The Joy Economy – are we ready?

The Future 100: 2023 global trends report by Wunderman Thompson, says consumers are gravitating towards positive feeds and social circles, showing resilience, innovation, and joy in the face of continued hardship.

Can brands provide the joy and inspiration that consumers need in the world? They must, says the most influential consumer trend report in the world, the Future 100 by Wunderman Thompson. Future 100: 2023 edition is one of the most anticipated trends reports each year around the globe, as it tracks at cultural, societal and technology shifts that will influence brand and business decisions for decades. This year, the focus is on joy, self and innovation.

Wunderman Thompson Intelligence reports consumers are gravitating towards positive feeds and social circles, showing resilience, innovation, and joy in the face of continued hardship. This “joyconomy” is already apparent this year – with brands offering bold colour pallets, positive channels for connectivity, uninhibited play for all ages, and exercise classes that elevate moods and heart rates.

This year, Future 100 charts 100 emerging trends across 10 sectors, spanning culture, tech, beauty and more. The outlook from the 9th edition of this annual essential trend almanac, says that despite the ongoing economic and environmental crises, people are choosing joy. And this “Joyconomy” will see the rise of trends such as ‘Elevated Expressionism’, ‘Feel-Good Feeds’, and ‘Ageless Play’, demonstrating the opportunities for brands which lean into consumers’ desire for inspiration and optimism; as people are determined to show resilience, innovation, and joy in the face of continued hardship.

Key global trends identified
  • CULTURE – Elevated Expressionism: Vibrancy, strength, and uplift brighten 2023, energising self-expression and empowerment.
  • TECH & METAVERSE – Feel-good Feeds: Social media feeds are turning into a place to find emotional uplift.
  • TRAVEL & HOSPITALITY – Absurdist Stays: The weird and the wonderful take centre stage as travellers opt for one-of-a-kind stays.
  • BRANDS & MARKETING – Meta-inclusivity: Brands and creators are bringing inclusive values to the metaverse.
  • FOOD & DRINK – Intrepid Dining: Pioneering diners are indulging in otherworldly meals.
  • BEAUTY – Resurrected Ingredients: Brands are bringing back extinct and forgotten sensory ingredients.
  • RETAIL & COMMERCE – Cocreative Commerce: Could the next era of retail see users cocreating brands’ virtual products and storefronts?
  • LUXURY – Wellness Guilds: The newest gathering space is part high-end gym, part social club.
  • HEALTH – The Superself: Self-care gets supercharged.
  • WORK – Rewirement: Retirement is out. Rewirement is in.
Plugging in local trends

In South Africa, where many consumers are facing challenges, such as the rising cost of living, high unemployment, and inflation levels, loadshedding, political corruption, eroding infrastructure and high crime rates, providing joy is essential. Consumer confidence is on the rise, and South Africans are starting the year with optimism and determination, searching for moments of joy in small and sometimes unexpected places, according to Wunderman Thompson South Africa.

“South Africans have faced significant stress and pressure in recent years, yet many remain optimistic about the future, which highlights their resilience,” says Amy Harper, senior strategist at Wunderman Thompson South Africa. “Brands that tap into this consumer mindset by finding ways to uplift and support them, whilst also communicating in a compassionate and empathetic manner will be able to stay ahead.”

In addition to the rise of the ‘Joyconomy’, highlights identified by Wunderman Thompson South Africa’s Harper, and Parusha Partab, WTSA group strategy director, include:

  • CULTURE – Indigenous Innovation: Indigenous techniques are forming regenerative approaches to managing the environment. In South Africa, brands such as Robertsons are looking at ways to help consumers make informed food decisions by offering endless information about their eating choices.
  • TECH & METAVERSE – Techcessibility: Companies are redesigning their digital environments for greater accessibility. In South Africa, Cadbury P.S. has focused its communication on helping to end cyberbullying in the digital and physical worlds.
  • TRAVEL & HOSPITALITY – Temperate Travel: Rising temperatures will prompt travellers to seek cooler destinations. Locally, Gen Zs and Millennials are looking for travel brands that genuinely embrace environmentally responsible practices.
  • BRANDS & MARKETING – Amplifying Diverse Creators: Growing calls for authentic representation in advertising are driving a wave of brand collaborations with marginalised creative talents. There is also pressure on advertising agencies in South Africa by clients to find ways of incorporating AI into marketing communications to meet marketing and business objectives.
  • FOOD & DRINK – Cell-cultured Dishes: Luxury dining may be the first beneficiary as cell-cultured food moves from the lab to the grocery store. In South Africa, calls for clean label claims in plant-based foods are becoming louder due to concerns over ultra-processing.
  • BEAUTY – Resurrected Ingredients: Brands are bringing back extinct and forgotten sensory ingredients. Clean Beauty used to be all the rage in South Africa; now, consumers are looking at Slow Beauty, where beauty products are made with natural ingredients with recycled or biodegradable packaging sourced from ethical suppliers.
  • RETAIL & COMMERCE – Crisis Retail: As the financial crisis bites, brands are stepping up to help their most vulnerable consumers. This year’s social media advertising will use trusted South African influencers, making a notable impact on the spending habits of South Africans who are on platforms, scrolling and looking for items to purchase.
  • LUXURY – Residence at Sea: The next-gen digital nomad is taking to the sea – in style. South African Millennials and Gen Zs have redefined luxury. For this group, it’s not about high-end luxury brands, but rather brands expressing their values and identity. Luxury is now a state of mind and not a price point.
  • HEALTH – Menopause Retreats: From HRT education to nutritional advice, retreats designed specifically for the menopause journey are on the rise. There is a growing interest in improving everyday health and wellness amongst South Africans through small acts such as walking, mindful drinking, early dinners, and phone-free time.
  • WORK – Generation Flex: Employee expectations are rising. Despite economic woes, could the balance of power be tipping in their favour? Due to the electricity crisis in South Africa, many employees are returning to work at the office; however, some have become accustomed to life working from home.

