Demography is dead

Demography is dead, according to the third annual trends survey conducted by J. Walter Thompson (JWT), the largest advertising agency in the U.S. and the fourth largest in the world. As life expectancy increases, marriage as a lifelong commitment will be a different proposition in 2010 than it was in 1960. Will it be smarter to marry in your 20s, hoping for the best but leaving room for another shot at marriage in your 30s? Or will it make more sense to focus on building career and friendships in your 20s, playing the field until your 30s with the risk that marriage still won't work out the first time? Over the coming decade, the possible permutations of age, gender, marital status, family composition, work status and health status will become too complex for easy demographic pigeonholing to be useful or meaningful. Watch for marketers and others to focus on behavioral targeting and segmentation and stages rather than ages.  JWR has a good record in forecasting trends. It predicted the disappearance of downtime and down space, the rise of eco-awareness, "truthiness" in branding and the Old World taking on New World habits (the growing prevalence of obesity, fast food chains and smoking bans in Europe). "We believe it's essential to plot societal shifts in order to develop big brand ideas," says Ann Mack, director of trendspotting at JWT. "Trendspotting allows us to tune into the zeitgeist, discover how seemingly disconnected details are connected and figure out how the mood of the moment is affecting people's lives. Without this bigger picture, we run the risk of creating irrelevant and ineffective communications." Other trends JWT predicts include: Blue is the new green: Climate change has quickly become the driver of environmentalism 2.0, and people worldwide understand that climate is all about the seas and the sky -- both blue. Watch for "green" to become a subset of "blue," which is coming to denote the much larger emerging spirit of good-citizen ethics.  Outwitting disease: Advances continue to be made on the genetic testing front, and within the past year scientists have isolated genetic variations that are strongly linked to coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and several mental disorders. In the next few years, watch for commercials on genetic testing to crop up alongside pharmaceutical ads. And as more genetic links are determined for common diseases, watch for genetic testing to become a routine component of medical treatment. Radical transparency: It's the new generation gap, a divide between those who relish privacy and those who want to show and tell all. For younger generations, "nothing to hide" will be the new norm. But look for radical transparency to temper (at least temporarily) as online exhibitionists enter higher education and the workforce. Rethinking "Instant Gratification": "Custom-made" and "one-of-a-kind" are rising above the mass-produced din of "now." And marketers are asking for commitment from consumers who've become accustomed to flitting from one product to another for quick fixes. The world is local:  It's become a lot easier for people to meet their needs locally, thanks to cell phones, inexpensive online advertising, location-based technologies and sites such as Google and Craigslist. Local products and services are also becoming more desirable. Consumers want to be part of the wide world, but they want individuality too. Even if a unique product is not sourced locally, it will attract consumers who appreciate its local provenance and authenticity. Queen trumps king: One of the most important shifts shaping demography is the rising power of women. It won't stop being a man's world overnight, but over the coming decade, women will increasingly be shaping the world according to their needs. Cooperative consumption: Fractional ownership is moving beyond the shared planes of the jet-setting elite. The masses are already sharing everything from art to cars to designer handbags, and as technology for pooling demand and resources becomes increasingly sophisticated, this model will be applied to an even wider range of categories. Stretching the bubble: Reality checks for U.S. and China: When an economic bubble pops, the repercussions can be felt the world over. When two bubbles pop, the world economy can easily head into a tailspin. JWT predicts the market will undergo a serious reality check. The wider economy, at least in the U.S., is souring thanks to the weak American dollar and the subprime mortgage debacle.  The personal CPM: Watch for millions of influential individuals to develop their equivalent of a personal CPM (Cost Per Thousand) rate card. A personal CPM assumes that people are their own media properties and, as such, should be applied some worth by the brands they advocate. The larger and more influential their social networks, the more valuable these individuals are and the higher the CPM they will be able to command. But as their influence grows, they will need to remain truly objective--consumers are too savvy to trust those who recommend the brands that pay them the most. I believe trend watching is more complex than it used to be. It's more important to watch societal shifts rather than depending only on trends specific to the food industry. A big picture is worth a thousand words when communicating the value of your brand.