It is becoming ever clearer that people don’t fundamentally care about brands. They are so peripheral to people’s lives that only around 5% of brands would be truly missed if they were to vanish tomorrow (Meaningful Brands, Havas). Instead people, of course, care about the things in the world that matter to them – the things they find fascinating, thrilling or important.
This sentiment is never truer than with Millennials. The 1.8 billion individuals that make up this cohort are demanding more of brands than other generations ever did; they aren’t simply willing to accept what they are given. They tend to value experience over commodity, and they are constantly seeking something bigger than just products. They want to be engrossed in something different and genuinely meaningful.
This realisation means that brands have to push beyond just their products and services. They have to embed themselves in culture by tapping into the things that people are actually concerned about. Brands are beginning to acknowledge that they have to do far more than just say things – they have to do them as well. They have to contribute something of value beyond their category.
In a world where people don’t care about brands, it is a brand’s role to champion something they do care about.
We think that the best way to do this is by connecting with culture. It is the key to finding the topics that people honestly connect with. This can be major global issues – animal testing, carbon emissions and responsible farming have all not just been addressed, but have seen real change as a result of brands’ actions – but it can also be the smaller, more personal things too.
From behaving like a genuine lifestyle brand the way Dulux do, to encouraging children to get mucky in the great outdoors like the National Trust, to celebrating the power of women and girls the way that Always and Sports England have – brands’ actions and voices can echo far beyond their product offer.
Brands need to understand the role they wish to play. From local start-ups to global heavy weights, more and more brands are pushing themselves to stand for something that is both meaningful to people, and distinctive in the world. This way, they can not only stand out, but they can also have an impact on vital trends and issues. They can pre-empt cultural shifts and harness change for themselves, setting the trail ablaze for the rest to follow.
To connect with the things people really care about, it is vital to understand and even anticipate what those things might be. Here are three topics we can see getting hotter and hotter in in 2016 –
2015 saw the subject of female empowerment boom – but for 2016, the flexing forms of masculinity will be the vital issue. With the gender debate being pushed front and centre, the rigid definitions of masculinity have fundamentally changed. Events like Tough Mudder – once reserved for the gruff, military trained, alpha male – are now being embraced by the masses, with even the most groomed fashionista yearning for a jam packed, extreme weekend. And it is not all about becoming more macho – charities such as Mind are championing the breaking of taboos around men’s mental health. Men are being encouraged to talk about their feelings, not just to appeal to women, but to make their lives significantly better. Lynx’s recent advert faces up to the identity blurring many men are undergoing, by capturing a multitude of constantly evolving masculine identities. The very concept of masculinity will continue to be fundamentally played with.
People are escaping from the shackles of Wi-Fi and social networks, and going off grid into the wild outdoors. Nature is becoming aspirational as a place where the stresses of the online world don’t even exist. The trend of immersion had moved from theatres and events, and is now been seen in an authentic absorption in the great outdoors. It is not just for adults – Little Forest Folk is London’s first outdoor nursery where the children are immersed in the forest all day – there is no indoors. This shift is about doing more than just turning phones off, it is about people pushing themselves to embrace a natural world that has been previously neglected.
Mindfulness is beginning to break ties with its spiritual origins, and move into a secular, ambitious world that has true purpose. It has shifted from the Zen style of living calmly and purely, to being part of people’s strategy to achieve their ambitions. The Art of Thinking Clearly self-help book enables people to train themselves to think sharply, and mindfulness is becoming less about removing oneself from the world, and more about finding ways to go back in with more vigour. We think that mindfulness is going to continue on its path towards the purposeful, direct and active – nothing will be passive.
(Originally published in AV Edits 2016)