The Ascension of Aesthetics

If you’ve ever taken a picture of your food for Instagram or stopped by an artsy wall mural for a quick photoshoot, chances are you’ve heard (and used) the word ‘aesthetic.’ Even if you haven’t participated in either of these activities, you’ve still probably witnessed the term being used in conversation. While aesthetics have been around for some time, it seems like, in recent years, the word has reinserted itself into modern culture.

An aesthetic, put simply, is a particular conception of what someone considers pleasing or beautiful.

Because different people have different opinions, there are many types of aesthetics that exist in the world (grunge, minimalist, hypebeast, etc.). When used as an adjective, ‘aesthetic’ is usually synonymous with ‘attractive.’

According to Google Trends, the number of web search queries containing ‘aesthetic’ has more than doubled in the past two years. For image search, the number of ‘aesthetic’ queries has increased fivefold. Compared with current slang, ‘aesthetic’ has a relative popularity score of 51 (with 100 being peak popularity) whereas the terms ‘swag’ and ‘fam’ have scores of 27 and 17, respectively.

But even without looking at the numbers, it’s fairly easy to recognize how the recent craze for aesthetics has changed current culture. On Pinterest, there are thousands of inspiration boards that portray people’s ideal looks and vibes. On YouTube, there are a plethora of tutorials and videos describing the different types of aesthetics and how to “find your aesthetic.” On Instagram, millions of teens and millennials show off their design-intuition through color-themed posts and professional-quality photos.

So what does all this passion for aesthetics mean? More importantly, what does this mean for marketers?

The most obvious implication of the recent infatuation for aesthetics is that, now more than ever, the “look” of something is a determining factor in a person’s continuing interest in a website, a product, and even other people. Glossier, a beauty company that has recently been on the rise, is well-known for reeling its young customer base in with aesthetic packaging of its products. Instagram accounts such as symmetrybreakfast have hundreds of thousands of followers liking their posts of immaculately laid out plates of food. The beauty of content produced by others has become increasingly important for us, thus leading to the intense emphasis placed on aesthetics.

All vanity aside, an aesthetic can really say a lot about the person portraying that specific aesthetic. For one, maintaining a definite theme across social media and other platforms illustrates a sense of self-confidence and comprehensive understanding of current trends. In addition, different types of aesthetics can really give insight into a person’s values and interests. For example, a minimalist aesthetic may allude to how a person is organized and efficient, while a bright, colorful aesthetic may reflect a person’s rambunctious and outgoing personality.

The same can be said for companies. With so many different brands and products, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. However, if a brand can establish a specific aesthetic, not only will they be able to distinguish themselves from others, they will also be able to demonstrate their awareness of popular culture and exhibit their core values and beliefs.

As marketers, it’s important for us to always have a pulse on current culture. Most recently, aesthetics are at the forefront of society’s values. However, rather than perceive this trend as vapid and shallow, we can use aesthetics to truly express ourselves and the organizations we represent.

By Megan Shen


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