The New Heroes: From A-list, to My-list

In part one of his series of articles on Hero Culture, OMD’s David Trovell introduces…

From A-list, to My-list.

I’d like you to think about who your hero is. Six years ago an Australian teen magazine, that had been asking this question of its readers each year, had a major surprise when, for the first time ever, the number one answer was not an A-list star; it was, “Mum”.

At the time we debated the reasons behind this; from the increase in divorce to the number of working mums. What we didn’t expect was that this shift would be part of a larger change in attitudes that would influence consumer behaviour in media, business and beyond.

Fast forward to 2015 and another teen survey. Variety announced that the five most influential figures among Americans aged 13-18 were not mainstream celebs, but YouTubers like PewDiePie and comedy team, Smosh.

So what has caused this shift from A-list, to My-list?

When I was growing up our heroes were all inaccessible; movie stars, sports stars, big business leaders, presidents. The closest we got to them was attending their concerts or joining a fan group. But today, rather than putting our heroes on a pedestal, we like to feel that they are accessible. That they are our BFFs. That they are one of us.

This shift in heroes is driven by a generation that has been raised to believe they can achieve anything; that fame and fortune is just an app or a Youtube hit away. Heroes have always been a reflection of our ideal self, but this generation is the first to truly believe they can become that ideal self; and in doing so become a hero to others. That’s one reason we seek out heroes who feel accessible, it’s as though they are just like us but with one lucky break. We feel like anyone could be a mummy-blogger and PewDiePie reminds us that we could have 3 million followers if we just turned the camera around.

Even in business our modern heroes are more likely to be the founders of start-ups than the CEO of GE. It’s not only the way they talk, dress and act that feels more accessible to a 20-something than the suit-wearing c-suite. We also love that start-up CEOs have forged their own way, at any point in their life, no matter what their background; they reflect the person we still think we can become and show us that it’s not too late to be a billionaire!

A second reason for this shift in hero culture is our growing desire to feel special. To feel like we mean something in this big old world. According to the Variety survey, “Teens enjoy an intimate and authentic experience with YouTube celebrities, a more candid sense of humor and risk-taking spirit, behaviors often curbed by Hollywood handlers.”

For those of us who are not famous (yet), having an ‘an intimate and authentic experience’ with a star helps us to feel special. Youtubers and successful A-listers recognise this and draw us into their world; they answer our questions and let us shape their content. This is really the first time in history that we have felt so close to our heroes.

Think of how a Taylor Swift fan feels when he gets a message from her. Even though it’s really a tweet seen by millions, social media (especially via a device as personal as his phone) creates a feeling of closeness and makes him feel like he is important. Part of Taylor’s squad.

Obviously it’s the internet that enables both of these desires. It allows us to follow our hero’s journey and gives us a ‘warts & all’ view of their life; providing both the accessibility and the authenticity that Millennials value so much.

And Mum? Well maybe Mum is the most accessible and authentic hero of them all. She reminds us that, if you are a good parent, you too could shape a life and become a hero to the person that you love the most; and what could make you feel more special than that?

So what is the take out for marketers? In a transparent, connected world the importance of being seen as authentic and accessible cannot be overemphasised. Audiences are embracing ‘warts & all’ relationships rather than the polished perfection that brand owners often seek. So embrace your flaws, seek & respond to feedback and let consumers feel like they are shaping your brand.

But most importantly, help your audience to become their ideal self, to become the hero within.

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