Gaming and non-mainstream religious groups are the two leading subcultures in the UK today, according to research which highlights the value to marketers of tapping into niche cultural groups.

It’s more than 50 years since the Summer of Love and not many fewer since the Sex Pistols et al. took a wrecking ball to prog rock, yet hippies and punks remain among the top ten UK subcultures, along with political movements, restrictive diets (e.g. paleo, vegan etc.), bikers and goths.

When research and planning agency The Nursery asked 1800 UK adults a series of questions during lockdown designed to reveal the depth, variety and motivations of subcultures in the UK,  it found that more than half (56%) of the UK public describe themselves as being involved in a subculture. And 44% identify ‘belonging’ as the primary motivator for joining a subculture.

Overall, 73% connect with subcultures virtually. And of those online-only connectors two-thirds are younger (67% are under 44) and are more likely to connect to gaming, body modification, fandom and influencer subcultures. YouTube is the main platform for contact (38%) and Facebook communities remain at the heart of subculture involvement.

David Alterman, Partner, Nursery Research and Planning, stressed that subcultures should not be thought of as just hobbies but as intrinsically linked to an individual’s sense of ‘self’.

“Studying identity is vital to getting to know the modern-day consumer,” he said. “Brands need to work harder to win people over but doing so could lead to a much more positive, long-term brand experience for customers.”

If you doubt that, consider that sales of Dr. Martens footwear rose by nearly 50% during the lockdown. The outsider brand has long been favoured by many of those subcultures, including goths, punks, bikers and hippies.

Consider also that nearly half of those involved in subcultures spend over £500 per year on their involvement, while 11% spend over £1,000; do the sums and it’s not a negligible market.

Another reason to keep an eye on subcultures is because they are where disruptive ideas often come from. Business often focuses on a group termed the early adopters, but to really get ahead of the game they need to go further back to the true innovators and the tight-knit groups that surround them, according to brand strategist Lida Hujić.

She distinguishes in particular a group she terms ‘mavericks’, who typically share the same values as the innovators but see them through a business lens – and that’s part of the process of ideas moving from the underground to the mainstream. (For more read WARC’s report: The seventh-year itch: when weirdos become mainstream.)

If the top ten subcultures look a bit mainstream already, then Nursery also lists the top five ‘fringe’ subcultures in the UK, where it’s possible disruptive ideas may be brewing: Steampunk, Off-grid living, Straight Edge, Incel, Non-monogamy.

Sourced from Nursery; additional content by WARC staff