1 The perils of plastic are forcing policy shifts
In the two years since Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II reached UK screens, attitudes towards plastics have moved from being a fairly fringe issue to a mainstream concern that is changing the way people live and shop. Widespread public support for cutting single-use plastics is behind a government ban that from 2020 will apply to plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds. Brands are also heeding the call to help consumers reduce their use of plastic. Morrisons has put “reverse” vending machines in stores where shoppers can return plastic containers, and several other supermarkets are offering to fill customers’ own containers. Waitrose is trialling an “Unpacked” store, where shopping is taken away in string bags or returnable boxes. This is an issue that is gathering momentum.
2 Marketing must reflect changing views on gender
Gender depictions in much of the advertising we see have come a long way from the stereotypes of old, but Kantar research shows there are still big opportunities being missed because brands getting it wrong on gender. While marketers might believe they’re usually generating advertising that avoids gender clichés and has men and women represented evenly, consumers think quite differently. Almost half of consumers feel advertisers are still not getting it right, according to Kantar’s “AdReaction: Getting Gender Right” study. Sometimes the problem is that men and women are not represented equally, even when buyers in a category are fairly evenly split. Stereotyping is another concern, with 45 percent of women saying the way women are portrayed in ads is inappropriate, and women are around half as likely as men to be depicted as authoritative. Brands must work harder at providing realistic (and inoffensive) portrayals of men and women – and not just because it makes business sense. The UK’s advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Association, recently banned “harmful stereotypes” such as men struggling with laundry or women drivers being unable to park.
3 High-speed connectivity promises to open new doors
The launch of 5G mobile data services in the UK this year signals the start of a new era for the way consumers – and brands – use the internet. As well as providing connection and download speeds up to 20 times faster than the 4G service most consumers are used to, 5G has the power to transform people’s homes and their environment. Better connectivity is expected to be a catalyst for greater take-up of connected “Internet of Things” items like connected fridges, heating systems and cars. It could also provide a boost to the retail environment, making it easier for shoppers to use data-intense services such as augmented and virtual reality. Reduced latency – the time between a user sending a command and getting a response – will also improve live streaming and gaming experiences. The 5G rollout has been launched by EE, which is initially switching on the service in six major UK cities, and plans to add a further 10 by the end of 2019. Vodafone, O2 and Three are also trialling 5G. To start with, access is limited, and not just by geography; a monthly 5G connection at the time of writing started at £54. But competition will inevitably bring down the cost and open up access.
4 Meat and three veg is off the menu
Tradition, be damned! The classic British Sunday roast, fish and chips, and chicken tikka masala all have animal products at their heart, but dining in the UK is getting a vegetarian makeover as the desire to eat less meat, none at all or even go vegan continues to grow. The Vegan Society says the number of vegans in the UK quadrupled between 2014 and 2018, and it reports that more than a quarter of all evening meals in the country are now vegetarian or vegan. Cue big changes in supermarkets, restaurants and fast-food chains. When bakery chain Gregg’s launched a veggie sausage roll early this year, its popularity led to a surge in sales as well as a blaze of publicity. More recently, KFC has begun trialling a vegetarian burger, named “The Imposter”. Restaurants are starting to offer more than just mushroom risotto for their vegetarian clientele as numbers of meat-free diners rise, and supermarkets are getting in on the veggie action, too. Tesco has launched a “Wicked Kitchen” meat-free range, Sainsbury’s is expanding its “Plant Power” selection, and M&S Food has around 60 “Plant Kitchen” vegan dishes.
5 Branded spaces must be more than places to shop
Once famously described as a nation of shopkeepers, the UK is increasingly becoming a nation of shop closures. High-profile names from shopping malls and city centres have been closing stores or closing for good, largely a result of the struggle to compete with online rivals that don’t have High Street overheads. Making goods available online and trimming unprofitable stores is one way to stay afloat, but it’s only part of the solution to a growing preference for the convenience of online shopping and other services, such as banking and travel booking. Adding services beyond those you’d normally find in a shop or branch is one way of providing something that online simply can’t, and developing a more intimate, memorable experience of a brand. Think of Dyson showrooms where you get a blow-dry rather than a sales pitch. There’s a Virgin Holidays store where travellers can be inspired by destinations, try out seats and get a cocktail at the “Island Bar”, and Rapha cycling stores that are more clubhouse than shop.