The Meta Trending Trends: 2021

Top 19 Overlapping Cultural Trends From 30+ Reports

Matt Klein
Jan 26 · 12 min read
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The fourth annual Meta Trend Report synthesizes 500+ trends from 30+ reports, ranking the 19 most frequently reported cultural trends for 2021. Reports come from: Accenture & Fjord, Deloitte Insights Tech, Deloitte Insights Marketing, Dentsu Facebook IQ, Faith Popcorn, Falcon, Ford, Foresight Factory, Forrester, Future Laboratory, Frog, Gartner, Google, GWI, Hubspot, JWT, Kantar, Ketchum, Mintel, Ogilvy Consulting, Pinterest, Spacecadet, Trend Hunter, Trend Watching, We Are Social, WGSN, WEF, Zebra IQ, and more.

Why? A meta-analysis increases our “sample size” of trends, accounting for author bias. We can calculate reliability as a proxy for accuracy to confidently align on what’s most influential. Further, “Curation is not the new content.” Synthesis is.

To complement the most prevalent trends, I also identified the least prevalent, and in my expertise, most important. Subscribe to my Zine for The Overlooked + future cultural analyses.

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A foreword looking back —

On January 23rd 2020, I prefaced last year’s report:

“Two catalytic events will transpire over the next year, which will re-model culture as we know it, however, not one report acknowledged them: The 2020 Presidential Outcome and The U.S.’ Next Recession. Both will catastrophically impact all consumers (their values, interests, and purchasing decisions) as well as all business verticals. […] Culture moves on even if we’re not ready.”

I couldn’t be less pleased to be right.

Beyond accelerating existing trends, COVID-19 radically concussed the economy, spiraling us into a recession. But mass unemployment and our new priorities didn’t just deviate purchasing decisions, they upended something far more poignant: habit and safety. This financial and existential cost is a human cost. It flipped on the burner awaiting a flame. As a global phenomenon, COVID-19’s silver lining was an opportunity for unity. We failed miserably. Over the course of the year, public fury and horror somehow upstaged a pandemic.

Secondly, President Biden’s victory was a relief for many, but it didn’t come without nuclear fallout. The disenfranchised or simply moronic — pick your poison — challenged democracy, the bedrock of culture. When the once sacrosanct Capitol gets turned into a Museum of Ice Cream, it’s hard to believe we’re seeing straight. We are. And this surreality will be scarring. 2020’s trauma should not be overlooked. Throughout 2021, while it may appear as if we’re getting back into routine, internal normalcy is far gone. Beyond health and finances, another recovery is only just beginning. As an individual or organization, which part of the recovery are you helping with?

Last year I also noted, pessimistically, many of these cultural trends feel synthetic — adages to market marketers. We’ve been manifesting VR-paradise for 30 years… it’s not happening in the next 365 days. But in 2021, contextual to true chaos, we face a unique moment. There’s another opportunity to seize this outlined optimistic energy, no matter how imaginative, and channel it toward truly preferred futures. What we’re looking at here with trends are not established nouns, but malleable verbs. After all, we’re in control of what we want to see.

The 2021 Meta-Trends —

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01. Keyboard Space 🌐

Distance is a click — online areas strip intimacy yet add complexity
Keywords:
gaming, Metaverses, TikTok duets, Animal Crossing, Zoom

Virtual Mall — Trend Hunter
Virtual Bar — Trend Hunter
Virtual Marketplace — Trend Hunter
Virtual Sanctuaries — Future Laboratory
Virtual Crowds — Trend Hunter
Virtual Concierges — Trend Watching
Virtually Grounded — Trend Watching
Virtual-First HQs — JWT
The Virtual Experience Economy — Dentsu
Digital Meets Physical — Deloitte Insights
Digital Presence — Spacecadet
Digital Party — Trend Watching
Zoom Room — Spacecadet
Platforms Unbound — We Are Social
Gen Z’s Third Places — Zebra IQ
In-Game Experience — Trend Hunter
New Gaming Frontiers — JWT
Blurred Gaming — Trend Watching
The Gaming Multiverse — JWT
In-Game Concert — Trend Hunter
Cross Channel Connections — Spacecadet
Niche Platforms — Falcon
Spatial Computing — WEF
Cyber Ceremony — Spacecadet
Reality Check — Frog
Mixed Reality Broadcast — Spacecadet
Presence-Free Living — Foresight Factory
Remote Monitoring — Trend Hunter

