The Joy of Change
1993: The Death of the Celebrity Endorser. In an age of intrusive media coverage, how much longer could brands justify paying a fortune to celebrities (known to cynics as “hire a liar”) to use the brand? Still, Hertz seemed to be bucking the trend with its man O.J. Simpson—until he took off in a white Bronco and kept my trend on track.
1994: “America Is Going Online.” (After realizing, duh, of course they are, it morphed into “It’s America Online!”) Hence our powerful consumer launch of America Online. More than 18 years later, is America ever not online?
1995: Food Angst. Big brands didn’t anticipate that people could worry about what they eat and even fear their food. Then cows started acting mad and food angst went mainstream. Suddenly it became sane to look hard at the corner diner’s egg salad sandwich and ask where the eggs were hatched. And now food brands scramble to satisfy our demand to know what’s organic, local, free-range, shade-grown, fair-trade, line-caught, sustainable….
1998: Americanization Isn’t Globalization. Nor is it modernization or Westernization. Americans tend to think that when other countries develop and modernize, they want help and encouragement to become just like the U.S. This mistake accelerated a trend of pushback against American power plays. Have U.S. popularity and status ever felt as precarious as in the past 15 years?
1998: Glocalization. For many years, “Think globally, act locally” had been one of those ideas that made sense. By the late 1990s, the idea was gaining enough traction to create action. Now the buzzword is “hyperlocalization”—increased concern over what’s going on in our immediate communities but with heightened awareness that those communities are intimately connected to the wider world.
1999: Millennium Blue. Bondi Beach is one of the dream spots of the world, and the iMac in Bondi Blue was great foreshadowing of Millennium Blue. It became the color that changed fashion in clothing, technology and décor. While Y2K turned out to be a false alarm that was soon forgotten, we’re still living with hues of Millennium Blue.
1999: Singletons. Married with kids was no longer a safe assumption. Women were marrying later and the whole dynamic of dating and mating was changing. We looked for new ways to game the laws of the fertility gods and to find Mr. Right. Online increasingly proved to be just right for women. Today, one in eight American couples marrying met on the Internet and people with fertility problems can shop for sperm and/or eggs there.
1999: Internet Spying. I worried that the Net was driving a spying trend, making it possible for private eyes to run background checks, satellites to document indiscretions, and parents to use camera surveillance to watch their kids in their own homes. Now we can buy background reports online for $9.95, Google Earth has photographed everything, nanny cams are commonplace and privacy is one of the biggest words in discussions of our virtual world, from Facebook policies to FTC regulations.
2003: Metrosexuals and the Angst of Maleness. By the early 2000s, men who cared about their grooming and moisturizing regimes were firmly in the mainstream. In 2003, I flagged the trend, repurposing the term “metrosexual” (coined by Mark Simpson in 1994) and triggering a global tide of media coverage. Cue the yang to the yin of metrosexuality: Recently young men in fashionable precincts (Williamsburg, Brooklyn; the Mission in San Francisco) have taken to sporting lumberjack beards and learning to hunt.
2004: Blogging Going Mainstream. In the pre-digital age of pen and paper, it was “Dear Diary,” but that impulse has transformed into “Hello, World” thanks to blogging. In 2004, “blog” was Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year and I predicted that blogging would become a mainstream activity. Now, Technorati lists more than 133 million blogs in the world.
2005: Sleep Is the New Sex. In an ideal world, bed is a great place for sex and sleep, but in a hyperactive world of hectic lives, a good night’s sleep was something more often desired than actually enjoyed; as I pointed out, sleep had become the new sex. (The Economist quoted me on this in 2007—oftentimes I will talk about a trend for months before mainstream media picks up on the sighting.)
2006: Brand Sluts. As product choices and competition increase, consumer loyalty to brands is eroded. Five major factors are driving consumer promiscuity: commoditization, when companies quickly find ways to make and sell similar products for less; outsourcing, which eats away at the personal connection; brand inflation, which arises when marketers dream up brands before they think of the product; rapid innovation, meaning more choices and fewer reasons to prefer one brand over another; and improved information, which allows consumers to look beyond the veneer of hype and packaging to see what’s on offer.
2007: Radical Transparency. Data is committed to digital form. There are new points of connectivity and a record of everything. The net effect is an increasing acceptance of living life in the open. In a world of intense media scrutiny, it’s wise to assume that determined diggers can unearth the most guarded information: No secrets will be safe. While older generations are wary, younger people—weaned on the Internet, celebrity culture and antiterrorism scrutiny—pay less heed to privacy issues.
2007: Blue Is the New Green. The era of limitless clean water supplies has come to an end. It has been suggested that water could be traded on futures exchanges as other sources are now. There are a few alternatives to oil but none to water, and that’s scary. Over the next decade, expect to see water management and conservation rise on government and corporate agendas.
2007: Local Is the New Global. As travel becomes more of a hassle and high-powered interactive media delivers global content wherever you are, the balance of interest tips away from “somewhere else” to “where I am now.” It’s a factor driving the growing appeal of local. Consumers want the wide world and their global brands, but they also value their individuality.
2008: The Prime Crisis. Even scarier than the subprime crisis, then and now, is the prime crisis, in which borrowers with good credit and traditional, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, and even people who own their homes outright, are also feeling the pinch. Byproducts of the prime crisis are the rise of short-selling and the end of believing your identity lies in a good credit score.
2009: A Children’s Place. Children are increasingly exploited as prime-time props or pawns, and everyday people are rebelling against it. Early examples of those on the “to be watched” list were Jon, Kate and their eight, and “the balloon boy” family; those families illustrated that the American opportunist had gone from empowered fringe to media freak show. Although we tuned in, we weren’t turned on by their parenting.
2010: Cellphones Are the New Trans Fats. This “brain health” movement includes scrutiny about radiation from cellphones, helmet safety, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. Poll after poll shows large numbers of Americans don’t believe the basic science around things like cellphones, and marketers need to take fear, uncertainty and doubt seriously; the cellphone debate, far from going away, is going to take off. Expect near-term legislative debate about cellphone use by people under age 14.
2011: Gray Divorce. Couples who are part of the pandemic of splits for people over 50 (the face of the movement might be Al and Tipper?) might acknowledge a failure, but they’re also looking for life, part two, and a fresh start.
2011: Water Is the New Oil. One-third of counties in the lower U.S. are at risk of shortages, and many seas, like the Aral, are basically drying up. So there’s no business like flow business, and there are big opportunities for businesses to roll out water-efficient products and policies.
2011: The New Social Is Antisocial. People are disengaging with real humans to engage online. The new social interrupts physical interactions; in ten years will all social interactions be through technology? For businesses, the more that technology mediates social interactions, the more opportunity there is to make money with software and services that enhance the interactions.
2012: Let’s Get Really Competitive. Watch our return to brutal honesty. The widespread condition of “Everyone gets a medal” is seeing a backlash evinced by books such as Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. We finally realize the great ugly truth: Americans are golden retrievers in a world of Rottweilers. Consumers are becoming more interested in the concept, so brand messaging will need to locate the sweet spot between hype and brutality.
2012: Beached White Males. Also known as bloated white men, this is a condition of sullen disenfranchisement and unemployment among the typing-impaired. In this “mancession,” the Daily Beast reported, “The same guys who once drove BMWs, in other words, have now been downsized to BWMs: Beached White Males.”