2042

No one knows what technological advances will be waiting for us in twenty year’s time but we do know that the planet has just emerged from one almighty global experiment…and the results are in: After two years of being locked up at home and having our ankles photographed by the Amazon driver every few days, we have learnt to appreciate the true value of our local shops. Turns out they are much more about community than simply getting  hold of essentials. Indeed, the local butcher, baker and even the candlestick maker are currently enjoying a much needed renaissance.

It seems we needed reminding that consuming in a vacuum is no replacement for getting out, engaging with the community and feeling alive, relevant and connected. (And if you want more evidence, Google the number of staff Amazon has shed since the tide turned only a few months ago). Two thousand years ago we would wander down to the Forum in our togas to buy bread, check out what’s new and maybe have a glass of wine with a friend. I confidently predict that in two thousand year’s time we’ll be doing something pretty similar. It’s strange how our visions of the future often eclipse our innate understanding of humanity.

So, we should expect to see an army of hungry, young, independent stores, delis, bars, take aways and pop ups on a mission to revive so many of our confused and listless town centres. And best of all, locally sourced product will return to the reborn market square.

Meanwhile, our cities will have followed a very different path. As centres of entertainment, as distinct from ‘shopping’, our major urban centres will become brand playgrounds. Stores will no longer need to ‘store’ things, nor necessarily display products tidily on shelves. Conventional ‘stores’ will be reborn as venues for brands to show off, seduce us and tell us why we should include them in our lives. ‘Stores’ will be replaced by ever-changing, immersive and interactive digital experiences. It will be the age of immersive storytelling. These brand playgrounds will help us determine which products are cool of course, but more importantly, which best align with our personal values. And, of course, they will know all about those since we carry them around on our smartphones. In the same way that our individual preferences shape our social media feeds today, digitally immersive spaces will shape the brand stories around us individually. Imagine how seductive it will be when we become central to a brand’s story. Once upon a time, marketeers talked of demographics, a tool that sketched an approximate picture of loose sections of the population. Egographics will enable AI to target you specifically. 

With delivery times getting quicker and quicker, could we see ourselves living in a world of instant delivery by 2042?

It’s worth remembering that this quest for ultra convenience – to the point of instant gratification – was kickstarted in the sixties with the arrival of the supermarket, labour saving gadgets and ready meals. So based on what we already know it seems that delivery times will continue to decrease as we increase the extent of AI into our lives. Predictive algorithms will offer us things we didn’t know we wanted or needed yet, while smart devices will quietly replenish essentials without us having to get involved at all.

However, instant gratification comes with a peculiar paradox: the more accessible something is, the less we value it. Consider how we value music today compared with thirty or forty years ago, now that it’s largely free and on tap absolutely everywhere. Therefore, as our priorities shift towards wanting sustainable products from simple supply chains, ultra convenience will come wrapped pretty heavily in guilt.

Convenience is a relative concept based upon how we value our time being spent across different activities. For example, the arrival of many hundreds of electric vehicle charging hubs across the country will create an exciting new platform for retailers and brands to entertain and sell to us while our cars are being charged. Only retail can magically transform this additional demand upon our time into a convenience. Perhaps we’ll come to see these hubs as the new Forums.

But the technology that’s most likely to satiate our relentless thirst for instant gratification is not a predictive algorithm, or even a swarm of delivery-ready drones hovering overhead. It’s the 3D printer. In simple terms, 3D printing democratises manufacturing, opening up incredible opportunities for independent designers in bedrooms and basements across the world to create products available for us to download anywhere. In 2042 you’ll be able to watch a designer in Seoul create, say, a bike or a guitar to your specification that you can download and assemble. It won’t be instant but it will eradicate distance instantly. And while we’re on the subject, imagine how the eradication of distance, complex supply chains and delivery will revolutionise your local high street. Now that’s an innovation worth waiting for!

Follow me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily insights and musings.