Drivers: tethering, social craves, gaming norms, serendipity, novelty
From: virtual identities To: virtual spaces to welcome them
Lean in by: Acting as a host, not just a platform — “what can I get you?”
+ Deep Dive: Online Avatars

02. Tranquil Web 😌

The “In this together” cliché trumpets open, supportive affiliations
Keywords: co-own, civil tech, economics of sharing, altruistic community

Engineering Companionship — JWT
Engineering Companionship — Spacecadet
Open-Source Creativity — We Are Social
Cultivate Creation — Zebra IQ
Co-Media — Spacecadet
Co-Ownership — Spacecadet
Deep Ownership — Future Laboratory
Subscription Sharing — Trend Hunter
Human IPO — Spacecadet
Social Sharing Economy — Mintel
Not-So-Furry Friends — Pinterest
Robot Pets — WGSN
Pets as Family — Mintel
Brandcare — Trend Watching
The Company You Keep — Ford
CodeCompanions — Faith Popcorn
Neighborgood — Faith Popcorn
Kindness Magic — GWI
Un-Isolated Senior — Trend Hunter
Reliable Idols — We Are Social
P2P Support — Trend Hunter
Zoom Play — Spacecadet

Drivers: friend reprioritization, singles, isolation, online stranger norms
From: Platforms requesting civility To: Systems designed for harmony
Lean in by: Incentivizing selflessness and constructive convos
+ Deep Dive: Absurdist Facebook Groups

03. Soft Activism 🌎

Corps step up and tech invites all, rebranding advocacy
Keywords: resource curation, justice slideshows, protest safety, inclusion

Brand Activism — Falcon
Eco-Ambitious Brands — Future Laboratory
Unconventional Brand Actions — JWT
Actions Over Performative Gestures — Zebra IQ
See Through Brand Virtue Signaling — Google
Ethical Scoreboard — JWT
From Activism to Action — Kantar
Awareness Becomes Action — Facebook
The Urgency of Allyship — Dentsu
DEI Tech — Deloitte Insights
Protest Security — Trend Hunter
Data for Good — GWI
Mixed Reality Charity — Trend Hunter
Charity Skin — Trend Hunter
Activism Gaming — Future Lab
Protest Joy — Mintel
Mini Movements — Spacecadet
CSR as Key Metric — Mintel
Fun-draising — Spacecadet
Built to Flourish — Deloitte Insights
Retrospective Resolution — Foresight Factory
Systemic Justice — Trend Watching
Practical Advocacy — We Are Social

Drivers: social injustices, outrage for change, pressures to participate
From: “Someone, do something” To: “Guess we have to do it ourselves”
Lean in by: Helping people, help themselves — brand as elected official
+ Deep Dive: Brands as Civil Servants

04. Mindfulness Incorporated 🙏🏼

Past individual practice, wellness is integrated into public experiences
Keywords: mindful tech, digital healthcare, frictionless, accessibility

Big Tech Health — Spacecadet
Healthy Habitats — Foresight Factory
Wellness Architecture — JWT
Designed for Wellbeing — Trend Watching
Social Wellness — Foresight Factory
UX Priority — Google
Low-Impact Interfaces — Future Laboratory
Interaction Wanderlust — Accenture/Fjord
Lockdown Blues — GWI
Pandemic Loneliness — Trend Hunter
Tween Connect — Trend Hunter
Isolated Dating — Trend Hunter
Optimistic Futures — JWT
New Digital Communities — JWT
Digital Spas — JWT
Digital Nutrition — JWT
Mental Health Benefit — Mintel
Alt Therapies — Mintel
Disconnect From Tech — Mintel
Calmtainment — JWT
Parental Support — Trend Hunter
Mindsumers — Trend Watching
Machine-Mind — Faith Popcorn

