Victoria Curro, R/GA Australia’s managing director, explores the changes taking place in Australian society, the effect it’s having on people’s values, and how brands need to adapt to meet a new rebel nation.
We’re living in the age of conformity. Soon, however, that’s all going to change. We’re on the cusp of a new revolution led by Australians challenging the status quo, changing everything and finding a better way. Brands that do not recognise this new, rebellious view among consumers and alter their own behaviour accordingly, may not survive.
The societal shift is outlined in Kantar’s Millenium Monitor which measures the mood of society by examining social values and community sentiment. It found that society moves through four different stages in a cycle: enjoyment, conformity, rebellion, and power.
After conformity follows periods of great change. The last great period of rebellion was in the ‘70s, when, after two wars, a bohemian society wanted to embrace peace and love. In Australia, this was also the period when societal attitudes towards gender equality dramatically changed; women galvanised their power and were granted equal pay rights and access to reproductive care.
Our own period of conformity is underpinned by Covid lockdowns where we lost our personal freedoms and consented to being controlled for our collective safety.The ensuing anxiety led to the desire for stability, which the current cost of living crisis is likewise playing on. Our time of conformity is marked by feelings of dissatisfaction and vulnerability, fuelling the desire for the next phase of change.
Today as a society, we’re very much overdue for this transformative period. For brands, it’s an exciting time. There’s the opportunity to break out from old-fashioned modes of thinking, try something new (in Kantar’s Millenium Monitor, 53 percent reported actively seeking new experiences), and help consumers realise the next phase of their lives.
Brands need to avoid the credible belief that ‘rebellion’ is only reserved for young Millenials and Gen Z-ers. Across generations we’re seeing a rejection of societal expectations and labels in favour of a path that prioritises individual desires.
For retirees (older Gen X-ers and Boomers) this looks like coming out of retirement and going back to work to achieve a sense of purpose and to contribute. Almost 40 percent of new workers coming back to work since the start of the pandemic are aged over 55 years old. And they’re doing it on their own terms, shunning the ‘9 to 5’ and creating career paths that work for them, whether through part time work or flexible consulting. Meanwhile, Gen Z are saying ‘no thanks’ to any and all labels; any constraints that society may want to impose on them. And in between the two is a demographic who’ve redefined their relationship to work over the past two years – quietly quitting and concluding living to work is not aspirational.
And what’s really interesting about this period to me is that it does seem like, at its core, everyone is fighting for the same things, which hasn’t really happened before. Sustainability, for example, used to be a generational concern with younger people pushing for change, but now all of Australia has taken ownership of the crisis. Today people want the freedom to determine their own lives, while doing it in a way that’s not harmful towards the planet, with 64 percent saying they “feel they can make a difference to the world through their choices and actions.” The same can be said of Australians’ universal embracing of events such as Sydney WorldPride with over 50,000 people of all ages and backgrounds supporting LQBTQI rights.
So, where does that leave brands? Consumers in the age of rebellion will continue to audition brands, taking the time to research and find the brands to purchase from. Kantar’s report found that 72 percent of Australians “appreciate it when brands make it clear what they stand for and stay true to their values” while 48 percent “believe it is important that companies they buy from promote diversity and inclusion.”
Meeting customers where they are
We’ve seen some brands meet this new consumer attitude head on. With stores across Australia, an incredible online presence and aspirational loyalty program too, beauty behemoth Mecca is showing other beauty brands how it’s done with truly representative campaigns. It celebrates people of all ages, all genders, and with skin and hair conditions that would typically exclude the individuals from getting featured in beauty campaigns. Playfulness and experimentation are at the heart of Mecca’s messaging. Leaving perfection behind, it’s a brand showing the power and confidence in the freedom to be exactly who we want to be, and redefining the very essence of aspiration in beauty advertising.
Brands can learn from Mecca. As people are looking for a change and making more disruptive choices, they’ll be turning towards brands to help them achieve this. Every sector has a player that is challenging the traditional, even banking – where brands are entering the market with a
different value proposition, not just a shiny bright card. Take CommBank’s Unloan – a 10 minute application for a new digital home loan that rewards individuals for years of loyalty not just for signing up.
Then there’s Nike – a brand that’s synonymous with rebellion. A company that’s used its marketing to challenge the status quo. It said let girls play sports, make room for observant Muslim women athletes, at a time when both messages may have been controversial.
At R/GA, we understand that an individualistic customer approach is the one that will help brands meet the new expectations in the age of rebellion. Getting communication right is vital – it no longer serves brands to see their customers through a generational lens. It feels dated and risks excluding groups from relevant messaging. Brands, for instance, need to recognise that while Gen Z are overrepresented on social media, they’re not there alone; Every 1 in 4 TikTok users is a mum – a channel that gives people the tools to become more raw and unfiltered.
I’ve been aware of the portmanteau word ‘flawsome’ for a while now – a combination of flawless and awesome. I love how affirming and celebratory it is of what makes us human, our flaws. Pretending that everything is perfect, when the front page of any newspaper clearly tells us it isn’t, doesn’t serve anybody. And when we’re so clearly now living in a society that is fighting against perfectionism and the perfectly packaged world that we were previously fixated on, let’s be more real with how we communicate.
We’re at an inflection point in history. That whiff of revolution in the air is manifesting as a reaction to rules, rationality, and tradition. Brands looking to engage meaningfully with your audience this year, you’d do well to consider the changing tides.The brands that don’t change with its customers may inevitably get left behind.