Having reached peak stimulus with ‘sludge content’, the attention economy is shifting gears. The most forward-thinking users, creators, and culture-leading brands are toying with other modes of bringing people in—ones that turn away from hyper-stimulation.
Rather than demanding to be seen and heard, brands can experiment with a broad scope of novel ways to attract and maintain attention—whether partially or entirely, for seconds or hours on end.
Create experiences that enable moments of calm and focus
To promote the Nissan ARIYA car, the automotive brand partnered with beloved YouTube creator Lo-Fi Girl—known for her chill, lo-fi music streams—to communicate the powerfully peaceful vibe of the vehicle. Nissan created a four-hour stream on YouTube, depicting Lo-Fi Girl driving the car while soundtracked by relaxed beats. In the comments, viewers praised the ad for being both immersive and working with passive attention, noting how they’ve let the video ambiently play for 20 minutes in the background of their daily lives.
Lean into new attention formats
‘Mean Girls Day’ is celebrated annually on October 3rd, in homage to a moment in the movie where Lindsay Lohan’s love interest finally asks her the date. This year, Paramount released the entire movie on a devoted TikTok account—chopped up into 23 snackable, TikTok-length bits—for one day only. Time-bound (only around for 24 hours) and bite-sized (in short clips), the campaign demonstrated how to transform legacy media for modern attention spans.
Experiment with alternative narrative styles
Disney / Pixar and the NFL teamed up for the "Toy Story Funday Football”. This was a fully animated broadcast of the NFL's first London game of the 2023-24 season, which gave youngsters a chance to watch the game in “Andy’s Room” and in an environment that was aligned to viewing habits and passion points. The clever use of the tracking tech on the players allowed the game to be out in real time in the Toy Story universe.
Trend 2: Post-Representation
People—whether minorities, disempowered groups, or just users writ large—still value representation. But in today’s culture, there’s less faith in the power of representation alone. As notions of identity compound and deepen, communities want to see messy complexity over neat narratives.
Representation of diverse voices remains a key pillar of viable brand strategy. However, communities have made it clear that the days of perfunctory box ticking are long gone.
Move beyond intentional representation
In tackling gender stereotypes, a brand might choose to spotlight women-led stories and dismantle female stereotypes. But Ford and Dickies’ work with @syds_garage takes a more indirect approach to representation, in that it starts with the person, not the identifier (gender). While known for more glamorous roles, Sydney Sweeney was hand-picked by Ford and Dickies because of her own well-documented obsession with car garages—not so she could "represent" women in the automotive world. Indeed, there are no mentions of womanhood or femininity in the piece.
Vice World created the "The unfiltered history tour" AR filter for The British Museum. The tech enabled users to understand the real terms impact of colonialism when it came to the historical artefacts on display in the museum. It was a clever way to showcase representation in a way you didn’t expect, highlighting the hidden stories, complicating the representation of art’s identity, challenging our understanding of the identity behind those artefacts as well as educating the audience.
Show how you’re helping people explore—not just represent—identity
Apple’s ‘The Greatest’ ad shows how the brand is actually creating opportunities for differently abled people to explore their identity, rather simply aiming to portray those identities with its ad. The spot isn’t about ‘representation’ of people with disabilities—instead, it alludes to the way the brand’s tech creates space for differently abled people to experience and explore broader aspects of their identity, from motherhood to makeup routines.
Trend 3: Offline Internet
People are looking for more interaction between on- and offline worlds. Today, characters, communities, and behaviours born on the internet are moving seamlessly into offline worlds. And this interplay isn’t just tolerated—it’s expected.
Brands need no longer fear that online references lack real world traction. As users think less and less of bringing internet jokes into their daily lives, the library of cultural touchstones for brands to reference is bigger and riper than ever.
Reflect digital world codes into brand stories
In the UK, Amazon collaborated with Nicki and Loczek—a creator duo famed for their uncanny portrayals of NPCs—to promote the benefits of its Prime subscription. As well as demonstrating digital cultural literacy, this blended approach of on- and offline resonates especially well with the world of e-commerce.
