Zeitgeist of Now: Natural me & implications for brands
by Jason Stewart (@HaveYouHeard_SA) Let’s explore what I call Natural Me, the cultural response to working and playing too hard for too long, as well as the extreme health fanaticism of the past decade. Not only does Natural Me eschew 14-hour work days and six- or seven-day work weeks, it positively baulks at crossfit injuries, only eating tuna for a month, celery juice binges…
In a previous column (October 2019), I wrote about the anti-perfection movement, the backlash against the Instagram ideal and the celebration of flaws and asymmetry. I also discussed SuperPower Me (December 2019), the cultural shift that is an obsession with becoming the most-extreme, high-performance version of oneself, aided by technology and science.
With Natural Me, the driving belief is that it’s healthier to cheat a little and give yourself some slack, rather than aim for extreme perfection and living in constant guilt, unhappiness, damaging yourself physically, emotionally and mentally. Balance has bounced back and, influenced by post-modern values and a call back to mother nature, the intention is to achieve the most-real, -natural, -healthy and -enlightened version of oneself.
The movement embraces anything that brings the consumer closer to the perceived most-natural state: from hemp, yoga, meditation, psychedelics, vegans and superfoods to bulletproof coffee, the paleo diet, how to sleep better, run barefoot, freeze yourself to faster exercise recovery, or breath yourself to a stronger immune system.
Natural Me, naturally, has a 100% unshakeable belief in mother nature; sometimes this belief is well-founded but other times… well, the jury is out but Natural Me has closed his heart and shuttered her mind. Fuelling Natural Me’s stance is the backlash to toxins of the industrial revolution that permeate our world, and the consequent distrust of science and scientists. These consumers use Instagram and other social media channels to ‘badge’ and connect with liked-minded friends, portraying a lifestyle that is of the healthiest, happiest, sexiest (without stating it), accepting and open-minded, living for life itself (not for work or stress).
At the same time, mother nature and the environment are of paramount importance to this movement, particularly limiting — and possibly reversing — the impact of climate change. While most believe that individuals can’t do this alone, and that its predominantly up to governments and corporations, these consumers are adamant about living positively and making choices based on how it will impact nature. Of course, their beliefs are driving consumption patterns and building new markets, just as the supplement and vitamin craze sees people seeking out niche, hard-to-find ingredients from far-away places that promise results they desperately need or want.
This community is often a gullible or blinkered one, such is its members’ desire for more-natural and -utopian solutions. It’s often targeted by products offering miracle solutions, using conspiracy theories and pseudoscience to press all of Natural Me’s buttons.
The cultural shift or trend is also manifesting itself in ‘nature’ or ‘natural’ being brought back into all aspects of our lives. From greening our environment to using natural substances in production (shoes made from algae that don’t negatively impact the environment) and being inspired in our design by nature (Airbus last year revealed a concept plane inspired by the shape and movement of birds of prey in flight that reduces pollution and is more economical and higher in performance).
Humans are biophilic: we instinctively love nature and have an innate drive to connect with nature in form, feel and aesthetic. Research often states the powerful and positive emotional and mental impact of bringing nature back into our homes and our work environments. It makes us happier, calmer and boosts performance for a reason. Nature will continue to grow in its importance to us the more we realise how much we need it, and this will be a major driver for brand choice in the future.
Lessons for brands
- Consumers are driving the demand for more-responsible impact on nature. They’re seeing past the lip-service of the past, and looking into the organisations themselves. Brands now need to not only preach it but live it.
- Look for ways to make easy and positive impact on nature, to be inspired by nature in design and through how we touch consumers’ five senses.
Jason Stewart is co-founder of HaveYouHeard (@HaveYouHeard_SA), a full-service agency. Zeitgeist of Now, his new column on MarkLives, is inspired by the agency’s proprietary tool developed to understand the invisible but powerful forces that influence people, products, culture and societies. If we appreciate these, he argues, we become more-effective marketers.