Gobs of really smart, and some not so smart, people research cultural shifts day in and day out. So many in fact that we can all easily become confused on whether we are actually discussing shifts or rather ‘reflections upon the moment.”
I say that because sometimes people say shit simply because they feel the need to say shit.
And this pertains to ‘experts’ and researchers and futurists and trendwatchers and all the gobs of smart <and not so smart> people.
I struggle when someone claims “changes in culture” and immediately follow it up with “what lies ahead for brands next year?”
Culture and next year?
Isn’t culture shift about where countries, groups of people, civilizations and maybe some larger attitudes & behavior are heading? Not ‘what lies ahead for brands next year?’
Isn’t culture more about generations and not individual years?
Call me crazy but while business pundits want to expound upon brands and such … culture shifts DO happen … and it is bigger than about some brand … and I maybe think of it more as “what we should be thinking about” <with our kids, friends & businesses> moving forward.
Because … inevitably … shit changes in culture.
And that means shit happens to generations of people.
And that means attitudes and behaviors change <that’s the big shit>.
Some change is short term shit <let’s call these fads> … and some change is long term shit <these are actually cultural shifts>.
I say all that as a prelude to some stuff because identifying shifts within a true cultural shift is very very difficult. And it becomes even more difficult in a world where we treat every little idea and/or action as the next big thing … or even the biggest thing since sliced bread.
We should take all these futurist prognosticator thoughts with a grain of salt.
I am not a prognosticator.
But here is what I know for sure.
Culture moves forward … people adapt … civilizations ebb and flow <some die and some are born> … and what was new will quickly become old <and the old will hold on too long to the old and the young will embrace some of the new too early>.
I do scan all the ‘rend forecasters’ and ‘brand futurists’ and actual real-time research that doesn’t try and predict but rather simply measure <and permit us people watchers kind of suggest what the information is saying about culture>.
Here is another thing I am fairly sure about.
If the foundation within a culture, some underpinning, changes through some innovation or underlying attitudinal shift … you have the basis for a long term cultural shift.
Please note that typically culture shift is like a glacier … or at its fastest … an oversized oil tanker filled to the brim.
Very very slow shifts and turns.
Hmmmmmmmmmm … except when there is an abrupt and/or game-changer change in the foundational infrastructure … i.e. … when something at the core of how we do things … or how we think about things … changes.
Then all bets are off.
Think fire, iron, printing press, industrial revolution … and computer of course.
When something like that appears a current culture gets rocked … and changes.
I wrote all of that as a preface to discussing some thoughts produced by Leo Burnett Chicago <once known as a brilliantly good advertising agency but now wants to be some ‘idea’ generation company or something like that> considered in developing a forecast of future behavioral trends called HumanKind 2012:
What’s apparent from the learning is that we’re beginning to see a profound change in the cultural fabric of society and the emergence of a different kind of Big Life Plan. It’s a new kind of America – where men stay at home, women win the bread, and nearly 40 percent of all children are born to a single mom. In short, it’s the “The Transformation of Aspiration.”
I’m not talking small change here. We’re beginning to see a profound change in the cultural
fabric of society,” the report says.
I imagine they have to say that simply to get people to pay attention.
But I am not sure we should be thinking massive transformation in the cultural fabric <which really sounds good though doesn’t it?>.
I would suggest that the ‘cultural fabric’ is constantly being rewoven … all the time.
Sounds apocalyptic. Seems to me it is gradual cultural shifts.
Those smart folk at Burnett highlight 6 key trends which I will now share with my thoughts <not as smart> included:
<note: they suggest that “brands and marketers should embrace these in order to successfully engage with today’s consumer” … I would simply suggest that being aware of these is probably more important than ‘embracing’>.
Sense of fairness declines, happiness inequality rises. Americans as a population have traditionally been optimistic and happy. Even during the years leading up to the recession everyone was happy, regardless of social class. Since the economic downturn, that’s all changed. Americans are unhappier than ever, especially those with lower incomes. Feelings of inequality and unfairness are rampant and continue to dwindle
Implication for brands: This year’s winning brands will be those that consistently deliver acts of fairness and behave with morality. A company that treats all customers fairly will earn Americans’ trust and patronage.
- Bruce thought: painful as it is to tell business leaders … truth & transparency … it has always been the backbone of any business … and always will be. While I do believe ‘happiness inequality rises’ is true … I am not sure this is a massive cultural shift. It is simply a reflection of the state of society.
Now. If I am a company <or a brand> I cannot change the status of society <not even Coke can do that> but I can certainly acknowledge Life sucks … and people are unhappy … and do my best to insure everyone knows I am doing my best to NOT contribute to unhappiness and AM trying to make people as happy as I can. Behaving ethically and demonstrating consistent fairness is standard operating procedure … well … at least it should be <and that hasn’t changed>. Oh. Part of truth and transparency is the fact you cannot make all the people happy all the time. And while perceived fairness may matter … truth and transparency is far more important. I always tell businesses that they are in the business of being human. “Brands” don’t like to hear that shit because they aspire to be bigger than life … bigger than human … they want to be … well … superhuman.
