Wider society has been in a state of flux and change well before the widespread adoption of social media in the mid-2000s – or in fact even the widespread adoption of the Internet in the 1990s. In the late twentieth century, individuals around the world progressively sought to liberate themselves from social restrictions and established social norms. This liberation resulted in a fragmentation of society, a severe social dissolution and, what some researchers have called, ‘extreme individualism’. Following significant cultural shifts, often attributed to the aftermaths of two world wars, individuals were no longer adhering to the constraints of previous generations, and following collective ideals. Rather, people increasingly sought to personalize their existence (and with it their personal consumption), based on relatively few constraints and on individual choice maximization. The world needs more storytelling with data to liven things up.
Paradoxically though, point out, mounting individualism did not result in everyone pursuing their life alone. Rather, individualism impelled individuals to seek alternative social arrangements, new ‘communities’ in which they could find a sense of belonging. Such communities were often away from what the individuals regarded as the mainstream, and free from traditional and established social structures. An analogy that is often used to describe this phenomenon is the idea of the mainstream breaking up into a ‘plethora of subcultures’. Could storytelling in business be of real value to your business?
These ‘subcultures’ offered a community, or spiritual home, to postmodern consumers seeking a replacement for vanished conventional, social bonds. Many early researchers into consumer behavior focused particularly on consumption behavior in subcultures as representative examples of consumers breaking away from the societal mainstream. We therefore briefly explore the research into subcultures – and related to this the emergence of the ‘plethora of subcultures’ in the next section Long before the widespread adoption of the Internet, at the beginning of the 1970s, researchers became interested in the consumption practices of subcultures. Examples include the work done at the Birmingham Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies. Much of their work focused on the relationship between various subcultures and the perceived dominant (or mainstream) culture. What emerged, against the background of social upheaval in the 1970s, was an overabundance of ‘subcultures’, frequently young consumers rebellious against the alleged mainstream, usually adult, culture. Yet, the rebellious nature of these subcultures did not result in an unswerving antagonistic relationship with mainstream culture. Rather, with time, mainstream culture incorporated aspects of many sub cultural meanings or behaviors back into the mainstream and adopted these. An example is the originally 1960s London-based subculture of ‘mods’, with various revivals in different places in later years. While the original mod culture started to fade away in the second half of the 1960s, many of the brands and even places became adopted for mainstream consumption – brands such as Fred Perry, motor scooters such as Lambretta or Vespa, insignias such as the original Royal Air Force roundel all of which were originally associated with the mods – re-emerged in the mainstream. Carnaby Street, the original shopping street of many mods, became the focal point of ‘Swinging London’ in the late 1960s. Studies have shown that storytelling for business really works.
It continues to draw on this legacy today as an upmarket, youth-oriented shopping area, although there are no connections with the original mod subculture anymore. Over time, researchers studied an increasing number of subcultures, which originally were largely based on readily identifiable groups, existing ‘away’ from the mainstream. For example, ethnic minorities, gays or ‘alternative lifestyle’ groups – ranging from punks to skinheads, from hippies to rockers – were researched, and behavior first identified in subcultures increasingly became a prototype for subsequent, mainstream consumer behavior (such as the mods example above). Historically, subcultures existed away from the mainstream, drawing together individuals who felt neglected or outcast by the majority culture, creating their own social norms, behaviors and knowledge. Researchers realized that subculture members appropriated commercially available material taken from the mainstream culture, and interpreted these items according to a different set of values shared among st subculture members. An example of this is Dr Martens shoes. The shoes were originally popular with people who walked a lot as part of their profession, for example police officers and postal workers. Within the skinhead subculture, the Dr Martens shoes were reinterpreted away from the functional aspect of being a product that provided the wearer with comfort to walk, to a sign of belonging to the subculture. Therefore, the shoes, within the context of the skinhead subculture, identified the wearer as a fellow skinhead, and the consumption of these shoes (i.e. wearing them) carried symbolic and potentially political meaning.