The notion of authenticity plays a central role in how things are sold and marketed to the niche we cover on Highsnobiety. Without going too in depth, it’s safe to say the “street culture” scene has grown from a grouping on of interrelated pursuits which adapted certain cultural products (e.g., the Timberland boot), to one that corporate entities wish to adopt. This comes as no surprise, I’m sure, but it still raises a lot of provocative questions.

For me, these questions often center on intent. Campaigns directed towards the niche traditionally follow a form involving key “influencers” and well-known products. Collaborations, which we’ve touched upon before, are an example. But there are also campaigns that build more deeply through the “influencer” model, and as such dig more directly into the way we consume information and think about the people who inhabit our space.

Most recently, I have watched the new Amp Energy campaign “What’s Next” with great interest. Like many products hurled towards us, Amp has little to do with our day-to-day lives, or even interests. While other energy drinks have pushed themselves into more concrete spaces (music or action sports), what drew me to the Amp campaign was the breadth. The variety of people involved do represent elements of what we cover quite comprehensively – from Nick Diamond to Steve Aoki. The products of the campaign also neatly encapsulate the ways we consume information about people in the industry. Through short videos, we learn about people’s background and their goals. Without being asked to explicitly push Amp, these folks explain the “moment before the moment”–that revelatory time that propelled them to do what they do.

In this structure, the videos closely resemble many of the short video interviews produced on sites like these. We get insight into the lives of people we might have actual investment in. On one level, they work beautifully to satiate a growing desire for connection to leaders, tastemakers, and of course “influencers.”

This approach for Amp was developed by Russ Jones and Ryan Rocca of PGW. Together they conceptualized a campaign including a tastemaker seeding program (the film series), a 25 city sampling program, and a retail fridge program. Key shops, like NYC’s Burton Flagship and Stussy DC, were given fridge’s and allowed a considerable degree of control in their aesthetic. Other spaces, like LTD Magazine’s office, were granted the same options. I asked Ryan about this portion of the program.

“Our initial goal was to enable the retailer to actually customize their fridge the way they wanted so they felt comfortable and confident to showcase the fridge in a visible location within their store.  Our Market Manager frequents each location and stocks them up with AMP each week so the retailer is able to offer the product to consumers who visit the store.  Each fridge has an etched ohm (AMP flame logo) on front so the branding is very subtle.  Once filled the fridge and branding really stands out with the 12-ounce green AMP cans.  We enable the retailer to brand the sided of the fridge.

The objective for us is to get product in the hands of relevant consumers and to really put a stamp on this demo and be where these tastemaker consumers frequent on a daily basis.  We also want to build a true partnership with the retail locations to enhance the overall experience and to enable them to offer AMP to customers.  We also will partner or get behind in store events (art galleries, pop-ups, product releases, etc.). We know that many of these retailers are particular in what goes on in-store and really couldn’t execute your traditional sampling program at these locations so we got creative and developed this program specific to what they want.”

The key here is the power granted to the consumer. To be in their space, and to brand it to an extent, but to do so in as natural and complimentary a way as possible. Similar to the tastemaker videos, the shop setup gives the consumer a place to engage with the brand without hampering their intended experience.

It’s a tricky balance to strike, assert oneself in a culture without being too brazen. To be present and at the same time give enough space for the culture to absorb the brand and its inherent values. Russ and Ryan know the market well. The campaign is built off their own personal experiences and relationships. Living and working in Venice beach, they have the opportunity to view and to engage with many elements of the culture they are pitching too. They recognize the danger of appearing inauthentic.

We all remember beverages from certain periods of our youth. For me, Jolt Cola had a huge role in early artistic and “outsider” sports ventures. Fueled by caffeine, I was ready for “the moment.” But, it was a drink chosen for the buzz and not for cultural association. In bringing Amp to us, presenting it as a fuel for our dreams, Russ and Ryan are asserting a place for the drink in our market niche. Even with reverence and true collaborative spirit, it represents the type of corporate involvement that allows both exposures for the things we love and infringes on the organic adaptation of product that built this culture.

This duality presents itself frequently. Our niche is fringe, undoubtedly, and is at the same time highly sought after. What we take to has market value. What we shun might not necessarily fall through the cracks, but is unlikely to reach full potential.

Bringing a new product into the niche, and hoping to set a base for organic adoption may seem a contradictory approach. One can’t push and also expect a welcome pull in return. However, in our current climate, this is what we as consumers face everyday. Marketing to our niche requires a certain degree of authenticity, one which I am still unable to pinpoint in an exacting way.

– nick schonberger,

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