1. The blur between retail and advertising
As we continue to become more comfortable with digital media and the changing notion of users vs. producers of content, many media companies are suddenly getting into the retailing business. Writing in the New York Times, Eric Wilson notes a rise in the number of fashion magazines offering readers the chance to make purchases from their websites. From Esquire to GQ and even Vogue, magazines are showing a keen interest in e-commerce as the world of print publication continues to struggle. For readers, the benefits are obvious – in an age where time is precious and convenience is king, there is no need to look further than the website of your favourite magazine (whose curatorship you trust) to purchase the latest fashion and beauty products. Howard Socol, former CEO of American department store Barneys concedes that there are no boundaries anymore as traditional brick-and-mortar stores who once viewed magazines as a way to sell their brand to customers could now see them as a threat. Brands take note; the ‘see-click-buy’ mentality will herald a new age of shopping, where consumers expect to be able to buy products wherever they see them online. Word on the ground is that this trend is set to unfold in South Africa early next year, with Media 24 planning to implement e-commerce ventures for a number of their titles.
2. The rise of the artisan eater
2011 saw the emergence of the artisan eaters – the new ‘foodies’ who are interested in consuming local, hand-made products bought at small-scale urban markets. The micro-brewed ales and home-made preserves that adorn these market stalls are reflective of a sense of global nostalgia for idyllic rural life: a desire to cultivate, through the purchasing and eating experience, an intimacy with food suppliers and a greater sense of community. The shift in favour of high quality ingredients and craftsmanship of butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers, reasserts our value in upholding production standards that have been overshadowed by industrialised food provision. More profoundly, the artisanal food movement has created a culture of ‘ethical eating’. The use of local ingredients to diminish the effects of food transportation – in the attempt to reduce our ‘carbon-footprint’– is an example of consumption that is consciously reflexive of effects of eating on the ecosystem. While the artisanal movement is predominantly evident in the food industry, it is only a matter of time before other lifestyle industries will be affected. Brands who promote the use of high quality raw materials and show a respect for traditional craftsmanship will enjoy growing support from consumers in 2012.
3. Revolution culture
2011 has undoubtedly been the year of the revolution. In South Africa, the establishment of the Police Protection Unit in response to increased outbreaks of violent protest, speaks of a growing need to manage civil unrest. On a global scale, waves of disillusionment have swept through youth culture; giving rise to what WGSN calls the ‘radical revolutionaries’ – politically and environmentally conscious youth who have grown up immersed in Internet culture and who use technology to create social change. This form of digital activism or ‘clicktivism’ is on the rise, as youth across the globe are harnessing the power of social media to organize campaigns and protests. Disgruntled by corporate greed, radical revolutionaries are calling for transparency, honesty and accountability from brands (and governments). Important considerations for these young people are the future of the environment, the effects of mass-consumerism, access to education and escalating debt amongst their peers. Brands that address these issues earnestly and show genuine support for the plight of the youth will enjoy the approval of the radical revolutionaries, who will show their support through promotion in their personal networks. While revolution culture will no doubt continue to evolve in the first half of 2012, the second half of the year will see us usher in a post-protest culture, a time for reflection and consideration of a new way forward in 2013.
4. Disaster design
With the number of natural disasters increasing dramatically each year, it is no wonder that designers are looking to environmental catastrophes for inspiration. This year we’ve noticed an increase in the number of designers (architects, industrial designers and even fashion designers) who are showing careful consideration for the effects of natural disasters and going so far as incorporating anticipatory and responsive features into products. With examples including the newly built Dali museum in Florida that is designed to protect artworks from storm surges and hurricane debris and the Svalbaard Global Seed Vault, which holds over half a million seed samples, that is designed to withstand a nuclear bomb. On a smaller scale, the disaster design movement is permeating consumer industries with items including Jan Kath’s oil-spill inspired woven rugs and Ricardo Garza Marco’s San Andreas coffee table, which mimics a tectonic fault line, becoming sought-after by homeowners. Aside from the fact that disaster design literally reflects the age of disaster we currently live in, it also points towards a new age of conscious design that is inspired by real-world events. In 2012 more consumers will be looking for products that offer a story for them to share with friends, whether in online networks or face-to-face interactions.
5. On and Off, not On or Off
In 2012 the distinction between our online and offline lives will cease to exist – together they will just be ‘life’- fluid, dynamic and convenient. This blend of on- and offline living hints at consumers’ growing desire for a human element in our everyday experiences as our lives are becoming digitally cocooned. Tesco Homeplus Korea’s ‘subway supermarket’ initiative is the perfect example of creating this seamless dual experience for customers. Advertising agency behind the campaign, Cheil, erected a large billboard inside one of Korea’s subway station platforms that was designed to look like a series of supermarket shelves complete with images and price codes of items. Shoppers were able to scan the QR code of the item they wished to purchase, thereby adding it to their online shopping cart. Once the web transaction was complete, items were delivered to the customers’ homes at the end of the day. In London, department store John Lewis initiated a similar ‘click and collect’ campaign where shoppers could scan the QR codes of items in the window displays and collect them within 24 hours. These kinds of strategies should inspire weary brands to create unique experiences for customers who want to retain their ‘digital native’ status but also play an active part in the real world.
