02 September 2021

The victory of the ‘guilty pleasures’ and what we can learn

Nick Ford-Young

Post-irony, post-post-modernism, post-too cool to care – we’re past feeling bad about the things we enjoy. That’s a good thing for us – and the brands we love.

Guilty pleasures rarely qualify as high-brow. The term might evoke images of junk food, reality TV, or my personal favourite, gossip. Thankfully, given that life is already filled with valid sources of guilt, we are slowly but surely shedding that sense of shame. I’m of the opinion that we have reached (or that we are at least approaching) a point in culture where people feel free to wholeheartedly and unapologetically embrace their interests and indulgences.

They epitomise authenticity

Brands should fully embrace this trend. Enthusiasm should be encouraged, and go beyond ensuring that their customers love their products/services – actually considering how to inspire them to communicate that love, unabashed.

Love Island inspires think pieces in The Guardian. Comic Con is the hottest ticket in town. From the trashy to the nerdy, fanning should be actively encouraged. With such an emphasis on authenticity and self-care, we are at last exhibiting uncomplicated, unabashed joy, and that extends to our consumption habits.

They generate obsessive loyalty

The experience of discovering a community, or a tribe, has of course been expedited by the internet. Algorithms now automatically generate tribes, mysteriously dictated by our behavioural patterns. Every niche has an audience, an influencer, a subreddit. Our instinct as humans is to discover and gravitate towards herds – it’s gratifying. Brands should take advantage of this trend, and foster these communities.

They brim with meaning

The things we love, consume, and care about play an important role in expressing who we are – an  indispensable pursuit in this distinctly individualistic era. The brands we choose are potent signifiers of our own identities, and the best brands understand this, clearly defining what it is they represent, and communicating that meaning to their audience.

They tap into the zeitgeist

It is no coincidence that so many “guilty pleasures” are often viewed as “female interests.” It’s hugely reductive and there is a history of “female” interests being discounted as frivolous. Even the term fan girl is gendered.

I would argue that teenage girls set the tone for wider society. Women being given the opportunity to be unapologetic is perhaps what’s carried this trend from adolescence to adulthood. We are all freer than ever before to wholeheartedly embrace passions.

A final note

A closing remark for those who uphold snobbery towards guilty pleasures, but seem to champion ‘pop culture’ . This is pop culture. Love Island is a classic.