How the society is still run by clans and chieftains

Adam Ondráček
10 min readAug 21, 2023

Trends: Clans and chieftains

This article is a excerpt from KONTRA trends. You can download the whole e-book or follow more trends at

While the world has been breaking up into individual clans and opinion tribes, each small group tends to have an informal thought leader. This can often be a celebrity expressing a particular lifestyle, a virtual entity such as a character in a game, or an important location — a gentrified neighborhood or map in an online game.


Social implications: Decentralization of culture and social structures, and in some places, decentralization of state services (e.g., education or care for the elderly) and the emergence of more horizontally led firms based on clan culture and sharing of views.

Marketing implications: One brand is not enough. Community marketing comes into play in the form of creating specific products and brands for specific clans, always in collaboration with clan leaders as guarantors that the product or brand brings something extra to the community — whether it’s the pursuit of a better world that the community appreciates, or exclusive product benefits tailored to that community. Sub-brands will be partially controlled by clan leaders and will usually have a non-commercial mission alongside their commercial one, determined by the clan and its leaders. Clan-centered design and creating custom categories that don’t fit into any box. Collaborate or be forgotten.

Long read

This is an opportunity for brands across industries to take advantage of the shift from products to content, from brick-and-mortar stores to virtual membership, from transactions to inspiration, from shopping to socializing. Brands should see this as a necessary — and holistic — business adjustment.

The Clan Chiefs (whether males or females) have a large audience who have followed, have commented and have been giving likes to their content more than ever during this crisis. Audience engagement has increased, but the revenue volume has declined. While brands are not launching new products and not paying influencers to spread the word, there is an opportunity for sponsorship and partnerships around the lifestyle of chiefs that is not focused on product advocacy but on crisis management. Whether it’s a pandemic crisis, the looming threat of inevitable climate change, or an identity crisis.

Similarly, the relationship between brands and publishers is shifting from ad buying and affiliate revenue to content sponsorships and partnerships that serve a shared community of brands and publishers. The Financial Times travel section, for example, has shifted its focus to “I wish I were there” and started offering stories of faraway places where its writers are travelling and where they would like to return one day. Or there is an opportunity for brands to tap into their own creative communities. Fashion Designer Alexander McQueen has launched McQueen Creators where fans are invited to create something every week. Allure magazine has engaged its community of independent beauty industry professionals to tell readers how they can best support these professionals in beauty salons.

Dedicated Local Food Consumers

In an article describing several Harvard studies there’s a new word: Locavore, or one that eats locally. Instead of a consumer of locally produced food. Several studies from Harvard show that the need for consumers to anchor products, services and brands in a physical place or historical moment is really high. In a hyper-globalized society overwhelmed with information, it appears that consumers have a need to ‘anchor’ themselves. This is evidenced, for example, by the recent campaign of an Austrian chain store Billa which showed primarily unknown faces of local growers in order to get more connected with its customers; from the communication viewpoint, it was a bet on selling local food. The slogan “People who make us grounded” has resulted in a sales growth of 6.89%, the most of any brand in the REWE portfolio.

Personalization is also a strong anchoring emotion. For example, the manufacturer of LUSH cosmetics prints a portrait of the relevant designer on each product to create a connection between the user and the person who created the product. This has led to a 300% year-on-year increase in sales. In a recent experiment, it was also confirmed that customers are willing to pay up to 60% more for soap with identical fragrance and design, but with artisan packaging.

Last but not least, a trip to the past can “anchor” us emotionally. This typically occurs with products that we used to consume when we were young and products that were important to us (and now we buy them for our children). It was exactly this principle employed by Yoplait when they changed the font on their yoghurt packaging to handwritten. Recent research in the Journal of Consumer research showed that people are more likely to buy chocolate with a handwritten font (17%) versus a machine/printed font (3%).

However, we need to add yet three other P’s to marketing. The place, the people and the past.

A holistic approach works best: Brands need to ask what their customers are able to do in their own communities. What problem can they solve together — whether it is forced home office, climate change, sustainability or identity crisis. And how their product, brand or mission fits in. Alternatively, how could they change the product or brand?

Traders with Mission

In a 2019 letter to investors, Larry Fink, the CEO of the investment firm BlackRock, described how without a “sense of mission” companies will eventually lose permission to operate given by their key stakeholders.

Courageous leaders like Fink know that the true brand mission is the entire enterprise’s instrument, or the engine of more substantial change. They understand the power of using the mission statement as their primary tool for navigating the unpredictable world we find ourselves in so that they don’t lose sight of their long-term goal.

In businesses where the brand mission is used effectively to drive global action, it can play a number of different roles across the organization: creating value, attracting talent and supporting growth. Bosses can use the brand mission to alternate or adjust the mindset of their management boards and shareholders, focus the agenda on the business sustainability, and thrive on the other side of existential risk and change.

Progressive organizations are more likely to focus on building stronger connections with customers. This is an important sector for those companies that know they are ready to expand their brand mission beyond the net profit, businesses that see the impact of good customer relationships on the longevity of the business.

These businesses analyze their brand mission first of all through the eyes of their customers. They look for a cause they believe their customers will care about and then use it as a vehicle to promote their brand as a good citizen or champion of an issue, particularly through brand activism, marketing and advertising, often with links to related charities.

Moreover, a Harvard study by George Serafeim shows for the first time that in using global data there is a direct influence of public opinion on corporate sustainability on the decision-making of investors and stock traders. Companies that behave responsibly are better traded on stock exchanges and have better valuations.

