On a recent walk around Harajuku district in Tokyo, I noticed something unusual happening. It seemed that every I spotted a young person dressed in a somewhat funky, totally original, anti-fashion outfit, they would be approached by a photographer. He’d whisper something in their ear. They’d typically blush, smile, and pose for a photograph. Then, just as soon as the shutter had clicked, the photographer slipped away.
After seeing this happen a few times, I decided to follow him. The photographer’s trail led to the entrance of a small office. As soon as I walked in, I realised I was in the headquarters of Fruits, a Japanese magazine dedicated to street fashion. The issues displayed in the room contained images of young Japanese people wearing a mixture of traditional Japanese clothes – kimonos and geta sandals – and western brands of every kind of genre, including punk and gothic.
It struck me as the next generation’s version of Vogue.
In my new book Brandwashed I describe a German study designed to assess the degree to which we follow others. In the experiment, 200 volunteers were asked to move in no particular order around an empty hall. After a few minutes, five of the volunteers were quietly pulled aside and told to start walking in a clockwise direction. They were asked not to reveal anything about their instructions, and were told to continue walking at the same pace. Surprisingly, within seven minutes, everyone was walking in the same direction.
This is the philosophy the Fruits phenomenon has plugged into. The young Japanese dress in odd, asymmetrical, colourful clothes. They stand out. They turn heads. They cause a sensation. And invariably pick up followers. The magazine knows this and is capitalizing on this imaginative, trend-setting group.
Fruits isn’t just a fashion magazine, it’s also a popular retail chain. Instead of the consumer having to figure out the best combination of clothing items, the retailer selects the most fashionable ensembles being worn on the street, and employs scouts to source their supply. The store then offers a top-to-toe outfit for the average person keen to keep up to date with the latest fashion offerings.
In BRANDchild, a book I published in 2003, I predicted that it would not take long before every kid would have their own web page where they could promote themselves and become their own brand. I went further. I said that if a kid did not have such a page, they would lack a sense of identity. Two years later, Facebook was launched.
The Fruits trend falls into a category I call MSP, the Me Selling Proposition. In the MSP, companies no longer own their brands – the consumer does.
Author: Martin Lindstrom’s latest book, Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy is now available. His work, Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy was a New York Times Bestseller.