National identity is dead: how should brands react?

In a time plagued by social media and polarised politics, millennial consumers are increasingly connecting with their interests rather than their nationalities. Focused on finding their tribe, Gen Z are leading a global transformation and reimagining the way in which we live. More people are identifying with their home cities rather than their home countries, but perhaps this shouldn’t cause concern for marketers?

In the national identity is dead: how should brands react? panel discussion, held in partnership with Vizeum and hosted by The Drum’s founder Gordon Young during Cannes Lions, a debate ensued among panellists questioning what effect these new identities will have on cities, how people communicate and preparing brands for the inevitable change ahead.

Emergence of platform-society

“We’re moving into the platform-based revolution,” said Thomas Le Thierry, global president at Vizeum. “Everybody talked about the digital era - which was a means to an end - but this transformation isn’t about going from analogue to digital. We’re moving from a linear world where everything was linear - production lines, industrial lines, political lines and editorial lines - into a platform-based environment.”

Le Thierry thinks that as population numbers increase, with an estimated world figure of 11bn people expected to inhabit the planet by the turn of the century, mainly in urban areas, this will pave the way for the emergence of mega cities. Predicting that 100 million people could live in one single city by 2100, he thinks that platform-focused societies could act as the solution to mega cities and help to keep people connected.

Spotify’s global executive creative director, Alex Bodman, agrees: “Gen Z are not really associating themselves with a particular nationality; instead they’re a generation that’s more diverse and interested in finding their tribes, which makes sense because they’ve got an online connected culture, with access to platforms like ours that give them diverse points of view and ways of connection.”

But knowing how to tap into these communities is important and while many assume that it’s through online means alone, Bodman assures marketers that they shouldn’t underestimate the power of traditional methods. Spotify, thanks to data collected on their customers, decided to amplify their message using none other than out of home medium; billboards, citing it as a relevant and highly efficient way of reaching people locally. Using the example of the Justin Bieber’s hit song Sorry, which was plastered across billboards in Williamsburg as it was the neighbourhood’s most popular song of the year in 2016, Bodman revealed that the campaign’s success actually succeeded in translating internationally.

“The campaign was a big hit in New York but the interesting thing was that it then spread,” said Bodman. “It’s not about nations gathering nationalities any more. Bieber posted about it on twitter, then hundreds of thousands of people posted about it. It was on that success that we had the confidence to post more in OOH the year after. That talks to what mega cities are developing for brands and creativity; it also talks to the kind of data and platforms and the power it can leverage when used in the right way.”

Fluid identities

While Gen Z may identify with more fluid nationalities and strive to find their ‘tribes’ instead, brands can tap into these emerging communities and interests. “Obviously from a business and creative point of view, we spend a lot of time thinking about Gen Z,” said Bodman. “Not just thinking about them, but connecting with them and providing them with the music and culture they love.”

Le Thierry agrees, “Cities should reflect culture and create an environment where clients can create meaningful connections with young consumers. They’re looking for new communities and points of view and in that respect, data becomes the genesis of our business. You have to think about what’s relevant to that individual; it might not be important to big city culture.”

Le Thierry understands why Gen Z are moving away from this sense of a national identity. He’s noticed that people living in big cities are getting increasingly impatient. “They’re reacting against something,” he said. “Often they don’t think that politicians are getting to the agenda quick enough. It’s an opportunity for brands to understand what this transformation of the world means and to move into the space once occupied by big cities.”

Where do brands fit in?

Beyond connection, brands can also offer Gen Z solutions to improve their way of life and make their lives easier. Posterscope’s chief client officer Gill Huber said: “We are seeing smart city infinitives emerge. They need to enrich the lives of the citizens living there, so it’s about understanding how we move from slow to fast; from cumbersome ways of moving around the city to a more mobile approach; high energy consumption to low energy. The point about platforms is really interesting because it means that existing start-up brands can begin to take over this space.”

Huber cites Uber as a prime example. The globally-used brand currently acts as a local taxi service, but she suggests that there’s scope for it to evolve and even revolutionise its industry – could it offer a rental service instead?

“We’re lucky because the data we have tells us how people are moving about in cities, what their needs are and what they are doing at different times,” she said. “As consumers, we want what we want when we want it and the context is only going to get more important. Brands that can make life easier for citizens of those cities, on different platforms will do best.”

Bodman agrees: “There’s a huge opportunity if brands realise the incredible dichotomy between local and global consumers as a result of the nation state going away and tribes emerging. Take music for instance, there’s huge global tribes built around musicians who identify with each other more strongly than someone with the same nationality. There’s a really interesting thing about our need to be local; that connection, knowing where we came from and our sense of place. But there’s a huge global opportunity coming out of this Gen Z tribal mentality where you can connect seamlessly with people that you never could before.”

Thinking long-term

But knowing how to marry a brand’s intent while appealing to a consumer’s tribal interest is key. Consumers are becoming increasingly interested in the full life cycle of a product – wanting to see brands think everything through sustainably, from conception to the end of its life, otherwise marketers may face culpability.

“Brands will find it very self-serving if they meet the needs of future audiences and if their brand is actually going to resonate,” said Bodman. “It’s important to show them that they’re doing something to invest in their future.”

As megacities continue to evolve, the panellists recognise that it’s a dual responsibility they hold with the mega cities to ensure that these questions are met and dealt with in a way that is suitable for consumers. Some companies, like Disney adds Bodman, are already being ousted from working in some countries based on changes to legislation. This means that if they don’t change their practices going forward, they’re likely to fall behind.

“For brands to be involved in cities and the lives of its citizens, they need to create better experiences and engage better,” said Huber. “Otherwise they risk getting it wrong or doing very linear changes and expecting to make a difference. Just doing one thing rather than look at the consequences of that action could have dire repercussions.”

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.