Thursday, January 1, 2009

January's hot trends

The holidays are going so well, exactly the break from deadlines, stress, and responsibility that I was looking for.

Last night was CNN's New Year's Eve special with Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin. It's good that I watched after midnight because that's when thing started to get really blue...if it wasn't embarrassing enough for the two of them to natter on about the Real Housewives of Atlanta, Kathy Griffin lobbed this insult at a heckler in the crowd that made my jaw drop. Listen at 0:30.

Anyway, I think the collective sigh heard around the world in each time zone at midnight was the relief that such a turbulent and chaotic year is over. We began to see veins of a new consumer consciousness in the last few weeks of 2008 when consumers were buying significantly less than they had bought previously and spirits were generally low. While the average American is likely to still have an extremely low level of savings (or negative savings in some cases), expect to witness a changing mindset in what they buy, how often, and how it is rationalized as a 'good buy'.

Also expect some convergence in consumer segments. With niche-ification comes the ability to parse out consumers into discrete groups exhibiting similar characteristics. This has enabled marketers to speak to consumer groups in a relevant and meaningful way while keeping their overhead advertising costs down because of optimal message accuracy. But what about consumers themselves? We are all unique individuals, each with distinct consumer calculus, but broadly our behavior is gravitating toward two frames:

1. Mainstream

2. Indie

Don't think that you fall into one frame or another. We all exhibit qualities of both a mainstream and an indie consumer. Furthermore don't consider Indie consumers to be the arbiters of cool and the innovators who diffuse 'cool' to the Mainstream. Both frames create, consume, and destroy their own cultural ideals. So for January, for this new year of beginnings, freshness, and optimism, let's evaluate some trends according to these two frames:


MAINSTREAM: Originality

Whether this is truly a movement or an unactionable want for change is still undetermined, but originality will become an important trend in the first month of 2009. This theme pervades fashion, music, food, interests, and lifestyle. It's how you act and how you represent yourself. Originality is something I think the parents of US college applicants have tried to engender in their high school-aged children for a while already, but it has been receiving greater social traction because of the fact that there are fewer 'big fads' today than there were ten years ago. The difference today is that more fads exist, but each is smaller and more intense. The fanbase of each is also relatively small. Despite the fact that this threatens to invalidate my whole Hot Trends lists, I expect a reduced concern among Mainstream consumers for 'what's hot' and 'what's in style'. Style will be one's own to define.

INDIE: Tongue-in-cheek self-deprication

Not taking oneself seriously will be a short-lived but important Indie trend. The popular election of Barack Obama proved to counter-culturalists everywhere that sometimes massive trends supported by a huge, diverse population really do get things right. Additionally, as much as individualism is a well-entrenched part of our culture, Indie consumers are among the first to adopt an understanding for greater social cohesion, we can all still be ourselves but also we all kinda need to get along and cooperate on this tiny planet. It's hard to qualify, but the tongue-in-cheek self-deprication speaks to the realization by Indie consumers that moral correctness or societal value isn't exclusive to them.



It became popular again to like SNL over the last few months. Unfortunately the show can be hit-or-miss and the only consistently edgy material is delivered in Weekend Update (which is really the only clip I wait to watch). Interest in the show grew over the fall with Andy Samberg's videos, Amy Poehler's pregnancy and leaving the show, and Tina Fey's Sarah Palin. There's a great crop of talent to sustain this interest, including Fred Armisen and Bill Hader.

INDIE: We Can Be Heroes

Summer Heights High is done and we North American media vultures need more, more, MORE of Chris Lilley and his irreverent comedy and character-based improv. We Can Be Heroes was the Australian series that preceded Summer Heights High and the birthplace of Ja'mie King.


MAINSTREAM: Cradle to Cradle consumer products

This issue pleases me as consumers are going to finally start demanding increased accountability on the part of companies to ensure the sustainability of the products they purchase. This refers both to the end use and recycling of goods when they're discarded by consumers and also to the efficient production of the goods before purchase by consumers. Electronics companies are already under scrutiny by consumers for how they will take ownership for old, outdated, or defective products. Expect an increased interest in consumer recycling and also in products which have longer guarantees of usage. It's not just for the assurance of quality that consumers purchase long-lived products - it's for the environment.

INDIE: Continued action to advance LGBT rights

The disgust over the passing of proposition 8 in California in November and the subsequent rallies and protests have seemed to die down. While this received a lot attention in mainstream press for the time, the issue has quietly receded and fears about the economy and foreign policy (particularly the Israel Gaza conflict) are taking hold. Perhaps it's because these are dangerous issues which threaten well-being, but perhaps it's also because the interest/indictment of LGBT issues seems to ebb and flow when there's no other more pressing matter to talk about. Expect Indie rabble-rousers to continue to demand greater gay equality and draw attention to Obama's choice of Rick Warren as the inauguration preacher.


MAINSTREAM: Ready-to-eat grocery store meals

With no money to dine out, order delivery, or get take-out, Mainstream consumers are seeking cheap and wholesome food at their grocery stores. Unfortunately we have no time to prepare food (or are too lazy), so prepared food is the obvious answer. And a lot of it is pretty good. Sobey's mac and cheese, Metro's Asian coleslaw, and Loblaw's line of fresh Italian pasta.

INDIE: Local

Local food means that you purchase in season and with an emphasis on local agriculture. It's a good habit because it minimizes the distance travelled of food (lower carbon emissions) and supports local farmers who may be more inclined to use natural or organic growing techniques. It's difficult to do religiously because so much of our food supply is internationally sourced and ingredients in packaged food cannot easily be tracked to their place of origin, however Indie consumers will generally be mindful of where their food is coming from to a greater degree than before.


MAINSTREAM: Not going anywhere

Mainstream consumers were hit really hard by the economic fallout of 2008. Incomes are unstable, jobs are uncertain, and people feel threatened to leave the country because of a now familiar sense of anti-Americanism. Staycations (God, what an awful word) and weekend getaways will be popular though as consumers stay closer to home. It's the culmination of general despair, fear, and reticence to spend money on perceived excessive or wasteful things.

INDIE: All-inclusive vacations

Enough pretending to enjoy camping. Enough cheap weekend trips to Montreal - it's become a cliche now anyway, hasn't it? Indie consumers will actually join the throngs of what their parents and mainstreamers have known for decades - the joy of cheap all-inclusive vacations to sunny Southern destinations. Why? Gas is cheap, there's high supply and low demand making the cost of an all-inclusive vacation plummet, and travel discounters are heavily advertising their deals.


MAINSTREAM: Diet and exercise (yet again)

Did I mention that 2009 is about new beginnings and optimism? How fitting that the hot resolution for January is diet and exercise among mainstreamers. I actually fall into this category - I can't wait to see how short-lived my current health kick is going to be. But expect the concepts of diet and exercise to be more holistic and inclusive (of people, body types, and physical ability). Strength training or flexibility training does a lot to improve how well your body functions. It's not about looking better, it's about feeling better.

INDIE: Learn to play an instrument or become more artistic

I'd love to be able to play guitar - it's a much sought-after Indie skill. With a greater focus on self-expression this year among all forms of consumers, art and music will be important forms of non-material identification for people. Whether or not theyre actually talented themselves is inconsequential, Indie consumers will be the first to extol the virtues of having well-developed artistic interests! A balance in life is important. Suddenly those piano, ballet, and illustration lessons their Mainstream parents forced them into as children didn't seem like such a dumb waste of time!

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