The time into which a generation is born shapes the way that they view the world, and the impact they make on the world.
In South Africa, baby boomers grew up in a highly racialised, segregated and uncertain time, while the world welcomed innovations in health and safety (birth control pill, polio vaccine, seatbelt, smoke detector) and challenges to civil rights when Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech.
Gen X saw the end of the Vietnam war, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the introduction of new technologies (laptop computer, the World Wide Web, cellphone). Although SA lagged behind with the introduction of television and experienced violence and volatility during this time (Soweto Uprising, state of emergency), it miraculously made progress of its own (first heart transplant, Nelson Mandela freed from prison, democratic negotiations).
Millennials/Gen Y (born frees in SA) saw continued efforts in fighting for human rights (combatting HIV/AIDS, legalising same-sex marriage) and improvements made to technological innovations (Hubble telescope launched, MP3, electric car). Centennials/Gen Z and the Alpha generation were born into the euphoria of SA winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup and hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but have also seen the horrors of xenophobia and the frustration of loadshedding.
In order to better understand an age group — and to more effectively connect with, respond to, and communicate to them — we need to consider both their life stage and their historical context. There are social dynamics and power shifts constantly at play which influence the way people experience the world.
Knowledge is power
We can often tell a lot about a country’s present condition by what it considers to be ‘utopia’. This is a time and place in the future imagined to be ‘perfect’. Usually, people will point out the things they imagine in a utopia as a response to the negative qualities they experience in the present. Gillette’s portrayal of masculinity indicates how the brand imagines we could combat present gender-based discrimination and toxic forms of masculinity for a more-flexible future. AirBnB’s “We Accept” and Diesel’s “Make love not walls” were responses to present forms of exclusion and resistance to difference for a more-inclusive future. Nike teaming with Kaepernick was a statement against racial injustice, and Nando’s tackled ‘you people’ stereotypes for a more-informed future.
Brands create culture. They impact the way people see the world, how they make sense of their experiences, and what decisions they make. It’s vital for brands to use their platforms wisely to communicate purposeful messages, and to follow through with their promises. Be considerate, compassionate, and courageous. Support and spark movements while avoiding glorifying, glamorising, or commercialising serious social issues.
Social shifts and power plays are of concern in Africa, particularly in terms of enforcing colonially created national borders that result in xenophobia and restrictions on trade and collaboration on the continent, perpetuating the idea that Africa is underdeveloped by Western standards, disregarding the exploitation of Africa for its mineral wealth, provoking racism and considerations of emigration, or even conjuring up notions of Africa as a dependent, undisciplined, dangerous place. These thoughts all shape the notion of power in Africa. Pay attention to what concerns consumers today, in order to anticipate and shape what futures might unfold.
Welcome to the Anthropocene — the human epoch. We are in an era of human-influenced disruption. Some argue (and have argued for some time now) that nature, the environment, and the earth’s processes are being impacted, shaped, altered and even destroyed by the human population
Nomadic or hunter-gatherer communities the world over are known to have a deep connection with their environment. There is an overarching idea that nature reflects social tension, conflict and issue. Drought, fire, disease — all may be attributed to social ills playing out in nature. If a natural disaster occurs, the community turns their attention inwardly and reflects on what needs to be resolved, socially.
In stark contrast, urban societies (increasing in size owing to globalisation, urbanisation, and migration) have widened the gap between humanity and nature. People in these urban settings are more individualistic and development-driven (in terms of their own understanding of what progress, success or happiness looks like) than ever before.
Brands and businesses are responding to the Anthropocene in several ways, and two dominant responses are: business as usual —denying, dismissing or downplaying ideas of human impact on the environment — or considerate consumption — conscious efforts to make a bigger impact through reducing negative influence on the environment and encouraging consumers to do the same.
Marketer on Mars
We’ve seen people like Elon Musk lead the next space age by exploding the boundaries of what we thought possible. We’ve seen brands put the responsibility and hope of a better tomorrow into the hands of their consumers — to consume carefully, contribute considerably, and create compassionately.
Closer to home, we have Afro’s Chicken Shop on a journey to remove single-use plastic from its stores. This is driven by the idea that “we love this land and we want future generations to also be able to enjoy it as much as we do but we know that it starts with us”.
