As I sit in a cafe on a regenerated street on Dublin’s Southside sipping a €5 coffee I wonder to myself: “why did I buy this?” – payday is still miles away and my account does not look healthy….I looked around and noted the artwork on the walls, the 90’s alternative band posters, the kitschy design and the lump of wood my coffee was presented on. I had walked past at least 10 chain cafes turning my nose up at each for some bizarre reason (coffee is coffee after all) before picking this one. As exhilarating as it sounds, I began to do a little research.
The advent of “hipster” culture in Ireland has brought with it a flood of beards, craft beers and artisan foods (the definition of which remains broad to say the least). While I shamelessly indulge in all of the above, (well aside from the beard, I’ve never had much success with that one) it has made me wonder two things: what is behind it and what implications can this have for Irish markets? In the U.S. there has been a 300% rise in specialist coffee shops since 2002, the craft beer industry now accounts for 19% of the U.S. beer market and between 2003-2014 the sales of organic foods have doubled to $29.4 billion, (Daneshkhu & Whipp, 2016). The demand for high quality artisan products has without a doubt risen due to a rise in millennials seeking higher quality and unique products, (Daneshkhu & Whipp, 2016). This effect has been seen in the decreasing of sales from “mainstream” brands which we all know and previously loved and the explosion of sales in brands which cater to more obscure tastes, (Sherman, 2008).
Sherman, (2008) observes that today’s hipster is driven by consumption as opposed to previous subcultures who were driven by music or group opinion. Is there an explanation for this? A few social scientists have given it a shot with some interesting results.
The Hipster Effect:
In-depth interviews with those deeply immersed in urban culture have revealed that many of us are rejecting shallow, boring or easy trends and prioritising authenticity and individuality, (Michael, 2013). One fascinating piece of research by Touboul (2014) discusses the “hipster effect”. The long and short of it is that we are all hipsters, all striving to be unique in some way as we all want an identity different to Joe Bloggs across the road (and Joe feels the same way about you). As we all frantically scramble to be different we ironically create patterns and start to become the same while searching to be different. Drinking that craft beer and only buying that brand of artisan, hand-made organic cola may instil a sense of uniqueness for now, but how long until everyone else catches on to being unique in that way? Sadly it seems, our battle to be unique takes constant change and effort.
Although at first glance the desire to be different could be seen as a total rejection of the idea of social groups but I have a hunch that the development of the hipster subculture is a good example of social identity theory. This theory holds that social groups are often a source of pride and boost self-esteem as belonging to the “in” group is much better to being like Joe Bloggs in the “out” group, (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). Being in the “in” group makes us feel better about ourselves because we are part of something be it a club, sport or even a lifestyle. So having a love for fine craft beers, artisan coffee served on hunks of wood and other exquisite edgy tastes puts us in a much better group than those poor souls caught up in widely known brands and international chain restaurants. Of course we aren’t part of a group in our own eyes….we are….unique, but unconsciously we love being in this refined edgy group of non-conformists.
The Cost of Identity:
Psychologists specialising in consumer behaviour have concluded that people will not only spend money on things to keep them alive such as food and water, but also on items or services which help them express identity, (Wise, 2010). Previous research has demonstrated that people will consume in line with their sense of self, (Escalas, 2012).
Going back to Sherman’s (2008) statement that the hipster culture is driven by consuming in a way never previously seen in the history of sub-cultures we may begin to see just why buying is so prevalent in this group.
Shopping feels good, retail therapy IS a thing and has been shown to boost mood, (Atalay & Meloy, 2011). Having an identity feels good too, (Tajfel & Turner , 1979). Donnelly, Ksendzova & Howell, (2013) wonderfully demonstrated that valuing material goods, shopping to boost mood and looking for products that bolster a sense of identity have a major influence on compulsive buying.
Identity has many emotional connotations, to be “us” is a journey that is deep in everyone’s heart. It could be that this emotional aspect of being us also plays a role in our spending. Margalit, (2015) discusses the idea that our decisions to buy can also be influenced by the deep rooted and often unconscious emotional responses we have to certain items and that these emotional responses will make us buy and buy fast. If an item that tugs at our desire to be unique or helps to define us as people is sitting on the shelf we will probably buy it.
