5 Cultural Trends That Brands Should Watch

Chris WrenDecember 18, 20184 min

Every year, JWT Intelligence releases their Future 100 which details non-obvious and interesting trends that may cross consumers’ paths in the year ahead. Because everything sits downstream from culture: entertainment, politics, art and communication, brands need to take note, so they can take advantage of the prevailing zeitgeist.

In the following five future trends, look for ways to align your brand with these shifts in culture.

1. Museums Of The Future

While we’ve written about the ‘made-for-Instagram’ style pop-ups here on Branding Strategy Insider before, this trend represents the next step in the countless installations inspired by The Museum of Ice Cream last year. Instead of creating something worthy of capturing on social media, these larger-than-life installations make the visitor the protagonist and surround them with interactive displays of color and light that respond to what the visitor is doing.

With more applications of virtual and augmented reality being used by brands to enhance the customer experience, it won’t be long before we see this type of experiential art expanding beyond the museum. There could be significant opportunities in travel, retail and restaurants, as consumers become more accustomed to visual stimulation on-demand.

2. Xennial Politicians

We often see the advertising and marketing trades spotlight the importance of millennials. But in the last election cycle in the US, we saw several older millennials and younger gen-Xers becoming more influential in culture, consumption and politics. Their interests are broad and largely progressive, with concerns about climate change, gender equality, education and immigration reform top of mind. And as the JWT report finds, they are “engaging in politics to grapple with the unique systemic challenges they’ve inherited, from student debt to housing prices.”

We can see this effect play out for brands in the way they are shaping and having conversations. Frank, sardonic humor like social media accounts from Steak-Umm, bring a combination of realness and wit that reflect this cohort who are often saddled with tremendous student debt and the reality that home ownership isn’t often an achievable goal. Brands can tap into this movement by acknowledging that much of the status quo is rigged against this generation and provide ways (or at least light-hearted relief) to affect meaningful change.

3. Mothers Of Ambition

This last year has seen a rebranding of motherhood. From New Zealand’s prime minister bringing her baby onto the floor of the UN, to Sports Illustrated model Mara Martin walking the runway in a gold bikini while breastfeeding, women are leading a new conversation about what it means to be a mom.

Even five years ago, we were writing here on Branding Strategy Insider about the need to break through the common (and tired) tropes. Back then, Mark Di Somma offered, “Showing women of all ages and sizes in their advertising, showing women in leadership roles, showing women as entrepreneurs, women of different races, even different religions – these are all examples of how smart marketers can not only celebrate and endorse their biggest market, but also telegraph empathy, commitment and confidence.” Today, smart brands don’t shy away from real and raw portrayals of motherhood, and the consumers can’t seem to get enough.

4. Reframing Masculinity

2018 hasn’t been an easy year for men. Between #timesup, #namehim and #metoo, shocking revelations about a small, but high-profile group of men in positions of power have put a spotlight on what has been called “toxic masculinity.” Toxic often refers to archaic stereotypes that lack nuance, flexibility and compassion and brands like Hims, Axe and Harry’s are paving the way for a more accurate portrayal of what it means to be a man.

Peter Maxwell, senior journalist and author of the Future Laboratory’s “New Masculinity” study, tells the JWT Intelligence that, “There’s a need for brands to become involved in providing better role models for men and to undo some of the damage that they’ve been complicit in subjecting society to over the last 50 to 100 years.”

5. Zeitgeist Shades

While the least sociologically profound on this list, some of the colors you should expect to see brands playing with this year include a multitude of black shades. Even the cover of The Economist was black for their “Year Ahead” issue. Designers are drawn to the mystic connotations of black, as they search for “wisdom, elegance, sophistication and magic.” Meta-metallics are also called out, as Apple’s iPhone XS debuted in gold this year. And more subtle tones like aqua and Pantone’s “Living Coral” are giving technology a softer look.

Brands can tap into these colors in subtle ways across a wide palette of media to connect with consumers on a different level. If you need proof, just check out the aqua tones used by Google in their Home Mini speaker.

This time of year, nearly every publisher will be offering some listicle of important things to pay attention to in the coming year. Let these lists inspire your imagination and creativity as you look for ways to bring better competitiveness to your brand in 2019.

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