“The Dark Arts of Trends” Recap

As strategists, trends are our muse — inspiring, directional and, at times, seductive. But, finding them can seem like a bit of a dark art. That’s why we apparated Rachel Mercer, Executive Strategy Director of R/GA and Nayantara Dutta, Trend Research at JWT Intelligence, to the R/GA offices to talk with us about the ‘real real’ of trends. Along the way there were a few (read: a lot) of Harry Potter puns.

Here’s the gist of what we learned, ways to dive deeper and how to run with it.

Best Bites

  • Cultural trends are like an amoeba; it puts a foot out, finds the richest food source and pulls the rest of the organism with it. Rachel gave us this visceral metaphor for thinking about how trends move from the bleeding cultural edge to the mainstream.
  • Trends are not binary, they emerge, some die just as quickly, while others go on to have larger implications. The “Trend vs. Hype Wall” , was a perfect example. Not everyone is in agreement on what a trend is, but that’s because their classification is more nuanced (i.e. emerging vs macro). That nuance should encourage us as strategists to watch & interrogate them before jumping aboard the trend wagon.
  • The edge of culture can’t move forward if it doesn’t have a hard middle to push against. For example, Names. Names follow the same flow as trends, they hit a critical mass (how many Ashley’s do you 90s-kids know?) and then people want to be unique and zag (heyyyy Appel).
  • Controlling the prediction of trends used to be top down (Miranda Priestly). Now, it’s middle out (we’ve all got the power).
“Today, the internet and social media are equalizing these viewpoints. Streetwear’s modern diagnosis is still contingent on time and place, but that “time” is whatever is happening right now and that “place” is blogs.” — Bobby Hundreds, Complex, February 2017

Go Deeper

  • Nayantara’s trend hunting media diet should satisfy your cravings.
  • Rachel Mercer uses “cheats” to stay plugged into people and get out of her silo. Convince folks to let you peep their social feeds. Or follow people around in the grocery store. Follow Christan Evangelicals on Facebook (or people different than you). Sit on the app store everyday (she swears she has a life, we’re healthy skeptics) :).
  • Book recommendations: “Hit Makers” by Derek Thompson for the non-fiction lovers. If you fall asleep at the mere mention of non-fiction, check out “Touch” by Courtney Maum.

Run With It

  • Next time you want to figure out if something is actually a trend, use Nayantara’s three questions.
  1. Can you connect it to a broader cultural movement?
  2. Does it reveal a new understanding of human or category behavior?
  3. Can you find at least three recent examples in culture/press?

(P.S.Nayantara’s fave trend right now is waterless beauty products…we’re into it.)

Steal the full deck here.