Dec 28, 2017 · 7 min read

Hey, we are Backslash. A cultural insight studio based in LA that’s powered by a global network of 250 Culture Spotters, and part of the TBWA collective. Every day we make a film reporting on culture to make our network and clients smarter about culture; you can watch some of them here. You can also follow us on Instagram.

Working with our top global Spotters, we have identified our Top 5 predictions or ‘pre-trends’ we see impacting culture in 2018. Part vision, part research, part expert interviews, all of our Pre-Trends are rooted in evolving cultural shifts we monitor over time, what we call our ‘Edges’.

Below is a summary of 5 Pre-Trends for 2018. Click here for the full report.

Meet the “Genetic Activists” — those who rally for treatment, recognition, and legislation based on their genetic profiles. As DNA technology empowers people to predict and manage their health care, they will rise up to demand solutions and pharmaceutical investment for the conditions they may not yet have.

Data Donation. Charity won’t just be about donating money, blood or plasma. DNA donation on an individual level will help researchers look at vast data pools to make connections between different genetic profiles at scale. Platforms like 23andMe are selling user data to research companies in an attempt to help them prioritize solving for certain disorders.

One platform to rule it all. Brands that connect data profiles together will spark new markets and economic opportunity. “A single tech giant may emerge as the one to connect all of our data together, and should already have hands in both the biometric and software space,” says Pfleiderer.

Brands become allies. Consumers will not only expect hyper-personalized products and services based on their DNA profiles, they will expect brands to rally on their behalf.

Super Senior Activists. Boomers are in the firing line for many genetic diseases as they age. We predict they will take increased control of their health, data and visibility needed to affect change. They were a generation of hippie activists in the 60s, and genetic activism may be their second wave.

“We live in a fantasy world and we need fantasy products to fill it,” says modern soothsayer Rolf Jensen. As the physical and online worlds blur, we predict the rise of computer-generated goods like lenses, filters and virtual designs created purely to be worn on social media. We call it “Vaporwear.”

Social-scale reality. As brick and mortar retail is increasingly superseded by the almighty Amazon, physical retail must provide a new role in the lives of their audience. Today, the desire for social currency and transcendent experiences means that creating spaces purely to be photographed in will be key.

A new social economy. We envisage brands creating digital products only for use on social media. A made-for-Instagram range of Pat McGrath eye makeup is surely around the corner for Sephora. Likewise, we can envisage a 2018 $8 Burberry trench accessible via Snapchat filter. It’s a new form of social democratization that we think can also be monetized.

Social-speed R&D. We also see an opportunity for brands to use Vaporwear as a means of beta-testing new products to gauge demand before production. “Social media is your best focus group,” says our digital Culture Spotter Rohit Thawani.

No industry is safe from AI gentrification: bot-manufactured content is about to explode throughout the creative industries. This means algorithm-penned songs, games, novels and feature films. The result will be divisive. For some audiences, the technology will deliver exactly what they want, but for others content will reach new lows and they will seek out more premium — and rare — “human-made” content.

End of creative risk. Led by streaming platforms, producing creative content will no longer be a gamble, as machines will offer insight. Netflix claims its AI recommendation system saves them around $1B each year, which allows them to annually spend $6B on new content. This will hold major value for the film industry, which today relies on franchises as a proxy for success.

“Made by humans” becomes the next “buy local.” Creative products made by people will become an ethical choice in the same realm as “fair trade” or “locally made.” There will be increased pressure on brands to reveal whether content was made by human or machine.

Blockchain journalism. In the age of fake news, it may be that news written by verified algorithms will be more truthful, po-tentially employing blockchain technology to prove an unbroken link to an accurate source. Civil, a news source employing blockchain was seeded $5M in funding this past October.

Once dismissed as “vanity metrics,” shares, likes and follows have generated real economic value for influencers, publishers and brands. So, the cash must be flowing for all the memers out there, right? Nope. There’s an unsettling paradox that faces these creators: the more shared their work is, the less it becomes their product. We think blockchain could be the answer to creative attribution — and meme monetization.

Collectible brand content. As brands are increasingly able to identify and collaborate with meme creators, there is oppor-tunity to release branded, rare digital products and collectible ad art. Yes, we said it — precious, collectible ads.

Meme patent trolls. Creative attribution may also spark a rise in creators charging unsustainable premiums for licensing or policing their work and keeping it under lock and key.

Content valuation markets. Redditors already have built a system to determine the value of memes. Called NASDANQ, it seeks to use shares and other qualitative measures to rank them — a massive challenge. Most intriguingly, NASDANQ calls attention to the problem of appraising digital goods, and the need for better systems to track shareable content.

Cults aren’t just a thing of the past. We believe that 2018 may see the formation of a new kind of cult — one built around a personality who manipulates social media, monopolizes attention and mobilizes fans. Sound familiar? Also, cult activity tends to spike during times of social uncertainty, when people turn to community for solace. Is the stage set for a social influencer to tip over to full-on cult leader?

Brands as cult proxies. As brands scramble to gain reach by connecting themselves to influencers, the next iteration could be brands becoming religious proxies or cults in their own right. By borrowing mechanics used by influencers, they can achieve this.

Take a position. Brands must be willing to address the rise in social media cults — by either supporting or condemning — there will be no ignoring it.

Segmentation is dead. Brands need to rethink old-fashioned segmentation and bland, homogenous messaging. Think smaller about your community and prepare to get radical about shared issues.

Thanks for reading.


Backslash is a cultural insight studio that brings cultural…

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