Hot Topic

Assignment: Refresh a fading retail brand

The brief

Brand situation

In an effort to appeal to today’s mainstream masses, Hot Topic has lost its identity. What was once known as the anti-conformist, “loudest store in the mall” has been reduced to a diluted sea of fandom merchandise.

Cultural situation

Today’s generation of teens has replaced counterculture with “crossculture.” They actively choose to seek out commonalities over polarizing differences. Identity is also much more fluid for them than previous generations. They are unapologetic about who they are, and committed to their standards and worldview. They are fearlessly expressive.


Re-establish Hot Topic as a cultural innovator with a POV. Shift the brand from chaser to creator. Essentially, bring the edge back.


The Misfits, ages 13-19. Crave self-expression. Demand change and are willing to use their voices.
Our biggest barrier: appealing to them in an authentic way.


Hot Topic embraces culture’s rough edges. We are not for the slick or the perfectly polished; we stand for the messy, handmade, ever-evolving. We will always give voice to the different, the gritty, the fearless.


Agitate the standard to provoke creativity.

Strategy methodologies

Store visits
High school lunch period sit-ins*
Punk house show attendance*
Gen Z interviews
Brand identity exercises
Communications plan

*great stories, please ask me about ‘em

Click below to explore the new retail experience.

Click below to learn about the campaign.

Our end goal

In today’s societal and political landscapes, it’s more important now than ever to question authority, break rules, start new conversations and find new solutions. The next generation is already doing this, and we want to empower them, elevate their voices. As we did at our inception, we will continue to speak to budding generations and evolve as they do. Explore with them. Create with them. And always encourage their fearlessness.


Go team

Robert Clark, creative brand manager
Sarah Matheson Harris, strategist
Catie Frech, strategist
Joelle Halle, experience designer
Ainsworth Kerr, copywriter
Molly McCarvill, art director

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