The vibes map
2x2 of modern culture
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The vibes map aims to capture and structure what’s happening in our culture right now, from brand products to places to art and design. It tells us where the zeitgeist is going and what we collectively gravitate to. The purpose of the vibes map is to direct brands in their product design, merchandising and marketing communication. Some brands, like Balenciaga or J.W. Anderson, specialize in creating wearable vibes. In this scenario, wearable vibes enforce a brand’s archetype (for Balenciaga, that’s an Outlaw) and provide brand consistency. Others use vibes as a brand-building strategy. As a brand strategy, vibes are fool-proof, as they can’t be criticized. Because they are extremely socially shareable, they are a calculated brand effort towards awareness and brand recognition. Aesthetically, vibes give a brand a cultural shortcut (e.g. weird girl aesthetics, giant fit chinos). In terms of audience management, vibes create a human connection - due to their ambiguity, provocation, and openness to interpretation, they are the opposite of transactional. Vibes make us pay attention.
To succeed, a brand needs to have a wearable “vibes object” like J.Crew’s Giant Fit Chinos, or to put forward communications, experience or idea that riffs off vibes, like LOEWE, Marc Jacobs or Casa Cipriani.
The map has four quadrants, created by two axes. The horizontal axe spans from reality to fantasy, depending on the level of deployed imagination. The vertical axe goes from positive to negative vibes, marking the mood, energy and the heat around a product, place or an idea. Vibes mean that the time, place and the collective mood is perfect for product, place or an idea. In combination, the two axes explain popularity of something.
Q1 is defined by strong imagination that draws elements from fantasy, combined with positive vibes. This is the domain of “what if” (what if we created a trash bag made of leather, what if chino pants came in giant sizes, what if acid drops serum came in the shape of the feeding bottle, what if a bag was made in the shape of a pigeon). For Q1 to work, exaggeration of situations, objects, or emotions in unexpected and playful ways is key. Exaggeration is never meant to be taken literally. OS of hyperbole is maximalism. Examples are: Thom Browne Hector Bag, Hermès Kelly Robot Doll, Chanel Supermarket Grocery Basket, Balenciaga Trash Bag, Balenciaga IKEA Bag, J.W. Anderson Skateboard Sweater, J.W. Anderson Pigeon Bag, J.Crew Giant Fit Chinos, Craig Green x Moncler, Harry Styles Pleasing Acid Drops.
Q4 is defined by real-life situations, images or products and by positive vibes. This is the area of kitsch, meant to introduce creative ambiguity and to provoke. Things here are explained as the creative destruction of the ordinary: they are experiments that thrive on incongruity and embody a free-wheeling approach to producing culture. Often parodic and satirical (as is in the case of MSCHF), they draw us in on a joke (e.g. Nicolas Cage for Casablanca, Anthony Hopkins for LOEWE, Winona Ryder for Marc Jacobs). This is the domain of “why not?” and an incubator for new aesthetic, neighborhoods, looks and behaviors. OS of kitsch are ambiguity and a sense of humor. Examples: Winona Ryder x Marc Jacobs, MSCHF, Casa Cipriani, Dimes Square, Catholic Church, LOEWE, Casablanca, The Weird Girl Aesthetics,
Q2 is defined by aesthetic advancement of reality, a beautified version of something, stylization and low vibes. Things, ideas and products in this quadrant fall flat and fail to create a lasting cultural impact (despite the exorbitant prices of ultra-contemporary art, which belongs in this territory). There’s no ambiguity here and provocation is often in-your-face, easy to understand. This is the domain of advertising, driven by money. OS of advertising is trend. Examples: BAYC, ultra contemporary art, Jeff Koons Sun.
Q3 is marked by dearth of creativity and low vibes. Things here fail to excite because they are too literal. There is no room for interpretation and things are meant to be viewed in their most basic meaning. OS of literalness is lack of imagination. Examples: NFTiff, Moschino.