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5 ways for brands to balance commodification and creativity on social media in 2024

5 ways for brands to balance commodification and creativity on social media in 2024

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With the rapid change in consumer behaviour within the social landscape, we are seeing an increase in demand for pure authenticity and unhampered creativity in terms of social media content. 

In this new era of social, consumers have realised that neither commerciality nor creativity can govern alone. Instead, users are looking for new avenues for genuine self-expression, even within a commodified landscape. This has played out across social media trends such as the pushback against materialism in the de-influencing trend and cultural phenomena such as “Barbiemania” in 2023.

This time, global creative agency We Are Social has also highlighted the five social media trends based on the findings of its "Think Forward 2024" report, which revealed that individuals are re-evaluating the value of their attention and participation on social media.

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1. Attention layering

With the rise of short-form video that resulted in the emergence of hyper-stimulating “sludge content’, people are looking for ways to guide viewers “back to relaxed modes of focus”. This takes the form of content such as long-form video essays of the likes of YouTube creator, Mina Le, that can span for over an hour. According to the report, this “indicates a desire for in-depth and entertaining learning” that leans into creative and critical thinking.

To better leverage this trend, brands can experiment with a broad scope of novel ways to attract and maintain attention – whether partially or entirely, for seconds or hours on end. For example, the report cited Nissan’s 4-hour stream on YouTube, depicting YouTube creator, Lo-Fi Girl, as part of its promotion of the Nissan ARIYA car. The brand partnership aimed “to communicate the powerfully peaceful vibe of the vehicle” through content that enabled moments of calm and focus.

2. Represent diversity with nuance

As the standards for representing communities become more specific and complex, consumers are taking a new approach to identity-building and self-expression.

Nonetheless, the preference is shifting from active representation to passive, as people seek to explore their identities without proudly putting them on display. For example, Reddit threads such as r/AskBlackGirls, r/AskTransgender, and r/AskGayBrosOver30 “help people gain a more nuanced understanding of marginalised groups’ lived reality” through exploratory anonymous storytelling.

Brands need to move beyond intentional representation, where the representation of diverse voices was the business of perfunctory box ticking, according to the report. It cited Ford and Dickies’ partnership with actress Sydney Sweeney as a positive example. While a brand might choose to spotlight women-led stories and dismantle female stereotypes in a bid to challenge gender stereotypes, Sweeney was selected for her “well-documented obsession with car garages”. In fact, without any mentions of femininity or womanhood in the piece, the report cited this partnership as one that represents people rather than their identifiers.

3. Blur the physical and virtual

The digital world is also seeing blurring boundaries with the physical world, according to the report. “In today’s world, characters, communities, and behaviours born on the internet are moving seamlessly into offline worlds,” it said.

“Among social’s most fluent users, friendship and storylines don’t need to play out end-to-end online,” it added. The increasing interplay between offline and online worlds, such as artist Drake’s integration of Snapchat’s “crying face” AR filter in his “Laugh Now, Cry Later” live performance, showcases how creativity lies at the intersection of physical and virtual worlds.

In turn, “the library of cultural touchstones for brands to reference is bigger and riper than ever,” the report said. Brands that “reflect digital world codes into brand stories” can demonstrate their digital culture literacy, which “resonates especially well with the world of e-commerce.”

4. Participate in collective fan experiences

The rise of fandoms has also seen individuals engage in fan behaviours and immerse themselves in collective moments, regardless of whether they were fans of a certain celebrity or story. Citing the Barbie movie and Taylor Swift’s “The Eras Tour”, the report highlighted that “the internet has transformed how we express our passions, fostering a sense of belonging and community among fans and non-fans alike.”

For brands, this poses a “boundary-pushing creative opportunity”, in which they can “participate in effective behaviours that amuse, inspire, and benefit all parties,” said the report. For example, it cited IKEA USA’s “Find Your Slice of Life: The 4th Roommate” which promoted its products aimed at students returning to school. The video, which adopted an anime style, aimed to appeal to a cultural space popular with Gen Z to connect with that audience.

5. Act out

Finally, as online spaces get commercialised with the likes of Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter in November 2022, a counter-trend that embraces mischief is emerging. Here, individuals are “seeking to break free from the constraints of commercial structures that have come to define social media,” according to the report.

For example, the de-influencing trend saw creators “rejecting smooth, subtle salesmanship in favour of content that makes people less comfortable.” In a monetised landscape, risky behaviours appear to be the way to go for brands and content creators.

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