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10 reflections on 2021: a look back

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Keko reflect on the year of 2021 and anticipate what next year will bring.

At Keko, we produce a monthly ‘Debrief’ looking at the trends and issues that are influencing the world of modern affluence. So as 2021 comes to an end, what are our reflections on the year that’s just been?

Firstly, there was more positivity in evidence in 2021, with the introduction of vaccines allowing for more optimism, a sense of progress and the belief that we should hold on to the few benefits of the global pause.

It wasn’t all rose-tinted however, as issues such as diversity, anti-racism, global vaccine equality and climate change all became a permanent part of the narrative. In fact, 2021 felt like a preview – preparing us for what could well be some tumultuous years ahead.

Here are our 10 reflections on 2021:

1. We remained resilient and responsive

We entered 2021 battle-hardened and, although the pandemic continued to impact most aspects of our lives, the ‘unknown’ element subsided. Everyone knew the drill and, as non-essential retail and entertainment opened, brands and experiences dialed up their presence and consumers engaged. International travel – slowly – became more predictable, with travelers responding to rules and taking the opportunity to explore the world once more.

2. Sustainability got taken seriously

The conversation about sustainability progressed considerably, driven in part by the UN Environmental Summit COP26. Commitments to end deforestation, substantially reduce methane output – and a decision by 40 countries to move away from coal – grabbed the headlines.

Individual behaviors started to change, and brands have responded with greater transparency and a commitment to do better.

3. Is everyone vegan?

Not just yet – but 2021 did bring more choices, greater availability and a narrative not only based on healthier living but also recognition of the carbon implications of livestock. Vegan options are increasingly enticing, there’s an increased focus on a plant-based diet and the drive to make synthetic and cultured meat a commercial reality continued.

4. Anti-racism and diversity took center stage

Conversations which began in 2020 continued throughout 2021, becoming refreshingly and pressingly louder. Powerful and sustained conversations about difficult topics were fostered. The Euros and Olympics put athletes front and center. Boston elected Michelle Wu to be the city’s next mayor, the first woman and person of color to hold the post.

History has never been under more scrutiny, but the drive to correct the present and future has cause for optimism.

5. Our love affair with the outdoors continued

Necessity morphed into a genuine desire to do more things outside. Temporary spaces became permanent and fresh air activities were prioritized. US National Parks have never been busier and global cities that had issued temporary outdoor food and drink licenses have either renewed schemes through 2022 or made them a permanent fixture on their streets.

6. Social media became more anti-social

This was the year that the realities of social media came into sharp focus. A combination of fake news, electoral manipulation and mental health implications resulted in increased scrutiny. Whistle-blower testimony contributed to the dialogue with some countries such as Norway legislating against undeclared image enhancement. The debate has only just begun.

7. Ownership pivoted to sharing

The subscription economy continued to grow as did upcycling. Our obsession with ‘stuff’ has dwindled, while buying less but buying better has grown. Sharing, regifting and upcycling aren’t just acceptable but encouraged. A recent report from UBS Wealth Management estimates that the subscription economy will reach $1.5 trillion USD by 2025 – a doubling from 2020.

8. Our cities did not die

Despite the dire predictions of many, the lights went back on. Recovery was patchy but workers, shoppers, entertainment seekers and even tourists returned. Empty retail spaces have begun to be repurposed and pedestrian enhancements are on the rise. Most importantly, the ‘15-minute’ approach to planning is taking hold – recognizing the need for our biggest cities to rely on a growing community who live there, rather than a tidal influx of commuters every day.

9. Real life matters

Despite the world embracing video calling technology like never before, those first in-person meetings reminded us how much communication is lost when it relies on a screen. Serendipity kicked in. Chance encounters, new relationships based on physical contact and the ability to be creative and work on challenges together brought home the fact that we are a social species.

10. We started making better choices

Taking stock of what we valued, missed, or did not miss, over a sustained period has resulted in changes to what we do and when we do it. A fresh understanding of value – financially, emotionally and regarding time – means our IRL activities felt more worthwhile. But our virtual experiences grew in variety and in depth, too. The metaverse became a real platform to indulge our passions, quest for adventure, desire to learn and, crucially for brands, to transact.

To follow more of the trends and insights that are influencing the world of modern affluence – and to see how accurate our current predictions are proving to be – subscribe to our monthly Keko Debrief.

Prashant Yadave, head of strategy at Keko.

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