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FOCUS: TRENDS 2008 – Trend-spotting in watershed year

World is so well connected that word of trends in one place can spread across the world in minutes

IN THE Internet era, keeping up – with the Joneses, the news or whatever else – is a lot easier than it used to be.

But staying ahead of the pack, at a time when bloggers and social networking sites can spread word of a trend in Buenos Aires to Boston or Bangkok within minutes? That is the new challenge.

‘Everything is so well connected now that it makes this job a lot more difficult,’ says Reinier Evers, founder of Trendwatching.com, an Amsterdam firm that tries to identify new directions in the consumer economy. Consumer goods companies rely on insights from Evers and other trend spotters to develop new products, while advertising agencies use them to inform the creative content of their campaigns.

Before we chalk up the demise of another media profession to the democratising power of the Internet, it is only fair to put trend spotters’ predictions to the test. This is the time of year when they look forward to the new year.

Some predictions do indeed have a familiar ring to them. Several trend-spotters, for instance, say that 2008 would be a year in which marketers rolled out more and more ‘premium’ products and services – from airline tickets to laptops to toilet paper – in order to satisfy status-hungry consumers and to take in a bit more from the transaction.

A number of trend-spotters also agree that women would continue to gain more clout in the economic, political and professional spheres. The cellphone will become ever more capable and indispensable. Consumers, not corporations, are now in the driver’s seat.

But a few nominated trends for 2008 do stand out. What follows is a short list:

  • Blue is the new green. So says Ann Mack, director of trend-spotting at JWT, an ad agency owned by WPP Group. In marketing circles, as well as the broader consumer consciousness, the environment was certainly one of the defining issues of 2007. Now, ‘some eco-fatigue has set in’, she says. ‘The idea of green has been so overused and misused that it has ceased to mean anything.’

    So, in 2008, marketers increasingly will link environmental messages with the colour blue rather than green, Ms Mack says. This is more than just a superficial rebranding, she insisted. The issues associated with what Ms Mack calls ‘environmentalism 2.0’ – climate change and access to clean water – are more clearly signalled by blue, the colour of the sky and water, than by green, which many people associate negatively with ‘tree huggers and sandals’.

  • The data-awareness era. That is how Ben Hourahine, futures editor at Leo Burnett, part of Publicis Groupe, refers to what he sees as an emerging trend in Internet users’ approach to privacy. Until now, the disarming power of novelty on social networks like MySpace and Facebook has generally overridden concerns about the potential hazards of full disclosure.

Return to privacy

Mr Hourahine says that that could change this year. High-profile data leaks such as the British government’s recent loss of computer discs containing child benefit records have raised awareness of privacy issues. As more employers and university admissions officers troll social networks for potentially embarrassing revelations on candidates, users may decide that it is better to leave those Saturday night snapshots in their mobile phones.

  • ‘If 2006 was about user-generated content and 2007 about social media, then 2008 is about the conversation.’

    So says Paul Kemp-Robertson, editor of Contagious, a magazine with headquarters in London that identifies marketing innovations. In other words, brands will have to steel themselves to the idea that marketing is a two-way street, not just a conduit for directing their messages towards pliant consumers.

    To ingratiate themselves with consumers, he says, marketers increasingly will have to provide useful services for them, rather than simply advertising wares. Mr Kemp-Robertson cites a recent initiative by STA Travel, a travel agency for students, to provide fun downloadable software such as a desktop vacation countdown clock.

    Yes, marketers have been talking about ‘engaging’ with consumers for some time. But in 2008, Mr Kemp-Robertson says, this trend might reach a critical mass, at least as far as many ad agencies – often still oriented towards creating expensive television commercials – are concerned.

    ‘From an industry perspective, this is when the agency structure really starts getting questioned by big clients,’ he says.

  • ‘Status despair.’ Trend-spotters like to create buzzwords and phrases to identify the mood of a certain year. This one was coined by Trendwatching.com to describe the feeling when, say, the owner of a puny Gulfstream private jet takes in the sight of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia barrelling down the runway in his ‘flying palace’, the customised, double-decker A380 he has ordered from Airbus.

    Because the consumption stakes have been raised so high, more people in 2008 are likely to feel status despair, Mr Evers says. Some, particularly in developed countries, will divert from the consumption-as-status pattern and seek consumer gratification in new ways – by counting the number of views of their page on the photo-sharing site Flickr, for instance. In a year when China will play host to perhaps the highest-profile marketing event of the year, the Summer Olympics, developing countries will seize the baton of conspicuous consumption, Trendwatching.com says.

    Which of these predictions will turn out to be true? In keeping with the spirit of the times, we’ll let you decide.

    After all, you may not have read them here first.

     

    Source: IHT (Business Times 8 Jan 08)

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