Goodbye Brand Relevance, Hello Brand Relatability

When brands become mirrors of our psyches.

Hello, friends. 

Have you noticed how much of our digital culture has dropped down from the head-forward space of knowing things to the gut-forward space of feeling things?

We’ve become hyper fixated on memes that communicate emotions without names. We talk about vibe shifts instead of market shifts. Brands, celebrities and communities are channeling moods over messages. Something is happening here. 

This week we’re sharing an excellent article by our strategist Rebecca Johnson that dives deep into the mechanics of what this culture shift actually is: relevance being supplanted by relatability

Relevance is such a deeply ingrained brand practice, and relatability is such an abstract endeavor, that it can be hard to bridge the gap. Rebecca offers a clear look at how each operates, and lays out the guiding principles and questions that can get you across the chasm.


There is a new industry of cultural relatability emerging that has moved the benchmark of brand connection. The brands that are winning today have already discovered that “being relevant” is a dying industry, and the only way to move forward is through relatability

With apps like TikTok at the helm, individuals today only have to engage with brands that relate to who they are and what they care about. Being relevant - i.e., making your brand and product matter in the moment at hand - is no longer enough. Instead, the new frontier of relatable connection facilitates deeper relationships that go beyond what brands are selling. Brands must now behave like mirrors of our psyches and attempt to forge relatable, intimate connections

TikTok has become the ultimate relatability platform and has pushed brands to change the way they communicate. 

The TikTok experience thrives on discovery and how we curate our feeds is based on our interests instead of the people we follow. Although there is a “following” feed, unlike Instagram and Facebook you’re more likely to spend your time on the For You Page (FYP) to discover what’s new, what’s going viral, and watch content that is most interesting to you. Instagram has never been able to figure out its discovery features, and despite its attempts to catch up, it’s clear that the culture of Instagram is drastically different from the culture of TikTok. 

On TikTok, we create virtual mirrors. We teach our algorithms to reflect only what’s relatable to us and our inner selves. Our views, likes, and shares are all validations of what feels deeply true to who we are. It creates a kind of intimacy, a reflection of our subconscious. 

Knowing this, brands have to compete for our attention differently. In order for your brand to show up on a user’s FYP, there is a deeper level of relatability and intimacy that’s required. Talking about the benefits of your product will leave your content unengaged. You have to find moments that tap into your audience’s subconscious. It’s about revealing something that exists at the edges of their identity. 

This has also forced brands to put a face to their brand, bringing relatability face-to-face. It’s no longer enough to have curated products displayed on a simple background. Even if it’s a person in an owl suit (Duolingo) or a humanized version of an airplane (Ryanair), when you’re looking at someone face-to-face, you also look for the things that relate to you.

Duo’s “unhinged” personality on TikTok is an example of a brand that is leveraging this kind of relatability. Learning a new language on Duolingo may feel relevant to a young audience of Gen Z, who typically take a language course in high school, but simply talking about the benefits doesn’t feel relatable. However, the experience of shooting your shot for someone who is completely unattainable is 100% relatable. This, along with their frequent use of trending sounds and “absurd” entertainment, have made who they are as a brand completely relatable to a human experience that many can feel intuitively, even if it has nothing to do with their business. 

Doja Cat is a strong proxy for relatability.

This was an ad for JBL. It received 23.8M views, and 5.2M likes.

This was her “contractualjingle for Taco Bell. Together they accumulated 59.8M views, and her jingle alone got 8.6M likes. 

Would you consider these relevant or relatable?

If you said relatable, you know it’s because it has everything to do with who Doja is and how she’s perceived...

Coming of Age

Here's what we've been consuming.

New Deep Narratives: We need new stories of what it means to be human (Culture Hack Mag): “In the past 20 years, medical practice has increasingly recognized the importance of storytelling for the patient’s healing. It even has a name: ‘Narrative Medicine’ ... As many stories that we held so dear in our near-recent human history are unraveling, the rates of mental health problems are rising… We’re in a chasm between stories that used to function and new stories which haven’t yet gathered enough coherence to function effectively.”

The Two Choices That Keep a Midlife Crisis at Bay (The Atlantic): “For years, scholars mostly didn’t challenge the conventional wisdom that a traumatic midlife crisis was normal, if not inevitable. More recently, however, many have found that a “crisis” is not our unavoidable fate. With knowledge and effort, you (and I) can make two crucial choices that can lead to harnessing the changes and difficulties of aging to instead design a midlife transcendence.”

Why more young people are turning to nihilism (Huckmag): “While suffocating under the daily drudgery of capitalism, visions of a brighter future can feel like a utopian fantasy. Nihilism becomes a way to cope with reality. It makes sense, then, that the subreddit r/nihilism grew from 31,000 members pre-pandemic in January 2019 to 115,000 in April 2022. Different interpretations of nihilism are discussed on the sub but for many, the sentiment is bleak. If nothing you do matters, why bother doing anything?”

Annual meetings are the new frontline in the battle over corporate purpose (The Economist): “Companies have always had to answer to their investors. But these days shareholders have new questions—lots of them [...] This barrage points to the next phase of America’s fight over corporate purpose. Executives who have endorsed “stakeholder value”, a much broader measure of corporate worth than profits and cashflow, are now seeing their declarations put to the test.” 

What Dinner Will Look Like in the Next 100 Years, According to Scientists (and Sci-Fi Authors) (Bon Appétit): “To take a look at what the future of food might look like, we talked to experts to come up with menu predictions for the future. For the years 2023 and 2024, scientists offered their insights on how food might change. But for 100 years from now—the year 2122—we spoke with people who were unafraid to make some bold claims: science fiction writers.”

A futurist predicts the 3 biggest disruptions to how we’ll travel (Fast Company): “Bridges built in one decade need more lanes in the next, airports require fewer parking spaces for cars and more places for rideshare pickups, and ports already contending with offshore backups of cargo ships are further slowed by trucks stuck in traffic. Put bluntly: The infrastructure we have in one era isn’t the infrastructure we’ll need in the next.”

Only anarchists need apply.

Jasmine Bina
Founder & CEO
Concept Bureau, Inc.