The desire to be unique and edgy comes at a cost of course, that artisan cedar wood infused gin is not going to be cheap…read the label for god’s sake, it was handmade and aged for 3 years! If you want this look and identity you had better have the capital to back it up it seems sadly. Taking craft beer as an example, you could buy 12 bottles of mass produced macrobrew for the price of six craft beers, (Satran, 2014). Another example is the introduction of the gluten free craze. Being gluten free has become a major trend, even in those without a medical diagnosis of coeliac disease, (Marsh, 2016) and an expensive one at that. The price of these goods is rising fast as demand grows with consumers seeking a gluten free alternative having to spend almost 3.5 times more than the regular gluten infused (god forbid mass produced) product, (Irish Examiner, 2013).
The Future of the Hipster Euro:
Despite the price hikes, it seems the desire for identity has a bottomless bank account. Going back to Touboul (2014)’s findings on the hipster effect, could it be that every time uniqueness runs out (Joe Bloggs drinks that coffee now too…goddammit) we will strive to find a new way of showing how unique we are and of course spend even more money? Excellent news for marketers! It is my opinion that in order for businesses to cash in on this trend they will need to adopt a very dynamic model where each product has a limited life-span. Once this product has caught on and is nearing mass indulgence it becomes mainstream and loses its identity giving powers. A new and even more obscure one will need to take its place to ensure profit margins keep rising.
Hipsters are an attractive demographic for marketers for a number of reasons. One major reason is that us hipsters are young (and thus not able to spend real money just yet) and represent a massive segment of consumers with it being suggested that hipsters are more powerful than any previous counterculture, (Danziger as cited in Sherman, 2008). As this counterculture grows up and enters high end employment its spending power may just increase which is very good news for the artisan coffee house which used to be a derelict jam factory AS LONG as it stays dynamic.
Atalay, A. & Meloy, M. (2011). Retail therapy: A strategic effort to improve mood. Psychology And Marketing, 28(6), 638-659. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/mar.20404
Daneshkhu, S. & Whipp, L. (2016). Hipster dollar carries heavy weight as millennials come to market. FT. Retrieved from http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/bfce2878-c691-11e5-b3b1-7b2481276e45.html#axzz47uKIfp1l
Donnelly, G., Ksendzova, M., & Howell, R. (2013). Sadness, identity, and plastic in over-shopping: The interplay of materialism, poor credit management, and emotional buying motives in predicting compulsive buying. Journal Of Economic Psychology, 39, 113-125. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.joep.2013.07.006
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Irish Examiner,. (2013). Market for gluten-free products continues to rise as sales grow. Irish Examiner. Retrieved from http://www.irishexaminer.com/business/market-for-gluten-free-products-continues-to-rise-as-sales-grow-246823.html
Marsh, S. (2016). Hipsters are making it way more expensive for proper coeliacs to eat gluten-free. Coach. Retrieved 7 May 2016, from http://coach.ninemsn.com.au/2016/04/19/16/17/hipsters-give-gluten-free-a-bad-name-and-a-high-price
Michael, J. (2013). It’s really not hip to be a hipster: Negotiating trends and authenticity in the cultural field. Journal Of Consumer Culture, 15(2), 163-182. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1469540513493206
Satran, J. (2014). Finally, A Breakdown Of Why Craft Beer Costs So Much. The Huffington Post. Retrieved 7 May 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/12/craft-beer-expensive-cost_n_5670015.html
Sherman, L. (2008). The New Counterculture’s Buying Power. Forbes. Retrieved 6 May 2016, from http://www.forbes.com/2008/10/01/hipster-buying-power-forbeslife-cx_ls_1001style.html
Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. The social psychology of intergroup relations?, 3(47).
Touboul, J. (2014). The hipster effect: When anticonformists all look the same. Arxiv.org. Retrieved 6 May 2016, from http://arxiv.org/abs/1410.8001
Wise, J. (2010). The Sad Science of Hipsterism. Psychology Today. Retrieved 7 May 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/extreme-fear/201009/the-sad-science-hipsterism