Nuts to that.
The average American family is anything but. Finish school, get a job, get married, have a family. That plan still exists, but only for some. Forty percent of kids are born to an unmarried mother. More couples have children out of wedlock. People define their own family situation and shape their lives according to their own needs, not their peer group.
Implication for brands: Popular media is slow to catch up to the changing American family. Diverse images of family ring true with consumers and can be a great way to show how your brand fits in to today’s reality.
- Bruce thought: Ah. Stereotypes. Marketing images typically lag behind cultural shifts, so being ahead of the curve is one way to give your business an edge. Risky … but an edge. The truly challenging part? There has never been a larger gap between the oldest generations and the youngest. Appeal to the youngest and there are a shitload <think maybe 100 million or so … but who’s counting?> who will not only be scratching their heads wondering what the hell they just saw but be slightly indignant on the decay o civilization. Appeal to the oldest and the young simply do not see themselves in that world.
But. Here is where I believe Burnett is off the mark. They appear to be caught up in the trees and not see the forest. They are focused on the make up of the family … and not the core which actually holds a family together. What makes up ‘family’ is not defined by need or situation … it is defined by … well … family. That intangible bond of love, caring, discipline, shared space and shared experiences. Today’s family may not sit around the kitchen table as often <if ever> as the families of generations past but that doesn’t make them any less a family. In fact … families <parents and their kids> are actually spending more time together than any generation prior. It isn’t around the table but it is together. Well. that is family. Screw the stereotypes … that is the kind of bullshit you throw at ‘brands’ and companies hoping they think you are giving them some epiphany on marketing and sales. Behavior is behavior and attitudes are attitudes. Oh. And family is family.
The universal archetype of masculinity is over. Men evolve as the traditional definition of masculinity is being redefined. The old rules that define a man’s role in the home and office do not apply in today’s world. Women are out-earning their husbands and men accept this. In fact, 77% of all men are comfortable with their wives earning more than them and 72 percent are okay with staying home to take care of the children. Brands speak with caution when referring to traditional views of masculinity. Focus instead on shaping identities and transforming individuals, not a specific gender.
- Bruce thought: First. Brand don’t speak <sorry … just had to get that out of the way>.Second. Whew. ‘Universal archetype of masculinity.’ Well. I imagine this is kind of like suggesting all millennials are environmentally conscious <they are not>, or that all women want children <they don’t> or all koala bears eat eucalyptus <oops … they do>.
Stereotypes and generalizations for broad groups have never worked nor been effective.
Now. If this ‘cultural change’ is about how we view women … well … women have never been men … nor men women.
And if it is about how we view men and masculinity? Men who buy a Dodge Ram will very likely have a different definition of masculinity than one who buys a Lamborghini versus one who buys a VW bug. And, by the way … that definition will have nothing to do with femininity … just different aspects of what it is that makes up being a male and masculinity.
While dual income households have changed how we all view things <materialistic to roles of genders things> masculinity is still masculinity. With various degrees of what it may mean as well as definitions. Brands should simply focus on what it is that they have to offer. If they are a ‘hair on the chest bar-fight brand’ then go for it.
Anyway. I hope the folks at Burnett were trying to simply suggest don’t stereotype and focus on who your specific target is.
Healthy is in the eye of the beholder.
Despite the rising obesity crisis, food remains an affordable luxury – a way to treat oneself when being forced to cut back in other ways. 47% of Americans say they would like for restaurants to offer healthier items, but only 23% actually order those items. When given the choice between a burger or a salad, consumers see more value in the satisfaction of eating a burger than a salad, especially on a tight budget.
Implications for brands: Regardless if you are in the food industry, think about how to satisfy consumers’ desire for smaller, bite sized luxuries. A small amount of satisfaction can go a long way.
- Bruce thought: The great thing for the food industry? We need food. Without food … well … we die. Regardless. We love food. All kinds of food. Good and bad for you. What that mainly means is that taste is king/queen. Make sure your shit tastes good … consistently. If it does … people will buy it.
Oddly I am kind of surprised people don’t talk about this next topic more … this whole ‘portion size’ discussion.
To me <in my pea like brain> portion size is related to its ‘health delivery.’
If it is healthy I would maximize the size of the portion as far as I could … and if it is unhealthy I would optimize my minimum size. By the way … this trend doesn’t only apply to the food industry.
Anyway. I imagine the real point is that people will always purchase things bad for them. Therefore while it may sound crafty cleverly dastardly … unhealthy food manufacturers should be trying to simply make people feel better about buying their unhealthy stuff. If that is portion size … go for it. If it is something else … give it a shot.