6. Leasing lifestyle
2012 will see an increase in the number of consumers adopting a transient model of ownership. In recent years we’ve noticed a decline in traditional ownership as it implies a certain level of cost and commitment that does not appeal to consumers who are looking for convenience and the chance to collect as many experiences as possible. For those living in dense urban environments where physical space is scarce, owning bulky and irregularly used items makes little sense, hence the shift towards a ‘leasing lifestyle’. With ubiquitous mobile access across the globe, consumers have (and desire) the option of booking items whenever and wherever they are needed. While the trend is manifesting predominantly in the transportation industry (think car and bike-sharing initiatives), its effects are being felt in industries including art and fashion with designer handbag rentals and virtual art buying on the rise. Businesses should take heed of the benefits offered by the leasing lifestyle trend – shared ownership presents companies with opportunities to broaden their audience as more consumers now have access to otherwise out-of-reach luxuries. For consumers, fractional ownership offers the possibility of perpetual upgrades and the ability to maximize the number of experiences they enjoy.
7. Gaming for good
It is reported that the average young person today in a country with a strong gaming culture would have spent in excess of 10 000 hours behind a consol by the age of twenty-one – the same amount of time spent in school from grade five to matriculation, with perfect attendance. The glorification of the ‘nerd’ in recent years (think of Marc Zuckerberg’s rise to stardom) has led to a renewed interest in gaming culture, which has traditionally been relegated to the not-so-cool-kids corner. While gaming is strongly associated with escapism and distraction from the real world and its problems, new game designers and theorists are exploring the potential psychological benefits of gaming. According to gaming expert Jane McGonigal, we become better versions of ourselves when we game: we embrace an infallible disposition and are more eager to cooperate and solve problems creatively. 2012 will see a rise in ‘gaming for good’ – harnessing the benefits of gaming to improve our quality of life. New game designs will feature crises of our time – oil shortages, animal extinction and global warming – encouraging players to map a new way forward. With researchers solving a protein folding problem that perplexed AIDS researchers for more than ten years with a mere ten day game-play of Foldit, it is clear that gaming will play an integral role in shaping our future.
8. Rise of the free radicals
In the last few years we’ve noticed the emergence of the ‘slashies’ – people who, according to global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, define themselves not by a single occupation, but rather by the diversity of their experiences, passions and networks. 2011 saw the evolution of the slashies into what CEO of Behance, Scott Belsky has termed the ‘free radicals’. Dubbed the new professionals of the 21st century, free radicals “take their careers into their own hands and put the world to work for them”. According to Belsky’s Manifesto for Free Radicals, this group of young professionals makes a living doing what they love and sharing their thoughts and creations on social networks, thereby authentically building an audience that provides feedback and leads them to new opportunities. Businesses take note: free radicals refuse to surrender to the status quo and make a point of questioning and challenging old-school bureaucracy and antiquated business practices, finding innovative ways around them. Free radicals expect to be utilized to their full potential, regardless of whether they are working for a small startup or global corporation. Continuous learning in the workplace is crucial – when their learning plateaus, free radicals will not think twice about leaving.
9. The days of our (online) lives
Psychology experts are hailing this the ‘fourth revolution’ – a time where technology is responsible for drastically shaping our perceptions of self and our crafting of identity. With a bulging global youth market that enjoys constant mobile connectivity, it is no surprise that we are placing significant emphasis on the development of virtual capital through our online networks. Young people today are investing in ‘brand me’ from an early age, collecting friends, followers and badges that reflect their aspirations for the future. This year we’ve noted a rise in ‘online status symbols’ – virtual symbols that that consumers acquire to display their contributions, creations or popularity to their peers online. Over and above this, 2012 will see an increase in the number of services that allow us to archive our digital lives. Examples of such services include Twournal, a site that enables Twitter users to transform their tweets into a real-life published journal and Intel Museum of Me, which creates an online virtual museum based on users’ activity on Facebook.
10. The rise of the technocrat
When the traditional politician is rendered spineless and incapable, the electorate is tempted to seek the wisdom of outside experts in top jobs. This has been the recent turn of both Greece and Italy who found concerted answers in candidates Lucas Papedemos and Mario Monti, after old political systems left them submerged in debt and crisis. ‘Technocracy’ first abounded when the US assembled a group of engineers to combat the Great Depression. Indeed, US government still holds onto economists like Larry Summers to help to make the ‘big decisions’. Singapore, British-ruled Hong Kong and Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party link this form of control to autocracy. The technocrat puts national interests above party-interests, and his know-how makes him trustworthy to take exceptional political actions adequate for serious crisis: whether making spending cuts or closing military bases. There are plenty of elections happening in 2012, and much of the world seems to be on the lookout for rulers who have the capacity to make difficult decisions. The question, however, is whether scientists and economists with dazzling CVs will be favoured over those with political prowess, despite the fact that the technocrats’ lack of political legitimacy has always proved them to be a short-term fix.
Compiled by: Amanda Ballen and Sarah Badat
Edited by: Dion Chang
Image credit: Gallo Images/ Getty Images