Drivers: intense anxiety, techlash, screen dependency, obsessive wellness
From: Solo initiative To: Communal service
Lean in by: Prioritizing peace of mind at every touchpoint or interaction
+ Deep Dive: Broken Dating Apps

05. Commerce Rerouted 🛒

Traditional systems are upended: stores are warehouses and QVC is back
Keywords: social and live shopping, pop-ups, dark stores, local support

End of E-Commerce — Ogilvy Consulting
Social Commerce — Falcon
Social Commerce — Ketchum
Social Shopping — Hupspot
Shop Streaming — Spacecadet
Live Commerce — JWT
Live E-Commerce — Trend Hunter
Live-Streamed E-Commerce — Google
Unmaned Stores — Mintel
Dark Stores — JWT
Dark Stores — Trend Hunter
Digital Storefront — GWI
Supply Unchained — Deloitte Insights
Hybrid Shopping — Facebook
Liquid Infrastructure — Accenture/Fjord
Localised Logistics — Future Laboratory
Augmented Restaurants — Future Laboratory
Augmented Retail — Future Laboratory
The New Superstore — JWT
Human Contact-less — Dentsu
Grocery Pop-Up — Trend Hunter
Retail Pivot — Trend Hunter
Delivery Only — Trend Hunter

Drivers: impacted business: staff and rent, eCommerce comfort, novelty
From: Brick-and-mortar as entertainment To: Brick-and-mortar as outpost
Lean in by: Experimenting — deliver “SKU” faster, and “package” is moot

06. Green Green ♻️

Sustainability is not just noble, but lucrative for public buy-in
Keywords: ethical consumption, loyalty, purpose, 20XX goals

Eco-Ambitious Brands — Future Lab
Planet Over Profit — Mintel
Sustaining Sustainability — Ford
Extra-Mile Sustainability — Trend Watching
Earth Positive — Trend Watching
Carbon Labeling — Trend Watching
Future-Proof Packaging — Future Lab
War on Waste — Foresight Factory
Acclimatise Now — Foresight Factory
Government Water — Mintel
Transcycling — Trend Watching
Green By Numbers — Trend Watching
Green Hydrogen — WEF

Drivers: carbon emissions, plastic and food waste, growing populations
From: Pledges for tomorrow To: Sacrifices for tomorrow
Lean in by: Not making people pick between themselves and the world

07. Household Iconoclasm 🏠

‘Space’ is skewed — claustrophobic, home and travel become relative
Keywords: nomads, local, van life, drive-throughs, restrictions or freedom

Collective Displacement — Accenture/Fjord
No Place Like Home — GWI
Home Ownership Out of Reach — Mintel
Local Allure — Foresight Factory
Zoom Towns — Spacecadet
Getaway Car — Pinterest
Nomad Normal — Pinterest
World Play — Pinterest
Neighborhood Tourism — Future Laboratory
Purposeful Travel — Mintel
Scattered Schools — Future Laboratory
Smarthomeboat — Spacecadet

Drivers: tethering, impacted personal finances, health concerns
From: Familiarity and comfort To: Redundancy and unrest
Lean in by: Kindling “home” or “neighborhood” so no one feels alone

08. Reworking Work 💼

The work-life binary is a mirage, WFH eradicates boundaries
Keywords: mental health, manufactured commute, surveillance

Work-Life Intertwine — Mintel
All Work and No Play — GWI
Reworking the Workplace — Future Laboratory
Rebooting the Digital Workplace — Deloitte Insights
At-Home Empires — JWT
Workplace AI — Forrester
Employee Experience — Ogilvy Consulting
Sweet Dreams Are Made of This — Accenture/Fjord
Leadership & Hiring — Forrester
Remote Control — Frog
Record Work Conversations Drive Change — Gartner
More Door — Pinterest

