Through the Lens of Macro Trends

By Eric Zeitoun

Though the term is widely overused, innovation is at the top of many CEO agendas. Consequently, CMOs, innovation officers and design directors are working hard to identify innovations that will shift consumer mindsets and behaviors, and yield sustainable value for their brands. And though most marketers and designers agree that innovation requires an ability to identify how trends shape attitudes and behaviors, many don’t know which trends to track and fail to understand how to integrate them into their innovation processes. // Truth be told, there are no right or wrong trends. But there are right or wrong frames of reference. For instance, there is a lot published and blogged about fads, which we refer to as micro trends (e.g. the pursuit of organic). But because they typically appear on the tail end of deep societal shifts (which we call macro trends), fads are often difficult to translate across industries or segments, and usually engender “me-too” strategies. Instead, what marketers need to understand are those deeper shifts, the macro trends impacting society.
Our team analyzes the fashion, design, beauty and entertainment industries (their short product life cycles allow them to rapidly adapt to societal shifts) to identify early signs of these trends. We’ve pinpointed seven that are important to understand for this coming year, and also identified brands and product launches that are already making the most of these trends:
Embracing brands that align with our beliefs.
Consumers are increasingly losing faith in once-established authorities like politicians, corporations and organized religion. Instead, they are embracing brands and purchase occasions as ways to create and assert their own belief systems. This phenomenon emphasizes consumers’ growing respect for themselves (balancing their bodies and souls) and for others (intense debate on tolerance and diversity), a developing sense of human citizenship (belonging not to national or ethnic groups but to cultural or “cause”-related groups) and respect for the environment (yes, sustainability).
Clorox is one brand offering consumers the opportunity to express such beliefs. Long associated with industrial strength bleach, the company has recently launched a new sub-brand called Clorox Green Works. The products are made from plant-based ingredients like coconut and lemon oil, and are packaged in recyclable containers. Graphics reflect the brand’s “green” positioning and are refreshingly simple for a category cluttered with bright colors and product claims.
Pangea Organics has also embedded many of these ideas in its packaging. The company’s 100 percent post-consumer paperboard boxes are produced using a new “zero waste” process, and have organic seeds (such as sweet basil and amaranth) embedded inside them. Once you take the product out of the box, you soak the package in water and then bury it in soil to grow your own plant. Because it’s aligned with deep changes in the way people are thinking and living, the zero waste philosophy Pangea is following will continue to gain momentum as consumers become better educated about the environmental and societal impacts of packaging.
Rejection of mass consumerism.
Consumers know that marketing exists, but they simply don’t want to see it anymore. More and more, they are drawn to products whose concept and packaging celebrate human craft (vs. machine-produced), represent an invitation to take a break from their hectic lives, from visual pollution or other excesses triggered by mass consumerism, and help them (if only for a short while) recreate the pre-mass marketing era they once knew.
That could very well be why Tito’s Handmade Vodka is creating buzz in the spirits industry. The company’s unpretentious package design is an anomaly in the vodka category where premium brands typically resemble fashion accessories. Tito’s is one of the only true micro-distilleries in the country, and the first legal distillery in Texas history. The kraft-paper appearance of the label, combined with the scripted typeface, speaks to the hand-crafted quality of the vodka, and the simple copper-colored cap links back to the old-fashioned still that produces the vodka.
That same hand-crafted feel is found in “this water”, a new line of water-based beverages recently launched in the UK by the makers of innocent drinks. This water used to be called innocent juicy water, but the company changed the name and package design to make it clear that innocent is about making drinks from fruit, whereas this water is about making drinks from water. The label features child-like illustrations with simple images and handwritten notes against a white backdrop. The result is a clever and eye-catching design that invites consumers to pick up the bottle for a closer look.
Innovation is better accepted with simplicity and playfulness.
The saying that “people like new but don’t like change” has never been as relevant as it is today, as consumers become exposed to an increasing number of innovations. People are asking for brands that are simple and playful. They seek simplicity in the product’s benefit or in its usability, and playfulness in the colors and shapes of its packaging, and in the product’s ability to de-dramatize a chore or minimize unpleasant experiences.
Nestlé’s Munch Bunch Squashums, a healthy strawberry yogurt for children, is packaged in a net-like device that is more commonly used to carry produce. Each individual serving is contained in a squashable strawberry shape—perfect for picky children who aren’t interested in healthy snacking but, instead, are intrigued by the playfulness of the package.
Mama Mio, a company that creates skincare products for new mothers, takes a similarly playful approach. The brand houses its “Emergency Repair Kit” in lunchbox-style packaging with fun colors that downplay the worries new moms have about their post-baby bodies. The clever packaging turns the stressful topic of cellulite and sagging skin into one that is light-hearted and carefree. Instead of agonizing over how to regain their shape, moms are comforted by knowing they have a total skincare solution in one fun package.
