Rahul Sachitanand
Jan 26, 2021

'Body debates', 'stability pursuit', 'counter cancel' and three other shifts that could transform marketing in 2021

An annual report from TBWA Worldwide's Backslash unit looks at which of the wholesale changes consumers have made in the way they work and play might stick.

'Body debates', 'stability pursuit', 'counter cancel' and three other shifts that could transform marketing in 2021

The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work and live across the world, and according to a new report from Backslash, the cultural intelligence unit of TBWA Worldwide, some of these changes may persist over the long-term. In its recently released annual glossary of cultural insights, which it calls Edges, the shop has identified some key shifts that could permanently transform social norms worldwide.

As marketers prepare to grapple with catering to consumers who have made sweeping changes in the past year, it may be prudent for them to keep a close watch on some key shifts that could have a deep impact.

“The pandemic has precipitated a cosmic reshuffle of global realities, social norms and individual beliefs," says Says Agathe Guerrier, co-chief strategy officer of TBWA Worldwide. "2021 isn’t just another year, it’s Year Zero. And so this isn’t just a trend report. It’s a glimpse into a new chapter of our history.”

As marketers look to keep pace with constantly shifting social mores to keep their brands and businesses relevant, here are six broad trends that could transform the way consumers live, work and play. 

Body Debates: Previously personal debates and decisions are now being made in the open. "Whether or not to get a vaccination, go vegan, wear a face mask, and have children are no longer private and personal. They’re at the center of heated public disputes related to freedom of choice versus societal responsibility," the report notes. This shift will impact brands and industries in sectors as diverse as entertainment and pharma.


Roots Revival: Before COVID-19, people prided themselves on being global citizens. However, as the pandemic has swept across the globe, consumers have started have battened down the hatches, borders have slammed shut and we’re now turning inward and getting in touch with our local and national heritage—gaining new appreciation for the people, land, and traditions that came before us. Buying local may just be the beginning of this trend.

Unglossed: Society is turning its back on impossible standards around one-note beauty, buttoned-up professionalism, and picture-perfect lifestyles—ushering in a new, unapologetic attitude," the report contends. Celebrating imperfection is apparently in and constantly aspiring for perfection is out. 

Stability Pursuit: The global job market has perhaps never seen so many cuts, with automation and pandemic-driven shutdowns, causing millions of roles to disappear. As this transition accelerates, businesses will begin placing a new emphasis on stability.


Counter Cancel: Stuck at home and in front of multiple screens, consumers have perhaps never been more aware, and woke folk saw a record number of brands and public figures being felled for a range of statements and positions—making for a lengthy 'cancel culture' list in 2020. This hyper-aware consumer caused brands and individuals to tiptoe around important issues, constantly fearing a boycott. However, as “woke fatigue” sets in, a growing group of people are refusing to participate in this sharp cancel culture, instead favouring nuanced debate over public shaming.

Health Hedonism: From hospitals that feel like luxury hotels, to at-home test kits that offer insights into our biology, healthcare is going from dreaded to embraced. Every brand is now in the business of making us well. 

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