But how can your ordinary product, for example, coffee, be part of supporting a global movement? There are brilliantly simple examples. Like Starbucks.

Purpose as the Fifth P of Marketing

Earlier this year, Starbucks was announced as the winner of this year’s Channel 4 awards for Diversity in Advertising. This time it focused on the LGBT+ community, their experiences and on promoting positive portrayals of the LGBT+ community.

Starbucks winning entry, which ran on Channel 4, follows the journey of James as he strives for transformation and wants to try out his new name at Starbucks. The advertisement shows James quietly enduring a series of daily encounters with his birth name Jemma. Going through appointments with a GP, receiving mail and attending family meetings. At Starbucks, he can finally choose what name others should call him. Yes, there is touching piano music in the spot’s background and you don’t necessarily have to take the story told by Starbucks for granted, but the incorporation of the product is perfect.

And it’s okay that we don’t believe them. There are many examples of users not trusting brands. I’ll give you one for all of them.

Let’s consider everything we know about the environmental impact of fast fashion brands like H&M. Between 1992 and 2002, we reduced the time we wear a fashion piece by 50%. The fashion industry churns out more than one billion garments every year, while emitting 1.2 billion tons as its equivalent in CO2, which accounts for 5% of global greenhouse gases. One of the main crops used in the production of clothing is cotton. Although cotton is often touted as an organic alternative compared to synthetic alternatives, it is actually an incredibly thirsty crop. Growing one kilogram of cotton requires 20,000 liters of water, which is also the amount needed to produce one T-shirt and one pair of jeans. Do you still trust H&M with their “green collection”?

H&M launched the “Ladylike” campaign in 2016which showed unusual women — plus size, black, Asian, older women and others — sitting comfortably on the subway, eating with a full mouth or riding the metro without shaved armpits. The aim was to strengthen the self-confidence and uniqueness of each woman. But according to Pulsar and their whitepaper the two most frequently mentioned terms used during the campaign testing were actually “Gender” and “Manufacturing.” So H&M could try a thousand times to create a progressive feminist campaign, but they can’t get away from the fact that their fast fashion is sewn by children.

Does Your Brand Have A Mission? And Can We See It?

Having a brand mission is not enough. You have to really fulfill it and communicate it well. That’s what Peter Field’s groundbreaking research which compared nearly 400 campaigns in the IPA Effectiveness database, has discovered. The research compared those brands that were committed to increasing social benefits and not just communicating the product with those that focused only on product and use value.

The results are ambiguous. There is a lot of criticism that the “brand mission” is a fabrication of marketers who want to improve their karma for selling too many products with palm oil. Of course, it turns out that this can be either babbling that costs a company extra money in campaigns or a powerful differentiator in the eyes of consumers. Because it depends on how the campaign is executed with the brand mission.

If it is not well communicated, supported by real actions, transparent and believable, its success rate drops to a fifth of the performance of a classic product campaign. About half of them were in the database.

However, the more successful half of the brand mission campaigns showed more than a 30% increase in new customer acquisition over pure product campaigns and more than a 70% increase in brand differentiation in spontaneous knowledge over competitors. If your brand doesn’t have a mission, start working on it. If you have already defined it, start to implement it.


In order to trust a brand’s good intentions, it needs to comply with a few rules. The first one — “Know your purpose” — we have, shall we say, already overcome.

Another is: find allies. In our days of decentralization, the more local the better. Your ally should be a Chief (male or female) who is relevant to your customers and audience. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a celebrity or influencer, but the more famous the better, of course. Beware that your chosen figure should not unnecessarily overstep the boundaries of the community as a celebrity. The chosen figure must belong to the community.

Some companies have understood this and have even created their own chief (whether male or female). Elon Musk has built a cult around himself and anything he does has a (mostly positive) effect on Tesla stock. Elon Musk has become the Chief of a Global Clan. What would you call him, anyway?

Fashion brand Fenty made its (female) founder one of the clan chiefs straight away. Behind Rihanna, there is a large tribe of young African-American women who demand special attention for their skin, the shade of which is not normally thought of by big cosmetic companies. They’re young and one of their values is definitely sustainability — which is why Fenty has recently introduced sustainable and recyclable packaging of its cosmetics products.

Another rule is genuineness. Who will verify that you as a brand are committed to your promise? If you create a sub-brand or campaign that is partially under the control of the Chief, you show a clear commitment to really see the cause through. As a result, you may find that one of the already existing organizations that is addressing the issue globally or on a larger scale than your hyper-local target, er, community, could serve as a patron.

The result is simple — the triangle reads as follows: Brand Mission + Chief + Nonprofit Partner. To make it all work, don’t be afraid to create sub-brands or new layers of your brand to roof new projects, products or campaigns.

For clarity, I’ll borrow a few more rules from Afdhel Aziz’s Good is The New Cool:

  1. Define your brand mission
  2. Find your allies (from among charities and the non-profit sector)
  3. Think citizens, not consumers (localize the community and its problem)
  4. Involve Chieftains
  5. Don’t advertise, but solve the problem (your product can be part of the solution)
  6. People are the new media (let them identify with the solution to the problem and accept it as their new identity)
  7. Reinforce everything with evidence

Brands can no longer stand alone. Collaborate and you will see the outcome.

Adam Ondráček is futurist, communication expert and founder of intedisciplinary studio KONTRA. They do strategies, design brands and create campaigns, which aims on changing this world.