Reverse psychology in the desert of the real

Dear Hipster:

Every time I see a commercial for Sailor Jerry rum, all I see is a big business using hipsters’ ideals of nonconformance to exploit them. Are hipsters really this blind to such an obvious marketing technique?

— Mike


Does the hip community lean right or left politically? Or does their independent spirit require them to put (I) next to their printed names?

— Leon, Encanto

The Sailor Jerry ads — part of the rum company’s “Outside the Lines” ad campaign — would make a sincere appeal to hipster values of originality and nonconformity. Take the example of the punk-rocker chick, the one teaching herself the mandolin so she can write country music, and whose husband sports a matching finger-tat (“I’ll keep you wild” to her “Keep me wild”). They’re everything a neo-twee hipster couple ought to be!

Of course, no real hipster would ever consciously identify with an advertisement, because ideals of individuality. They’re hardly blind to this “obvious marketing technique,” but they’re also not inured to the effects of clever advertising. Older generations adopted the sound bite and the 30-second advert, but millennial-aged hipsters were born to it, molded by it. For many, advertising is the common tongue. In the ’80s, when many of today’s hipsters were born, a guy you’ve prolly never heard of said, “All original cultural forms, all determined languages are absorbed in advertising because it has no depth, it is instantaneous and instantaneously forgotten.” He prophesied a “Triumph of superficial form, of the smallest common denominator of all signification, degree zero of meaning, triumph of entropy over all possible tropes.”

To wit, the shallow language of advertising, which grabs meaning indiscriminately wherever it finds it (in the same way that hipsters are said to pilfer style from other cultures), dominates and subsumes all forms of communication.

Melodramatic, yes. But also accurate. Many hipsters share the lingua franca of advertisement and commodification, and the constant commercialization of their fresh ideas both comforts and disconcerts them.

The best ads that target hipsters do so with a kind of reverse, hipster-hating approach. Garagista Brewing, a South African beer company, launched an ad campaign that claims its craft beer is totally unsuited for hipster consumption. If you haven’t yet seen the Denham jeans ad that parodies American Psycho, watch it.

Hipsters can laugh at themselves, and making them do so can be a great way to sell beer, pants, or whatever.

On the other side of advertising (to touch on hipster politics), America’s parties both want the hipster vote. A recent GOP campaign featured Scott Greenberg, DC resident, self-proclaimed Republican, and tortoise-shell-glasses-wearing hipster. The series of vignettes features Greenberg explaining why he identifies with the Republican party and why his fellow Millennial citizens ought to do the same. Counter that with Oregon’s campaign to familiarize people with the benefits of the Cover Oregon ACA health-insurance market, a TV ad for which features a flannel-clad hipster strumming his guitar, singing of bonhomie, buying insurance, and locally harvested produce.

Pollsters don’t have a category for hipster. They mark age, race, gender, religion, income, and ethnicity, but since hipsters encompass all those categories, many think there’s no point in trying to court “the hipster vote.” For the most part, trying to coerce hipsters into identifying with a cause will be a great way to alienate them.

The strongest voices in hipster politics these days belong to Russell Brand and Gavin McInnes, both of whom have come out against voting and playing politics, which are the ultimate mainstream, after all.

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