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3_TRENDS_Vol.14: Dylan Viner: Cultural Correctives, Mindfully Productive + Weird Outdoor-sy
3_TRENDS is an interview series with the world's leading cultural researchers and thinkers, sharing their favorite overlooked trends.
Dylan Viner (DV) is CSO and Partner at TRIPTK, a transformation consultancy that decodes and recodes culture for brands. Prior to joining TRIPTK, Dylan served as Deputy Head of Strategy at Redscout, and previously held positions at R/GA, JWT, Grey and Schematic. His poison of choice is a negroni.
MK: Dylan, what’s on your mind?
DV: We put a lot of emphasis as cultural thinkers on what is emergent, but I've been fascinated by how much meaningful cultural revisionism is going on, looking back and reassessing, or correcting, an existing cultural narrative in order to move forwards.
High on the Hog is one such example; a wonderful series on Netflix that not only celebrates African American food but ultimately re-contextualizes it as the foundation of American cooking.
The Harder They Fall tells a fictional story that offers a corrective around cowboy culture that feels thematically similar.
And although less sincere in its intentions, even Pitchfork are using this moment of reflection to look back on album reviews they realize they perhaps got wrong. Although they don't call it out, looking at the list, it's remarkable how many of the artists whose talent they misjudged are women.
One interesting outcome of these correctives will no doubt be a more worthwhile debate around erasure. Should we remove the original protagonists and ideas or is it beneficial/educative to deliberately keep them.
MK: I’ve been on a tear rewatching early 00’s comedies and am convinced that humor here has a shelf life. Their language ages like milk.
I can’t help but tie this Correctives idea to our incessant nostalgia conversations — or as Megan Cullen of BBH recently put it, Future Phobia. I think Cultural Correctives are in part driven by the same thing.
Nostalgia’s use case is well past its “familiarity and comfort” value prop. There’s something deeper prolonging its stay.
I think our current nostalgia obsession is in part driven by stunted cultural output, which is requiring us to continually draw upon the past. We’ve got nothing else going on.
This is also indicative of our even larger attitude toward meme and remix culture.
When we speak and live via memes, we see everything as source material — even history.
Compounded by social and political correctiveness, our remixing of the past allows us to fittingly reproduce the accessible... adding a ‘22 flair, making it feel just new-ish enough to fit the moment.
Everything old is new again. Or as my colleague, Will Cady puts it, we’re facing Cultural Singularity. The future is just a constant reflection of the past.
From another angle, we can call this feedback to feedback. Reactions to reactions. Watching the Bachelor finale (I was forced!), I couldn’t help but freak over the picture-in-picture of live audience reactions. Zoom out, it was: At-home audience members reacting to a live studio audience member, reacting to the pre-recorded episode of a contestant, reacting to the Bachelor’s decision. This is not limited to reality TV, and feels illustrative of culture at large. Everything is a reaction.
Even the other night at the Oscars... There were just as many tweets making jokes bracing for the inevitable think pieces regarding the Will Smith slap than reactions to the moment itself. From the onset, we were reacting to potential reactions before we could even metabolize what just happened.
This feels like the problematic downside of what you originally surfaced. When the loop goes awry, how can we escape it?
DV: We are all knackered.
Between burnout and a now mature wellness, and more specifically, mindfulness economy, there are an abundance of ideas, products and brands aimed at getting us to slow down, take a breath or just do nothing. And indeed nothing about this feels remotely new or overlooked, but it is fascinating that there seem to be just as vibrant a set of wellness-ish offerings, from nootropics and yet-more health tracking devices to 10 min delivery services, “promising” to optimize our potential and our lives, as there are ones helping us to take a beat.
I think I quite like the contradiction that the same group of people both want to do it all and do nothing at all, and am curious if any brands will more deliberately exploit the intersection.
We’ve abandoned hustle porn thankfully, but we still seem to be marketed to in binaries. It doesn’t feel like we quite know how to brand the balance in a manner that feels aspirational.
MK: Obsessive Wellness is so par for the course.
That my Headspace app pushes notifications and delivers a daily refreshed “Feed” of wellness videos is endlessly perplexing to me.
Learning to exist between any cultural tension is critical for a brand... but especially this one, which is so omnipresent and defining of our moment: wellness + productivity. Being on vs. being off. Mindfulness vs. Mindlessness.
With so much today, there’s so little balance. This is an invitation for any organization to champion balance — internally or externally.
I love seeing posts of people intentionally breaking their Apple Fitness ring streaks to free themselves. “Today I finally, purposefully broke it!” Apple not promoting rest days is something, huh?
I recently pulled the trigger on a Whoop, a screenless fitness wearable — not to motivate or obsessively track my activity (which I’m very cautious to avoid), but to serve as my reminder to prioritize and measure my sleep, rest and recovery.
DV: The outdoors was already on a steady march (hike?) to becoming more popular (the number of people visiting National Parks getting problematic) and aspirational (non-endemic brands like Palace integrating Gorpcore lines and brands like Salomon and Merrell suddenly becoming cool), and all that was before Covid made escaping into the outdoors feel like a necessity.
And while the outdoors industry has significant and existential issues it still needs to wrestle with, from sustainability to inclusivity, I think it’s fascinating how brands entering the space are now coming armed with a POV so they aren’t just getting lost in the noise of brands jumping in.
Like many, I loved The North Face x Gucci partnership using Francis Bourgeois as an ambassador. The Highsnobiety strategy team openly talked about targeting the “eccentric exploration” of birdwatching, big veg growing and trainspotting for the campaign.
While rugged outdoors brands like YETI are thriving, I love how a more masculine, adventurous and athletic energy around the outdoors is also being traded for something altogether weirder and nerdier.
MK: Drawing upon the past and recycling stereotypes, you make me think that we’re seeing a resurgence of the hippie.
We’re looking at a big fungi, vibe’d out, muddy, Birkenstock, floral, cannabis, tie-dye, co-living, nomadic, psilocybin-fueled, Earth respecting, outdoor eccentric moment.
Our war time makes this even more peculiar...
Ironically, back to business... the caveat I want to echo is: all players from Gucci to NatGeo are approaching this outdoor moment distinctly.
It’s a great illustration of “Brand Elasticity” — how far and how exactly can I stretch my brand to map to a current cultural phenomenon? How can you also get outdoors?
High fashion and dirt read like water and oil, but strategized correctly, works.
“Weird Outdoor-sy” is not just fascinating in its own right, but a reminder that brands have more flexibility and room to play than they often realize.
Especially in our hour of hyped collabs x takeovers, it’s never been easier to join in, whatever “in” is. Trading cultural currency with another brand is the most simple way to partner up.
You often have something someone else wants.