Culture is changing. Fast. I know this isn’t anything new, but the last year has been a solid reminder of how quick things can change. And in the midst of all of it — terrorist attacks, protests, conspiracy theories, financial collapse, disease, racial tensions, and economic reordering — many don’t see just change but a loss of a way of life.
In some ways, that is true. We are losing a way of life. 2020 robbed us of the rituals of family, friends, community, and work. These routines weren’t simply calendar events but expressions of how we ordered our lives as we lived our values.
For better or worse, much of our lives are ordered around brands. We are consumers. Ugh. So, in their own way, brands provide meaning for us. I don’t agree with it. But it’s true, and it has been this way since Queen Elizabeth I¹. This means brands have an incredible responsibility in moving culture through change.
Moving forward in post-allthings2020, brands have a big choice to make. In the next twelve months, I think we will find brands acting in one of two ways: they will either be warriors or poets. Warrior brands will fight to hold on to what is, while poet brands will shape our imaginations for something new.
Warrior brands fight. But in 2021, they won’t fight for change or progress or anything new. Instead, they will fight to keep things the same as they were pre-2020. They will be quick to point out that the past is better than the future. Warrior brands will double-down on what was (or is).
These brands will use a strong sense of emotion to make their case. They will lean heavily on the feelings of loss and nostalgia to show us what things used to look like. And, guess what? The warrior will try to convince us that things used to be great and the sooner we return to our old ways, the sooner we will all feel normal again.
Poet brands imagine. In 2021 these brands will point us towards something new. They will evoke a sense of wonder and encourage us to be better than we were before. They will create space for something fresh and different.
This doesn’t mean the poets throw away our existing values and beliefs. Instead, poet brands will interpret our past to create a vision for a new type of future. They will build on what we believe and hold dear to show us a new way to live.
There is a time and place for the fight of a warrior. But this isn’t it. In 2021 the courageous brands will be poets. They won’t rely on the same old tricks to draw people to them.
Instead, poet brands will take big risks to try to move people towards a new way of seeing the world. A way that holds on to our collective values and reimagines them inside of a new context. This imaginative lens compels us forward with vibrant ideas of a better world.
And it will pay off. The Sea of Sameness will be filled with nostalgia and fear. Poet brands will naturally differentiate themselves, which will lead to loyalty and strength.
Poets will lead and poets will win. The world doesn’t need any more reminders of what it lost; it needs an imagination for what it can gain.
While Queen Elizabeth is not credited with the advent of consumerism, she did introduce the mindset of consumeristic manipulation. See Grant McCraken, Culture and Consumption.
Yes, I get that the Nike maternity ad is a forced attempt to curb backlash for how they have handled their sponsored athletes' pregnancies. In 2019 Olympian runners Alysia Montaño and Kara Goucher broke their NDA with Nike in this op-ed for the NYTimes. A few days later track and field star Allyson Felix described her own Nike pregnancy story. But, in the words of Felix as she responded to the ad, “I think you should watch this ad. It reminds mothers that they are athletes. It celebrates mothers. It speaks truth. It’s powerful. It’s brilliant marketing. I agree with every word in this ad. I also think you should watch this ad so that you will hold Nike accountable for it. It was also hard to watch. My experience, along with many others, forced NIKE [sic] to support athlete’s maternity, and when I watch this ad, it doesn’t seem to acknowledge that war. This ad is beautiful and heartbreaking. It celebrates all of the right things but seems to ignore the struggle it took to get to this point.” (Also, see footnote 3)