Embrace entertainment formats shaped by streaming audiences
Created by Spanish football legends Iker Casillas and Gerard Piqué, the King & Queen’s League is a social-first football format that’s making waves IRL. 12 top streamers like Ibai, Rivers and TheGrefg pit their teams against each other in a Gen Z-ified football league that can rake up over a million views per matchday on Twitch, selling 57,000 tickets to the final at the Metropolitano Arena in Madrid. Rather than just taking the event offline, they blended realities by blaring Twitch streamer commentary + team talks through the stadium sound system, cleverly bringing key elements of the online experience into a real life scenario for a digital-first audience.
Humanise viral moments and tell the unexpected stories behind them
To promote its new flavour, sparkling water brand DASH recruited former viral sensations to talk about their unlikely moments in the limelight. The brand conducted sitdown interviews with guests including Alex From Glasto, the Whisk Guy from Come Dine With Me, and even the friends who discovered ‘The Dress’. This confident approach not only shows how brands needn’t worry about internet trends being too niche, but also how they allow them to share more grounded, human stories that will resonate with broader audiences.
Trend 4. Everyday Fandom
The year of Barbenheimer and the Eras Tour has made it clear: in search of mainstream collectivity, everyday users are acting like ultra-fans. The lines between fan and non-fan are increasingly blurred, as we all engage in fan behaviours and immerse ourselves in collective moments.
Rather than pandering to a captive audience, fandom has evolved into a boundary pushing creative opportunity. This evolution means brands can participate in effective behaviours that amuse, inspire, and benefit all parties.
Extend fictional fandom into the real world with authentic partnerships
In anticipation of the third season of Ted Lasso, Apple TV gave fans the opportunity to participate in a cult favourite narrative from the show: biscuits with the boss. Each morning, Ted bakes biscuits for the owner of the team he manages. Apple TV partnered with Jeni Splendid Ice Creams to turn a small scoop of Ted Lasso into reality, creating an ice cream flavour inspired by Ted’s buttery biscuits. Similarly, Netflix crime drama series Top Boy, which is set in Hackney, has for two seasons partnered with Hackney Wick football club to sponsor their home and away football kit.
With “Saucemerica”, Heinz set about mobilising both fans and potential converts by inviting Americans to collect 50 special condiment sachets paying homage to each individual state. Backed by an online hub and with cash rewards on offer, the sauces were distributed indiscriminately across restaurants, stadiums, and other public spaces—encouraging both serial sauce hoarders and condiment conservatives to learn more about the brand and take part in the thrill of completing their collection.
Trend 5: Mischief Mode
As social media and the internet become more commoditised, users are breaking out of its commercial structures in an attempt to reclaim creativity. Amidst the homogenisation of online spaces, there's a compelling counter-trend emerging, spearheaded by younger generations.
As commodification tightens its grip on platforms—just as technology helps empower the resistance— once risky behaviours are becoming fair game. As a result, bolder brands are embracing the schoolyard aspect of "disruption".
Lean into opportunities for your brand to play with reality
Brands like Jacquemeus, Maybelline and others are playing into the trend as a way to both wow and wrongfoot their followers. Participating in this creative technique not only signals a playful and rebellious streak, but also an understanding of what gets people talking.
Embrace the disruptive behaviours in your category
In order to prove that its products couldn’t be duplicated, haircare brand Olaplex duped the internet with a phoney influencer campaign promoting the fictitious Oladupé No.160. By disguising its own star product as an astoundingly effective knock-off, then having a range of trusted influencers rave about it, Olaplex could rugpull their own community, champion its range, and decry unsavoury business practices, all in one go.
Encourage and amplify playful behaviours around your brand:
Think Forward is compiled by We Are Social’s cultural insights team, gathering insights from teams on the ground across its 19 global markets. This was combined with interviews with external experts to help We Are Social understand broad cultural context, the social media zeitgeist and voices outside the mainstream.
Ford has consistently taken home metals at every significant international award show including the most recent, the Dan Wieden Titanium Grand Prix at Cannes with the ‘The First Digital Nation’ for the Government of Tuvalu campaign.