(This is the sixth Future Patrol, a monthly series of macrotrend posts. Today’s is a guest post by Kate Welsh. You’ll see Wolff Olins’ established macrotrends called out with a hashtag.)
I. What it is
“Frankenstorm” probably wasn’t the right nickname for Hurricane Sandy. Sadly, it’s pretty clear that storms of Sandy’s magnitude are no longer fantastical, once-in-a-generation monsters—they are becoming the norm. Frankenstorm implies that there is a certain degree of separation between us and the pandemics, cyborgs, and economic collapses typically confined to the realm of science fiction. However, it looks like we’ve caught up:
What happens when we get a dose of (anarchic) dystopia? Apparently, we buy more stuff—stuff that allows us to operate independently of established systems and outsmart a future that is starting to look like our wildest imaginations. In this autonomous age (#LaissezFuture) there is a greater demand for brands that provide personalized, proactive, intuitive service.
II. Some Examples
Disaster-preparedness retailers certainly took note. Sales figures for The Ready Store, purveyors of self-sufficient, disaster retreats Practical Preppers and Vaughn Concrete Products, and Eton emergency radios have boomed in what the New York Times dubbed the “Mad Max economy.” Wal-mart and Costco now have a purchaseable “year’s supply of food,” much of it freeze-dried.
Smart thermostat Nest, the Volvo XC70, and MIT Media Labs’ Proverbial Wallet model all rely upon predictive data to save energy, prevent impulsive spending, and filter clean air for their users.
Price tags for 3D printers—machines that incrementally “print” layer upon layer of an object—have steadily dropped over the past two decades. The Makerbot Thing-OMatic is an affordable, easy to assemble and operate 3-D printer, which enables people to “fab” whatever they want out of plastic. It has attracted a vibrant online community that trades designs and tips on how to produce shiny little toys in just a few hours. Beyond trinkets, 3D printing holds the potential to turn homes into customized mini-factories—a vision not far removed from the self-sustaining disaster retreats sold by Practical Preppers.
This year, Berlin-based start-up Changers released a portable solar-powered phone and tablet charger. Consumers can transfer energy from the sun to their mobile device, measure their energy consumption by connecting their charger to the Changers website, and accrue energy credits to use as currency on partnering retail sites. In addition to being environmentally conscious, the Changers charger reflects an increasing consumer desire for self-regulation in all aspects of life.
III. What this means for brands
As more people embrace customization and alternative methods of making money or saving energy, brands should act as facilitators as much as producers.
- Make your product a personal service, not a just physical thing (ZipCar and AirBnB).
- Create a platform for communities, and adapt to the needs of your consumer (Google Crisis Map, Barclay Share Card).
Kate Welsh is a strategy intern at Wolff Olins New York.