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Opinion and Insight

What Brands Can Learn from Jeremy Corbyn and His Appeal to Youth Culture

B-Reel Films, 1 year, 4 months ago

BRF director and vocal Twitter personality Glenn Kitson speaks ahead of Thursday’s UK General Election

What Brands Can Learn from Jeremy Corbyn and His Appeal to Youth Culture

The UK will vote on Thursday in an election that was meant to be dull and one-sided. It should have been a landslide for Theresa May and her Conservative government, against Jeremy Corbyn, who was portrayed in the media as a lackadaisical ‘non-leader’. 

But it hasn’t quite worked out that way. 

The Tories’ 21 point lead in the polls has been slashed to as low as five amidst a slew of growing support for Corbyn (as well as other factors). 

Much of the Labour leader’s support is coming from Britain’s youth - millennials to you adlanders. On the policy side, his manifesto contains youth-friendly promises, such as scrapping university tuition fees, and disarmingly unpolished, normcore granddad charms, mean that young people are flocking in support of his party. Almost the entire grime music community has publicly come out in support of Labour and a range of British street wear labels are producing items such as this bootleg Nike tee promoting Corbyn. And people are buying them and wearing them. But, the voter numbers among the young are notoriously lower than older groups, so the question is whether Corbz’s youth appeal really could swing the election.

Naturally, a lot of this conversation goes down on social media, and a voice of reason, humour and importance over recent weeks on Twitter has been that of Glenn Kitson, a founding member of menswear magazine and creative studio The Rig Out. (Check out his Twitter here.) He’s recently gone solo as a director, signing with BRF, and has a short film entitled ‘The Long Grass’ coming out next week for online streetwear community Wavey Garms. Also keep an eye on the Guardian next week, where he’ll be discussing Stone Island.

But for now, and in the wake of Thursday’s election, he’s here with LBB’s Addison Capper to talk Jeremy Corbyn, his appeal to youth culture, and what brands could learn from his recent resurgence. 

LBB> Corbyn has widely won over the young vote - let’s call them millennials to really give this some advertising spiel. That group of people have rarely engaged in politics in recent years, and brands and agencies are having a tough time getting them to engage too. What could brands learn from his approach and the turnaround in popularity he’s experiencing? 

GK> Jeremy Corbyn has connected in an unprecedented way. 100% credible. How do I think brands can learn from Corbyn?

Consumers are getting older, so your dad is buying the same trainers as your best mate. As a result a lot of brand stories since the mid-noughties have been focussing on retro. Brands as a whole have been living in the past, but those that are successful shifted the focus to future stories, new cultures, new technologies - I'm thinking Nike or Stone Island.

And for instance Adidas, who traded on the past these last few years, suddenly have had a massive resurgence since they've shifted their focus to the present. 

Brands and politics should move things forward. And at the very least exist in the present. 

When your dad or your favourite brand is banging on about the good old days all the time it's not a good look is it?

Banging on about the good old days and wearing your dad’s clothes is never a good look. 

Corbyn's message is change in the present and hope in the future. He represents change. He's connected because fundamentally, he is of the here and now. 

He's not the one constantly bringing up the IRA, he's talking about a change in how we do things. This is why he's connecting.

And that’s where traditional media has fallen behind and is completely missing the point. NME just asked Corbyn about Oasis vs Blur… 20 years on and still asking the same tired questions…

LBB> Pretty much the whole grime community are urging fans to vote and I’ve seen quite a few house / techno DJs explicitly saying they’re voting for him. Why has he struck a chord with these types of groups? 

GK> Grime was way ahead the first time around. I think it's everybody else that has caught up finally. These scenes have been around for a while and they are the ones pushing things forward. They're the cutting edge. And also let's not forget the racist undertones of other parties. 

It actually wouldn’t surprise me if Drake delivered the closing speech at this year’s Labour party conference. Not only has he been hanging out with the BBK crew and getting outs from Stormzy, you only have to look around from Dalston to Manchester’s Northern Quarter to see people swapping Supreme t-shirts for bootleg Nike Corbyn and fake Palace Labour tees. 

This isn’t some Billy Bragg acoustic protest bullshit, this is the voice of the youth, the estates, the sixth forms, the night clubs and the youth clubs. Corbyn has connected the youth across class and geography. I believe the term is ‘real recognise real’. 

Music has always been a great conduit for this but only as long as it's real and authentic.

A great example of this is Awful Records in the States. Check them. 

LBB> I know you’re into clothes, so let’s talk about Jeremy’s. The Tories lambast him for being scruffy whereas his supporters just see him as a bloke in a normal 21st century outfit. Vogue has even likened his slightly too big blazers to being “very Vetements”. What do you think the thought process is behind what he wears? He has tidied up a little bit recently… And how powerful do you think look is in appealing to voters?

GK> Clothes? I thought you'd never ask… 

It's honest isn't it. I loved that photo of him in that baggy tracksuit, he wasn't going running was he? That was pure leisure. I can relate. 

Let's face it, Vetements can be anything can't it? I just like the fact that Vogue are behind him.

I honestly don't think he thinks about it too much. 

LBB> How do you bring your political views into what you do as a director? Is it more a case of having to leave them behind or it central to what you offer as a director? 

GK> As a director, I always want to be connecting to people and tell my story. It’s difficult. Brands are scared, yet you see the stuff that really cuts through are the stories that have a political edge. The ones with an opinion.  

We need to be current if we want to be talking to young people, we need to be honest. I don’t bring political views but I bring relevance. Good advertising is relevant to those it tries to talk to.

I come from a fashion background but I've never been comfortable with fashion for fashion’s sake. I've always tried to approach things from either a performance or cultural led basis - this way it is always honest, authentic and credible.

Right now, politics is an important cultural reference point, for sure. 

LBB> A lot of advertising / branded output is ‘for a cause’ but very little of it with a political angle, which is understandable because it’s such a polarising issue. But, in your view, do you think brands would do well to engage more? This could relate to Brexit, the UK election, Trump… 

GK> I actually think brands have responded to Trump, I've seen a lot of very clever social messaging but there is always room for more. I dig when an angry intern gets the company twitter account and runs with it. More of that please.

I do feel more could have been done pre-Brexit. I feel it caught brands on the hop… they didn't get their acts together or didn't want to commit. I felt they let us down here. 

LBB> You’ve got a big Twitter following and much of what you tweet about is politics-related - but like a lot of the support for Corbyn, your tone of voice is different to a lot of other commentary. So, as someone actually doing this, what are the tricks to getting people engaged?

GK> Be nice, be witty, but have an opinion.
I'm more known for my Sam Allardyce / crisps tweet than any of my directing or brand consultancy.

It is definitely my most famous work to date…  

LBB> Do you think the age to vote should be lowered? 

GK> Yes 100%, it's their future. They should get two votes to our one.

LBB> Why should people vote for Labour on Thursday?

GK> Look, I don't in anyway think Corbyn is the finished product by any stretch of the imagination, but I do feel he offers a new way. A modern way. We need this, America had their chance and they blew it and look what happened, let's learn from that. We keep voting in these people who are ruled by finance and the market forces, we need a new way. 

Einstein’s definition of insanity goes: repeating the same mistake and expecting different results. Let's not keep repeating the past. 

Surely that’s worth a punt?

Check out more of Glenn’s work here:
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