The Youth Lab


YPulse's Pop Culture Redefined trend report found that 61% of 13-39-year-olds like when brands make memes based off of pop culture. But when it comes to reactive moments, there’s a fine line between getting it right and getting it wrong.

This week’s 52INSIGHTS explores some of the biggest pop culture stories of the moment, and some viral brand moves cutting through the noise.


Two huge legal disputes continue to overshadow other stories and content by dominating social media platforms across the world. Soundbites from the extremely public and controversial civil defamation trial between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp are gaining views on YouTube and TikTok (where “#JusticeForJohnnny” clips have been viewed a staggering 13.4 billion times). Endless ‘hot takes’ are published daily. Content creators are cashing in on the case, feeding the algorithm with remixed snippets and cuts from the testimony. Fans are camping outside the courtroom livestreaming and lawyers are sharing their insights on the nuances of the case. As well as reminding us all of the captivating power of the live stream, these content trends from the case have served as a reminder of the dark side of online debate.

The credibility of sources and commentary is one concern, especially from the perspective of gender equality: “This is QAnon 2022, with the Q drops being daily TikToks analyzing the secrets hidden in Amber's body language. This trial has given people brain worms, and it is beyond depressing to see how much so many people really, truly hate women.” Embedded Newsletter. We’ve written about TikTok and misinformation in more depth here.

On top of this, the majority of the clips created on TikTok have been critical of Heard and her testimony. Many have reacted to this as a reflection of modern pop-culture’s worst impulses: “Around the third or fourth time I logged into Twitter to find “#AmberHeardIsAPsychopath” at the top of the trending list, I realized that there was no longer any pretending that the Depp-Heard defamation trial was not a terrible, foreboding reflection of our culture’s worst impulses… It has proven to extremists that if you rally around the right beloved public figure or institution, blanket them in a protective sphere of outrage and misinformation, and weaponize fandom culture — already so prone to ideological radicalization and irrational groupthink — you can successfully push whatever media narrative you want into the mainstream.” Aja Romano

As the case gains attention, brands have gotten sucked into the drama too. Language-learning app Duolingo, which has been celebrated in the brand marketing world for its use of TikTok, has come under scrutiny after its social media team left an ‘insensitive’ comment about Heard on a viral TikTok video.

Elsewhere, another case full of celebrity drama has been unfolding in the UK. A lighter subject matter (leaking news to the press) has had people gripped to Whatsapp transcripts of the #WagathaChristie drama. Butterkist Popcorn responded with a reactive campaign in line with its ‘Go Grab the Butterkist’ creative. It follows a similarly successful reactive moment around Partygate and the UK Prime Minister.


"Fast fashion has finally given Love Island “the ick"...According to Love Island, this year's contestants will be encouraged to practise the “eat, sleep, rewear, repeat” mentality." Vogue

Sustainable fashion advocates rejoiced this week with the news that hit reality TV show Love Island is switching its sponsor from a fast fashion brand I Saw It First (which sells clothes for as little as £2.80) to eBay. Reaching up to 3 million people an episode, the impact of Love Island on what consumers buy is well-documented - I Saw It First had a 67% increase in sales and a 254% increase in Instagram followers in 2019. After facing plenty of public backlash for the promotion of fast fashion, the new contestants in the show this year will be kitted out in preloved clothing. The ITV move got rave reviews: “Ebay being the new love island sponsor is the type of sh*t I thought I would never see. It honestly sends such a good message with regards to fast fashion and sustainability” @Loretta. Will this statement move from ITV spell the beginning of the end for fast fashion? It’s certainly a welcome sign.


With platforms like TikTok reminding us daily of the power of a viral song / jingle (the two sounds of the moment are ‘My Money don’t Jiggle Jiggle, It Folds’ feat. Louis Theroux and Lizzo’s ‘About Damn Time’), we’re seeing big audio/music plays develop in the brand world. Just Eat has created viral song campaigns in the recent past, partnering with Snoop Dogg - and now has just launched a new spot featuring Katy Perry under the same creative ‘Did Somebody Say’. While big name collaborations are always bound to attract a certain amount of attention, the unapologetic, quirky tone and humour in this campaign seems to be striking a chord.

There's been an interesting shift in the last few years in how brands use and interact with audio. It’s more inspired now by how creators and influencers engage and promote brands on their channels. People are used to these collaborations because they promote things in a much more organic way. Loads of fans like to see creators they love being supported - so it’s not an embarrassment or selling out. That’s a big shift in the world of audio.” Keith Walsh, Creative Director of Audio & Copywriting, THINKHOUSE

There are endless other examples of how brands have tapped into the power of music without singing themselves - from KFC’s Bucket Bangers Spotify Playlist, to Heineken’s Sync Sessions podcast with Róisín Murphy.

Stay tuned for more THINKHOUSE case studies on this topic - as we’ve been working on some exciting audio-led campaigns recently! PS. Our favourite new piece of audio storytelling this week is from The 2 Johnnies Podcast - listen to ‘The GAA Catfish’ here.


Long & Short form: The recent courtroom drama evolving to a (controversial) TikTok phenomenon shows how efficient you can be with a piece of long form content when you get creative. Knowing how your channels work differently is really key here - for example, nailing the right TikTok audio at the right time can immediately propel you into new ‘For You’ feeds. There is a way to engage with cultural discourse in the right way as a brand - having strong guidelines and processes laid out, working with partners and sense checking reactions with multiple diverse team members is important. That said, it’s important to go back to a strategy and not get distracted by something temporarily in the spotlight - don’t chase likes for the sake of it!

The Art of Conversation: By finding a topic that your brand can be a niche authority in, it can lead authentic conversation more effectively. For example, in collaboration with Barry’s Tea we recently created a social media content series that asked fans what makes Ireland's perfect cup of tea (a polarising topic for many!). By identifying a conversation-driving topic, Ireland's perfect cup of tea, Barry's Tea connected with and activated the younger cohort of #BarryTeaSuperfans. It’s an example of successful co-creation and creative connection with the next generation of tea fans.

Going Green: With big sustainability moves coming from such unlikely influential brands like Love Island, it’s likely that the pressure will keep on those not being seen to shift in a more positive direction. Ask for support where you need it, don’t put this on the long finger.

Audio: This is an increasingly powerful medium for storytelling in short or long form. Experiment with moving beyond traditional platforms and formats, and don’t be afraid to get weird with the right creators.