A hub dedicated to brand innovation through cultural trends

  1. This is an excerpt from a presentation I prepared for an internal learning session at my agency a couple of months ago. It’s about trends as a strategic tool. The focus is not on detecting new trends but on identifying relevant ones and interpreting them for a category or a business.

  2. Progress and nostalgia

    In economics as in trend forecasting there is a simple rule: scarcity determines value. The more complex and fast-paced our lives become, the more we long for simplicity and deceleration. The more our dependence on technology grows, the stronger our nostalgia for lower-tech times unfolds. Technological advancement happens at the expense of the status quo. We adapt to change by replacing old habits with new ones. Because our memory is malleable, we can’t fully know what we have lost as we become more technological. And as new technologies create new problems, “we find ourselves psychologically victimized by technologies that we’ve chosen to adopt.” In this context, our (analogue) past appears golden in retrospect. 

    Progress inevitably produces backlashes. Nostalgia for lower-tech times and idealisation of nature are our responses to growing digitalisation and urbanisation. As countertrends they don’t supersede but coexist with major societal transformations from which they derive. Their manifestations are manifold: from “made from nature” claims in consumerism to New Nature Writing in literature. Tumblr sees an emergence of blogs dedicated to escapism into nature. Urban species’ nostalgie de la boue (nostalgia for mud) has contributed to the rise of farmer’s markets in London and elsewhere. 

    These are all expressions of elevated human needs. Feeling connected to nature and understanding it through a harmonious coexistence is emotionally appealing. We believe that a close connection with nature is mentally and morally healthy; it enables the encounter with the Ego from which we can re-emerge as a better human being. It is a response to our quest for transcendence and meaning.

    As much as we embrace more control and convenience in our lives, we also feel constrained by these merits of technology. We trade spontaneity for security and by doing so we eliminate mystery and adventure from our lives. Yet we bemoan our inability to “get lost”:

    We can’t jump off bridges anymore because our iPhones will get ruined. We can’t take skinny dips in the ocean, because there’s no service on the beach and adventures aren’t real unless they’re on Instagram. Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure and we’re helping destroy it every time we Google, check-in, and hashtag.

    Our preoccupation with nature as a response to overwhelming progress is not an entirely new phenomenon. The Industrial Revolution fuelled the importance of and interest in nature - one of the central themes of the Romantics. The movement sought to escape modern realities by placing an emphasis on emotion (e.g. being in awe). While the Romantics doomed technology as a means to spiritual malaise, we opt to find balance and look for new ways to manage our hyper-connectivity. Lowe Counsel has coined the trend 'New Esc', which explores emerging strategies to pull of our digitally connected lifestyles.

    While the radical approach of the Romantics appears outdated today, the sentiment behind it remains the same. The need to “occasionally imagine and celebrate a kind of comfort, authenticity, and sacredness rooted in a past that never existed” is as relevant as ever.

  3. Ambiguity of technological progress

    Our world is currently fundamentally transformed by technology. Big data opens new realms of possibility but it also enforces dependability from which neither brands nor humans will be able to withdraw. Data driven decision-making and automation will disrupt businesses and according to Jaron Lanier also threaten the incomes of the middle class.

    The merits of technology are ambiguous. As Jared Diamond points out:

    “New technologies, whether or not they succeed in solving the problem that they were designed to solve, regularly create unanticipated new problems. Advances in technology just increase our ability to do things, which may be either for the better or for worse.”

    The major challenge for companies and brands will be to anticipate problems that technology will inevitably pose: Fewer companies will concentrate more power. Automation will render big portions of human productivity obsolete. Digitalisation will redefine our understanding of privacy. Technology after all is not always a response to societal necessities. As Jaron Lanier observes:

    “The actions of the technologist change events directly, not just indirectly through discourse. To put in another way, the nontechnical ideas of scientists influence general trends, but the ideas of technologists create facts on the ground.”