“As the world, including South Africa, faces the possibility of a recession, it is crucial for brands to understand the latest consumer trends that will shape spending habits. The Future 100: 2023 provides valuable insights that will assist brands in staying ahead of the curve.” said WTSA’s Partab.

Ten terms to know in 2023
  1. Joyconomy: A movement of brand and consumer enthusiasm for elevated expressionism, positivity, and forward-thinking advancements across industries.
  2. Situationships: Mutually temporary relationships that fill an emotional need or compliment a lifestyle change that allows for ever-shifting boundaries from both parties.
  3. The Superself: An all-encompassing wellness lifestyle that sees people centring their lives on the betterment of their mental and physical health.
  4. Rewirement: Retirement, reestablished for workers who want to pursue personal passions and rediscover themselves.
  5. Hospital-ity: Healthcare and hospitality practices combined to cater to the super-health-conscious traveller.
  6. Digital Nesting: Established liminal lifestyle and home spaces that incorporate digital and physical habits and commodities.
  7. Climate Optimism: A meaningful, positive response to anxiety over climate change.
  8. Techcessibility: Accessible designs in tech that include necessary adjustments and considerations for marginalised groups.
  9. Unretirement: To return to work post-retirement for economic stability and meaningful social interaction.
  10. Cryptoclubs: Member-based digital communities that unlock exclusive opportunities for the crypto-elite.
100 trends snapshot
  • Feel-good Feeds: App designers are formulating new platforms to foster positivity. The number one free download in the app store for several weeks in 2022, was Gas, the ultimate compliment app. Users are asked multiple-choice questions that are positive and oriented to compliment their classmates and peers. Aimed at teens, the app requires users to designate their school and distributes compliments across its platform while motivating users to continue to compliment others, fostering a positive and cooperative app environment. “We see social media getting smaller, more intimate. People are moving towards these networks with like-minded shared interests, backgrounds, or identity,” Christopher Gulczynski, cofounder and CEO of Niche, tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence. The future of social media, according to Niche cofounder and CTO Zaven Nahapetyan, is a place where “people have options, control, and power in their social interactions online the way they do in person. People don’t see the stuff they don’t want to see; they’re able to connect to people that help them with what they enjoy spending time with.”
  • Ageless Play: Brands are encouraging playfulness and joy for consumers of all ages. McDonald’s introduced Happy Meals for adults in October 2022, serving up a toy with popular menu items. “We’re reimagining that ‘Happy Meal’experience in a whole new way—this time, for adults.” Canadian cannabis company Houseplant released new packaging in April 2022 that takes inspiration from Lego blocks. The colourful boxes, made for building and connecting as the popular toys are, inject a dose of playfulness into its product experience. “We wanted to leverage Houseplant’s playful identity and design into something that could be collected and reused over time,” Javier Arizu, cofounder of Pràctica design studio, a collaborator on the redesign, told Dezeen.
  • Joy Workouts: Consumers are embracing physical activity for more than the physical workout. Psychologist Kelly McGonial unpacked what she calls the “joy workout” for the New York Times: a series of exercises made up of different exercises intentionally selected to make people happy.  “The Joy Workout is just one way to lift your spirits through movement,” she wrote, indicative of a new wave of intention to move for happiness, rather than fitness. Fitness tracking brand Fitbit is now monitoring stress through its wearables, pivoting each wearer’s attention to their mental health. The Sense 2, released in August, includes a new “Body Response” tracker that monitors heartbeat, skin temperature, and sweat levels throughout the day. When a shift in these temperature norms occurs, the Sense 2 flashes a notification on its screen to check in with the wearer, prompting them to reflect on their mindset and situation.


*The Future 100: 2023 from Wunderman Thompson’s futurism, research, and innovation unit, Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, is a global report that has been compiled by a leading team of trend analysts, bringing together exclusive expert interviews and proprietary research.



Receive the Retailing Africa newsletter every week • Subscribe here.