Companies are constantly looking for new ways to shape their brand identity and control how they are seen. This is done through social media, ad campaigns, events – you name it! But there is a limit to how far a company can go in controlling its image...or at least, there used to be.
For example, Coca-Cola was invented by John Pemberton as an alternative to morphine addiction and a cure for headaches. Pemberton himself was addicted to morphine, and undoubtedly the target audience for his product was fellow addicts. But over time this changed, and Coca-Cola was adopted as a favourite soft drink and the birthday party staple we know today! This change in audience was not necessarily planned, showing that consumer bases can form organically – thus leaving an aspect of brand identity out of the company's control. And this doesn't have to be a bad thing; it certainly wasn't for Coca-Cola, which has become one of the most successful soft drinks in the world, with 1.7 billion servings being consumed every day.
Lately, however, there has been a growth in the trend of 'social proof'. People are attracted by crowds, and a company that seems popular is more likely to attract new customers than one that doesn't. Companies can use this in the way they market themselves; they can pay for likes for their company's Facebook page, they can send bloggers free products to promote, they can use celebrity endorsements to generate buzz. The technique even seeps into politics, with speculation that Donald Trump hired actors to attend his rallies.
Now, with the growing desire for social proof, companies are finding ways to take even more control of the way they are perceived. Some companies capitalise on this, making money from others' desire to create a buzz around their business through social proof. For instance, thesocialguys.co.uk allows businesses to buy Facebook likes and Twitter followers – just one of many websites to do so.
Then there are companies like Surkus, which take it a step further. Surkus, for example, sells itself as an 'on-demand marketplace that connects businesses with the ideal crowd that influence and activate their real-world events'. Such companies allow businesses to pick and choose who is seen at their events, thus literally crafting their ideal demographic. Rather than leaving it to fate, they can decide who is seen as part of their audience. If their ideal audience is the much-coveted millennial generation, they can populate their events with craft-beer drinking hipsters. If they desperately want to be perceived as sleek and professional, they can ask smartly suited businessmen and women to be seen at their gatherings.
Is this a good thing? Businesses have always had target audiences and they always will. This trend just allows them to target exactly who they're looking for, enabling them to shape their identity more reliably, rather than just hoping that the right people will see their event promotion on Twitter or Instagram.
On the other hand, does it create a culture of exclusivity that we would be better off avoiding? Does allowing brands to handpick their audiences create a society of cliques reminiscent of an American high school movie, where those who are not chosen to be part of a brand's identity feel too intimidated to engage with it?
Either way, it's food for thought!