Drivers: burnout, family, AI and automation augmentation
From: Thirsty for hustle-porn To: Hungry for off-time
Lean in by: Finally drawing the line or supporting workers to draw it

09. Escape to Forget 🛸

Evading this nightmarish reality is the goal — even for just an hour
Keywords: gaming, binging, virtual tourism, VR, daydreaming, fantasy

Escapism — Forrester
Escapism & Play — Mintel
Time to Escape — Ford
No Travel Tourism — Spacecadet
Gamescape Travel — JWT
Gaming Going Mainstream — Ketchum
Imagination Travel — Future Laboratory
AR VR Travel — Mintel
Fantastical Fun — Foresight Factory
Joy of Reading — Facebook
Hypothetical Sabbatical — Pinterest

Drivers: pandemic anxieties, unemployment, travel restrictions, boredom
From: Escape as a want To: Escape as a need
Lean in by: Offering momentary respite or a shoulder or a silver lining
+ Deep Dive: COVID Nostalgia

10. Dirty-Hand DIY 🛠️

With time on our hands, we put them to work, busying our minds
Keywords: puzzles, home improvement, artistic hobbies, future planning

DIY Innovation — Accenture/Fjord
DIY Dressing — Future Laboratory
Hardworking Homes — Facebook
Pandemic Homemaking — Trend Hunter
Epic Charcuterie — Pinterest
You’re the Top Chef — Pinterest
Grow Your Own — Facebook
Planning Prowess — Foresight Factory
Little Moments of Big Love — Pinterest

Drivers: boredom, desire for progress, control, and accomplishment
From: Scrolling and IKEA discounts To: Sewing and IKEA effects
Lean in by: Constructing opportunities for craft and ownership
+ Deep Dive: The Creator Economy

11. Synthetic Senses 🧪

Meat was just the beginning — tastes and smells are engineered to emulate
Keywords: artificial, Impossible Foods, lab grown, simulation, substitute

Synthetic Society — Foresight Factory
Synthetic Ingredients — Mintel
AI Smell — Spacecadet
Artificial Taste — Spacecadet
Molecular Sips — WGSN
Plant-ed — Trend Watching
Lab to Table — Trend Watching
Future-Proof Ingredients — JWT
Chickenless Eggs — WGSN

Drivers: sustainability, diets, STEM dev, hungry populations
From: GMO rejection To: GMO acceptance
Lean in by: Investing in and playing the long game of innovation

12. Public-Feedback Loops 🗳️

Consumer collaboration is required for their buy-in — do as they say
Keywords: accountability, CSR, loyalty, community, ethics and mission

The Stakeholder Consumer — Foresight Factory
Latchkey Loyalty — Foresight Factory
A Two-Way Street — Deloitte Insights
Branding Together — JWT
Consumer Brand Ethics — Mintel
Brand Experience Becomes Principled — Ogilvy Consulting
Systemic CSR — Trend Hunter
Empathy Challenge — Accenture/Fjord
Know Thyself — Deloitte Insights

Drivers: distrust, disenfranchisement, raised expectations, competition
From: Participation as performative To: Cooperation as compulsory
Lean in by: Relinquishing control and inviting the outside in to co-create

13. Truth Wars 🗯️

Deception, fraud and realities are at tension with a single truth
Keywords: mis/disinformation, deep-fakes, personal and national security

Radical Responsibility — Frog
Radical Transparency — Mintel
Zero Trust — Deloitte Insights
Trust — Deloitte Insights
Upending Deepfakes — JWT
War on Bots + Misinformation — Ketchum
Fake News As A Service — Spacecadet
Genuinfluencers — WGSN
Truth Trippng — Faith Popcorn

Drivers: distrust, media manipulation, echo-chambers, conspiracy theories
From: Splintering of truths To: Fighting for truths
Lean in by: Signaling credibility or consistency — fact is meaningless
+ Deep Dive: Virtual Influencers

