What Distributors Can Learn from Hackers and Skateboarding's Sticker Culture
A lot of promotional products can be complex. There are audio accessories that do about 12 other things. There are fashionable pieces that designers agonize over to make sure they match the trends of today.
And then there is the humble sticker, with no purpose other than to stick to a flat-ish surface and look pretty.
There are few promotional items as pure as the sticker, and because of that, they become much more than just advertisements. They become cultural signifiers.
Alex Scroxton, a writer at Computer Weekly, just wrote a pretty immersive piece about how stickers are especially popular among hacker culture. We've seen the movies where the hacker character breaks out their trusty laptop, which is covered in stickers.
When movies like "Hackers" came out, hacker culture was still a new thing, and was relegated to the outskirts of subcultural society, not unlike skateboarding. Skateboarding and hackers both found a way to signify to others in their "in-group" through stickers, and computer wizards also found a way to add art to something that was previously just scientific.
"I was thinking, there are other groups that have stickers, like the skateboarding scene," Nate Drier, technical lead on the Secureworks Adversary Group, told Scroxton. "Probably the skateboarding scene in the U.S. was like the birth of that kind of counterculture. So I started to ask how it ended up with hackers, and I thought, looking at my laptop, if you're an artist, you make things with your hands. It's very easy to see your creativity and your art because it's there and you can see it. Hackers see themselves as artists, too, but our art is code contained in a nondescript laptop that doesn't look cool. So maybe that's where stickers come in. It was na expressive outlet in a niche you didn't others have."
In skateboarding, stickers are basically gold. For pros, precise sticker placement on boards and helmets means ad visibility. For amateurs, they are ways to show off the companies you are cool with. Kids will tackle each other for free stickers at demos. (I know because I have tackled and been tackled at these events as a kid.)
This isn't a history lesson about skateboarding and hacking, though. It's a lesson that distributors can take from these two subcultures and use in their own promotional campaigns that involve stickers.
Laptops, beer fridges, cars – all of these have limited amounts of space, so people need to decide which stickers get the prominent placement. They are going to choose the ones that best represent their tastes and experiences.
The craft beer community has really embraced stickers. People use them to show where they've been and what they've tasted. Breweries have even toyed with the idea of turning beer can labels into stickers.
While retail-inspired products and high perceived values will still have great demand in this industry from end-users, don't overlook the humble sticker and the power it holds. It's a form of social currency in a lot of groups.
“Art and stickers and T-shirts are an incredibly underrated tool when it comes to community," BugCrowd founder and CEO Casey Ellis told Computer Weekly. "People who identify as hackers are already marginalized, and then there are other kinds of marginalization happening underneath that, but we’re tied together by the fact that we are hackers and the world was out to get us. As that becomes less true surfacing some of those other identities has become important, and it’s an opportunity to build more inclusivity into the cyber community,”
So, if you can design a good sticker, one that represents the client and everything they stand for, you can be sure that logo gets star billing on whatever surface the end-user chooses.
How's that for a hack?