What does it mean to be an individual today?
This is the question we posed in our soon to be shared deep dive into the human need for individuality.
One of the five markets we are exploring is the UK, which with its distinctive history and culture has a set of values and social pressures that manifest as a unique interpretation of individualism.
Ahead of the launch of the study at our event in London next week, we asked James – one of our leading-edge UK Illume Guides – to share his take on the topic.
Video produced in-house by our talented filmmaker Tami.
Hi James. Tell us about yourself.
Hello! Thanks for having me.
I was born in Crumpsall, North Manchester.
I’m an only child with a Catholic upbringing. I gradually rejected this as I started to make my own ideas up about the world.
I think my slightly rebellious attitude also framed my main passion: football. All my family are avid Manchester United fans, so I decided to be a City fan! City is my religion; my world revolves around City and it dominates my free time.
It sounds like identity is important to you. What does being an individual mean to you?
I’ve always been interested in stuff separate from the mainstream. I think it’s a conscious choice. I don’t think you grow up different. Of course people’s minds are different and their characters are different, but I definitely feel I’ve made choices about what I want to be based on what I see people doing, and what I don’t like.
Let’s explore that more. What are the specific ways you express your individuality?
Growing up, the route for me expressing my individuality was through music. There was a point where I moved away from more mainstream artists (at the time it was the likes of Arctic Monkeys and Kings of Leon) and started exploring different bands I thought were cool.
I would listen to their music, look at their style, listened to how they talked and think – wow, I love this. I want to be like this. Gradually I started to take inspiration from this music scene and apply it to my own style.
I think this process was (and is) all about being in a subculture. I wanted to separate myself from what I saw as generic culture but still feel like I belonged somewhere. When you find your tribe like this, I guess the challenge is still being an individual within the group.
Are there any other ways you establish your identity now? Do you belong to any new tribes?
Over the last few years, I’ve been using social media as a tool to form relationships with people similar to me.
I’ll usually use Manchester City or football as a starting point. I’ll be browsing Instagram and see a person who’s a Manchester City fan. Then I’ll notice another mutual interest, like a band or film. We’ll then follow each other, and at some point end up in a conversation. From that point, sometimes I meet people in person, often over a pint before a City game. Having said this, I do hook up with fans from other clubs, even Manchester United fans! We come together as neutral ‘Purples’, which is pretty cool.
I’ve met some of my best friends this way, and although I think social media can be a toxic environment for people with social anxiety and insecurities, I love that it can also be used to bring people together who share the same passions. It’s a great way to find your tribe without any restrictions.
How do you think individuality plays out across different generations?
Young people definitely have a rebellious desire to be different.
What I find strange is that my parent’s generation had a tonne of sub cultures, but now they seem to confirm to societal, mainstream norms. What happened to the punks, hippies and new wavers?
Maybe you get more conservative as you get older.
I hope that doesn’t happen to my generation when we reach their age. I hope we stay open minded.
What can brands do to engage young people like yourself when it comes to expressing individuality?
Make things feel special.
When I see a templated football kit, I think no thought has gone into this. It’s an easy win for the manufacturer. This completely turns me off.
What I love is when a product or experience feels like it has been designed for me. This applies to everything from fashion through to entertainment. For example, I love the film Drive. When I watch it, I feel like Nicolas Winding Refn (the director) has sat down with me, and asked “what would you like to see?” Every element connects with me in some way.
Ultimately, brands need to be creative and do things differently. They need to engage people on an individual level. That’s what excites me anyway.
Thanks James. Great talking to you.
Interested in individuality? Want to explore what it means for your brand? On May 2nd, we will be sharing findings from a recent study on the topic of individualism at an immersive event in London. We have a few places left if you’d like to come along!