‘Virtual' is no longer a means to an end.
Technology has enabled us to create a lifestyle based on instant gratification and high performance. Products following this trend address the growing need for more fluidity and escape in consumers’ lives and feature package design that reinforces technology with visual cues from the consumer electronics industry.
Take the brand no! no! for example. The next generation hair removal system uses sleek design and bright colors to give the product a look more akin to a cell phone than a pro-quality portable shaving system. Sanyo’s eneloop battery takes an equally progressive approach. A totally new battery concept (neither disposable nor the traditional rechargeable that needs to juice up prior to use), eneloop batteries are ready to use at the time of purchase. The packaging highlights the innovative product with a sleek and simple blue and white look that breaks category norms. Unlike traditional batteries that seem industrial and bulky, eneloop’s light and slim appearance—reminiscent of cell phones and iPods—breaks the mold.
Aesthetics are gaining ground.
Thanks to magazines like Real Simple, brands like Method and retailers like Target and West Elm, Americans have come to appreciate and expect a certain standard of design at all price points in their everyday lives. Clean, modern design has become democratized and is finding its way into more and more categories.
Waitrose’s new line of cooking ingredients is a good example. The store brand offering appeals to the “budget gourmet” with award-winning packaging that transforms bold typography and plain glass, plastic and paper packaging into everyday art. Askul is a Japanese office supply store with a similar aesthetic. The retailer has revolutionized the look of an ordinary box of garbage bags with new packaging: a slim cardboard box with a simple, bright colored font that provides only essential information. The ironic result is a box of garbage bags that you would hesitate to throw away!
Desire for personal space with indulgent rituals.
Consumers want their own space to indulge in rituals and seek shelter from the outside world, which is increasingly complicated, harsh and unpredictable. This macro trend, which we call “precious”, describes consumers’ penchant for creating personal spaces where they are free to embrace and celebrate decadence, without feeling guilty or apologetic.
Daub and Bauble describes this trend to a T with its own packaging copy: transform an unfriendly environment into a bearable, happy land. With limited-edition nature-inspired designs that constantly evolve, the home and personal care brand’s packages look as if they’re wrapped in beautiful papers. The feeling they evoke is that of a collection of perfumes as opposed to hand wash and dish detergent. Both indulgent and environmentally friendly (the packaging is 100 percent recyclable), Daub and Bauble is unabashed daily decadence. (see photo on p.38)
That phrase can also describe “7 Deadly Sins,” a new product by luxury papermaker Mrs. John L. Strong and perfumer Douglas Little. This stylishly sinful set of note cards is delightfully packaged in a luxe, round black box with gold embossing and tied with a satin bow. The cards are hand engraved, adding to the poshness that transforms the ordinary routine of correspondence. The packaging makes one feel mischievously proud for indulging in “sins”, a perfect example of the Precious macro trend.
Desire for personal space with indulgent rituals.
The world is getting smaller and smaller. Consumers don’t just shop the aisles of their local supermarket; they shop the “virtual” world. As a result, what can be defined as “exotic” has changed. Exoticism is now about blurring the lines between industries and cultures, and an exciting wave of innovative products and combinations are doing just that.
Take G Joy sake. The ultra-premium sake is “tailored to and bottled for the American palate”. As a way of introducing sake to Americans, the brand shunned a traditional Japanese look and, instead, took its cues from the ultra-premium vodka category with a black matte bottle featuring broad shoulders and a silver cap.
Even staunchly traditional brands are having a go at this trend. Kiehl’s Yerba Mate Tea lotion’s star ingredient is extract from the Yerba Mate, an extraordinary South American plant used for its skin beautifying properties. Enjoyed as a traditional beverage in South America, it is now becoming popular in the United States as both a tea and beauty secret. With its green product and package design, Kiehl’s shows us that even an Old World apothecary brand likes to experiment.
Looking through the lens of these trends
You might have recognized that six of the macro trends we’ve identified are actually a mirror of each other: Conscience, Aesthete and Enough describe a need for rational, grounded emotions that keep us within our comfort zone, while Gattaca, Precious and All Together describe an exploration of emotions that take us beyond this comfort zone. Toss in the Silicone macro trend, which reminds us that innovation should encourage “playfulness”, and you’ll find these contradictions are simply a reflection of just how complex and ambiguous consumers and consumer culture really are.
So, as a brand marketer, ask yourself (and not just once) where your brand fits in this continuum and then identify where your customer, target customer or market segment fits on that continuum. Only then can you determine how these important yet contradictory macro trends can help you shift your thinking, adjust your vision and develop truly breakthrough innovation.
Eric Zeitoun is president of Dragon Rouge USA, a leading independent brand and design consultancy with offices in Brussels, Hamburg, London, New York, Paris and Warsaw. The firm’s service portfolio spans the brand life cycle, from innovation and creation to expression, implementation and evolution. Contact Eric at