Survivalists – Could they be the key to creating an iconic brand?

July 28, 2014

Everyday we are bombarded by an overwhelming number of brands and messages. It’s difficult to rise above this noise and become a truly iconic brand that will be instantly recognizable in consumers’ minds and culturally relevant.  Yet historically, we can see that some brands - take Mountain Dew, Nike and Harley Davidson – have been able to find ways to become more iconic than others. What these brands have in common is that they have all at least one point tapped into and aligned themselves with key populist worlds - autonomous subcultures in which people’s action are seen to be guided by intrinsic motivations rather than power or money. 

In the 90’s, Mountain Dew tapped into extreme sport culture in a manner that emphasized rebellion against dominant social ideals at the time that suggested manhood was achieved through a success in the labour force. They focused on the DIY bravado and masculinity of the 90s slacker mentality.

There are a great number of emerging and re-emerging populist worlds that present opportunities for brands. These range from ordinary subcultures and worlds such as surfers, backpackers and gamers to rather unique worlds like Bronies and Survivalists. 

Bronies are young adult male fans of the ‘My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic’ cartoon


The survivalist movement revolves around gaining the skills and knowledge beyond simply how to survive in the wilderness, but also how to live independently without reliance on others for food, electricity and water. The movement is hinged on  reconnecting with nature and regaining personal independence through rejecting the consumer culture we inhabit.

The rise of survivalists’ culture is evident through its heightened visibility in contemporary pop culture. For instance, top selling video games such as Minecraft, DayZ, Don’t Starve and Rust revolve around gathering resources, staving off hunger and surviving as long as possible, whilst recent films and texts such as Into The Wild, The Hunger Games and The Walking Dead also have many strong survivalist themes. 

The survivalist movement has seen a massive resurgence following the global financial crisis in 2008. One of the key reasons this subculture has been gaining ground in Australia due to the decline of manufacturing industries and the outsourcing of labour leaving many Australians fearful of their precarious social position. This has fostered a backlash towards technology, and fostered a strong drive to become self-reliant.


Survivalists culture could present an opportunity for many brands. A few relevant sectors that immediately spring to mind are the military, the travel industry and the education sector.

Take for instance how a brand like the Australian Defence Force could align with Survivalist ideals and culture. There seems to be a great opportunity for the brand to emphasise how the independent skills acquired by recruits in both training and field contexts serve to build Survivalist credentials. Through emphasising the Survivalist edge that the military can give individuals, service could also come to symbolise a stoic lifestyle that allows people to transcend the banality of our consumer society and reconnect with the physical world in a more autonomous, authentic and meaningful way.

The travel industry could also potentially align with Survivalists. Travel can have an element of stepping outside one’s comfort zone, and a recasting of travel as a leisure activity into a test of survival and self-reliance could potentially shake up the category in a new way. Perhaps the rise of ‘Danger Tourism’ – tourism in conflict zones and regions that are flagged as dangerous by DFAT – could be the gateway to creating an iconic travel brand that goes beyond backpacking adventure.

Finally, perhaps there could be an opportunity in the education sector could align with Survivalist ideals. An emphasis on learning either practical day-to-day skills or alternatively, improving one’s deductive reasoning abilities could play into themes of becoming better equipped to adapt and survive in light of the dynamic changes that our society will see in the future.

It will be interesting to see if any brands elect to align themselves with Survivalists in the near future as this populist world continues to become more visible in the mainstream. Who knows, perhaps an iconic Survivalist brand is just around the corner.


This article was a guest post by Matt Dalla Rosa. Matt is currently studying at Monash University and has just completed a 3 month internship with The Lab.