Seeing the destruction, manipulation, and exploitation of the environment (natural resources, in particular) has raised questions around the sustainability or destruction of life on Earth. Oscar Wilde famously said that progress is the realisation of utopias — as it is a place that humanity constantly strives to find, and it’s this hope that keeps them going towards something better.
Brands have the opportunity and ability to expand consumers’ horizons and future possibilities, to fuel and fulfil their hopes for a better world.
It’s all relative. We tend to see what we expect to see — and what we expect to see is what we have been conditioned to see. It’s through our experiences and inner workings that we frame the way we see the world. According to science writer, Brian Clegg, relativity is a frame of reference. It’s difficult (and sometimes impossible) for us to find the meaning of things in isolation — and so we need a frame of reference to give us context.
It’s when we break free from one limiting frame of reference that we are able to be innovative, creative and original. Brands have the opportunity to shape the way we see, think and live. It’s important to be considerate of what frames of reference we draw on, and what contexts we create.
Work for all
Entrepreneurs have a way of looking at the world in a different way. Generally, these visionaries are driven by the desire for progress (linear, consistent improvement or change) or the need to survive (meeting basic human needs). In the marketing world, we often get so caught up in the idea of category growth (survival) that we sometimes lose sight of what growth in ‘share of life’ might look like (progress) — purpose, responsibility, enrichment, prosperity, possibility, and more. It’s in adapting to the times and reinventing themselves (without compromising on their core belief) that brands not only remain relevant but thrive.
For three decades, Nike has lived by the “Just Do It” mantra. In keeping up with social shifts, recently South African athlete and gold medallist, Caster Semenya, joined the team of athletes who feature in Nike’s latest short film series, Dream Crazy. The campaign is intended to showcase what happens when you persevere, overpower, overcome and take a stand — when you set aside your hesitations and adversities, and just do it.
We have seen shifts between different types of economies. Globally, we have seen a move from an agrarian economy (extracting commodities) to an industrial economy (making products) to a service economy (delivering services) and, currently, find ourselves in the experience economy (staging experiences).
Some researchers, theorists and experts anticipate a purpose economy (changing the world through impact, growth and belonging), and others are already experiencing an access economy (sharing, borrowing or renting — rather than owning).
If this is the direction the world’s heading in, brands need to shift from encouraging passive consumption to active participation, shift from being diverse to inclusive, and shift from responding to what is happening in the world to initiating movements
As technology evolves, so, too, do our methods of research, communication, interaction, shopping and consumption. Consumers are looking for intuitive, convenient, seamless, smart, instant, predictive, adaptive, ethical, meaningful and informative solutions. Technology has filtered through to almost every aspect of our lives; what matters now is how we use it to our benefit, to enhance the consumer experience, and to shape the future in a positive way.There are generally two polarised reactions to the developments in tech (particularly when thinking about the future): enthusiasm for the advancements in science, medicine, and education, or outright fear and dismay. The latter is usually directed towards the dread of losing jobs to automation, or the panic of robots going rogue. It’s up to us to make wise, considerate and purposeful decisions when using technology.
In 1889, French artists painted their predictions of what the year 2000 would look like. They were preoccupied with ideas of flying machines, underwater adventures and purposeful technologies (such as cleaning machines or educational transferences). In the late ’80s, in the movie Back to the Future II, Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to the future, to 21 October 2015. We saw predictions of hoverboards (which sort of came true), video calls (which we have now in Skype and FaceTime), drones (even partnering with GoPro for creative use), video glasses (although Google Glasses weren’t as popular as anticipated) and biometrics (such as Apple Pay that allows you to validate payments with a glance).
The imagination never ceases to amaze (and sometimes amuse). We’re increasingly becoming more imaginative as technology develops and shapes our world views and ideas of what is possible. We’re ever more creative and resourceful, making improvements to our lifestyles, formulating new solutions to old problems, creating transformational value, making more-informed decisions, modifying reality, becoming more efficient, and developing cleaner ways of living — all through technology. We’re even entering a new space age.