  Howard Saunders   Oct 12, 2022   Blog, Brand   0 Comment   Read More

SUPERHEROES TO THE RESCUE

Here in the West we may have lost faith in ourselves, but an unlikely gang of superheroes may just have come to our rescue.

Not long ago, our once steadfast ship charted a clarion course, sails puffed taut with pride and principle. We rode the waves knowing who we were and where we were going. We had turned our backs on religious dogma and we ruled the world as the vanguard of free speech, free markets and freedom of movement. After the war we had a party to celebrate: a rock n roll rollercoaster of a bash that made gods of lowly Liverpudlians and a teenager from Tupelo. It was the democratisation of fame and fortune, and what a party it was! There was singing, dancing, drink and drugs but somehow through the fog of inebriation we managed to play golf on the moon, invent the internet and put the sum of all human knowledge on a little black slab of glass in everyone’s pocket.

But sadly, every silver lining has a cloud lurking inside. The great dump of absolutely everything onto absolutely everyone ignited a fire of self doubt that’s been raging for over a decade. The party is clearly over and I’m afraid the music you’re listening to is nothing but the drumbeat reminder of the good times we once had. Ask the East what they think of us. They admire our history and tradition but raise their eyebrows over our concocted narcissistic outrage. We bicker over gender, race and religion and squirm over made up pronouns. Instead of facing the future we attempt to dismantle the past: the very history that got us here. Self doubt has grown into self loathing which in turn has morphed into the kind of cultural masochism that saw us wishing Covid 19 was The Plague. We thought we deserved it.

This then is today’s West, the force that faces our latest foe: outraged, entitled, terrified and led by a soon to be octogenarian that cannot enunciate his own name. Surely the battle is already lost. 

But hang on a minute. Who are these superheroes in tight fitting primary colours I see in the skies above? Why of course, it’s Coca Cola, McDonalds, Apple and Starbucks, I could spot them a mile off! They may be greedy, capitalist, exploitative virtue-signallers but at least they’re our greedy, capitalist, exploitative virtue-signallers! They may be flying in the wrong direction but they are our superheroes and I just knew they’d come to our rescue. I’d lost faith in our brand behemoths but here they all are: Amazon hand in hand with Adidas, Aston Martin, Levi’s and Burberry, and good old Pizza Hut arm in arm with Chanel, Disney and Dior. What an historic spectacle! Hurrah for the West!

While we dither in our vacuum of self doubt, these perfectly packaged superstars know it’s time to stand up for Western values and rehang the rusty old iron curtain. As we fumble to find a principle we can agree on, our iconic giants have stepped in to speak up for us. And while we torment ourselves with modern day perplexities such as ‘what is nationhood?’ and ‘what is a woman?’ Ukranian women, unburdened by such decadent debate, prepare to defend their own nation with force. The contrast is sickeningly stark.

Right now it seems brands can say more about our values than we can. But the yearning for the comforting embrace of a mature, motherly, reliable consumer brand runs deep in our DNA, whether it’s a Dior trouser suit or a Big Mac with fries. Russia will never be short of burgers or trouser suits of course, and Kvass is a perfectly acceptable fizzy brown alternative to CocaCola. But the missing ingredient is the tasty bit: the magical zest of the West: the glorious tang of mass produced, unhealthy, delicious, free market capitalism that permeates all our branded icons. That’s what they queued around the block for in 1990 and again in March this year before McDonalds shut up shop. Our appetites may have faded but theirs clearly haven’t.

Yes, consumerism has mollycoddled us into vacuous brand narcissists lacking any sense of purpose or direction. But love them or loathe them, they are our superheroes and they built the Twenty First Century. This superbrand exodus is nothing less than the Twenty First Century turning its back on Russia. That’s some WMD.

Thanks for reading. Now, do the right thing and follow me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily retail rants and musings.