    We must prepare for a future that will be dualistic: it will empower us to be more creative and productive, it will make our lives more convenient and probably more secure by minimising risk, but it may also deprive us of some of our individual rights. We will have to give up some of the control. However, it is now the time to define how much. Inevitability of progress doesn’t imply subordination. Companies that can incorporate a bigger vision - not for themselves but for the society they want to exist in - will define what progress will look like.

  4. Trend research or the beauty of pattern


    Photo source: here

    "There are only patterns, patterns on top of patterns, patterns that affect other patterns. Patterns hidden by patterns. Patterns within patterns. If you watch close, history does nothing but repeat itself. What we call chaos is just patterns we haven’t recognised. What we call random is just patterns we can’t decipher. What we can’t understand we call nonsense. What we can’t read we call gibberish."
    — Chuck Palahniuk

    Trend research is both pattern recognition and decipherment. It attempts to make sense of everything new, of things people suddenly create or consume: a café concept, a product idea, a way of curating a magazine or a shop, an approach in art and design. It scans for distortions and variations in the way people think and behave: how they choose to spend their time and money or how they express themselves and build relationships.

    A trend researcher clusters what he thinks is a connected expression of one and the same thinking and behavioural pattern. By coining this cluster he “creates” a trend. The process involves the simultaneous search for the trend’s underlying drivers - which need to be distinguished from its manifestations - usually drawing on neuroeconomics, socioeconomics and investigating the broader, overarching context of societal change.

    A trend manifests itself as the underlying pattern behind an emerging idea. The understanding of this idea – what it represents (e.g. an unmet need) and what impacts it – is of great value for marketing and advertising. But trend research and pattern recognition can find application beyond commercial purposes.

    Pattern recognition as a method of uncovering emerging ideas and trend research as a discipline that attempts to conceptualise and contextualise those new ideas can find a broader application. But can pattern recognition and decipherment make sense of the world we live in?

    According to the historian John Lukacs, everything that surrounds us is the materialisation of what we think. In his book “The future of history,” Lukacs suggests a growing influence of mind over matter:

    “[The notion of mental intrusion into the structure of events] runs against the accepted belief that we now live in an overwhelmingly materialistic world, and that people are overwhelmingly materialistic. Yet what people – whether individual persons or masses of people – think is the fundamental essence of what happens in this world, the material products and institutions of it being the consequences, indeed the superstructures.”

    If this is true then clarifying complexity should help us make better decisions. A heightened awareness of what we think and a better understanding of how we came to think it can benefit the individual and the society as a whole.

    Patternity, a creative organisation that specialises in the exploration and application of patterns, claims that a shared awareness of pattern can positively shape our world. Their recent pop-up exhibition in East London PATTERNPOWER: SUPERSTRIPE explored the role pattern recognition can play in our everyday lives. Citing from the exhibition:

    “The kind of attention we bring to bear on the world changes the nature of the world, we attend to, the very nature of the world in which those functions would be carried out, and in which those things would exist. Attention changes what kind of thing comes into being for us, in that way it changes the world.”
    — Iain McGilchrist

    There seems to be something beautiful and compelling about revealing the meaning of things by deciphering patterns. It can help marketers in understanding consumers and anticipating emerging needs. But more importantly it can reveal the bigger picture: expose and question our ideas that shape our lives and the world we live in. 

  5. Rethinking publishing


    Penguin appears to be on the right track in a market that is currently transformed by technological advancements. Books - as all digitisable products - are bound to become a commodity. For in a commodity market price is the most decisive purchase criterion (and a physical object can’t compete with a data file), Penguin had to rethink the business it is in.

    With the publication of its special editions e.g. Modern Classics, Great Loves, English Library and Penguin Lines (to celebrate 150th anniversary of London Tube) etc. it became apparent that Penguin abolished the notion of being in the business of content and instead entered the business of lifestyle accessories: Objects we surround ourselves with to express our personality.

