What’s in store for our Brave New World?

by Louise Burgers. As consumer behaviour changes in our radically transformed world, brands have evolved and business strategy repurposed. Wunderman Thompson takes a look at accelerated consumer trends in its revised annual global list of 100 insights.

by Louise Burgers. As consumer behaviour changes in our radically transformed world, brands have evolved and business strategy repurposed. Wunderman Thompson takes a look at accelerated consumer trends in its revised annual global list of 100 insights.

Wunderman Thompson (formerly JWT), is renowned for its annual The Future 100 trend report which it issues at the start of each year. It is an insightful, fun and indepth look at the consumer trends to come in each year; as well as revisions on the mega-trends being tracked in populations around the globe. We launched Retailing Africa in February 2020, only six weeks before most of the world headed into lockdown to try and save lives as the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, swept the world in a catastrophic global event not seen in our lifetimes. The pandemic has been compared to the so-called Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-1922, which ravaged the globe as soldiers returning from the frontlines of the Second World War, brought that respiratory virus home with them; just like modern day air travel spread this contagion around the world.

I cringe when I think how I wished everyone a Happy “20-plenty” New Year in January; declaring with certainty that this was “our decade” and great things were going to happen. So much for that. Many trend predictions made at the beginning of the year have certainly not weathered well in the face of this pandemic and uncertain world we now face! But Black Swan events are not easily predictable – even if we humans were warned that global pandemics were possible; we’ve been pretty complacent, believing modern medicine is more than capable of curing any illness that may emerge. It’s why Wunderman Thompson has revisited its trend report and updated it to reflect our current reality. All is not lost; we are living through a major historical event – and we have the opportunity to build new legacy.

As Emma Chiu, global director, Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, says: “Normal life as we knew it has been upended by a global pandemic, laying the foundations for an entirely new normal that will shape the years ahead. Some of our findings show that the outbreak of COVID-19 has sent anxiety levels up. Younger Americans, aged 18 to 24, are five times more anxious than generation X and boomers; they are burdened by concerns around the economic future, job prospects and the cost of living. Despite that, an underlying sense of positivity keeps people hopeful during these uncertain times.

“Brands’ roles continue to evolve as companies are called on to step up and assume a philanthropic mantle. Many have taken unconventional actions, working together to further a greater cause than profit, setting aside competition, and even completely changing production. Such actions are not going unnoticed; a vast majority of Americans, 92%, admire companies that are taking action to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The global lockdown has given people time to reflect, and to reprioritise and reinforce their values. From the importance of community and supporting local enterprises; to the need for better public health regulations to protecting future generations, brands and marketers have a plethora of new consumer attitudes to address,” Chiu points out. “Needless to say, the year 2020 will go down in history. With a virus rippling across the world, trailing unprecedented disruption, brands and leaders need to be nimbler than ever. Those able to respond quickly, pivot business direction, and help work towards a better future, will be best placed to thrive in the new normal.”

Accelerated trends
Source: Wunderman Thompson.

Retailing Africa reported on the original The Future 100 trends, predicting Seismic changes ahead for brands. Well, we were at least all correct there. The impact of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is actually what is termed a “mass extinction event” for many brands and industries, including print media and global tourism sectors. We will all be living very differently in our world in the next couple of years before a proper treatment protocol or vaccine is found. There is no “new normal” really, because nothing is normal anymore. We are living in a vastly changed world, in which we have to give up the very things that make us human: connections. At least for the near future.

We did get one thing right in heralding significant consumer cultural shifts across the globe in the coming decade, just not in exactly the way we all thought. This is what the Wunderman Thompson said in January 2020: “The turn of the new decade heralds a marker for positive change after the despondent and unsettling mood that characterised the latter part of the 2010s. As brands and consumers alike eagerly adopt a cautiously optimistic outlook and band together, it’s setting a new tone for the year and decade ahead. We’re seeing increased global activism, new ethically-driven value systems for brands and irresponsible companies and figureheads being held accountable for wider social and environmental issues.”