Am I really giving this advice <you may ask>? Yup.
Healthy is in the eye of the beholder mostly because no one has defined ‘healthy’ simply enough that any schmuck like me can understand. While I certainly can grasp that a cookie dough icing covered chocolate dipped cake is unhealthy … someone will tell me that if I cut back on other things it can give me ‘the protein I need’ <or insert whatever justification you want in here>.
Heck. Starbucks sells these amazingly tasty things called cakepops which make your head explode with the sugar content and they claim it is under 200 calories.
No one has any meaningful guard rails built around what healthy eating truly means to the everyday person … therefore … we will build our own guard rails.
Collective bargaining is a weapon of survival. Daily deal giants such as Groupon and LivingSocial have paved the way for Americans to score deals on everything and anything. People don’t expect or want to pay full price ever again and collectively demand better deals and offerings in the palm of their hand, each morning.
Implication for brands: Integrate daily deals with customer loyalty programs. To compensate for downward pressure on margins, daily deal technology needs to segment customers that are already bargaining and offer more personalized deals to heavy users.
- Bruce thought: Well. Unfortunately I am not so sure I agree with the folks at Burnett. Deals are part of the mix but I tend to believe people just want transparency. They are willing to pay ‘full price’ if it matches their internal value compass. Simply to suggest ‘let’s make a deal’ with regard to everyone and anything <especially considering the Leo’s are talking specifically to ‘brands’> is simplistically and irresponsibly wrong <as well as misguided>. In fact … using Burnett words … ‘deals are in the eyes of the beholder.’ Look. I am not smart enough to be a prognosticator and see into the future. Groupon and LivingSocial may not even exist in 4 years. Heck. If I were telling Facebook what to do I would be telling them to already be thinking about how to dissolve Facebook and introduce the next new generation <some call that ‘planned obseletion’>.
The whole idea of ‘not being able to charge a full price’ or ‘a higher price than someone else’ seems ludicrous to me.
Social/mobile technology: abandon the novel, embrace the practical.
There will be 20+ million new smartphone users in … well … whatever year you want to focus on. These users want to leverage social platforms and mobile in their shopping and buying repertoire, but they need mobile and social to add value, not noise. Implication for brands: To activate shoppers through social and mobile marketers need to identify the problems shoppers are trying to solve and provide informed solutions. Brands that don’t provide practical experiences will be ignored.
- Bruce thought: oops. This is a cultural change? Uhm. Not in my world. This is a technological innovation … which feeds into an overall cultural desire <which I don’t understand why it isn’t discussed more often>. The overall cultural desire? Mobility. Simple as that. We want our world on the go as much as possible. Why? It makes us independent of … well … stuff & things & infrastructure. Geez. Why do you think cars became so popular so fast in our culture?
If I can get it on a smartphone? Amen brother. A wristwatch? Cool. In my wallet? Yahoo. As for practicality … well … Burnett is smarter than this. Anything ‘cool’ will have some initial purchase power … I don’t care if it is technology or clothes … but inevitably f it isn’t practical <or offers some practical functional value> it ain’t gonna last. That is not a cultural shift … that is a cultural reality.
That was their thoughts.
You probably know by now if you have made it this far that I think these Leo Burnett thoughts are fairly pedantic but have some good basics to keep in mind.
But what I think they missed.
And this is a biggie.
The relationship between being comfortable and uncomfortable has been irrevocably changed.
- We are in an age of constant uncomfortableness.
We are uneasy these days.
Call it being more risk averse.
Call it finding space, and decisions, that provide some basis of comfort and predictability. Call it ‘choice … or non choice … based on fear.’
Call it anything you want but businesses and people are taking less risk.
And putting more value on ‘safe.’
At its worst … people are living in fear. Heck. Businesses are living on fear.
And media constantly feeds the fear. Our kids are not safe walking to school … shit … they aren’t safe in school. Terrorists are around every corner. Big business runs the world conspiracies. Banks will fail tomorrow.
We fear living today because we are sure tomorrow is going to crumble before our eyes.
Bruce thought: This fear creates uneasiness in almost everything we do. It affects us by having us seek safe havens. Comfortable places to rest our minds. It affects us by having us take no, or significantly less, chances. It affects brand choice, starting business choice, school choice, spending choice and … well … living every day life choice. Oh. And it affects society.
Just something to keep in mind.
I am done.
To be fair to the typically smart folk at Leo Burnett … it is always easier to edit than to create. It is easy for me to nitpick their words & hack up their thoughts & criticize. They studied, thought and created. I may not agree with their thoughts but my job was easier than theirs.
And in the end … because I shared their thoughts and mine … you get to study, think and create your own thoughts.