    From being predominantly carriers of content, books now more than ever serve as extensions of ourselves. Because books are increasingly considered objects of prestige, the populartity of exclusive editions, beautifully published classics, and elaborate collaborations is likely to grow. It seems that in the future more books will be published under the aspects of exclusivity, creativity, collectability and content curation. The physical book is not only judged by its cover; how the content is packaged will increasingly define its value.

  6. Customer-centric retail

    This year e-commerce in Germany experiences its highest annual growth of 7 percent aggregating to 34,2 billion Euro. There is hardly a brand which hasn’t established its online presence yet. Brands become retailers and retailers like never before need to think and behave like brands. Since more and more people show a multi-channel shopping behaviour, retail brands increasingy apply a customer-centric approach by catering to their customers’ needs instead of focusing on a single channel. Thus, by the same token, e-commerce started to merge with brick-and-mortar shopping in order to provide a better service and experience.

    As an example, House of Fraser, a British department store, recently opened a ‘buy and collect’ store in Aberdeen. Equipped with iPads, computers and a complimentary coffee bar, the retailer attempts to compensate its online shortcomings by offering additional service in its store.

    As the blogger Navaz Batliwalla aka Disney Roller Girl reports:

    You can order online from home or using the in-store computers and your goods will be delivered the next day, either to your home/workplace or to the store. You can try things on in the store when they arrive and you can also use the store for unwanted returns rather than schlepping to the post office and paying for postage.

    Apparently, House of Fraser observed that it received many of its orders from Aberdeen. For those customers this service aims to take away the hassle of waiting for packages to arrive, paying for postage and also paying for returns.

    This is a good example of how to provide an excellent service to customers by making shopping as easy and hassle-free as possible. In this vein, the retailer creates a point of difference and builds its brand.

    As Navaz Batliwalla points out, one has to wonder why online heavy weights like Asos or Net-a-Porter haven’t established their city-center presences yet to solve the problem of delivery, fitting and return which come with shopping online.

  7. New study: Facebook Commerce

    Having reached 800 million active users, Facebook’s has developed into world’s biggest social network. With brands and games already doing business on Facebook, the platform has taken a big leap towards commercialization. The next logical step for brands, it seems, is to fully utilize Facebook for sales activities. However, questions arise whether users are willing to accept Facebook’s transformation and – more importantly - how far will Facebook’s compliance go.

    To answer the above questions BBDO together with Jelden TTC and brand foresight conducted the study “Facebook Commerce – Der Wandel zum Handel”. The goal of the research was to highlight the topic from four different perspectives, namely the one of Facebook, its users, brands, as well as service providers, and to outline a possible future for commerce on Facebook.

    Facebook aims to boost sales with F-Commerce: After Facebook’s advertising revenue for 2011 has surpassed that of Google and Yahoo, Facebook is likely to make commercialization of the platform its next priority. There are two possible scenarios how Facebook is going to capitalize on sales. First one is by charging for access to its Open Graph data, which enables Facebook influenced commerce on e-commerce websites. The second one is by charging for doing business on Facebook directly. One way or the other, for Facebook to establish itself as a trustworthy business partner, it needs to take its privacy issues seriously. According to our research, every other user has doubts regarding purchasing on Facebook. However, only one in five users distrust Facebook altogether.

    Users are not sold to F-Commerce yet: One of the most striking results is that the majority of our respondents (70 percent) expect to engage in commercial activities on Facebook in the near future. Until now, however, only 8 percent of the respondents have purchased something in a Facebook-Store. 16 percent have searched in a F-Store but didn’t buy. Our research reveals that convenience is the most important purchase driver. Not having to leave the platform and being able to purchase peer recommend products prove attractive vale propositions.

    Brands utilize Facebook as a marketing tool: For brands, Facebook is a communications platform that enables direct interaction with brand followers or fans. At this point, brands’ primarily aim is to gain insight into consumer purchase behavior or to drive traffic to their e-commerce site or to their distributors. Hence Facebook is primarily utilized to experiment with various direct-to-consumer activities rather than to make serious sales. One of the main obstacles for brands is the fear of damaging their relationship with distributors by selling directly to consumers on a larger scale. Another one is the lack of efficiency metrics and benchmarks. And last but not least, still much groundwork needs to be done on Facebook’s part to gain a broader consumer acceptance.

