Archive for the 'trends' Category

Life imitates art

We’ve created a lift blog: about as analog as you can get. These are a series of posters made to promote my department as well as provide some unexpected inspiration. They’re very ephemeral – staying up for one day only in each of the main lifts – but the feedback is phenomenal. Content is varied, but is linked to the market intelligence, consumer and social trends that we analyse and provide to our agencies. Sometimes the content is quirky and can be as unusual as today’s or this week’s big web meme, even if it’s just a picture.

I’m particularly pleased with today’s offering: a quick mock-up of the real BBC story about the ex-RBS chairman’s home being vandalised by a shadowy group angry at what is perceived as bankers’ greed juxtaposed by an apt quote from Fight Club.


Trends wisdom from Discworld

changesPeople don’t like change. But make the change happen fast enough and you go from one type of normal to another.

– Terry Pratchett, Making Money

Global societal trends can be measured by zombies

There’s one thing guaranteed to make a trends watcher happy, and that’s a daft correlation. Never mind hemline indexes and all that jazz, how about creating a chart that demonstrates that major society upheavals are somehow connected to trends in zombie movie production. Simply wonderful.

Are we in a post-genre era?

The erosion of attention spans as a consequence of the digital era is not a cutting-edge theory. The oceans of information at our fingertips can’t all be read, watched or listened to, so we skim and snack and that habit is going to affect the way we think.
Maggie Jackson’s claim to this idea is doing the media rounds as she promotes her book, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. She’s interviewed on the Point of Inquiry podcast.
Those of us who were raised in households where the TV was dominant and where the radio was the rebellious medium can remember how the major youth tribes were influenced by the social conditions of the time. Punk was rooted in the disconnection with a polarised and extreme political landscape (when there was a real difference between the left and the right), and the subsequent movements – New Romantics, House etc. – underlined the attitudes towards sexual identity, drugs, violence, that the young did not share with their elders.
The recent Adbusters post about Hipsters was bang on target: they call the point we’ve reached “hipsterdom”, a point where all the countercultures and tribes come together. There’s no originality and the ability to shock is very diluted.
The culture we now have is one where the more people we know, the fewer we know really well. With music, the more genres we’re exposed to (in original or mashed-up form), the smaller or shorter-lived are their associated tribes. It’s got to the point where adults are now more likely to share the musical tastes of their teenage children than at any other time.
Music genres no longer matter because new media has taken their place. It’s handsets instead of hippies, PS3s instead of punks. Have their been any big, new musical tribes this century? No – certainly nothing new. Some of the new things were Playstation 2 (2000), the iPod (2001), Myspace (2004).
In the UK, mobile phone penetration amongst 16-24 year olds leapt from around 70% in 2000 to over 95% in 2007.
In fact, technology and the digital space now moves so fast that they spread and kill off these tribes. Youth will always find places to meet away from the adults, but it’ll take an unknown catalyst to cause them to do so in society-changing numbers.

War on the Amazon

A pro-Intelligent Design movie, Expelled, which apparently bombed in the USA has appeared in DVD format on US Amazon, exposing a peculiarity of the online retailer’s site.
Media reviews of the film suggest it’s a terrible Michael-Moorish attempt at pushing the ID / Creationist agenda into science classes, but that’s not the point.
All it took was a heads-up from the popular science blog Pharyngula to encourage a flood of sceptics to make the DVD’s ratings crash.
Two points here.
The obvious one is that it’s peculiar how a piece of media, no matter its quality, can receive reviews from people who have never seen it, and are relying on second hand opinions, trailers and promotions. With all of the added Comments functions available on US Amazon, it looks like it’s turning into a social network rather than a retailer.
The second point is that it does appear that we are witnessing the polarisation of such views, both in the UK and the US.
Being on the relatively sane side of The Pond, it’s easy to laugh at the absurdities of the American Christian far-right religious agenda, but the tolerance of such views has a different colour in Europe where many of the nation states are generally secular.
I’ve written before about the dissolution of views based on ethics – how, up to very recently, it was difficult to argue against any ethical issue without running the risk of being labelled as something nasty and thuggish. I include religious views here, as over recent months there has been a greater willingness to examine each and every ethical and religious issue and expose them to daylight. Green ethics came first, the questioning of religion is only just emerging from the hard-line atheist corner and going mainstream.
There are several drivers for this in the UK. The credit crunch has forced consumers to think with their pockets and not their hearts; the political cycle (the politically-correct Blair years) is turning; the English are getting restless over the perceived unfairness of devolution.
There will be international influences too, and it will be intriguing to see whether the science v religion battle that’s raging in certain US arenas translates to this country.

Footnote: One of the scientists interviewed in the movie was Pharyngula’s author, PZ Myers. He was waiting to see the film but was promptly evicted from the queue, which is ironic considering the film’s position that ID-proponents are unfairly treated. Oddly enough, Myers’ guest, Richard Dawkins (also interviewed), was allowed in to see the film.

The galling truth about trends

A couple of discussions on one of my favourite science podcasts, the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, reminded me of the importance of correlation when looking at quirky behavioural trends.
Take the example of a scientific statement that “global warming will cause a higher incidence of gallstones.”
This assumes that A causes D to happen. That statement was based upon the higher incidence of gallstones amongst people living in the Mediterranean where there’s a hot climate and a different diet, meaning a higher risk of dehydration, which in turn heightens the risk of people developing gallstones.
Assuming that global warming will mean more people will live in a climate similar to the Mediterranean means that gallstones are a real risk because A is likely to cause B or C (different diet / dehydration) to happen which leads to D.
I raise this because I greatly enjoy the simplistic cause-and-effect stories we see in the press about changing consumer behaviour due to the credit crunch.
The Hemline Index is one of my favourites, where correlations are drawn between length of skirts and economic cycles. They may not even be connected. It’s a bit like saying that because two totally unconnected events (e.g. lemming suicides and iPod sales) show similar characteristics on a graph, then one event affects the other.
The Hemline Index can only be connected to the economic cycle if research demonstrates that the events between are related (in this case, mood or cost of materials or other so far unidentified factors).
There’s an interesting article in Saturday’s Times newspaper which connects the rise in car boot sales to the credit crunch “as people clear out their unwanted possessions to make ends meet.” It’s a plausible argument, but too little time is given to other factors such as dissatisfaction with eBay, the motivation and reasons for buying at a car boot sale, as well as the finiteness of the supply (i.e. if you’ve cleaned out your garage and sold your junk, then what else are you going to sell?).
It’s all about having the facts.

Square pizzas = trouble

There was a curious piece on the business section of BBC Breakfast this morning. Apparently the major factor in rising food costs is packaging, particularly plastics (derived from oil). Food packaging costs rose 30% over the last 6 months, but looking at the last 2 weeks, the rise was 13%!
This will affect the shape of manufactured food. Circular packaging means more wastage because of off-cuts and added energy needed to recycle. Therefore the answer is… square food.
So, never mind the hemline index as an indicator of hard times, watch out for the prevalence of square pizzas.

Self-important bit

I’m Victor Houghton, a, er... something or other in one of the UK’s largest advertising agencies. My job title has a comma in it, which is embarrassing. I’m the chief finder-things-outer with a splash of trends who is lucky to work with all the major functions of the agency, even though I am most closely associated with strategic planning. Everything in this blog has most probably been stolen from other, infinitely more talented people, although the opinions are most definitely my own and not those of the agency.



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