We wrote “A Guide to Culture In Chaos” to distill the new paradigm shifts of 2020, purposefully provoke big questions, and offer up a compass to navigate the future.
The 2010s were defined by the hustle. It was the decade that saw the rise of social media platforms and startups, and the relentless praise of busy-ness. The transition into the 2020s, however, opened up to a different beat altogether. A cascade of global events, from the Australian bushfires to threats of a third world war to a generation-defining pandemic, thrust us into a cultural limbo.
by Brenda Martinez
In 2020, society collectively oscillated between a past we recognized, a present we didn’t, and a future clouded by chaos. The playbook we used to navigate the industry before has become functionally useless, and anyone who still uses it in the new decade is going to fall desperately behind. 2020 has shifted culture as we know it, defining the 21st century’s version of the Roaring ’20s, and marketers must adapt to the new ways consumers are engaging with their own wants and needs. With that realization, we wrote A Guide to Culture In Chaos: a report meant to distill the new paradigm shifts of 2020, purposefully provoke big questions, and offer up a compass to navigate the future.
One of the first paradigm shifts we observed was the move away from hustle culture and a move towards thoughtful, slow living. The shift was fledgling before the pandemic but accelerated as lockdown hit and we were forced to take a pause. Where a few years ago, being busy was a sign of the times and a sign of your importance, now it’s a definitive sign that your work-life balance is in disarray. Culture may constantly be in hyperdrive but that doesn’t mean life has to move at the same speed. Instead, audiences have turned to new rituals and new acts of creativity to break up their routines in healthier ways, especially as work and life collapsed into the same space. Increased idle time has resulted in a creative boom, with people taking up baking, pickling, and other projects — not as a side-hustle but as a means of coping. With new rituals, routines, and barriers in place, brands who can innovate and find a space in these altered schedules will thrive.
The self-care movement saw a shift in 2020 as well, reverting back to its original, essential meaning. Self-care in the 2010s was hyper-individualized, focused on optimization of the self in order to optimize productivity. Self-care in 2020 and beyond instead values the collective: you must take care of yourself in order to take care of your community. Taking care of yourself is no longer the act of indulgence that the 2010s made it out to be, but it is an act of wellness, of doing what is necessary to be okay. And, in the wake of the trauma of the past year, people have banded together to collectively be okay, forming connections with their immediate communities and building new communities online. In order for brands to have an impact in the present and especially in the future, consumers’ multitude of communities need to be acknowledged and supported.
Another paradigm shift of 2020 was the move from cancel culture to counsel culture. Outrage is useful; making space for forgiveness and atonement is, too. In a time when apology videos have become a comedic trope, acknowledging and repairing harm is the true north star. Normalizing a change of mind or position leaves space for individuals, public figures, and brands to grow. With counsel culture, compassion and transparency take precedence over optics. Because consumers can see right through virtue-signalling, a brand’s open attempts at progress through timely actions will be valued over their perceived perfection.
And finally, after a year of doomscrolling and the mild horror of watching celebrities sing Imagine, the culture’s approach to consumption, celebrity, and influence has shifted. The way we collectively engage with society has moved from observing the spectacle of it all to craving the strategic. Consumption before was a means of showing status, and knowing the details of the latest influencer drama or must-see movie often felt like homework. Now, consumers are intentionally engaging only when they want to, and not because they “have” to. Without the former guardrails of mass culture and societal expectations, a brand’s credibility no longer comes from simply being seen — it comes from smart, truthful choices in who they partner with and how they show up.
The culture has collectively gone through a transformative year and although a post-vax reality is within reach, the paradigm shifts of 2020 are here to stay. We’ve taken these new audience mindsets, from slow living to counsel culture, and translated them into our takes on the future of tech, fashion, retail, and travel, which you can read in our full report. What’s become increasingly obvious over the past few months, and through these paradigm shifts, is that a brand can no longer simply tap into the culture’s frequency for the sake of a sale. The future may still be in flux, but it will center on the collective and it will be co-created; brands must adapt or they’ll be left behind.
Brenda Martinez is a culture whisperer who brings her observational superpowers to her work as a Junior Creative Strategist at creative agency New Moon. Having a background in anthropology and archeology has given Brenda a unique perspective on the cultural dig. She’s driven by the constant search for the why and the how to unearth compelling insights that speak to the human elements of culture. When Brenda’s not helping clients navigate through the changing tides of up-to-the-minute culture strategy, you can find her rolling through TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr to mine for what’s next in the cultural conversations. She’s constantly scanning Dazed, i-D, The Verge, and Sapiens to discover new takes on culture, and dropping in on Clubhouse rooms put on by Burnt Chicken and Culture Club.