    Demand for new intermediaries will grow: Facebook Commerce constitutes a big opportunity for service providers. With more and more brands coming to Facebook there is a growing need for innovative approaches that combine communication with commerce. Consequently, a rising number of intermediaries will provide services combining social media acumen with web developing skills and sales competencies.

    With current changes introduced by Facebook, it seems that the social network is standing at a crossroad: Will it suffer form further user migration and network fatigue or will it establish itself as a platform that mirrors (through frictionless sharing) and enables nearly all of our interactions?

    You can download “Facebook Commerce – Der Wandel zum Handel” here (German only). An English translation will follow shortly.

  8. Copenhagen

    The Danish brewery Carlsberg recently launched a new beer which I think is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, the brewery decided to call its new pilsner Copenhagen. While playing on the notion of provenance is nothing novel for a beer brand, the name has more to it than just being the reminder of its local roots. Since most people associate the city of Copenhagen with fashin, design and culture, it is a clever move for a brand attempting to appeal to an urban, culture-oriented demographic.

    From Dank blog

    Source: Dansk blog

    Secondly, the beer is launched at men and women. In the past, brewers assumed that women prefered either a healthier, less fattening alternative (e.g. Carla by the German brewer Karlsberg) or a sweeter taste (e.g. Karmi by the Polish division of Carlsberg). Now Copenhagen is taking a different approach: Apart from a ligher, more balanced taste, Copenhagen is trying to lure women with its sleek design. According to Carlsberg, Copenhagen is supposed to encapsulate all the best in Danish design and fashion.

    Source: Dansk blog

    And lastly, Carsberg created the event Copenhagen Social in order to introduce its new brand to the cool crowds and as a means to create word of mouth. Not surprisingly, the events were highly exclusive. For each of the ten events, Copenhagen chose four people who each could bring 25 people to the party with free Copenhagen. Hence, each event hosted 100 people. Every attendee received a silver card as an entry ticket to the event.

    There was also a little ad to promote Copenhagen:

    Carlsberg Copenhagen from Christian Nielsen on Vimeo.

    Copenhagen’s differentiation approach is very likely to strike a chord with a previously untapped audience. In fact, I can’t think of a any German beer that is not either “blokey” or traditional. So I think Copenhagen is on to something by launching a stylish beer at men and women. And, as a matter of fact, it is even quite natural for Carlsberg to take the “arty” path as its founder Carl Jacobsen used to be a passionate art collector who also founded the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.

    Clearly, it is not going to appeal to a broad audience but it is definitely going to occupy a profitable niche.

  9. A shot of storytelling

    With the advent of e-readers, books increasingly become digital possessions - easily accessible, collectible, portable and sharable files. However, the digitalisation of books doesn’t necessarily mean that the printed equivalent is becoming extinct. Quite the contrary. Penguin Mini Modern Classics is a great example of how to enhance the reading experience by publishing a well-curated and beautifully designed collection of short stories.

    (Photo via Fieldwork)

    According to Penguin Press, Mini Modern Classics are “a satisfing shot of storytelling”. They are small in size, just perfect to carry around the place (talking of portable). The reduced design kept in silver, white and black and only decorated with author pictures is in line with the minimalistic style which has recently become ubiquitous especially in magazines.

    The video introducing Penguin Modern Classics plays on the notion of size - stressing that small is “moreish, potent, exciting, important…”.

  10. Is this your life?

    Following a campaign in December 2010, in which a copywriter’s life saga became the print ad for Sweden’s Papercut Shop, DDB Stockholm now created an outdoor ad asking its readers “Is this your life?”.

    Just like its predecessor, the ad ruminates on life and everyday boredom, concluding that life is not always that great. But, as it explains, that is exactly why we need beautiful things (movies, literature and magazines) because they make our lives a little bit more exciting.