  Howard Saunders   Mar 13, 2022   Apple, Blog, Brand, Levi's, pizza, Retail, smartphone, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING

Kids ruin Christmas. It’s not their fault, of course, but as November drags to its drizzly demise the world inexplicably switches into kiddy mode. Every shop, every advert, every programme and every song addresses us as if we’ve just turned six: fully grown TV presenters grin toothily in tinsel covered pixie hats explaining things in over enunciated tones as if their audience is thumb-sucking and nodding in agreement. Even our much lauded Christmas ads have become unbearably cutesy as a parade of lovable fire-breathing dragons (John Lewis) animated carrots (Aldi) animated dogs (Costa) or simply Disney characters lifted directly from Frozen (Iceland) are splurged across our screens in a tidal wave of diabetes-inducing drivel. And as if to add insult to injury, our ‘leaders’, our pathetic politicians promise us an ever-lengthening list of things we’re as likely to witness as Santa’s fat arse in our fake fireplace.

So, partly to escape my homegrown Yuletide blues I hopped across to Salzburg for advent weekend in search of the true spirit of Christmas. (And even though I tweeted my intentions I had no idea that I would actually find it! More of that later.)

Salzburg old town is ridiculously cute too, but in a grown up, stein-clinking kinda way. The Christmas markets have not been plundered by filterless-fag smoking reprobates and street-hustlers, and are instead largely owned by local families. And they’re not all selling the same imported plastic shite either. Each stall has a respectful, symbiotic relationship with its neighbours. The bauble connoisseur is adjacent to the knick-knackery, the miniature figurine specialist is flanked by a lantern stall and a flavoured oil salesman. They segment by colour too, with one stand selling wares in shades of white to contrast with next door’s rich reds and golds. There’s also a fair slice of religious iconography, this being the historical centre of the Counter-Reformation when the Catholic Church turned up the volume on all that icon stuff. (The ‘Altstadt’ alone is home to 27 churches) I found this unusually refreshing, coming from an uber-secular city where religious iconography is avoided like, err, a religion.

Having browsed, nibbled and Gluhweined a good half dozen advent markets I decided to take a break from all the jollity and go for a Sunday walk, because well, it was Sunday. After half an hour’s staggering up the stupidly steep stone steps just across from the Mozartsteg Bridge, I seriously began to question my sanity. At each stone ‘landing’ where I paused to wheeze noisily, I was faced with yet another stretch of stairs, as if trapped in some impossible Escher etching. Finally I reached, surprise surprise, yet another church, but I still felt Kapuzinerberg Hill remained uncharted, despite its managed pathways and clear signs. And so this huffing, puffing pioneer marched onward and upward. Very upward. 

Occasionally I came across another idiot coming downhill through the forest towards me, presumably from somewhere, so I pushed on. Heroically I parted bracken and bravely stepped over a few perilous boulders until finally, thank god, the slope softened into a level clearing. Snuggled into the crest of the hill sat a stone lodge by the spittle-making name of Franziskischlossl. I approached cautiously, pulling back a dark blue velvet curtain behind the weighty wooden door. I felt like one of the Wise Men arriving at the stable, for yes, I had just discovered the true spirit of Christmas! Below me, nestled in a courtyard way above the city, looking down along the majestic Salzach, was a small band of Christmas hunters just like me. A motley crew of walkers and respectful revellers were gathered around an open fire pit, drinking Sporer hot orange punch and Stiegl beer. I’m sure I‘d have heard the angels singing Halleluja, if ‘Last Christmas’ hadn’t been playing.

Here, my friends, is the real Christmas spirit. It’s not in the shimmering, shop windows, nor is it on the faces of those infantile TV presenters or even in the heartstring tugging supermarket ads . You won’t find it on Amazon, Twitter or Youtube, and you certainly won’t find it on Instagram. You can’t even Google it. No, the true spirit of Christmas is tucked away, often where you’d least expect it, in simple places where like-minded strangers gather around a fire to clink glasses and wish each other well.

Thanks for reading. Now, do the right thing and follow me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily retail musings.

