Why counterculture is changing everything, so we should too

Dyon J. Kaleuwee
4 min readJun 7, 2021

In the advertising world, I always hear people speak about the major importance of culture. You’ve got to take culture into account for your work and it definitely has to be mentioned in your about-page at least twice, or the SEO guy will feel left out. It’s a funny thing, this culture. What the hell do we mean with it?

Meriam Webster describes it as: “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group.” While my old shit-I-forgot we-had-a-paper-due partner Wikipedia sees it as: “an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities, and habits of the individuals in these groups.” Man, that’s a lot of words all together.

I believe we’ve come to a point where the word has grown larger than the definition. If culture was a campaign idea, what would the copy be? After spending years in art school, cracking my skull open over universal difficulties like this, I started writing. Since then I have come to realize that sometimes the answer to one idea is a different idea altogether.

In the advertising world, I rarely hear people speak about counterculture anymore. You’re not expected to bring it up during a meeting, unless you’re a sucker for giving long lectures that no one listens to. In which case, you should consider being a middle school teacher. Counterculture is something relatively disregarded by the industry’s vocabulary, although we’re all witnessing it from up close.

If culture would be a revolving door, counterculture would be the kid with the sticky hands pushing up against it, making it and everyone in its cycle come to a halt. Normally we would overrule the kid and the earth would continue turning as normal. Except we’re not looking at a little kid anymore. This is an adolescent, with slightly less sticky hands and a proclivity towards trouble. So, what do we do? The truth is, we are not in control of the door anymore.

We live in a world that starts to increase on these ‘adolescents’. Youngsters putting their actions where their mouth is, because money is mostly out of the question. It’s a whole generation that is starting to question all the things that we currently view as ‘culture’. In fact, the rise of this phenomenon is creating a kind of culture on its own. That’s where I personally believe counterculture finds its definition.

I could use this section, telling you about all the relevant things happening today that could serve as an example. From protests, to wars. But I’d rather leave that up to the newspapers. The way I’m looking at it is this: we should probably be mindful of where we stand. Culture is not just a term anymore, it’s an idea. And for every idea, there’s an opposing one. The question is: which one are we going to really buy into?

I’m well aware counterculture is not a new thing. Especially in advertising, which has been co-creating this movement for centuries. Culture and counterculture will always be revolving around one another like conspiracy thinkers at a flat earth convention. One instigates another and so the circle (obviously unlike the earth) is round.

But something really interesting is happening this time around. Counterculture seems to be creating itself. It has been weaponized by new communication tools like TikTok, Snapchat & Instagram, which has become part of its creative language. A language in which, let’s be honest, we can barely authentically express ourselves. This means for the first time in a pretty long cycle, counterculture is having the upper hand and has found the influence to completely swipe up the future.

If your doubting the extend of this influence, then think about how an infamous social media celebrity like Logan Paul ever managed to strong-arm himself a place in the ring with Floyd Mayweather.

Source: mmafighting.com

What does this mean for us in the creative field? I think we still have a unique opportunity to help steer this unstoppable shift in culture, but it requires us to also put in action where our mouth is. It requires us to over-estimate our youngsters and under-estimate our convictions. Perhaps it means convincing our clients that language has changed, but that it only opens the door for copy to be even more engaging & inclusive. Perhaps culture will not be what we remember it to be, but it can still become what we envision it to be.