Is it a return to the ‘80s or just a sign of austerity, and what they reveal about the limits of Big Data?
Is it ventilation (a comment on global warming?), a sign of hard times (clothes being worn beyond their ‘best before’ date?), is it ‘vintage’ fashion (alongside ‘distressed’ furniture and a return to vinyl records)…? Ripped jeans are all around us; but what do they mean? You may recall a similar question I posed about the incorporation of so much velvet, in a previous blog!
Well, now it’s ripped jeans; and there’s a story there, somewhere. According to Tony Glenville, creative director at London College of Fashion, they may be about authenticity (or otherwise), “No one wants to look like they’re trying too hard.”
I think it’s more to do with what I call ‘phone cover’ logic (or – in marketing jargon – ‘mass personalisation’). Since half the population appears to possess either a Samsung Galaxy or an iPhone, phone covers are a way to impose some sort of individuality on the device. In fact, phone covers are the only way to distinguish one mobile phone from another from the outside; maybe the ‘cracked screen’ look is the ripped jeans equivalent in mobile phone terms. And vice versa. As our accessories become increasingly uniform, the rip could represent our individuality; a rejection of conformity, a statement of personality. Such alternative logic would be more convincing if the tears weren’t crafted at the manufacturing stage – on an industrial scale – and if they didn’t actually attract a premium in price terms. Just like the doughnut and the Polo; it’s the empty space that you end up paying for!
According to the Ripped Jeans Community (yes, really) it is indeed the holes which make all the difference, sartorially. And, I quote: “Every pair of ripped jeans is different and has their own style and personality just like each and every one of us. Each rip and stain tells a different story and instead of being patched up and covered, show them off and embrace them. (It) turns out a lot of people think those rips and stains are pretty cool and willing to pay top dollar for them….”
What’s this got to do with Big Data, you ask? Nothing. And that’s the point. The ripped jeans phenomenon is a global trend which defies logic. Is it retro or futuristic? Is it alternative or the height of convention? What triggered the trend, and how long will the trend last? At what point do people stop laughing at ‘80s fashion and start wearing it again?
I’m not sure where to find the answers; but I can have fun trying to hypothesise. And this is what this post is all about. In the case of ripped jeans, Big Data, algorithms and analytics aren’t going to be much help; to decrypt the nuances of collective human behaviour we are best advised to start with…humans.
This idea appears to be catching on. I’m indebted to my colleague, Arnab Mukerjee, for sharing the following insight with me. According to the President and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations, Tina McCorkindale, despite (or because of) the overwhelming volume of data now available, senior communications professionals are resorting to ‘trusting their gut’ to generate
insights, which then subsequently validate with data. One global CMO director is cited: “We don’t mine on data alone. I’m a big proponent of using a balance of [data] and instinct as a consumer.” Another goes further: “Big data can be bad; it can become very paralysing,” said the head of marketing for a food services company. “You’ve got to stay low to the ground and keep a pulse. I’m a big proponent of using gut and instinct as an actual consumer myself. You’ve got to literally be on the ground, thinking and acting like your target audience. So we don’t mine extensively on data.”
Wow, this is as radical as ripped jeans! It looks like PR is returning to the ‘80s and turning to instinct and intuition again! I’m not sure how long the ripped jeans look will last, but I’m a firm believer in humanity being the best source for insights.