As researchers, consultants, brands and advertisers, it’s not enough to simply keep up with the times — we have to imagine, innovate and implement. We can do this by exploring:
It’s important to frame the consumer’s digital experience in terms of a human experience — what’s the core sociocultural need that drives their interactions with the digital world?
As human beings, we all have the desire to belong to a community, to be recognised, to be appreciated. It’s built into our nature, this idea that, in order to survive, we need to belong to something bigger than ourselves — we can’t survive on our own. To belong is to be included in (a social system of support), associated with (shared beliefs, values and behaviours), and connected to (a relationship network). This need to belong is a human truth that resonates with anyone, anywhere, at any point in history.
Belonging has always been closely tied up with identity. Today, we find ourselves moving towards a post-demographic world with fluid identities and blurring gender roles, as well as a significant improvement in the rights, freedom, protection, inclusion, status, and empowerment of particularly women and members of the LGBTQ community.
Traditional models of relationships and lifestyles are also changing; younger generations are growing up in an expanding world of choice and a higher exposure to difference, and so they are less inclined to follow a linear path from education, to employment, to marriage, to family formation (source: Kantar Consulting Futures practice area). They have more control in what they choose, defer or decline in their lifestyle paths. And so, the way people define themselves is changing.
The tribe has spoken
Aware of the social shifts taking place, Castle Lager has challenged itself to enhance its cultural role and purpose — to inspire South Africans to find belonging in more-expansive communities. In exploring the beliefs and tensions that are either enablers or barriers to belonging, Castle Lager is now better equipped to make a social impact. South Africa’s diverse population is creating cultural connections that go beyond traditional demographic markers. South Africans are creating communities built on shared lifestyles, values, beliefs, experiences, interests, and more.
Castle Lager faced the challenge of helping closed communities (those who value familiarity, exclusivity, sameness, and comfort) overcome their resistance to embracing others, while at the same time the beer brand was presented with the opportunity to celebrate and connect open communities (those who value diversity, inclusivity, open-mindedness, and curiosity).
In its recent #SmashTheLabel Twitter campaign, Castle Lager has shown its solidarity “with all South Africans who have been labelled” by removing the label from its beer bottle. It’s an action against stereotyping, and an encouragement of inclusivity.
It’s in the embracing of difference that we can expand our world view and grow our own social purpose. It’s through acceptance and understanding that we’re able to support one another and make an impact in creating a better world. We need to move away from limiting or stereotypical markers of identity, and allow people to define themselves. This is how we create a space in which people feel a sense of belonging.
Increasingly, our role as marketers is to not only uncover the future but to prepare brands and companies for it, and to help them shape the future they want.
Back to the future
Some futurists believe that the future is buried in the past and grows in the present. Other futurists state that we can’t predict the unknown, and that we should pay greater attention to randomness and chance as the past may at times be misleading, misinterpreted, or remembered falsely or subjectively. Another group of futurists encourage people to take control of the future, to create it themselves.
Whether marketers look at patterns of the past to understand where we’re going or, by admitting that we ‘don’t know what we don’t know’ and therefore should avoid generalisations or expectations based on the past, we do need to have a perspective on the probable, possible, preferable and unknown futures that lie ahead.
The future is bright
This year, South African financial services giant, Sanlam, turned 100. In light of the financial futures it’s been building over the past century, it now looks ahead to creating a better world for generations to come. It recently released a podcast called “The 200 Year Old” — set in the year 2218 — telling Lesedi’s story, with expert knowledge woven into the narrative. By drawing on a popular storytelling method and incorporating popular themes or concerns for the future (such as the topic of aging), Sanlam aims to encourage listeners to plan, prevent, and plan for the future.
In another example, Sanlam draws on history to inform its future. In its “Bright Idea” TVC, the narrative outlines the history and use of the lightbulb, one in particular that’s been burning for 117 years. In the context of a mass-produced world of commodities, where consumers opt to rent rather than own, dispose rather than repair, and change instead of commit, Sanlam asks the question: “If we can make things that last, why don’t we?”
To increase the lifespan of a brand or to enhance the impact of a message in an increasingly unpredictable world, it is wise to draw inspiration from timeless needs, values and concepts. These human and cultural truths may be identified and decoded to help strengthen positioning, innovations and communications, to build a brand that lasts.