Decoding Next: Five trends for marketers including new social currency, waste positive and sexy crosswords

By Zoe Lazarus | head of cultural strategy

October 8, 2015 | 8 min read

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 September, we covered 995 signals. Here are the top five trends we observed.

1. New social currency

It’s been a busy few weeks in the personal data space with your online profile and network now having the potential to get you free coffee, a five star rating or even help you get a loan approved.

This month sees the opening of the first pop-up Selfie-Service Café in London’s Covent Garden, which allows customers to pay for their food simply by uploading a selfie on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the Lyle’s Golden Syrup #SmilesWithLyles hashtag. With both Uniqlo and Marc Jacobs pioneering the ‘pay with a tweet’ mechanism, it seems inevitable that this model will continue with more organisations, allowing you to use your social currency as financial currency. We can even imagine a world where there are priority payment lines for people with more than a certain number of followers.

Talking of data dreams turned nightmares, Facebook recently filed a US patent that would allow a bank to analyze your Facebook friends when applying for a loan. Hidden in the minutiae of the patent is a clause that would allow lenders to "examine the credit ratings of members of the individual’s social network who are connected to the individual”. Replacing your credit history with a friend card and rating system could lead to the rise of strategic friending and unfriending… or perhaps that is already happening.

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If the current controversy over the launch of the 'Yelp for People-rating' app Peeple suggests we may not yet be so comfortable with being personally rated for our online (and offline) behavior. The degree of public outcry has resulted in the app’s founder announcing that it will be revised to only promote positive ratings. The fact that Peeple has mysteriously disappeared has led many to speculate that it was, in fact, an elaborate hoax, which, if true would make it even more zeitgeisty.

What we do know is that technology is warping not only reputations, but also turning first impressions and networks into a tradeable commodity… watch this space for further developments.

2. Pumpkin-spiced politics

Americans’ appetite for all things pumpkin may have just skewed the elections. During a live chat on her Facebook page, democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton mentioned how she doesn’t drink pumpkin-spiced lattes anymore. Calories, you know.

It’s not just lattes, however, but the pumpkin sentiment reverberates across the US, connecting people in a common love of autumnal flavor. Apart from the weather, there are not too many things that all Americans seem to be able to agree on, but the appeal of pumpkin spice seems to be one of them. It’s no wonder that sales of all things pumpkin have skyrocketed by 79 per cent since 2011.

Next, Hillary could be blasted for not using pumpkin-flavored toothpaste. Among the more obscure pumpkin products, pumpkin-flavored oral hygiene products have raked in $1.04 million in the last year.

We expect this appetite for pumpkin to hit peak, but not yet. Maybe it’s the back-to-school memories or the emotional connection to the scent that we miss. With endless pop cultural references, the politics of pumpkin spiced lattes were heavily featured on one of the opening episodes of the new hit Fox show ‘Scream Queens’. Strangely, sales of actual pumpkins have declined as artificial pumpkin spices have increased.

Perhaps it’s time to move on to a new flavor. Cinnamon bun-flavored Oreos, anyone?

3. Olfactory immortality

The future of fragrance continues to be a fertile territory for innovation. Not only is the industry adapting to the new demands of the virtual and mixed reality worlds – it is also working on ways of enabling you to live forever, at least in an olfactory sense.

A French company has come up with a way to bottle up your loved one’s scent in a bottle. Launching this month, Kalain will, for $600, distil a fragrance from clothing, allowing you to preserve the unique scent of a person to live on after death. With smell and memory being so closely tied, you can see how powerful or potentially comforting trigger products like this could be.

We are already starting to see the development of fragrance technology to enhance online and offline experiences. Adventure Scents has developed more than 40 scents like fetid swamp or moldy crypt that add another dimension to the gaming experience.

Numbed by constant digital stimulation, from entertainment to never-ending workloads, extra sensory experiences are evolving into powerful reminders to be present in the moment and connect with one another. In the future instead of memories or mail, can we expect to receive scent messages?This is apparently already possible via oNote, now available via the App store, which lets you see and smell scent-tagged images made with oSnap.

4. Waste positive

Danes do it better – and not just because they live in the fourth most desirable country in the world. They’re also good at not wasting things. The Danish government has found that the country is wasting 25 -per cent less food than it did a mere five years ago. The biggest supermarket chains in Denmark have started to heavily market food that’s about to expire, and consumers are responding positively.

Denmark’s embracing of food waste is part of a broader wave of 'waste positive' living: using the resources we have instead of adding to the landfill. Global chefs, for example, are finding their own unique spin on waste positivity, creating four-star courses via ‘nose to tail eating’. New food products are emerging like Fopo, currently being funded on Kickstarter, with a USP of being made from ‘almost expired fruit’, which is then dried and turned into healthy snacks. Who knows, our waste food could even find itself being turned into entirely new projects, such as using discarded coffee grains as the filament for 3D printing as this revolutionary new project has made reality.

With more countries in Europe passing legislation forcing them to reduce food, waste positivity has a decided long-term benefit: saving the planet. Expect this trend to continue.

5. Sexy Crossword Puzzles

As adults return to the pleasures of using pen and pencil to color inside the lines of adult coloring books, another old-school form is getting revamped: the crossword puzzle.

And BuzzFeed is leading the way with a new hire: 22-year-old logophile Caleb Madison, who is injecting the 100-year-old pastime with pop culture references, emoji language, and maybe even a third dimension with his crossword puzzle that debuts mid-October.

Crossword puzzles continue to be a favorite, and many younger people are getting into them. In addition to the New York Times' more conservative crossword puzzles, the Wall Street Journal has a more playful version, and former A.V. Club crossword puzzle creator Ben Tausig has a subscription-only puzzle that includes racy sex and scatalogical references to edge things up.

Buzzfeed's new crossword puzzle section is a cultural signal with multiple meanings. Adults continue to look for ways to detox from the digital, and a digital crossword puzzle is a sort of compromise, a mix of an old medium in the new. It's also an example of tedious content — a sign that as much as the internet can be a passive medium we expect to entertain us, we also want to engage with it and challenge our brains.

Zoe Lazarus is head of cultural strategy at sparks & honey. She tweets @zoelazarus

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