Chief Innovation Officer
Imperfect brands in an imperfect world
Anxiety levels are the highest they’ve ever been. Constant connectivity means disturbing headlines are shared faster than ever, and social media is fuelling self-censorship whilst shining a spotlight on “how other the other half live”. It’s no wonder apprehension and personal insecurities are rising.
However, new coping methods are starting to emerge, presenting new possibilities for brands. People are learning to deal with negative feelings, building greater resilience and finding comfort in their own skin. As The Future Laboratory has noted, we are witnessing the rise of “Resilience Culture”.
Schools and employers are encouraging resilience and supporting new mental health programmes, and we’re seeing a surge in products and services to a support personal coping strategies. Brands will be expected to show how they are supporting the consumer’s journey to new-found strength, and also how they themselves are confronting their weaknesses.
Like their consumers, brands will need to be confident to show their imperfect selves, recognising flaws and demonstrating a hunger to improve.
When KFC hit headlines last year for running out of chicken and had to temporarily close many of its UK stores, it quickly responded with an ad featuring the letters FCK on an empty chicken bucket. They wrote: “A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal ... It’s been a hell of a week, but we’re making progress”. Public commentary moved from anger to admiration, and the brand reportedly emerging from the ordeal without any lasting damage.
With brands’ huge visibility comes great responsibility. Brands have the power to become people’s greatest cheerleaders, giving them the confidence to stand tall and love the skin they are in (and mind that they have).
For several years we’ve seen brands champion individualism in their campaigns; that people should be proud of their differences. But people want to firstly feel like they belong.
Inclusion will continue to be a critical issue for brands, demanding real business change. Mattel has received praise for making the Barbie line more representative of real women and the young people who play with her, most recently adding two disabled dolls to the range. And Rhianna’s Fenty brand continues to push boundaries as it strives to represent all women, with beauty products for up to 50 skin types, and clothing launched on mannequins of diverse shapes and sizes. As the bar is slowly raised, brands must reconsider every product, service, touchpoint, to ensure they feel accessible to all.
Pride this year saw record levels of brand involvement, with more logos receiving a rainbow makeover and shop windows being more colourful that ever before. It marked a significant celebration of inclusivity and belonging, and now the spotlight will be on how this manifest itself year-round.
We’re also seeing the idea of inclusion extend to cover diverse points of view. MIT’s Media Lab FlipFeed enables users to step into someone else’s Twitter feed to engage with alternative political views, and Vice Media’s #likewhatyouhate campaign encourages young people to trick social media algorithms by liking posts they typically wouldn’t.
Future brands will help nurture the emotional and mental wellbeing of their consumers, often by supporting their desire to escape digital technology, even temporarily.
Patagonia has long been praised for its bold take on Black Friday, turning off its online store and encouraging everyone to go outdoors. Stella Artois’s “Les Pockets” TV campaign urged drinkers to put their phones away and embrace what’s in front of them, and Denmark’s Hold app, which rewards students for not touching their phone.
Lynx has demonstrated a greater responsibility for its customers’ mental health by moving away from “lad humour” to discuss more meaningful topics with young men. Its “Is it okay for guys to …” campaign challenges traditional perceptions of masculinity.
Other brands are opting for a tougher stance to building resilience. A 2019 British Army campaign challenged young people for being selfie and gaming-addicted “snowflakes” – but with the aim of challenging them to enlist in order to build their resilience and debunk generational stereotypes.
Beyond supporting individual emotional states, brands will increasingly be expected to help right broader wrongs in the world, from politics to the environment, in turn helping to reduce the source of anxiety.
adidas has loudly discussed the problem of waste and declared its commitment to reducing it. The sports brand has subsequently released a series of innovations to help work towards the end of waste. These include FUTURECRAFT.LOOP, high-performance running shoes that can be returned to the company for full recycling, along with the first 100 percent-recyclable hoodie made from garment waste, and a tennis dress created with biofabrics that can biodegrade at the end of its life.
So, as we look forward, consumers will find ways to become more resilient. They will become more confident to confront their own anxieties, rather than hide from negative feelings. Brands will be expected to support them on this journey, show how they, too, are learning from failure, and help correct some of the mistakes that are happening in the world at large.
No one is perfect. But that’s ok. It’s how we deal with our – and others’ – flaws that really matters.