How Fusing Opposites Creates Value For Brands

Walker SmithMarch 14, 20244 min

One of today’s biggest cultural dynamics is so ever-present that it is hiding in plain sight. It is the culture of Both-ism, or lifestyles populated by opposites. It’s a phenomenon of two minds about everything, with no merging or resolution. Rather, it is both at once.

Increasingly, the answer to the question of “Which one?” is “both.”

Both-ism is a weave of opposites — the stitching together of contrasting things without losing the contrasts. It is a fusion of incongruous, inconsistent and contradictory things without blending or integration.

This is not entirely new. Affordable luxury. Hybrid automobiles. Urban farming. But these exceptions to the rule are increasingly the norm.

Most especially, omni-commerce. Digital plus brick-and-mortar. Not one versus the other.

It’s both, creating something fresh and better. There was a time not so long ago when we were sure that digital was going to replace brick-and-mortar. That was one in place of the other. Now, we realize that the future is both.

People get the benefits of both, not a trade-off of benefits — the best of convenience and the best of experience — both.

It is a similar thing in beverage alcohol with the growth of non-alcoholic beer and alcohol-free spirits for mocktails. It is a cocktail without being a cocktail. It’s both. The best of indulging plus the best of abstaining. The best of imbibing along with the best of being prudent.

Psychedelic micro-dosing is used for PTSD, depression and substance abuse, as well as to augment cognitive functioning. It is mending your mind by blowing your mind. It is an extraordinary therapy for ordinary life.

It is gender-neutral fashion, which is not about one or the other, but both in one. Such fashion doesn’t ask people to conform to one thing. Instead, the product makes both available in a single thing.

Wearables are both self-care and digital care, turning us into cyborgs — half-human, half-machine: both. And the ubiquity of such products reinforces the broader cultural understanding and acceptance of Both-ism.

This is the direction of artificial intelligence (AI) as well. Not AI instead of humans, but AI to augment and enhance humans. It is human-plus, or both.

Work has been transformed by Both-ism, too. Hybrid work, or home as office. Bleisure, or business plus leisure. Worcation, or work and vacations together in one. It’s even quiet quitting, which is both working and not working.

Demographic trends reflect this cultural dynamic, such as the steady climb in the numbers of young people living at home — which is both getting started and staying put. It is the best of adulting plus the best of being parented. Not out into the world or back at home, but both.

The generation to come is steeped in Both-ism. In the Kantar U.S. MONITOR, 74% of Gen Z say they try to have as much fun as possible. Yet only 16% agree that their generation is about fun. In other words, it’s both fun and not fun.

Similarly, 55% of Gen Z agree that technology is a big part of their lives, but 58% wish for more time away from tech. Both a tech-engaged and a tech-disengaged generation.

Our politics have hardened into incommensurable opposites. No meshing or mixing. No compromise or consensus. Politics have become two separate things at the same time. It is red and blue, not red or blue or purple.

Brands must beware of either/or. That’s a combative approach in a marketplace of Both-ism. But picking sides is what we’ve seen happen in a couple of recent instances — brands denigrating the old way as wrong and championing some new way as right. Thereby pursuing a deliberate strategy of division, which is old-school stuff in a culture of Both-ism.

The experience of life as a culture of Both-ism is one reason, among others, that people feel no discomfort with enthusiastic spending alongside negative feelings about the economy.

Economists have been puzzled by this inconsistency. Part of the answer, at least, is Both-ism. People feel no need to reconcile opposites.

In this culture of Both-ism, brands must ask a different question about innovation. In the past, the question has been one of how to improve what a brand does best. There is nothing wrong with that, but asking only that question leaves money on the table — because consumers are open now to brands built on the idea of Both-ism.

The better question to ask is how to add the best of a brand’s opposite to what a brand does best — so that consumers can get the benefits of both.

This is the opportunity in a future of Both-ism.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider By: Walker Smith, Chief Knowledge Officer, Brand & Marketing at Kantar

At The Blake Project, we help clients from around the world, in all stages of development, define and articulate what makes them competitive and valuable. We help accelerate growth through strategy workshops and extended engagements. Please email us to learn how we can help you compete differently.

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