OMG Futures, the innovation center-of-excellence of advertising media behemoth Omnicom Media Group, tackles a subject that could intimidate even the boldest futurist -- the future of life itself -- in a report titled "Thrive: The Future of Wellbeing." While most agency futurists limit their forecasting to annual trends or pontificating on the impact of the latest tech, Phil Rowley, Head of Futures at OMG UK, recognized that there was much more than 5G or augmented reality that was and will impact media consumption and, in particular, the way that marketers speak with consumers in a very different world.
A global pandemic. An uncertain economy. Stalwarts of business laying off employees. "How to Survive a Nuclear Blast" posters in the subway. The Russia/Ukraine War. North Korea missile testing. Hyper-Inflation. Monkeypox. A heated political climate that is dividing families. Global warming. Food uncertainty. School shootings. Racial bias. Antisemitism flaring.
There can be absolutely no surprise that no, we are not okay. In fact, it would be a surprise if any one of us were. Had we experienced even half of the series of crises that began in 2020 it would still be enough to drive us to distraction and harm our mental well-being.
"We talk about things like media consumption, the economy, business, retail preferences, but all of those are underpinned ultimately by the way we feel about ourselves," Rowley says. "Consumer sentiment is governed by a set of circumstances that are beyond our control." Explaining the impetus to the report, he adds, "I hadn't seen a definitive piece about how people were feeling right now."
Rowley is hopeful that the thought leadership report, while admittedly emotionally challenging and a fairly bleak picture about the current state of society, will become an effective call to action for marketers to be catalysts for positive change. For example, a key message encourages brands to think through all of the ramifications of their messaging and how that message is delivered, or as the report portends, "The brands of the future may have a greater duty of care to customers."
While most of the stats cited in the piece are U.K.-centric, many of the trends may be extrapolated to other regions, including the U.S. Sociological shifts, such as aging populations and changes in definitions of what constitutes a family, sliding marriage rates and the number of people living alone are definitively different from past generations.
Rowley believes that marketers must take note and adjust. He explains, "The Office of National Statistics [in the U.K.] predicted that one in seven people will live alone," he explains. "We even appointed a Minister of Loneliness in 2018. The way that advertising has depicted families has been evolving. We now see more ads with representation of multi-racial and same-sex family units. I think you need to take this one step further and reflect on single individuals in terms of commerce, products and even travel ads."
"Thrive: The Future of Wellbeing" focuses as well on the real dichotomy occurring when it comes to physical fitness and health. Even as we continue to face a real obesity epidemic, there is a resurgence (post-pandemic) of expansion of gyms and use of technology such as Smart Watches and IoT workout equipment, including Peloton and Mirror, to manage our physical health.
With all the medical advancements and tools that are now at our disposal to maintain health, the likelihood is that we will live longer and more vibrantly into older age. Meanwhile, the economic climate (certainly the current one) will likely delay retirement and keep people of a certain age working. These trends will need to be factored into marketing images and messaging which currently -- outside of a few categories like pharmaceuticals and insurance -- are almost always geared toward the 25-34 demo break, even with audience targeting. But Rowley says that can and should change. "There are apparently 53 million working adults over the age of 50 in the U.S. and only 13% of the images are geared towards them," he says. "It's also clear to me that we need a rebalancing and a reappraisal of the demographic breakdown of our industry, bearing in mind how representative older segments are of the general public."
An area that continually impacts both our mental and physical health is our environment, which will increasingly be a critical factor in determining the success or failure of economies. Whether it's the impact of a hurricane, typhoon, or drought, the next COVID variant, Avian flu, or something else that we don't yet recognize, we are living through an age of bio-volatility. This age is being defined by a set of consumers that already expect brands to become partners in correcting for and/or subsidizing sustainability efforts.
The report lays out a structure for how brands can meet this challenge, which includes:
Rowley hopes that marketing practitioners take the time to read and truly grasp the implications and opportunities illuminated in the report. "Think of it as a tool in your toolbox, or a weapon in your arsenal, to raise issues which brands haven't particularly considered; especially when it comes to audience and demographic targeting," he concludes. "Take it, scale it, use it, and perhaps employ it to provoke your clients."
You may download a copy of "Thrive: The Future of Wellbeing" here.
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