Understanding Sub-Cultures for Marketers

Sub-cultures exist within the overall culture but have a pool of distinct members who are united by shared interests, values, backgrounds, lifestyles, demographics, or hobbies.

Defining a Sub-Culture

What’s a sub-culture? Put simply, it’s a distinct group of people that forms within and differs from a mainstream society.

These folks share common values, norms, or interests that tend to set them apart from the general culture they’re a part of. For instance, within the broader high school student culture, we might encounter sub-cultures based on varying interests as diverse as:

  • Skateboarding enthusiasts
  • Anime lovers
  • Sports teams
  • Book club members

A sub-culture is not just about hobbies or interests, though. Commonalities in beliefs, values, style, habits, or language also unite individuals into certain sub-cultures.

For instance, ‘Hipsters’ are a sub-cultural group known for their distinct preferences in fashion, music, and critically, they seek out what is not considered mainstream. Similarly, the ‘Green Movement’ is a sub-culture characterized by shared environmental consciousness and actions for sustainable living.

Relevance of Sub-Cultures to Society

Sub-cultures bring about dynamism and diversity. They challenge the status quo, push for societal change, keep the mainstream culture on its toes, and you never know, might even shape the future norms of society. Ever think about how mainstream it is now, to choose organic or to recycle? Yeah, Green Movement folks were onto that before it was cool.

Sub-Cultures and Marketing

In marketing, understanding sub-cultures is very helpful for a few reasons:

Sub-cultures are a potent factor influencing buying decisions. Members of a sub-culture often perceive and react similarly to marketing efforts due to shared beliefs and values.

When businesses cater to a sub-culture’s unique desires and lifestyles, they potentially build a dedicated brand community populated by loyal customers. Consider Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Their sales strategy appeals to the sub-culture of freedom-loving, adventure-seeking bikers. This has allowed them to develop a passionate community around their brand.

Marketers can create customized campaigns and products that resonate with specific sub-cultures, ultimately leading to increased sales. For instance, a company selling skateboarding gear would surely focus its marketing efforts towards the skateboarding sub-culture, offering products with a design or functionality that appeal to them.

Understanding sub-cultures aids in targeting and segmentation. Marketers identify and engage with these unique groups effectively. Isn’t it easier to sell sustainable products to the Green Movement folks, knowing they are already inclined towards such products?

Sub-cultures often inspire trends. Marketers, by associating their brand or products with a burgeoning sub-culture, can effectively catapult sales into the mainstream market. To illustrate, the Gamer subculture has emerged from the fringes to become a mainstream phenomenon in the past two decades. This trend is now the powerhouse behind the multi-billion-dollar video gaming industry.

Once a sub-culture is identified, marketers can explore this understanding to influence purchasing decisions. Because by connecting with a sub-culture, brands can delve deep into the group’s behaviors, preferences, and motivations and translate these into tangible marketing strategies.

Understanding the specific wants, needs, and values of different subcultures can help develop trusting relationships. Trust is fundamental in marketing. It encourages brand loyalty and boosts public engagement.

Shoes stores, for instance, have noticed a growth in the sneakers subculture. A pair of sneakers isn’t just a shoe anymore; it’s a symbol of style, an investment, or an extension of one’s personality. Embracing such knowledge, companies like Nike or Adidas built strong ties with this subculture, providing limited-edition releases and collaborating with popular figures within the sub-culture.

Translating the unique qualities of a subculture into personalized messages is a fantastic way to resonate with its members. Knowing the importance of mindfulness and peace in the Mindfulness sub-culture, marketers of meditation apps like Headspace can design marketing messages that align directly with these values.

Illustration showing people from different sub-cultures coming together, representing the impact of sub-cultures on society.

Benefits and risks of targeting a subculture

Marketing to subcultures involves targeting a segment of the population that shares distinct values, beliefs, interests, or lifestyles that differ from the larger culture. This approach can be highly effective, but it also carries certain risks.


Targeted Messaging: Marketing to subcultures allows for more precise and relevant messaging. Brands can tailor their communications to resonate deeply with the specific interests and values of the subculture, increasing engagement.

Niche Market Penetration: It can be easier to penetrate and dominate niche markets. Subcultures often have less competition, allowing a brand to establish a strong presence.

Brand Loyalty: Subcultures often have a strong sense of community. Brands that successfully connect with a subculture can earn loyal customers who feel the brand understands and represents them.

Word-of-Mouth Promotion: Members of a subculture are often highly interconnected. Positive experiences with a brand can lead to word-of-mouth recommendations within the community, amplifying marketing efforts.

Innovative Edge: Brands that successfully market to subcultures may be seen as innovative or cutting-edge, particularly if they are among the first to recognize and cater to these groups.

Brand Differentiation: Catering to specific subcultures can differentiate a brand in a crowded market, as it specifically addresses the needs and wants of a unique group.


Misunderstanding the Subculture: There’s a risk of misunderstanding or superficially engaging with the subculture, leading to campaigns that can be seen as inauthentic, offensive, or patronizing.

Limited Scale: While subcultures offer targeted marketing opportunities, they are by definition smaller segments, which could limit the overall market size and growth potential for the brand.

Rapid Changes: Subcultures can evolve quickly, with trends and preferences changing rapidly. This fluidity requires brands to be highly adaptive and responsive.

Backlash and Negative Perception: Inappropriate or insensitive marketing can lead to backlash not only from the subculture but also from the broader market, potentially harming the brand’s reputation.

Over-Dependence: Becoming too closely associated with a particular subculture can pigeonhole a brand, making it challenging to appeal to broader markets later on.

Cultural Appropriation Concerns: There’s a fine line between catering to a subculture and appropriating its elements in a way that’s seen as exploitative or disrespectful.

Illustration of diverse people representing different sub-cultures, demonstrating the importance of understanding sub-cultures in marketing strategies.


What is Subculture Marketing?

It’s a marketing strategy that targets specific, smaller groups within a larger population, known as subcultures, which have distinct beliefs, values, or interests.

Why is Marketing to Subcultures Effective?

This approach is effective because it allows for more personalized and relevant marketing that resonates deeply with a specific audience, leading to higher engagement and loyalty.

How Do Marketers Identify Subcultures?

Subcultures are identified through market research, social media analysis, and demographic studies, focusing on unique interests, lifestyle choices, or cultural affiliations.

Can Subculture Marketing Work for Any Type of Product?

While it’s particularly effective for products or services that align with the specific interests of a subculture, almost any product can be marketed this way if there’s a creative angle that resonates with the subculture.

What are Examples of Subcultures in Marketing?

Examples include skateboarders, environmental activists, tech enthusiasts, or fashion subcultures like goths or hipsters.

What Are the Risks of Subculture Marketing?

Risks include misinterpreting the subculture’s values, causing offense, or being perceived as inauthentic or exploitative.

How Does Social Media Influence Subculture Marketing?

Social media platforms are crucial for identifying, understanding, and engaging with subcultures. They provide direct channels for communication and feedback.

How Does Subculture Marketing Differ from Mass Marketing?

Unlike mass marketing, which targets a broad audience with a one-size-fits-all approach, subculture marketing focuses on the specific needs and interests of a narrower group.

Can Subculture Marketing Lead to Brand Loyalty?

Yes, effectively targeting a subculture can build strong brand loyalty, as members of the subculture feel that the brand understands and caters to their unique preferences.

What’s the Importance of Authenticity in Subculture Marketing?

Authenticity is crucial; brands need to genuinely understand and respect the subculture’s values and norms. Inauthenticity can lead to rejection of the brand by the subculture.

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