  Howard Saunders   Dec 11, 2019   Brand, Retail, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

THE WOKE OLYMPICS

The race for brands to parade their PC credentials is well underway! Gillette dashed to the front of the pack by showing us it was more interested in curing toxic masculinity than selling razorblades, but dropped back suddenly after it lost $8 billion in sales. Turns out blokes don’t like being called misogynists. A close shave indeed.  

Surprisingly, the enthusiasm for hopping on the outrage bandwagon has lost none of its momentum. Just like the way poor Taylor Swift was bullied to come out for one side or the other, brands must now decide if they are left or right, right on or stuck in the mud, Democrat or Republican. Brands, like the rest of us, have been dragged into the bear pit of the Twittersphere and the landscape in which they can express themselves, their Overton window if you like, has shrunk to a pinhole. You’re either with us, or against us.

Stuff we bought to shave with, or wash our knickers with, has grown a twenty first century conscience. In a world in which we have everything we need, a brand cannot simply offer us more stuff. In fact, this misunderstanding is largely responsible for the demise of our high streets and shopping centres. They were built on the premise that we needed to buy things to keep our mundane lives trundling along. They made the aisles wide and linear so that we could grab and go once we’d located what we were looking for. Product categories were announced in fonts bolder than motorway signs, as if we were all moving at seventy miles per hour. And in a sense we were. We dashed in and rushed back to the car before the ticket expired and our people carrier was towed away for ransom. How simple life was back then.

Where was I? Ah yes. Brands have realised they cannot carry on as if it were 1985, and so have evolved from being smiley, helpful and value-for-money, into fully grown, cynical adults with issues, consciences and axes to grind. In short: woke. In the rush of revelation some have joined the outrage hunters, pushing to the front of the melee in a desperate search for things to be shocked by. This then, is the new landscape for brands and we can expect it to intensify over the next few years. 

But you do know they’re faking it right? You do realise their pretend outrage and loud baying noises are for the purpose of deflection, lest the mob turn on them? An orchestrated distraction to avoid the laser beam of outrage homing in on their own transgressions, whether they be plastic packaging, pollution, landfill, low wages or waste. Like teenage bullies, woke brands are eager to elbow to the front of the mob in the name of progressivism. And who is against progressivism?

The problem is, in its rush to kick at the wicked establishment patriarchy, the mob is forced to edge forward, becoming ever more outraged and angry with the status quo. Egged on by a mainstream media exercising its last gasp for glory, too many of society’s strongest, deepest foundations are getting damaged along the way, sometimes irreparably. 

The frenzy of the mob, you see, can bring out the worst in us. All of a sudden, those quiet, conventional, harmless types see their opportunity to exert a little control. Very quickly, what considered itself a libertarian movement finds itself fuelled by an authoritarian impulse, one that wants to close down, ban, censor and admonish. The impulse that fights for women’s rights, for instance, swiftly morphs into something that’s distinctly anti-male. The push for racial equality, likewise, can so easily become discriminatory. Logic would suggest that the same libertarian instinct that campaigned for gay marriage and sexual equality would be against censorious regulation, but the reverse is true. Libertarianism and authoritarianism, once at opposite ends of the spectrum, have become fused in a kind of Alice in Wonderland nightmare. A new puritanism has infected the liberal mindset and its effects are serious.

And so, armed with this newfound pc superpower, the Advertising Standards Authority has waded into the mire to ban images it deems un-woke, things it doesn’t want you to see. We’ve all read about it: with the aim of discouraging gender stereotypes, the ASA banned a Volkswagen ad showing a young mother, sitting on a park bench alongside a pram. Once upon a time ‘motherhood and apple pie’ represented all that was good and wholesome with the world. Today, the ASA finds motherhood demeaning, something that might hamper a girl’s ambition and life chances. Shrug all this off as a slice of summer madness whipped up creamy by Daily Mailers by all means, but I believe it deserves a serious pause for thought: our regulatory bodies have decided that motherhood is wrongthink. It’s pretty obvious that a society that finds motherhood embarrassing or demeaning won’t last very long.

