Opinion: The Marketing Society Forum

Article excerpt

Do 'sub-culture' brands damage their essence through mass-market ads?

Footwear brand Dr Martens, once the preserve of manual workers, skinheads, punks and indie kids, is seeking to broaden its appeal globally by adopting a more mainstream 'fashion brand' strategy.


Jason Goodman, Chief executive, Albion

If 'mass-market advertising' means giving up on your outsider spirit, using creative that nobody can find offensive, and lazily bought broadcast media, then yes. However, if it means using traditionally mainstream media like TV, then no. These days we've learned from the internet and use TV in highly targeted ways to reach narrow attitudinal audiences effectively.

What could be more counter-culture and rebellious than taking a big broadcast TV spot (think The X Factor final or the Super Bowl) and then using it to run highly polarising creative that catapults the brand into the mass-market consciousness, but doesn't try to win a popularity contest? That then stimulates the debate in social media.

Plus, Generation Y doesn't have the tribal affiliations previous generations did. Instead they use a bricolage of products and brands to construct their own unique identity. So a brand like Dr Martens no longer has a narrow stereotype audience, but is used by kids across the 'mass market' to make their own individual statement.


Martin Buckley, Head of planning, glue Isobar

The true challenge is defining the essence itself, not the use of mass advertising per se. Done poorly, the brand misinterprets its value in consumer life and mass advertising leads to mass dilution. Done well, the brand can transcend any one sub-culture, trend or generation and mass advertising adds new meaning to a rich brand story. The Adidas 'All in' campaign is a great example of this.

Invention, self-confidence and authenticity define the Dr Martens brand in my mind. These facets emanate from the founders themselves, and were well established before punk came along to kick the establishment in the balls. Punk clearly fused 'rebellion' into the brand, but that's not a bad mantra for a brand to have in a digital age. The brand isn't in control anyway, so all it can do is stay true to itself.

At its heart, Dr Martens now has a powerful vocabulary with which to engage a mass audience. Unless the strategist had a very bad day in the office, investing in the essence of this great brand feels like an open goal.


John Morris, Managing director, Design Bridge

How do we define a sub-culture brand? …


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