A four-wheel drive baby stroller?
Publicis Canada: six trends should drive product development, advertising

Remember Megatrends? The early 1980s best seller, which identified ten directions that were transforming the lives of North Americans, brought its author --John Naisbitt-fame, fortune and acclaim as a futurologist.

Naisbitt's predictions were remarkably prescient. Some of the trends he identified in 1982, such as globalization, the information society, networking and decentralization, are still hot topics of discussion today.

But the lasting effect of Megatrends, and its follow-up books, was a public fascination with trend watching and the prediction business. One advertising agency that has managed to turn trend identification and analysis to its advantage is Publicis Canada.

For the last two years, staffers at the agency's Montreal office have been scanning local, national and international print media such as newspapers and magazines. Stories with societal or marketing implications are identified and catalogued using a research tool called Context Analysis, already used at about 30 Publicis offices around the world.

Why print media, and not television or the Internet? "With all due respect to television, they are just looking for sound bites," said Éric Blais, vice-president (strategic planning at Publicis Canada. "Print gives much better in depth coverage and sets the pace for other media. Often television reporters get story ideas by scanning print publications. Internet stories are also often just reprints of what appears on paper."

From the data accumulated, Publicis Canada has identified six trends, which pervade society in the third millennium. These trends - say Publicis Canada executives --should inform companies' product development and advertising campaigns. They are:

o Pink and Blue. The differences between the sexes are blurring. Much of this has to do with new powers that women are gaining due to their massive entry into the workforce. Wage gaps are narrowing. Where the comparisons involve those with similar experience and education, men and women earn close to the same salary.

Women are also taking on more violent sports such as boxing and hockey. At the same time men are becoming more sensitive - more feminine. They take a greater part in child rearing. One consequence: Jeep is marketing a four-wheel drive baby carriage.

o Joe Star. Today everyone wants his 15 minutes of fame. Witness the popularity of reality-based programming such as Survivor and its knock-offs. The result is consumers, more empowered than ever before, are seeking new vehicles for expressing anti-corporate sentiments. Think about José Bové the French farmer who trashed a McDonalds to protest globalization.

o Ghost in the Machine. The increasing role of technologies of all kinds in our lives is creating heightened anxiety. Witness public concerns about genetically modified organisms and cloning. People are more suspicious. As the distinction between private and public lives blurs, privacy is now one of the main concerns of people doing business on the Internet. New products that bring us comforting images of the past - such as Volkswagen's Beetle-- are thriving.

o Lux Punk. Consumption is being tempered as the materialist values of the 1980s are giving way to a new "ethical" consumption. For some this means organic products, living in lofts, no fur, cosmetics not tested on animals. "Bobos" (bohemian bourgeouis) exemplify this trend. Their consumption -while still extravagant - is no longer as ostentatious, and focuses more on quality than on image.

o Adult-escents. Kids are getting older younger (Kagoy). But those fat, graying, boomers can't figure out how to act their age either. The contrast is typified by Stockwell Day showing up at a press conference in a wetsuit, while twelve-year old Internet startup CEO Keith Peiris of Cyberteks accompanies Jean Chrétien on a Team Canada trade mission. The result: lots of advertising directed at 18 to 25 year olds, the group that both youngsters and boomers wannabe.

o Ultimate comfort zone. The blind race for performance is coming to an end as people strive to achieve more balance in their lives. The new quest is for authenticity, for a meaning to life, based on self-knowledge. Witness the popularity of the novel The Celestine Prophecy. In response, alternative medicines and health products have moved from niche stores to the mainstream supermarkets.

Although their data accumulation methods are similar, Publicis Canada officials stress that unlike Naisbitt's trends, theirs are not about predicting the future. Publicis research is used to guide clients about what is going on in society now, so they can situate product development and brand building campaigns in context, and increase their chances for success.


E-mail can be sent to Diekmeyer at: peter@peterdiekmeyer.com


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