“If I’d picked a Uber Trend for 2018, it would have been The Trump Effect” .
You previously picked an uber-trend for each year. What would you say is 2018’s Uber Trend?
I specifically didn’t pick one, because if I did, it was going to be The Trump Effect and I didn’t want to be accountable for magnifying its power. I never called the Obama Effect, the Bush Effect or even the Clinton effect. They were just the leaders of my country and I believed world leaders everywhere were having just as extreme an impact. Part of me wishes I could’ve celebrated Justin Trudeau or Emmanuel Macron. I have to say it was a mistake since this is very much the year of the Trump Effect. We can’t get through a day without analysing what he’s done.
I’ve never met him, but there’s a funny story about him and I. I put out a list of Ubersexual men and he was on it. And then he gives an interview saying ‘I want to meet this woman and thank her.’ I don’t think he actually did, but then I got this phone call from the media asking if I’d said Donald Trump was one of the best looking men in the world. I didn’t know what they were talking about and I began to Google this even as we were speaking and I found that list. He was there with Bono, George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Clinton. I’m not sure if he gave me a pop culture moment or stole one from me.
Could you predict Trump’s election?
I knew it four months before he was elected. I don’t think I was born with a clairvoyant gift. But it was an answer to a complex enough cross tab related question: where is the 30-year-old bloated white male going to vote? Also, you have to factor in racism in this country and Europe. I spent three months there and it is very different, very tense and self-righteous. No matter who you are, you are always trying to explain why you are not one of “them.”
I read a lot of local news and another tool I use is reality TV. It may be unreal but it’s a snapshot of our perception of what we want reality to look like and it isn’t pretty! There’s a reason you won’t see the Trudeau’s as a reality TV family, but you see one in Trump.
Michelle Obama made a speech and said ‘When they go low, we go high.’ That’s the way most Americans were raised in the 70s. We were told, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.’ But the 90s, we were all being encouraged to speak up. When I heard what Michelle Obama said, I realised she was very elite. There was also something else: I pitched for Pepsi and didn‘t win and they said it was because I was too polite! They said ‘We need a republican style firm.’
Has trend spotting become a gloomier business over the years?
The world has become a gloomier place. In the early days, and I started doing this in the 90s, there was negativity but also a lot of hopefulness and optimism. When the Euro emerged in the 90s, one thing we all touted was there was no exit strategy from the European Union; who knew there was one! New Europe back then was Central Europe emerging. But now we have Brexiters, Theresa May and no idea what New Europe is going to look like. I predicted the level of connectivity but did it very superficially. I never imagined I could take a class in the University of Taiwan this morning if I wanted to.
But it’s not a safe, happy world. In the late 90s, we predicted planes would fall out of the sky and attacks on Disney, but I’m not as prescient as I could have been considering we now have to worry about who is driving down our street. Back then, a student learner was the most dangerous person. We have all these new things to worry about, and so it’s not trendspotting but the world that has become sadder and more frightening.
Has the way you pick trends changed? How did you go about picking the ones for 2018?
I don’t think it has changed. There’s an art and science to pattern recognition. But today, I have access to so many more patterns via the internet, social media and so many ways of knowing the pop culture effect on things. I tried to balance the scarier trends with the less scary ones since I don’t want to be written off as a doomsayer.
The other aspect to this is trends have become so commonplace! Everyone is doing trendspotting. This year, we committed to generalist trends and didn’t break it down into food, travel or marketing. But a megatrend in society is we’ve moved away from general work.
The other interesting aspect is people consider trendspotters a lot more quickly. I meet people who say they are trendspotters and think ‘when I interviewed you six months ago, you were an intern.’
What sort of an impact will the trends of this year have on marketing?
I think we are going to see kindness marketing on the rise. You will be a lot more sensitive to how somebody else is feeling. The ageism issue is also going to blow up.
We notice that a lot of advertising right now appears to be a lot more politically correct than the audience it serves. Do you think there’s likely to be a disconnect between the causes brands have committed themselves to and what people want?
There’s gonna be people really taking great pride in having good manners and at the same time more hate than ever. I’ve never seen people being viciously nasty to each other online at airports etc. People are much nastier and at the same time being proud of their manners.
Confused Men and Confusing Women was a trend you’d highlighted last year. Against the backdrop of #metoo how do you think that trend played out through 2017?
I think we are more confused than ever. If you are a guy, you don’t know what the rules are anymore. And I don’t know if you are a woman, you should accept #metoo as the way it is. I hope on the other side of this, there’s respect and equality.