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031 - Feel Mid? Blame Big Data
Why do brands and content feel so "meh" to Gen Z? Here's why Big Data is to blame, and how we can all be less mid
It’s been a while since I’ve (Emily here, Digital Creative Lead at MØRNING) written something for you to read and then promptly BURN after (see you in the inbox bin!), so I am glad to be back tapping away to our now 3,900+ subscribers. Oh, wait, maybe I shouldn't have used the stats - I’d hate for data to mid-ify this Substuck…
It’s no news that everything feels mid right now. Like most issues in culture today, social media is to blame (more on that later). But there’s another driver behind why everything is feeling so “meh” right now, one that hasn’t yet received its comeuppance: Big Data. In this week’s Burn After Reading, I’ll be breaking down how stats made everything standard, and how we can get to being *original* again - let’s go!
Part 1: Some Very Quick Definitions
If you haven’t heard of Mid, don’t worry, it’s only just been picked up by Google Trends, however, it’s been circulating on TikTok since 2020. Mid is typically used as a Gen Z insult for things that have little impact or are “okay”. In 2023, you'd rather your work be bad than be mid. At least the former makes you feel something.
There’s no wonder the kids have been saying it. Hyper-materialism is suppressing teen joy (adults are fine), profit-hungry brands are too scared to rock the boat and knowing what’s “cool” is an influencer away. Frat boys are wearing indie brands, we’re all DJs now and knowing who Marina Abramovic isn’t arty flex, it’s standard knowledge. Nothing is cool, nor cheugey - it’s all just mid.
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I’m almost getting nostalgic writing “Big Data”. What a vintage piece of Ad Tech jargon, eh? Anyway...
The year was 2011, and “radical customization, constant experimentation, and novel business models” was promised to all of Ad Land, which would make “new hallmarks of competition as companies capture and analyze huge volumes of data” (Mckinsey, 2011). Radical! Experimentation! Novel! HUGE! - this big data sounds dope, right? I mean, if you find retargeting ads of that fidget spinner from your Amazon basket dope, then it very much is!
Put simply: the Big Data era introduced complex online data techniques as a way to create complex target marketing models. Like never before, companies could make webs of inputs and algorithms dedicated to get your attention and sell you more stuff - and that’s capitalism, baby! By 2015, Big Data matured and is now part of life. Remember it used to be weird when your IRL conversation informed an ad? Now we embrace it, and hack if you’re really smart.
Part 2: How Big-Data made everything Mid
Vocab and history lessons complete, time for a hot take: how Big Data has altered our most replied-upon driver of culture (youth) and creative thinking to cause the great “mid-dification”.
Social Media Algorithms = Mid Machines
Youth’s key online haunts, TikTok and Instagram, have mass participation and a shared algorithm. On them, democratic information is forever flowing and with algorithms being, basically, an up voting tool: when something cool hits the feed it’s shared exponentially until it common knowledge. Cool gets likes, gets exposed, gets copied and gets mid. *yawns in jorts*.
Moreover, the kids know posting the cool de jour (*Tabis intensifies*) or the rare finds (“Song ID please 🙏”) pops off their performance, so they’re constantly feeding the Mid Machine with cool (see below), for online validation.
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You can see how this is endless? Offer up your “cool” to the algorithm gods until it’s the opposite, thus needing to find the next “cool” to make sure you’re not going mid. The thing is, we’re not all algo-chasers as described here, but the way that brands respond means that we are all impacted by the fall out, which brings me to my next point…
Brands on Data = Mid or Miss
Big data makes brands mid and, in some cases, miss the mark entirely. To unpack why this is, let’s think about how brands use big data.
Typically, brands will hunt for what has the biggest audience engagement across data points then combine them. They’ll use the huge influence of one thing, the trending colourway of another, add the inoffensive art direction of the day (VHS, anyone?) and blend it together to make the optimal creative output, right? It’s simple
boy girl brand maths.
Incorrect, Mr. CMO of MNC. What actually happens in this cherry picking of performance is that mass opinions and averages of everything (good and bad) are used to inform work, these are then aggregated into one creative vision, making not the optimal output, but something that’s a mid or miss. Mid since the output is so obvious (nothing new here *scrolls*) and miss since it’s a Frankenstein of thoughts making connection to no one, it’s not human.
“If you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll appeal to no one”- Justin Goff
Part 3: How Not to be Mid
It’s no surprise we’re mid in the wake of big data. In striving for algorithmic validation and rooting decisions in mass appeal, influencers and brands are catering and not innovating.
We’ve lost risk, we’ve lost uniqueness, we’ve lost the human touch, and worst of all we’ve lost creative intuition – and isn't this what really makes us love a brand?
We’re in urgent need of an intervention, and this is a good place to start:
(Human) Creative Intuition: Remember when it used to be so EASY to say which brands made the best adverts in the world? Currently, off the top of my head, I couldn't tell you. Brands are riffing off each other rather than setting a new path. It’s time to embrace creative intuition, the human kind with emotional sensibility that enriches work with connection. Moreover, brands should bet on their intuition to bring something never seen or experienced before.
Brand Personality: Don’t root in the trends of the day. Set values, tone, touchpoints, topics and stick to them to create truths and understandings you can start to play with to build lore, and brand traits people can connect to.
Use Tastemakers: Avoid using data that pulls on “the mass” as this will inform ideas that have already been popular. Tap into people who are regularly ahead of the curve as they’ll imbue what’s next into your brand not what’s been
Use Data Intentionally: Look at your sphere of impact, know what you’d like to learn or improve then make the data set. Data is powerful as it can help pull out what is consistent, where the gaps are and which superpowers to hone. Perhaps even work back from your goals - “what data set would output ideas for a groundbreaking creative?”.
I’d also like to use this post to put the anti-mid onus on us too (yes, and you!). We all have creativity within us and a duty to inspire ourselves and our friends. We just need nurture it.
“What can I do to be more inspired and make the world more inspiring?” you ask?
Variety makes life so rich, so I implore you to change your inputs to shake up your outputs. Switch your iPhone for a library, take a walk somewhere new, go to an event you wouldn’t usually go to, avoid tailored comms to let life’s serendipity seep in, or even scroll somewhere different - you’ll innately bring something new to the table. It might be good, it might be bad, but at least it won’t be mid.
So, what do you think? We’d love to know if you’re feeling mid and if you’re looking to shake the world up. Drop us a comment below or catch us over on Instagram.
And if you want more thoughts on mid, listen back to our podcast where we address “How Brands can avoid being mid” with Stack World founder Sharmadean Reid MBE, The Face's style & culture editor TJ Sidhu and artist, Balenciaga collaborator and Chief Content Officer of System Mag Ana Viktoria Dzinic
Words: Emily Chapps
Editor: Letty Cole