Decoding Next: Five trends you need to know – speaking emoji, owning content, face-reading billboards, how data defines you and the blurring of gender

sparks & honey tracks trends by drawing on dozens of data sources, hundreds of scouts and cultural strategists in our London, New York and Los Angeles offices. In April alone, we covered over 1300 signals. Here are the top five trends we observed.

1. Can you speak emoji?

Emojis are here to stay, so what do they really mean? They may be mass but apparently we’re not using them the way their creators intended. Linguists, and people like you and me, are having a field day this month analysing the meaning, use and frequency of emojis, now that their secrets are being unlocked, thanks to Instagram’s search and filter tools. Like many languages, emoji have entered a stage where their each icon holds many meanings (as our homonyms do), leaving their use up to us to define.

If you want the big picture, start with the Emoji map, which places emojis close together, illustrating importance. Need a more hyperactive, numerical view? Try the Emoji Tracker that displays each emoji, it's live usage and really hot ones flash crazy colours at you. Windows was feeling a little left out so they added more emoji to Windows 10, including middle fingers.

If you don’t care for emojis, or that Obama used them to thank the Japanese Prime Minister, maybe Twitch is for you. As the world’s most popular streaming game playing platform, it has its own language with over 30,000 Emotes. Yikes! Either way, these emotional icons are so mass now that emoji made it into this year’s dictionary update, along with: NSFW,
 jeggings
, eggcorn
 and meme, among others.

If your brand wants to start speaking emoji, it’s tempting to run before you can walk. Aim for clarity the way Dominos pizza did by accepting orders with a tweet simply containing a pizza emoji.

2. How to own your content

Content is becoming a game of give or take as the struggle to own it is undergoing new tests. This has been a very innovative and profitable month for some content creators. Two of the biggest winners have stolen the show in opposite ways: one for generosity and the other with pure greed.

Richard Price has taken his artistic practice of image appropriation, which began in 1975, to a new, privacy-trampling level. Do you use Instagram? Better check his exhibition. He has been selling other people’s Instagram photos for $90,000. He screenshots them then adds a single comment to make the whole thing his ‘artistic expression’. And it’s legal.

Alternatively, Shia LaBoeuf has a new art project where he teamed up with Central St. Martins, filmed a 30-minute monologue on a greenscreen and broke short sections up for students to play with. Then the internet went crazy with it, making mash-ups like: 2001: A Space Odyssey and "Shia LaBeouf delivers the most intense motivational speech of all-time.

How will your brand choose to create content?

3. Face your billboard fears

In advertising, we’re trained to love a great print ad. But did you know your snappy one-liners and jaw-dropping art direction can take on a more targeted, interactive life of its own? This month we’ve seen a rise in OOH ads with facial-recognition technology allowing for quite quirky, personal experiences and unexpected engagement with consumers.

Yawwwwwwwn. Awwww, did you just yawn? Counting on the contagiousness of yawns, a Brazilian coffee brand made people yawn, then appeared with coffee to save the day.

In Russia the government banned a number of European imported foods. No matter. An entrepreneurial delicatessen created billboards that recognised army, police and government official uniforms. The ad displayed Russian dolls to officials and delicious Italian sausage to everyone else.

However, the gold medal of interactive billboards this month goes to German beer Astra and their agency Philipp und Keuntje. They needed to sell beer to women, so their ad scanned faces to detect females and their relative age. Then it served a rotating assortment of 70 content videos to behave completely dynamic.

4. Data defines you

We’ve all heard the Gattaca-type threats that one day our wearables will declare everything about us to the government (or worse, private companies) and we will be permanently judged. Well, you don’t have to worry about that yet, just keep using the internet. Our data is becoming the fingerprint that will determine much more complex things than how insurance companies bill or how Google Fiber will serve you ads. Why? Because we do not value our data enough to protect it.

This week the Guardian wrote that the real danger with data is how we are currently, legally not protected from price gouging (except under emergencies). But the personal information Google collects about our search history is enough to reveal your habits, behaviour and financial threshold to pay for things. Personalised pricing here we come. Brands rejoice. Consumers unplug. Or will we?

Just as data is replacing our identity, it has the potential to shape our citizenship or perhaps one day passports. To show how your actions online take you through many countries all over the world, James Bridle created a tool to reveal your algorhythmic citizenship.

As our data takes on the role of fingerprints and identity, brands will have a flood of information to choose from for market segmentation or simply people segmentation, individually. How will companies harness and hone the most specific customer data it has ever seen?

5. Blurring of gender

By this time, you’ve probably seen Caitlyn (formerly Bruce Jenner) on the cover of Vanity Fair, shot by none other than Annie Leibovitz. Maybe you were turned on. The point is: who cares? The movement to normalise LGBT people has experienced major social and political wins this month. Ireland’s YES to gay marriage vote was loud and clear with 62% YES and 38% NO whilst an Irish stationery company turned negative tweets during the campaign into confetti. Even Eurovision’s same sex kissing dancers blew up on Twitter as some broadcasters tried to crop them out of frame.

Brands have increasingly taken bold steps to show support or simply celebrate this blurring of gender and sexual identity and Google has published a report revealing how this increases brand awareness and profits. Perhaps your brand has no opinion on these burgeoning human rights, but your customers do. Thanks to Google’s report, at least there are facts and figures backing up the support customers give to brands taking social action.

Although Pride is 21-28 June and brands including Levis and Adidas have already created bespoke pride collections, there’s no limit to when or how your brand can be part of the social and financial benefits of open minded marketing.

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