The global pandemic has drastically disrupted all economies and societies, further increasing the division that has become apparent in recent years. How do you organize the diversity of ideas and identities in a fair and productive way? Through human-to-human connection and re-alliance, according to the trendsetters interviewed around the world by Ipsos, explains Thibaut Nguyen, director of the Trends & Futures department at Ipsos France.
The 2022 edition of the Trend Obs monitor reveals a world in turmoil, buffeted by intense, opposing dynamics. What do trendsetters think a post-pandemic world will look like?
The “trendsetters” interviewed for the Ipsos Trend Obs international monitor of emerging dynamics (which aims to summarise consumption and lifestyle changes around the world), spoke of a “mad year”, with the world on the brink of crisis. They also spoke about heightened mental, material, and physical insecurity, and the fragmentation of consumption and living strategies. That left us with a two-part question: when will a post-pandemic world emerge and will it be the same as the world before? The post-pandemic world is the central topic of next year’s edition. In order to go further in our thinking, we also wanted to interview “change agents” – individuals who, through their work or participation in community activities, are actively involved in driving change in everyday life. We questioned them about their hopes and fears, about what they wanted to put in place, and about brands. We felt that observing and understanding the world of change agents would enable us to detect the most active forces of trans formation and anticipate a forthcoming change in society on a larger scale.
How do these trendsetters and change agents see the post-pandemic world?
Like a large proportion of the global population, they share the wish for a post-pandemic world that is more sustainable, fairer and, above all, different from before the pandemic. At the same time, they demonstrate some degree of pessimism in wondering whether this is achievable. In their view, the post-pandemic world must firstly be made safe and stable. Secondly, it must help restore connections between people. They wonder how to (re)build social cohesion in such a divided world characterized by clashes, and how to get people to work together, despite all their differences. This is evident regardless of which country is being surveyed. There is an urgency to reinvent human-to-human connection, as a basis for dealing with major issues including ecology as, in their view, “what’s the point of saving the planet if everyone is tearing each other apart?”. This notion of re-alliance seems to them the only possible answer for tackling the opposing forces that are making the world increasingly complicated. Our respondents are questioning everything from the unstoppable rise of national populism to the fact that while China is entering into the realms of science fiction with plans to launch its first asteroid-mining robot, and the fact that the world is returning to the past as child labour increases for the first time in over a hundred years. How do you reconcile everything is this unbalanced world with multiple realities and versions of the truth? In their opinion, working together, or re-alliance is the only solution to this hyper-fragmentation.
What lessons do you draw from this for brands?
We have observed great distrust of cancel culture and influencers among the trendsetters interviewed. They are seeking mentors rather than mendacity. They keep well away from “inclusive washing” and remain circumspect about brands that support causes or people where they know nothing about the latter’s real experience. They aspire to nuance and education. In this context, brands have to demonstrate real transparency. Show what’s going well, but also not be afraid to talk about what’s not going so well. What is the value of highlighting the number of trees you plant, for example, if the production chain does not clearly meet environmental standards? It is up to brands to demonstrate greater introspection in order to communicate accurately and rebuild a relationship with their customers on stronger foundations. In their urgency to show their credentials, many brands and businesses overlook an important stage: acknowledging the mistakes made, without guilt but with responsibility. Before boasting about producing nitrate-free ham, for example, it may be worthwhile explaining why nitrates were used for decades. Similarly, getting rid of a name and hiding it behind another, as in the case of Monsanto and Bayer, does not dispel the need to clear up the Agent Orange matter, for instance. According to the change agents, this stage of honest acceptance of “what the brand is”, both in its past and present, will be necessary in order to rebuild trust on sounder foundations than those based on opportunism or even just goodwill.
Moreover, brands have to recognise that there is a need for consistency between what the brand says to the outside world and what it does internally. “In your advertising, you say you’re the best, but how do you treat your employees? You assert a right to free speech in your news but exercise a form of censure with regard to your employees”. Nowadays, a brand is both a company brand and an employer brand.
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If they’re turning away from influencers, what might they turn to as a replacement?
They’re looking for “new thinkers”, “new lights” who offer more than mere shallow thinking, whose objectives are to explain and help them understand their own history, but also the history of others, so they can decide for themselves. They want an end to the culture of debate that dramatizes everything to generate an audience, views or clicks by presenting opposing truths that never come together. They are calling for new “synergizers”, whose function, whether in society or in a company, would be to help bring together minds and people with differing ideas and convictions and foster understanding between them.
What is the impact of localism on brands?
Just as one cannot deny the differences that come from the age of individualism, common rules are required to allow the construction of a world where everyone might live together without renouncing their uniqueness, a world where the universal and local are connected. The local level is actually a key first stage in re-alliance for them: a small-scale lab where it is easier to know the other party and master consensus.
But care needs to be taken over the concept of local. It is a highly complex matter, at the cross roads of several different forms of motivation: it can concern the identity and safety of a specific location (which is all about exclusion), just as it can also be an ecological matter (reduction in carbon footprint, for instance) or about craftsmanship, authenticity, regionality, etc. If the local element is also cutting-edge, it means it incorporates different motivations.
Brands should have a clear understanding of “which kind of local” they are claiming and should use it well. When it comes to the media, the concept of local is very complex. There is a real demand for media to reflect local realities and make the invisible visible, whilst showing the universal element within the local.
Which other trends have emerged?
We detected a still minor trend – but one that is rich in potential for brands: a call for creativity, supported by “the creator economy”. I have noted that, thanks to new technology and social media, a large proportion of artistic, musical, literary and entertainment creation is the work of people like you and I. That’s something that could be very useful to brands. Some who have, in fact, grasped this are increasing their creative value by calling on designers and creative people to add that extra something, giving it their own personal touch. Turning to designers or creative people is nothing new for brands, but nowadays, the brands take things further. They present themselves as artistic surfaces through which both little-known and renowned designers alike are given carte blanche to make the brands’ products their own. In the process, the latter become a cultural product, such as in the world of trainers (Adidas), beer or wine (with highly creative packaging designs).
Should we be pessimistic or optimistic about the post-pandemic world?
Both, according to our change agents! We have to be clearsighted to see that the current dominant forces are constructing a damaged future and we must remain vigilant. But, on the other hand, our change agents hold on to hope because, in their everyday lives and at their own level, they are doing what seems right for them and for others, which gives them the necessary degree of optimism with which to progress.
In fact, their message is relatively profound: people should not expect or claim to be changing the wider world, but should try to change their world, at their own level, day by day, starting with themselves. /
Interview by Anika Michalowska
 1People in a number of countries, aged 25 to 40, selected on the basis of their ability to feel and react to the context faster than others. They are recruited according to mainly attitudinal criteria: eclectic, open-minded, curious, sensitive, committed, engaged and in touch with the world around them. In 2021, the countries chosen included Brazil, the USA, France, Great Britain, Vietnam, Sweden, and Nigeria. This overview is supplemented by the expert assessment of local reporters in Brazil, India, and China.
 For the 2022 edition of Trend Obs, seventy “change agents” were interviewed in 2021 in six countries, each over a period of ten days.