14. raw, unfilterd 🖍️

We’ll do it live! Jig’s up: filters = fake, so the real & lo-fi now cut through
Keywords: at-home, glow-down, live, unscripted, Finsta, casual, “real”

The Real We — Dentsu
Photoshop Backlash — Mintel
Intentionally Messy — Zebra IQ
Casual Culture — Facebook
Value Over Quality — Hubspot
Power of Now — Foresight Factory
Go Live — Hubstpot
Ephemeral Content — Falcon

Drivers: excessive social gloating and editing, distrust, deception, techlash
From: Polished feats for clout To: Serendipitous honesty for clout
Lean in by: Revealing, half baking it, and welcoming vulnerabilities
+ Deep Dive: Real-Stakes Video

15. Neu Edu 💡

New approaches to learning entertain, stimulate and come outside boxes
Keywords: at-home learning, YouTube education, modern family

Beyond the Textbook — Facebook
Edu-play-tion — Future Laboratory
Brand Academy — JWT
Ambient Learning — Trend Watching
Bite Sized Learning — Spacecadet
Save a Parent, Save the Planet — Pinterest
Lessons in Mindfulness — Pinterest

Drivers: price, necessity debates, new parental participation, screens
From: School’s way To: Home’s way
Lean in by: Questioning the status-quo, “What are the better ways?”

16. Clean Wheels 🚲

Mass transportation is hit, mobility is getting smaller and greener
Keywords: electric, eco-travel, roller skates, scooter, bike, walk

Old Wheels New Tricks — Facebook
Traffic Detour — Ford
Green Awakening — GWI
Electric Aviation — WEF
Decarbonized Aviation — JWT
E-Transport — Trend Hunter
Safe Micromobility — Trend Hunter

Drivers: conscious sustainability, restricted and local travel, public health
From: Crowded streets as restriction To: Empty streets as opportunity
Lean in by: Thinking local and simple — addition through subtraction

17. Engineered Farming 🌱

Innovation is bred with dirt and livestock to feed all more sustainably
Keywords: urban and vertical farming, -ponics, agri-tech, food security

Farms and Factories Face Automation — Gartner
Urban and Vertical Farming — Mintel
Urban Farm Futures — Future Laboratory
Regenerative Agriculture — JWT
Animal Engineering — Spacecadet
Robo-Roaming — Trend Watching

Drivers: sustainability efforts, mega-cities, STEM dev, hungry populations
From: Farmers’ responsibility To: Our responsibility
Lean in by: Embracing foreign relationships to life, creation and waste

18. Data Exchange 🔐

With privacy dead, demands for returned benefits mount
Keywords: SolarWind, decentralization, value extraction, anonymity

Privacy Protection — Spacecadet
Privacy vs. Personalization — Falcon
Privacy Era — JWT
Data Privacy — Falcon
Data as Currency — Mintel
Tough Cookies — Kantar

Drivers: value of data, hoarding, techlash, GDPR, Apple and cookies
From: Struggles for control To: Giving up for something back
↳ Lean in by: Delivering open and fair exchanges of value and control
+ Deep Dive: Zynn vs. TikTok

19. DNA Ingredients 🧬

Our genome is an input, analyzed to predict and personalize
Keywords: DNA for storage, gene editing, at-home testing

DNA Testing — Mintel
Digital DNA — Spacecadet
Blood Based Solutions — Mintel
Whole-Genome Synthesis — WEF
Crisper Crash — Spacecadet

Drivers: STEM dev, desire for customization, curiosity
From: Linear options To: Exponential opportunities
Lean in by: Sketching plans for product tailoring and precise experiences

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Matt Klein is a Director of Strategy at sparks & honey and writer for Forbes, researching culture and the psycho- and sociological implications of our tech.

Complete series: The Trending Trends: 2018, 2019, 2020 & 2021

This piece is an educational review and does not infringe upon any copyright material as covered by Fair Use, Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 107.

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Matt Klein

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