It’s important we don’t add to the hysteria, but at the same time, we cannot pretend everything is just fine. It’s blindingly obvious that brands are tip-toeing around convention, sweating over showing a heterosexual nuclear family with clearly gendered offspring, or a sexually attractive female for fear of being labelled regressive or bigoted. Humour that pokes fun at anything cultural, gender-based, racial or religious has been off-limits for so long that we’ve grown used to advertising’s mediocre glumness. But the prohibition of gender stereotypes promises to make life considerably more treacherous for brands wanting to stand out from the crowd. Expect to see a lot more of the Alice in Wonderland world in which heroes, adventurers, scientists and scholars are exclusively female, where families are made up from across the sexual ‘spectrum’ and where the image of a smiling, white, middle class family is deemed harmful to society.

I know. We’re already there.

So, Mr Futurist, how does all this end, I hear you cry?

That’s easy: a mighty financial crash, obviously.

In the meantime, have a great week!

 

Join me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily retail musings

  Howard Saunders   Sep 04, 2019   advertising, Brand, Future, overton, Retail, shopping   0 Comment   Read More

MEET THE WALL DOGS (How advertising became street art)

At first everything seems to be exactly as you’d expect. New York is plastered with commercial images at every turn: on the sides of buses, in the subway, on cab doors and high up on the sides of buildings. But one advertising hoarding catches your eye. At first glance nothing looks unusual, but as you wait to cross the street you ponder it for a few seconds. Something about it has grabbed your attention and you’re not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s the gentle sheen or the way in which the image fits around the window frames? And then it dawns on you: it’s hand painted.

Sky High Murals has turned the everyday advertising hoarding into an art form. Not just by showcasing their tremendous skills as artists, but also as performers: sky high abseiling artists. Sky High HQs in Williamsburg, a couple of doors down from the Brooklyn Brewery, is where our band of artist-abseilers plan their attack before jumping astride their motorcycles. They are the special forces of the advertising world, an urban gang of artistic Navy Seals in paint spattered hoodies. They call themselves ‘wall dogs’ as they spend their working lives chained to a wall. This is not a job for artists of faint heart or delicate disposition. Walldogs endure long hours, high above the city streets in sub zero New York winters and crazy hot summers. But they love it. It’s clear by their swagger, as they head out to another big project, that they feel like an elite squadron of highly sought after soldiers. On the website their list of things ‘you’ll need to become a walldog’ includes ‘strength, positive attitude’ and a ‘good alarm clock’.

In an age where large scale digital printing has never been easier or cheaper it’s clear that picking up the phone to Sky High Murals must offer a brand some serious added value. The obvious answer is that it brings an extra artistic depth to an otherwise everyday image. A global Nike campaign, for example, will see its images reproduced in thousands of cities across the planet, translated into hundreds of languages, in different formats and across all types of media. And yet, Nike will happily invest in the skills of a small band of abseiling street artists because of the extra dimension it brings to the campaign. Hand painted images add artistic value, of course, and street cred, definitely, but there is a more powerful message that sings out behind every individual brushstroke. Namely, time.

I believe the real message is that our advertising images took extra time, dedication and phenomenal skill to come to your street, so please take time to appreciate them. Our message is not the background noise to your city or yet another thin layer of visual clutter spewed from an uncaring and cynical global corporation. Our images, as well as being art, clearly produced by artists, are integral to the city itself.

Yet again Brooklyn has soaked up contemporary culture and regurgitated it in its own likeness. Just like Brooklyn’s take on fast food it has slowed down the things we take for granted and made them more locally relevant, more considered. Like its take on everyday objects it has transformed the ordinary into the artisan. Like its take on all things retail it attempts to integrate it into the community and the fabric of the city, as opposed to simply landing on it from the great corporate heights of commercialism. Even advertising can be Brooklynized.

This article is an extract from the recently published Brooklynization. Click here for a preview.

Join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:  andcom.uk9.fcomet.com/blog/

  Howard Saunders   Mar 02, 2018   Brand, city, Retail, Uncategorized   1 Comment   Read More