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The Elusive Hipster Curve

January 17, 2009

My good friend Shannon Bain was in town over the holidays and we had a couple of really great conversations about trend analysis and branding (brand consulting is what he does, and he does it very well). His interest (besides an intellectual one) is obviously in advising clients on their brands, while mine is strictly neophyte-anthropological. What he scratched, literally, onto a napkin at The Local has been expanded into an articulate post – the first meditation on what will be an extended thought exercise: Trendsetters, Hipsters, and Regular Joes.

What is of interest to me is how a fashion or a cultural meme bubbles up from the underground, and at what point of mainstream-ish appropriation it ceases to be cool to both the pioneers and early adopters of it. On the above chart, the X axis represents the number of people giving value to a cultural artifact. This can be a band, a fashion, a slang expression. You can plug in any trend: MGMT, tight jeans, Vice magazine or, for full hindsight perspective, trucker hats (a trend that’s run it’s path). The Y axis is the popularity of the cultural object among the 3 groups.

Shannon says:

As the new thing catches on among the trendsetters, it approaches point a. At this point the hipsters, who have been monitoring the culture for up and coming trends, take note and the trend moves from negative to positive for them. This is a tipping point for the hipsters and it marks the beginning of devaluation for the trendsetter.

Notice that in this idealized setting (for the brand, that is), the trend ends at n – it’s not especially valued nor is it especially de-valued (if I’m reading it correctly). In an alternate portrait, we can imagine it being completly  de-valued: no one wants to touch it.

Shannon will be posting more about the “sweet spot” for a brand, which I think is somewhere just before b. Converse Chucks, Vans, Adidas – I’m lookin at you.

More to come on this. In the meantime, it’s fun to look at a current trend while you’re hitting the club (hipsters and trendsetters) or the at the mall (regular joes) and observe it’s status or predict when or if it will become uncool.

Someone with way too much time on their hands over at Hipster Run Off is making similar lengthy and balllsy speculations about Animal Collective. This person is either insane, a genius, or both.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. dookie permalink
    January 27, 2009 9:29 PM

    I wonder if the trend approaches this same model over long periods of time. That is to say, that which is old becomes new again. Garage rock, for example, has enjoyed several trips in and out of the spotlight, and early hip hop fashion flashed back into popularity. As regular joe tires of a trend, does (perhaps younger) trendsetter find it valuable again, if not merely due to its dismasal? I mean I’m not excusing my ex-girlfriend for listening to Cat Stevens, ever, but I feel like over long periods of time, the wave (at least for trendsetters) continues. In other news, this has inspired a Von Dutch Halloween costume that I think might just knock ’em dead!!

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