Backslash Spotters: Who Are They?

Backslash is powered by TBWA’s global network of Culture Spotters.

Corianda Dimes
Associate Strategy Director TBWAChiatDay

Justine Hsu
Strategic Planner TBWAChina

Corinne Bolink
Marketing Information Planner TBWANEBOKO

Backslash employs over 200 cultural "Spotters." These influencers were selected as a response to the shifting culture in the advertising world. TBWA has fully incorporated these "spotters" into their global network to fully immerse the agency in this change. 

How do you identify culture shifts and where do you get your inspiration?

(CORINNE) For me, a culture shift is most relevant when you can connect it to a brand(s). You need to know which trends are currently relevant and what they mean. I constantly reference our Edge Map which includes more than 60 Edges. I know almost all of them by heart.  

I get inspiration from everywhere, during work time and during my free time. I still read newspapers, magazines and some favourite blogs daily. I also get inspiration from tv, music, theatre, museums and cultural events. When I read the newspaper on Saturday morning, I often send myself trigger notes for Monday morning as a reminder. I’m always spotting!

(JUSTINE) I pick them up wherever I go! Culture is alive and breathing and everywhere around us, but it takes a trained (and sometimes creative) eye to see the underlying trend behind. Kind of like seeing climate change from observing birds migrating. Culture shifts come in any form or shape and can range from an innovative design, online phenomenon, brand decision, to any interesting cultural news. These events happen for a reason, they represent emerging or existing trends that are shaping our behavior, and it is a spotter’s job to identify and define those edges, then go one step deeper – connect them to brand(s) and see where that takes us! 


Everywhere I go I’m spotting. I try to take off my Brand Strategist’s hat when spotting triggers and only put it on when I’m analysing. Feedly is my best friend, and I turn to friends and families for mainstream news. Sometimes it takes a little extra digging to be the “first to know,” but those moments are my favourite.  


(CORIANDA) It's a bit of an art and a science, and can come from a number of places. That's the beauty of Backslash, that we spotters aren't full time on Backslash and can bring in our insights from across both our day-to-day jobs and personal lives. As a strategist, I may come across something in my research for my day-to-day clients. Or, it comes from my natural curiosity -- things I'm seeing pop up on the internet, from Instagram to Reddit -- podcasts I'm listening to, articles I'm reading, discussions I'm having. It's more about piecing things together, having a feeling and then investigating it, validating it. 


That's why Backslash's architecture of Triggers and Edges works so well. Sometimes, you may just have a trigger -- a single cultural spark, a post, a news story. The Edges give you a vocabulary for putting it within a larger cultural context and interrogating it, and the network of other spotters are resources that can help confirm something as larger than a single trigger or hunch. 


What are your favorite culture briefs from another spotter?

(CORINNE) One of my favourite culture briefs was about a People Walker. This is somebody in LA who gets paid to take regular walks with people, for low key exercise and to keep them company. It's quite a simple story, but it actually combines about three Edges including one of our most spotted Edge: Empathy Age. I also love briefs about modern families, super seniors, kids and pets. A good example is the bridal party for single women. Women who are not in relationships (so no wedding plans) can make a reservation for trying on wedding dresses together with their best friends. It includes champagne. I mean, isn't that great?


(JUSTINE) So many! Living in China where there’s heavy media censorship, things tend to get a little sheltered. I’m always amazed by cultural happenings in the world. 


A recent favourite is Die With Me, an app-based chatroom only accessible when your phone has 5% or less battery life. It connects strangers as they “die together” to “offline peace.” I love that it uses a common nuisance in the digital age as a gateway for instant connection, no matter how transient that may be.


Another one is Skip to the Good Part, with Audible’s new feature to let people skip straight to the steamiest bits of romance novels. Through machine learning, keywords are pulled out to find sexy scenes and delivers them instantly to listeners. I love it for the unconventional use of machine learning!


(CORIANDA) The team out of Shanghai has some amazing spotters. I loved Justine's piece on Young Gay China and how major institutions are actually responding to a growing LGBTQ+ movement for the first time. Our spotters out of Teran TBWA\ in Mexico City also worked on an interesting piece about a new subway card that doubles as a bank account to serve the "unbanked" in Mexico. When we talk about trends or Edges like Flash Finance and fintech, the narrative here in the US is often skewed towards Silicon Valley and hyper techy, early-adopter type stories. This story cracked that open -- innovations are also about responding to unique local cultural tensions and offering solutions. 



What is involved in the process of selecting a Culture Spotter?

(CORINNE) You are considered a spotter when you are above average curious about brands, news and culture and enjoy connecting them and (know how to) explain why something is relevant.


Most of our spotters work in the strategy department, we are used to connecting brands to culture. But we also have Spotters from other departments (creatives, account managers and designers) pointing out triggers to us too. For new colleagues, we organise masterclasses about Backslash so anyone who's interested can join as a Spotter. We also train our interns to be spotters. They are a great addition to our Spotter team because they often bring in a fresh point of view on brands, news and trends.


(JUSTINE)  Anyone can be a Culture Spotter. All it takes is the curiosity to dig deeper, the ability to see the big picture and connect the dots, and a daring attitude to question the status quo and figure out the bigger WHY. I am a firm believer in active culture participation – which means that as active consumers of culture and media, we should also be active critiques of it.


We welcome anyone from the agency to be part of the Spotter team. Currently we’re on a rotating basis where a selected few (we used a lottery system!) are tasked with submitting triggers. It really got people participating!