The Rise of Anti-Heritage Branding

The last few years have shown an increasing shift in heritage and tradition, with the concepts becoming less nebulous and more commonly expressed in marketing as a trend towards hand-made and traditional aesthetics.


This can be seen in the rise of the English heritage based designs of Barbour, and in the swathe of vintage hipster brands that have swarmed into the market – with products ranging from Flying Vinyl (that sends its members a box of exclusive vinyl records every month) to small batch whiskey such as Bulleit.


But the times have changed sharply. Optimistic and hopeful millennials are now entering their thirties and are turning their backs on so-called curated lifestyles. It is a trend that has been well and truly exacerbated with larger conglomerates, such as Starbucks, introducing ranges such as ‘small-batch cold brew coffee’ to target those customers who seek a more traditional product and experience. Increasingly, those same one-time-millennials are rolling their eyes at attempts to trace connections between the past and the present. Brands are struggling to keep up with these new demands, but some are embracing what has been labelled as anti-authenticity marketing.


The rejection of heritage as a concept goes beyond design and marketing. Just a few months ago, fans of punk group the Sex Pistols were outraged at a royalty-endorsed ‘Punk Week’ that would see anti-establishment monuments such as 6 Denmark Street, London (where the band lived for a time, and where punk graffiti left by members still defines the landmark) formally preserved in a traditional way. The son of the band’s manager threatened to burn £5 million worth of memorabilia in protest. Indeed, the phrase ‘anti-heritage’ was coined by John Schofield and Paul Graves-Brown in 2011 describing that very same heritage site and the anti-establishment sentiment associated with it. It was a foreshadowing of a trend that has now affected marketing strategy almost five years later, and is a vital piece of the consumer mindset that companies must understand to stay relevant.


Perhaps one of the earliest shifts away from imposing ‘realness’ upon branding was Apple’s landmark rejection of skeuomorphic icons (the design concept of having represented items resemble their real-world counterparts) that attempted to recreate real life representations of the apps (such as the wooden panelling aesthetic on the iBooks app, the green felt aesthetic on the Game Centre app, and the Safari app icon resembling a realistic compass). In iOS7, released in 2013, Sir Jonny Ive imposed a minimalist, two-dimensional, clean aesthetic that worked into Apple’s wider signature branding. This massive shift can be seen in the image below, where each row represents the gradual evolution of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS.



Apple’s visual transition may have been critically panned upon release in 2013, but it’s the branding that their mobile operating system has kept to this day. And, three years later, other tech companies are following suit. Just a couple of months ago, in May 2016, Instagram revealed a major rebrand of its logo and app icons. Instead of the classic insta-camera image that had defined the company to that point, the app icon was replaced with a minimalist and colourful interpretative logo. Instead of relying on the visual heritage of photography to define their brand, they put the onus upon user content to tell that story and convey those emotions. This is reflected within the app itself, with an increased focus upon user images and a sleeker, more pared-back interface.


This macro-trend isn’t just limited to changing graphic design, however. Oasis, owned by the Coca-Cola Company, have flat-out rejected and mocked the traditional heritage approaches to marketing soft drinks. In 2015, they launched their ‘O Refreshing Stuff’ visual campaign, which has resurfaced this summer. Adverts make tongue-in-cheek acknowledgments of the purpose of the marketing, touting slogans such as ‘It’s summer. You’re thirsty. We’ve got sales targets’ and ‘Advertising doesn’t work on you. Celebrate this fact with a bottle of tasty Oasis’. The full complement of (hilarious) posters are below.


Oasis campaign


Dominos is also hijacking and rejecting the traditional callbacks of phoning to order a takeaway. The pizza company recently launched a ‘Tweet for Pizza’ campaign’ that allows users, once they have set their Easy Order preferences, to simply tweet the pizza emoji at the company’s twitter account for a piping hot order to be automatically sent to their door. This use of technology to subvert a traditional message can be seen in other digital brands and products. For example, whereas children were once told not to meet strangers from the internet or to get into a strange vehicle, those grown up children are now ordering Uber rides from their smartphones to do just that.


Recognising that a historical and traditional focus often leaves a bad taste in consumers’ mouths, brands are increasingly letting their products tell the story and ethos they want to convey, rather than inserting a pretense of authenticity to appeal to emotional ties to heritage. This trend is vital to brands hoping to capture the hearts, minds, and spending habits of an ever-growing youth market. Millennials are signaling that a forced narrative in marketing is unappealing, and that they prefer a clear and self-aware strategy that places the product itself in the centre. The relevance of brands to consumers going forward depends on an understanding of this trend.

Jack Lennard, Strategy Intern, 11.07.2016,