As well as the trends that have accelerated due to the magnitude of this global crisis, the agency has also identified five new trends that have emerged in the past two months as the world battles the virus. These are:

  1. The new language of advertising. You can’t have a slogan like “finger-licking good” from KFC in an era where we can’t touch anything for fear of catching the virus: “Brands and advertisers are rethinking how they talk to consumers as traditional communication strategies and cultural tropes are being upended.”
  2. The gaming multiverse: “During lockdown, gaming’s versatility has made it a saviour for many; its benefits include companionship, education and stress relief.”
  3. Novel dining formats: Restaurants will have to adapt rapidly to physical distancing regulations and some unique ideas to protect customers, like shower curtain divides and Perspex cubicles have already surfaced.
  4. Renewed faith: There is a surge in spirituality as people seek comfort; and worship goes online and meditation apps proliferate.
  5. Gamescape travel: Right now, video games and virtual platforms are the only travel consumers are going to be allowed for a while, so digital tourism is expected to be a thing.
The future updated

In a special edition of its annual The Future 100 report, the agency has identified 25 trends that have accelerated, matured, or emerged since the original trend report. This is what the agency said yesterday, May 13, 2020, in releasing the update: “In the wake of COVID-19, the report will help brands understand shifting demands, navigate emerging consumer behaviours and chart a course through the evolving landscape. This is a companion report to the original The Future 100: 2020. It is designed to be read alongside the full 100 trends for a complete snapshot of the year ahead.”

The Future 100: 2.0.20 update presents a sharp focus on the emerging consumer behaviours in the wake of the pandemic. It presents analysis of why it matters for brands; and insights from recognised experts on various industry futures. These are new shifts in the global zeitgeist, like social distancing; new cultural etiquette; and a rapid pivot in business strategies. The highlights are:

Source: United Nations.
  • Optimistic future: In the face of this apocalyptic event not witnessed in three generations, it seems that people are desperate for good news in the deluge of reporting on the virus deaths and destruction of economies. Wunderman Thompson says people are actively searching out positivity. “People and brands are making a concerted effort to seek out positivity, fuelling a collective momentum working towards a future built on optimism. In the United States, Google searches for “good news” spiked in the second week of April 2020, reaching a five-year high, according to Google Analytics.”
  • Gamescape travel: Digital tourism is increasing under lockdown, as is witnessed by the popularity of virtual platforms, as well as the live cam streaming of game tours in places like South Africa, via WildEarth’s safariLIVE, which gained global popularity in April. Wunderman Thompson adds to that: “Video games and virtual platforms are evolving into modern modes for digital tourism, offering unique opportunities to explore new worlds and engage in cultural customs.” This convergence of all these different technologies and opportunities could be the new reality of travel for the future, as Philippe Brown, founder of luxury travel company Brown and Hudson, said in the report.
  • Unconventional brand actions: Many of us have been talking about brands needing to have a purpose beyond profit for years. Well, it is now a reality. Consumers need reassurance during this time of uncertainty in which lives and livelihoods are being lost and how brands behave now in this crisis will probably determine whether they live or die too. And this includes politicians, celebrities and any other public figure that had influence pre-COVID. As Wunderman Thompson reports, consumer expectations of brands have evolved, so business strategies need to be repurposed to prioritise corporate social responsibility, not profit first. Post-COVID, “there will be a new ranking system or value system for holding companies and public figures accountable”, said Pooj Morjaria, founder of Did They Help?, who was quoted in the report.
  • Protective tech, protective everything: Companies that safeguard their customers and staff during this period will be held in higher regard by all their stakeholders, that is obvious; and it will continue while this virus ravages our planet: “After experiencing a world that has widely adopted hospital-grade sanitation protocols, people will expect continued high standards, and will seek designs and services that help to safeguard them from germs, viruses, pollutants and more.”
  • Regenerative agriculture: The reason people stockpiled food and irrational things like toilet paper before lockdowns were implemented around the world, despite grocery retailers remaining open for essential grocery and household products; is that people did not trust that supply chains would hold the line. They expected out of stocks. Wunderman Thompson says the pandemic will change how we view supply chains; single source supply of products; as well as the manufacturing pipeline, especially food supply. “The pandemic is nudging us to consider how we can build greater resilience into our food system, reducing the miles from ‘farm to fork’. Since the pandemic began, 3 million people in the United Kingdom had ordered a vegetable box or ordered direct from a farm for the first time, according to YouGov research.

Both reports are available for download for free:

The Future 100: 2.0.20 update, released 13 May 2020.

The Future 100: 2020 original insight report, released January 2020.


Louise Burgers (previously Marsland) is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.

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