Arrested Development. Yes, it’s a great show, but all the hype 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.
- The bands Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon, Passion Pit…the list goes on. Until Arcade Fire won a Grammy, Kings of Leon’s ‘Sex on Fire’ went viral, and Passion Pit came out with ‘Gossamer’, they were seemingly inconsequential regardless of hipster fandom and well-received multiple album releases; please point out a hipster to me that would see a Kings of Leon concert anymore.
- DUBSTEP. Sorry, but actually dubstep’s explosion to popularity has completely ruined dubstep, and idiots the world over with money to buy expensive equipment have been deluded into thinking that they can be DJs.
Though this is not an exhaustive list, it should at least point out one salient thing: while marketing can target hipsters, the people who actually buy their products are not hipsters. They are 12-year-old girls in Claire’s, white teens dabbling for the first time in the rap genre, and girls willing to spend over $80.00 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, anyway? It’s hard to call. But in the mean time, hipsters are busying themselves finding another place to browse for clothes and sundries besides Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, and Target. And Ragstock was initially okay, but their thrift-store-style-wannabe grouping of ‘lumberjack’ shirts and mechanic’s nametag button-ups was nearly too obvious.
But once that perfect store is found, no one will know about it.
Until eventually, everyone does.
You can find this on the University’s Point-Counterpoint blog: their website