This is going to be a weird post, but I feel like the Insane Clown Posse is the perfect example of a successful cultural movement driven by a powerful brand image.
Weird, for sure, but there’s something to learn here, so I’m going to look into it.
The Insane Clown Posse, an American hip hop duo from Detroit, Michigan, is composed of “wicked clowns” Joseph “Violent J” Bruce and Joseph “Shaggy 2 Dope” Utsler. Their style, a form of hardcore hip hop, is known for its elaborate live performances and supernatural, horror-themed lyrics. I was surprised to learn that the duo has earned three gold and two platinum albums. According to Nielsen SoundScan, the entire catalog of the group has sold 6.5 million units in the United States and Canada as of April 2007.
Through the founding of their own independent record label Psychopathic Records and professional wrestling federation Juggalo Championship Wrestling, as well as producing and starring in the feature films Big Money Hustlas and Big Money Rustlas, the duo has established a dedicated following, often referred to as Juggalos.
The name originated during a live performance of the song “The Juggla” when Bruce addressed the audience as “Juggalos” and received positive responses. Soon, it grew to be a thriving subculture.
Non-Juggalos believe that Juggalos are a “bunch of fat men from Detroit who listen to rap about the glories of misogyny, homophobia, and violence that terrorize small and large towns across the Midwest.” Unfortunate as this view is, it is true that some fans of the Insane Clown Posse have been behind violent crimes. From 2006 to 2009, several unrelated Insane Clown Posse fans in different states committed murder, assault, arson, robbery and attempted to kidnap a young boy. In Utah alone, 15% of Juggalos, estimated by Police to number between 3,000 and 4,000 in the state, are associated with criminal activity. As a result, law enforcement there now classifies Juggalos as a gang because of the continued pattern of criminal activity seen by the group.
It does not help that the ICP’s songs feature such violent topics as decapitation, stabbing, beating and killing.
However, fans adamantly hold that being a Juggalo is about bettering oneself, accepting others regardless of race or dissimilarity, creating a worldwide community or “family” and turning away from the “evil and stupidity” in life.
Juggalo traditions include painting the face into the likeness of an “evil clown,” spraying bottles of soda pop called “Faygo” on one-another and greeting other ICP fans with “whoop whoop” as a hello. Additionally, Juggalos believe in the “Dark Carnival,” a concept inspired by a dream Bruce had about the afterlife in which souls are sent to a form of limbo while waiting to be sent to Heaven or Hell based on their individual actions. The sins that send an individual to hell, in this alternate understanding of sin and morality, are those of the “richies,” or upper-class and government individuals, who have ignored and neglected the inner cities’ and lower classes’ cries for help.
Finally, there’s the “Hatchet Man,” the universal Juggalo logo, which is a symbol of a man running with a hatchet, that stems from the ICP’s frequently raps about committing acts of violence using a hatchet. In fact, a number of the attacks I mentioned earlier were committed with hatchets or axes.
It’s definitely clear that the two men who started the Insane Clown Posse really got their formula right. Members of their community suffering from poverty and disillusionment needed something to belong to, and the ICP gave them an identity, a family and a religion. The ICP was something they all could relate to it. As the duo said in an interview with the Denver Post, “For Juggalos, we’re like Bob Dylan.”
As shocking as a comparison that may be, the two are irrefutably correct. Although I may not entirely fathom their message, there is no doubt that their target audience does. By recognizing their community’s dissatisfaction with their lives and desire to be a part of something greater than themselves and find a family, the ICP was successful in forming a global cultural movement.
This is a good lesson for advertisers to learn. To create a successful cultural movement, it is imperative to explore and understand every crevice of the intended audience. Not with the intention of selling them something, but of creating something that they love and whole-heartedly want to be a part of.