‘Damn, Daniel’ took the world by storm but In this opinion piece Bryan Wilmot, Integrated Planner at Leo Burnett Sydney, argues that this was more than a funny video but a vivid reflection of the new world.
A viral video sensation turning two everyday teenagers into global but inevitably fleeting celebrities oddly isn’t the most uncommon synopsis for a cultural story these days. It’s the type of story we’ve become accustomed to finding in social feeds, online cultural hubs and even mainstream news.
However this one in particular took my interest for two reasons. First and foremost because there’s a Daniel seated opposite me at work who’s highly partial to wearing a fresh pair of white Van-like sneakers and so the ‘Damn, Daniel’ sound-byte provided weeks of entertainment. Don’t even get me started on the Bombs Away remix. But secondly it caught my marketer-eye as this viral hit had a brand embedded so deeply at its core.
Damn Daniel pic.twitter.com/Va10hmpePO
— Joshua Holz (@Josholzz) February 16, 2016
I remember thinking at the time “I’d hate to be the Vans community manager today”, but I also remember wondering how this elegantly ridiculous sensation would impact Vans on a commercial level. Well it turns out that it had a sizeable one. This Business Insider article reports that Vans saw first-quarter spikes in both direct-to-consumer and online sales, smashing forecasts. Their COO even saying; “Well done, Daniel. Well done.” while delivering this news.
Byron Sharp would probably argue that this is classic Ehrenberg-Bass principles at play. With people watching and imitating the ‘Damn, Daniel’ video in repetition and synchronicity for (at least) a solid week, it’s intuitively reasonable to assume that Vans was one of, if not the most commonly mentioned brand names on the planet during that time; more than enough to drive significant mental availability. Whether you subscribe to Sharpie’s theories or not, I believe there’s got to be some element of truth to them in this scenario, but regardless, this isn’t my point.
Most interesting to me was this as a glaring insight into Gen-Z – the generation loosely defined as those born in the mid 90s through early 00s and the next high value generation to brands. An insight into their psyche as well as the impact they’re having on something we talk a lot about in this industry; culture, which in many cases is used to refer to pop culture.
Pretty much since it existed as a concept, pop culture has been defined by the rich, the powerful, the famous, the “important”; the people in the spotlight. Whether they were the Kings and Queens of distant centuries or the Marilyn Monroes of more recent ones, they did things, said things, made things and wore things that influenced the rest of us, creating cultural trends. Yet as access to information has increased so too has access to each other, broadening the scope of whom the spotlight can be shined on.
Gen-Z is the first generation that can’t remember a world without the Internet. And as they enter their formative years, our post-internet world has matured to the point where anyone who wants a voice can find one in our “new-age” cultural forums.
As a result, culture is now multilateral and democratised. ‘Damn, Daniel’ shows us that it’s not only the traditional icons of culture that can wield influence over it. But even when it is, no longer is the story just about something they do. No, today, Jesse Williams makes a poignant speech on racial discrimination at the BET awards, Justin Timberlake Tweets in admiration of it and then the rest of the world weighs in on his right to do so. Culture is now an action, the reaction, the reaction to the reaction (and so on and so forth), and anyone – celebrity or citizen – can impact it at any of those points. This is the world, the only world, Gen-Z knows.
For this reason, they’re not just sharers, they feel empowered as creators of and contributors to culture. They don’t just want to post a photo of what they’re doing, they want to tell an entire story about it; and make it funny and shareable in itself. They truly understand content (for lack of a better word) and are making more of it than any other generation. That’s why Snapchat is the beast it is with this generation, because it enables creative storytelling more powerfully than any other social platform ever has.
‘Damn, Daniel’ is the perfect case which showcases Gen-Z as the creator-generation it is, living inside a culture where not only can a Snap, Tweet or Post can make you more famous than Kanye for a day – an insane concept in itself – but it can also profoundly impact the actions of others whether that’s imitating your voice or buying your shoes.
As Gen-Z become more influential, we as marketers and advertisers need to stop thinking about culture as a by-product of the things we place into it but rather a co-created fabric. Consumers are more than ever the captain’s of the ships we’re trying to steer, so maybe it’s time to stop trying to take the wheel and instead simply try to set the course.