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2023 CultureCast

Your Pop Culture Marketing Cheat Sheet

What’s Up, 2023!

Welcome to another year – full of promise, potential, and pop culture opportunities.

Just a handful of macro shifts we have seen in the last few months:

In media – the importance of hyper-localization for Southeast Asia is coming to the forefront. There has never been greater focus on collaborating with local creators, both micro and established, for offerings that cater to local sensibilities.

In tech – the hype surrounding Web3-related buzzwords came full circle last year. In 2023, we’re betting on utility-based tokens and token-gated commerce models that revolutionize the consumer experience.

In social – TikTok is continuing its unrelenting march towards global dominance. Its role in trend-building – combined with the nature of short-form, less filtered video content – are shaping Gen Z’s preferences for authentic consumption.

What do these shifts, among many others, tell us about changing consumer expectations? And in turn, how will evolving consumer preferences further shape pop culture and their interaction with brands in 2023?

To navigate these big questions, we have distilled the different strands of cultural currents and pulled out five actionable pop culture opportunities that brands can leverage. 

And we promise, we’re making it as easy as your ABCs 😉

2023 Culture Cast

Your Pop Culture Cheat Sheet

Scroll on to read the full deep dive into Theme 1: Authenticity, or click below to download a complimentary copy of the full report!

Authenticity - Ugly Cakes and Reversing the Rules of Cool

Ugly Cake Trend


Ugly Cakes

This viral trend saw people (deliberately) gift ridiculously ugly cakes that are so absurd the recipient can’t help but be entertained and amused. Google searches for ‘ugly cake prank’ spiked in Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines between August and September 2022. It’s been a huge success on TikTok – #เค้กตลก (funny cake in Thai) has 4.1M views, #kuejelek (ugly cake in Indonesian) has 24.6M views. Globally, #uglycakeprank has 293.7M views and counting.


The Gen Z quest for authenticity, and the explosion of anti-culture pop culture

Beyond ugly cakes, in 2022 we saw ‘Goblin mode’ revealed as the Oxford Dictionary crowdsourced word of 2022, signifying a departure from perfectly manicured lives in favor of embracing one’s raw self in all its messy glory.

Underpinning all of this is the shift towards greater authenticity. Younger consumers’ enthusiastic embrace of all things ‘ugly’ can be seen as a rebellion against convention – in terms of both aesthetics and aspirations.

By subverting all rules of what’s considered cool and pushing back against markers of success, many of which were set by older generations, Gen Zs are determined to live their most authentic lives. More snapshots on how this shows up in pop culture below.

The Bigger Picture

Growth Drivers


Growing up in Asia’s pressure cooker environment, many young consumers are opting to live life on their own terms. Movements like bai lan (摆烂, ‘let it rot’) in China, hitting mung in South Korea, and quiet quitting highlight this mindset. This generation is pushing back against standards of the ‘best life’ society says they should aspire to, and they are making a statement through their consumption. Gen Zs are boldly choosing products that are traditionally considered ‘uncool’ and finding freedom in reversing the rules. Contradicting what comes before is a rite of (youthful) passage, and Gen Zs are keeping it going.


While Millennials came of age with curated photo-based social media platforms (yep, we’re talking about Instagram), Gen Zs in SEA grew up amidst a video and livestreaming boom, where unfiltered content is the norm. The growth of TikTok in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines is mainly driven by younger consumers seeking raw, unedited short-form content. This difference in content preference also translates to brands – in the case of Crocs, for example, the clogs have a big favorability difference between the two demographics.


Gone are the days when an elite acted as the gatekeepers of good taste – social media challenged, and ultimately nullified, that. As social media evolves into interest-based communities, the grassroots effect will be amplified, and the sphere of influence will get smaller – 77% of Gen Zs in Hong Kong would rather look at pictures of their friends than celebrities. The ability to ‘choose your cool’ is important for a generation that’s unapologetically unique.

Brand Takeaways

Docs, stocks, crocs


Take a look at your core products and, if you have not already, prioritize substance over style. The switch from pretty confections to ugly cakes wasn’t just an act of Gen Z rebellion. All too often, these pretty creations looked good, but tasted bad – a physical manifestation of the Instagram aesthetic. This current also runs through the popularity of the Sacred Trinity in fashion – when comfort comes first, clunky is cool.

Wong Kar Wai x Marc Jacobs


Consider what your brand stands for. As Gen Z’s preferences evolve, does your brand’s heritage become baggage that prevents you from connecting with younger audiences? If the answer is yes, dare to flip the script and surprise your audience. Marc Jacobs created a new line to better appeal to Gen Z sensibilities, then collaborated with creatives like Wong Kar-wai to continue evolving. Pop culture doesn’t stand still – and neither should your brand.

Vibe Check Your Realism


The quest for authenticity will impact Gen Z’s expectations of brands, too. Bold brands will acknowledge their flaws and be honest about both their impact and limitations – the ESG hot potato, anyone? Brands need to move beyond one-off campaigns and sweet-talk messaging. Ultimately, this consumer group is keen to challenge established norms. How can you help them do that while standing up for their values, whether that’s on a personal level or a society-wide scale?

Like what you’re reading so far? Get your complimentary copy of the full 2023 CultureCast below, and access your complete pop culture marketing cheat sheet for the year ahead.

And as always, insights remain nice-to-know unless you act on them. 

If you’re keen to understand which opportunities are most relevant to your brand, and how you can activate a specific space in pop culture, we are here to help. 

Drop us a note at and let’s chat. 

Here’s to a fantastic 2023 ahead!