    If you ask me, we also need more tongue-in-cheek ads (with or without drawn penises) that put a smile on our faces.

  11. The Ministry of Stories

    The Ministry of Stories is a writing center for young people which was founded by Nick Hornby and co-directors Lucy Macnab and Ben Payne. Located in Hoxton, a vibrant arts and entertainment district of London, the center provides workshops and one-to-one mentoring. It is run exclusively by volunteers: local writers, artists and teachers who are contributing their time and talent for free.

    According to The Ministry of Stories, the initiative is “inspired by young people, and aims to inspire them to transform their lives through writing”. Its great benefit is to provide support “to enjoy imaginative stories, improve language skills, increase abilities in communication, add to social and educational confidence”.

    The Ministry follows the model of the 826 centres: non-profit writing hubs where kids aged 6-18 can get one-to-one tuition with professional writers and other volunteers.

    It is obvious that in the knowledge economy strong writing skills, creativity, and the ability to communicate and express oneself are becoming fundamental to future success. But apart from their educational goal, both initiatives are aimed at getting kids and young people excited about the literary arts.

    Curiously enough, the center is hidden at the back of the Monster Shop where you can pick from a whole range of essential monster supplies (e.g.organ marmalade). This sure is something to iginite kids’ imagination.

    In the video below Nick Hornby explains the idea behind The Ministry:

  12. Simplicity

    Simplicity appears to be the new mantra in package design. Especially food and beauty products attempt to convey the promise of being pure and natural by stripping away all of what seems unnecessary from their packaging. The result is a minimalistic design that lets the product speak for itself.

    Here are some examples:

    Leif is an Aussie skincare brand made of plants that are resistant to the harsh Australian climate and thus are “the most vital plants which help to create products that will move both body and mind”. The design is somehow reminiscent of Aésop’s clean lines.


    Fruita Blanch is a Spanish family-owned manufacturer of jams, preserved products and organic juices produced from 100% organic and self-harvested fruits. Atipus, the design agency, explains that “these labels have been designed to reveal as much of the jar product as well as to emphasize its artisanal nature.”


    Despite opting for basic design, consumers more than ever seek highest quality products that are suited to meet their individual needs. Thus, as a conveyor of quality and pureness, simplicity will increasingly become inherent in everyday products.

    More examples: true fruits, Schwarze Dose 28, Premium-Cola, Veltins (all from Germany).

  13. Making future magic

    When Dentsu London launched in 2010, “Making future magic” became the underlying idea that guides all of the agency’s work. In order to bring to life the ideas behind their strategy, Dentsu collaborated with BERG on an ongoing series of films:

    Media surfaces: Incidental Media from Dentsu London on Vimeo.

    Media surfaces: The Journey from Dentsu London on Vimeo.

    Both films explore the growing number and variety of media surfaces. While “Incidential media” looks for non-interruptive and more intuitive use of media, “The journey” focuses on some of the opportunities around travel in stations and on trains.

    As Dentsu’s Strategy Director Beeker Northam explains:

    "Making Future Magic was partly conceived as a way to avoid making horrible use of media that makes everyone feel like Chief John Anderton. But also (and mostly) as something that would help us think about the most exciting creative possibilities opening up in a continually shifting and multiplying media landscape, where the scope of communications broadens to encompass and meld service, product and software with more traditional advertising."

    This is an excellent take on how media can be more ambient, contextual and at the same time more creative and playful. Positioning themselves as a creative communications agency, Dentsu enhances the scope of meaningful interactions with brands. By doing so, according to the agency, they “try and create communications of cultural and commercial value”. The result sure is a kind of magic.

  14. Memolane is an autobiographical dashboard that gathers all the data from your social media platforms and aggregates them in a timeline telling the story of your life.

    Apart from being a good way of storing memories, Memolane may also serve as a tool for the marketingland offering a great storytelling opportunity.