What The Face relaunch can teach brands about tapping into culture

The Face magazine served as a cultural landmark for the youths of the 80s and 90s

The leaders of today's creative class — like Margaret Zhang (blogger-turned photographer and stylist); Gosha Rubchinskiy (menswear-designer and filmmaker); Virgil Abloh (engineer-turned-DJ and designer); and Gwyneth Paltrow (actor, health guru and business mogul) — subscribe to a different set of cultural codes than generations past.

While these multi-hyphenates acknowledge what's been, they aren't beholden to it. They blaze ahead with an energy that transcends borders, categories and genres that brands and publishers alike should take note of.

That's why the impending digital relaunch of The Face magazine (which served as a cultural landmark for the youths of the 80s and 90s) marks a watershed moment for how modern brands and publishers should behave now and in the future.

More than just a magazine

The Face was more than a magazine, it was the original bible of cool. Its signature blend of in-your-face photography, street style, and high fashion mixed with political commentary, fearless journalism (it won an Amnesty International Media Award) and bold typography set the standard for a new aesthetic in publishing.

Long before Twitter, Instagram or any social networks existed, marketers turned to magazines to get our cultural fix and tune into the tribes we connected with. In that sense magazines were the original social network and The Face, was at the vanguard, curating that culture with an attitude and point of view that deeply resonated.

In a modern culture of fast consumption and short attention spans, brevity reigns supreme, but away from the echo chambers of Facebook and Twitter, people increasingly appreciate a bit of curation from a point of view they can trust. Long-form content is experiencing a resurgence as evidenced by the Financial Times recent report that it's now subscribed to be one million paying readers, the launch of Tortoise Media's slow journalism and Vox's Explainer series on Netflix.

Aligning with the new 'creative class'

The Face, reborn as a digital brand, is also aiming to connect with a new generation of digital natives by aligning itself with today's creative class. Like The Face 1.0, which cultivated deep relationships with the up-and-coming characters of the times (be it Phoebe Philo, Jan Fabre or someone else at the corners of the zeitgeist).

Similarly, The Face 2.0, is aligning with a phalanx of contributors like the fashion designer Grace Wales Bonner, Acyde and Tremaine Emory, who set up the creative collective/pirate radio station No Vacancy Inn, and Grace Ladoja (MBE), Skepta's manager. The talents are brands and media entities in their own right and come equipped with swathes of followings on their social media accounts; they attract the type of followers most brands could only dream of.

These cultural transients transcend international borders and leapfrog categories in pursuit of something they care deeply about. It's that care that takes them to really interesting places, helps them forge new collaborations and makes their feeds irresistible catnip to young people today: something advertisers would do well to learn from.

Modern branding is about care

And I think that's the point. If you are trying to reach young people, it's about care.

While many brands are figuring out the best ways to connect with Generation-Z, the contributors The Face has already aligned with and the tribe they inhabit provides the industry with a template for how to engage an audience where traditional media for them is social media.

The relaunched Face will capitalise on this by taking cues from the best media entities (artists, influencers, DTC brands) to reimagine how to create and distribute content in a modern way, and brands should do the same.

This could mean packaging real issues in non-traditional ways by using social media as a canvas to tell more nuanced stories.

It could mean listening to the comments across your brand's social feeds to inform and diversify your content to include more than awesome graphics, swipe-up CTAs and fun gifs, and create podcasts and audio messages straight from source.

It could mean investing in long-form documentaries on social issues (eg the environment, data privacy, veganism etc) that could be viewed across big and small screens, while highlighting new and emerging talent using Instagram Stories, or discussing the newest sneaker drops on Twitter.

It could mean opening revenue streams by selling new merchandise via Instagram's new checkout feature and partnering with brands to co-create limited edition products or putting on events for small tribes that get broadcast on the 'gram.

Or it could mean creating branded content in un-obnoxious ways that bring value to the community.

Whatever form it takes, advertisers undoubtedly have some lessons to learn from The Face 1.0 and its impending digital incarnation.

Gerard Crichlow is head of cultural strategy, AMV BBDO. He tweets @gerard_270

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