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Marketing Brand Strategy Predictions

What if we zagged rather than zigged on 2024 marketing trends?

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By Anna Fitzpatrick | Senior data strategist

February 5, 2024 | 7 min read

How marketers engage with trends needs to change if we’re to create more effective work, argues BBH London’s Anna Fitzpatrick.

ZigZag

Each year, a deluge of trend reports and predictions are released. A great many of them are predictable. And a great many of them are heeded to the letter by the industry. But if everyone’s doing the same thing, where’s the advantage? Assuming other agencies zig, I’ve worked out some trends in which you should consider a zag.

It's worth saying, trend writers have a tough gig. It’s impossible to unveil ‘new’ findings about meaningful cultural change every single January.

So, in search of something new to say, you could be forgiven for reading the ‘hot takes’ already out there. And scrolling social media for fresh ‘examples’ of ‘cultural shifts.’

Of course, there is value in building on existing thinking. And by tracking examples as they spring up, we can keep painting the ‘big picture.’

But there’s a problem: this is usually where the research ends.

Lots of reading. Zero listening

Social media might have accelerated the production of cultural ‘signals’ (like viral TikToks), but broader patterns of behavior are unlikely to shift every year. Collective norms, values and feelings certainly don’t.

To inspire ideas that resonate, we need to get under the skin of those norms, values and feelings.

Alone, desk research and discourse won’t get us there.

So we tried something different

After trawling through trend reports, we noticed similar narratives repeatedly appeared. Would consumers connect them to their own lives?

We selected 10 recurrent trend narratives to put to people from up and down the country.

Our aim wasn’t to prove or disprove them. Nor was it to reflect public opinion at scale. Instead, we wanted to pull out some zags - by looking at trends differently.

Here’s a taste of what we found:

Identity: the ‘non-issue’ everybody’s talking about

Generally, the trend narrative goes like this: Identity is no longer clear-cut. People refuse to be put in one box, expressing themselves increasingly fragmentedly.

But the people we spoke to claimed that identity isn’t something they think about at all. Let alone the idea that it’s ‘fragmenting.’ Instead, identity was felt to be a “fringe issue,” with an outsized presence in the news and on social media.

Permacrisis? What permacrisis?

An oft-repeated narrative is the world feels more volatile than ever - so consumers are seeking the safety of what they know.

This debate surfaced a clear generational tension: for older people we spoke to, the world is dangerous. But it always has been. And always will be.

In their view, the only thing that has changed is that young people today are less resilient- overly receptive to crisis narratives.

There’s nothing real about being ‘real’

The trend narrative: Authenticity is becoming even more important to consumers.

The mention of ‘authenticity’ surfaced a white-hot tension: how it shows up on social media.

In recent years, being ‘authentic’ online meant showing vulnerability. But people of all ages described how online vulnerability has been weaponized for attention and clout (think celebrity crying selfies).

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So, with vulnerability losing its resonance, young people described feeling a new pressure - to perform nonchalance.

‘Value’ is actually quite simple

The meaning of ‘value’ is evolving, we often read in trend reports.

But in the ‘real’ world, ‘value’ is still code for ‘low cost.’ It’s just being talked about differently.

Since the cost of living skyrocketed, people have been louder and prouder about saving money. Instead of deriding ‘value’ as stripping back or losing out, people are celebrating ‘low cost’ as savvy.

Stop telling me the world’s burning

Sustainability has never been more important to consumers, the narrative goes.

But trying to live more sustainably is more effort than it’s worth, we were told - with small (but costly or inconvenient) actions feeling like a drop in the ocean.

Acutely aware of the climate crisis but feeling powerless to affect change - people are sick of hearing about it. Especially from brands.

So don’t just read trends. Find the zag

As advertisers, it’s our job to create work that resonates. That’s the bottom line.

Waxing lyrical about transformation does not get us there. In isolation, it takes us further away from the lives of our audiences - the people we should be connecting to.

By playing trend narratives against everyday life, you might just surface unspoken tensions or points of difference. Kindling for resonant creative.

There is value in foresight. But how do people feel? That lives in the here and now.

Marketing Brand Strategy Predictions

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