Don't mean to get all Banksy on you here, man, but, like, brands are not your friends.
Over the past couple of years, various multinational brands have started trying to cash in on whatever issues are being talked about at the time – whether that's mental health, body positivity, sexuality or race – often with the kind of nuance and consideration you'd expect from companies whose primary concern has nothing to do with social justice, and everything to do with profit. Brands, it seems, are trying to buddy up with consumers – and largely failing.
In a strange inverse of this trend, a genuine community has sprung up around Strongbow Dark Fruits cider, seemingly without the manufacturers doing much of anything at all, to the point that people are getting actual Dark Fruits tattoos on their actual bodies.
Heineken, which owns Strongbow, released Dark Fruits in 2014, basically because sales of their regular apple cider were declining. At the time, Heineken UK marketing director Andrew Turner said that while cider was the most "dynamic" sector in the alcohol industry, most of the sales were coming from the "modern segment", and that cider sales were "underdeveloped" and offered "significant room for growth" – which can be roughly translated to: "Everyone's getting in on this fruity cider lark; we better release our own version or we're fucked."
They launched the cider with a multi-million pound advertising campaign, and it worked. According to Westons Cider Report, Dark Fruits is now the UK's biggest draught fruit cider, and also the UK's most popular canned fruit cider. Matthew Langley, who co-wrote the report, said that without Dark Fruits, "Strongbow as a brand would actually be declining."
Now, four years later, there's a Dark Fruits appreciation page on Facebook with 26,000 members continuously posting fruity memes, a whole strain of Twitter users known as "Dark Fruits Twitter" (essentially, the LADBible equivalent of Fiat 500 Twitter), and an event set up by Strongbow for the express purpose of providing fans somewhere to get free Dark Fruits tattoos (if they picked two of the designs by Tattoo Fixers star Alice Perrin).
Heading down to that event, which was held across a bar and a tattoo parlour in Shoreditch, I was expecting to meet Dark Fruits Twitter statuses ("I'd rather have a Dark Fruits than a wife") made flesh, and I wasn't disappointed. There to greet us also was a wall of Dark Fruits tinnies, some genuinely delicious Dark Fruits ice cream and a station where those of us who didn't want to make a lifelong commitment could get Dark Fruits transfer tattoos.
There were also "super-fans" in attendance who had either already got Dark Fruits tattoos, or were in the process of getting them. One of the Dark Fruits OG super-fans was Alfie, who went viral when him and his friend Paul got Strongbow cans tattooed on their legs.
"Me and my mate Paul used to go to our local Spoons in Croydon, and we didn't even have to get to the bar before they already had a pint of Dark Fruits ready," explained Alfie. "So, one night after the pub, we thought about getting a can tattooed. We booked it in, [it was] only like £70 or £80. Then we got it like two weeks later, after paying the deposit, totally sober. My mum actually likes it!"
"My mum doesn't know about the Strongbow tattoo yet – all my friends are obsessed with Strongbow, though, so they're quite proud," said Ross, a super-fan who was getting a tattoo at the event. "I had a Strongbow tattoo already lined up, mainly because [I've been] drinking Strongbow since my first drink."
Fair enough: tattoos have long been about commemorating something their wearers hold dear. But brands?
"Today's consumers increasingly look for brands that share their values and feel like an extension of their personality," explained Dr Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation at Goldsmiths, University of London. "When they find them, they tend to become extremely invested in that brand, both as buyers and as part of an active community of other fans."
He added: "It's fair to say that tattooing a tribute on your body definitely counts as an act of brand love."
Depending on your point of view, this is not the kind of cultural shift we should be aspiring to – people defining themselves by their favourite brands. Of course, that in and of itself is nothing particularly new: think of the iPhone obsessives who label themselves "Apple people", the adult men who spend thousands covering themselves and their homes in Supreme. But tattoos take that brand-worship to its ultimate conclusion.
For others, all this really isn't that big of a deal.
"Think about it: each day, you are exposed to hundreds of brands – it's almost impossible to buy unbranded clothing unless you make it – and what you wear says a great deal about your personality, your preferences and also your taste," said Dana, another super-fan who got a Dark Fruits tattoo. "I am delighted to be associated with such a lovely and fun brand."