Wunderman Thompson’s Future100: Ten Social and Cultural Trends to Watch



Greene and Safian-Demers took the #SMWNYC stage to discuss the company’s Future100 list, the evolution of influencer culture and Gen Z, and more.


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The world we see now may be very different from the world we see this time next year. Here’s a list of what to expect.

Every year in October, the Future100 is published by Wunderman Thompson – one of the main subsidiaries of PR and marketing agency WPP. They try to predict which social trends are going to take off – and define our culture and the advertising and product market – in the next 365 days.

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Two representatives from Wunderman Thompson, Lucie Greene, Worldwide Director,  and Emily Safian-Demers, Trends Analyst, covered a vast array of trends during their chat at #SMWNYC. Here’s the pick of the bunch:

The anxiety economy

‘Anxiety drives trends,’ said Greene. It’s a despairing thought, but one that has to be capitalized upon. In fact, it already is. Take the recent UK protests on climate change – they’re driven for a fear of the earth being harmed so badly by pollution and waste. Hyundai recently unveiled their ambitions to roll out their new disaster tech – a walking car-cum-robot called ‘Elevate’, which will alleviate the need for manual human searches in natural and man-made disasters, amongst other things. It’s a design that seems to stem from a 1980 depiction of 2020 – and now it’s come to a dystopian reality. It’s sad, but it works – and according to WT, it’ll be products like these which take control of the market in the near future.

A change in lifestyle

The second trend that WT is focusing on this year is the so-called ‘purpose revolution’ – a redefinition of what humans are here for, what makes us happy, and, with millennials especially, what we’re spending our money on. A lighter note, definitely. The three pillars that undermine this belief are wellbeing, self-improvement, and experience. Wellbeing is ‘what millennials want’ in the age we live in. That means air purifiers, cotton that’s marketed as organic because it’s softer on the skin – anything that makes us healthier, and improves our lives.

Self-improvement is a big one. The phrase ‘living your best life’ took on a life of its own last year. Whether it’s through financial gain or education or enjoying the simple pleasures in life, self-improvement is what we’re looking for in 2019.

Experiences include everything from food, to travel, to events. It’s part of our ‘aspirational identity’ to want to experience these sorts of things, and goes hand in hand with social media, where we can view experiences through other people’s lenses on a minute-by-minute basis, which only fuels our desire to do it ourselves.

The well-being part of it links drastically to another point later in the show: social media and mental health. ‘There’s a rising awareness recently of how social media can affect mental health.’ Apps like Happy Not Perfect attempt to allow teenagers to monitor their social media usage youtube and facebook now both employ wellbeing teams. A 2018 study by Origin of over 1000 participants found that 34 percent of Gen Z are quitting social media permanently and 29 percent say it ‘tears apart their self-esteem.’

The purpose revolution

Brands are not just there to sell products anymore. Under the constant scrutinizing lens of social media, companies have to do more these days. How are they supporting the world? How are they combatting global warming? What are their ethical beliefs? How do they treat their supply chain? It’s become more important than just brand image. Whether a make-up brand tests on animals, or whether a company uses plastic in their straws now can draw the line between the younger generation buying or not buying.

This links to the two ladies’ points later in the talk about the rise of an ‘ethical internet’.

Amnesty International recently published its first report about the treatment of women on Twitter – finding it was ‘toxic.’ They used the term ‘digital violence.’ The Feminist Internet in the UK raises questions about the design of the internet and the design of new technologies, like Alexa and similar home assistants and ‘subservient devices’ all being named after women. Is it sexist? That’s the issue they’re trying to bring up. Companies are moving towards and moving with the times. Apple has recently launched a billboard campaign reiterating the privacy settings available on iPhones. ‘What happens on iPhones stays on iPhones,’ they say.

Mothers of Ambition

In the age of feminism, the #metoo movement, the breaking down of barriers and the quashing of social stereotypes, it’s no longer acceptable for brands to assume. While in the past, for example, it was commonplace for mothers to go on maternity leave and housewifery was still a common trend amongst young mothers, now there isn’t a place or need for that. That’s why there’s been a trend – and there will continue to be – in which mothers post pregnancy pictures on LinkedIn – expressing the fact they’re pregnant, but that they’re not any less ambitious.

It’s not just mothers though. Males are pushing back against toxic masculine stereotypes and single people are experiencing a revolution in the way they’re treated and the way they and other people view themselves. Teenagers pushing back against unrealistic body and skin expectations. This, in itself, has led to a movement called #freethepimple, as every teenager experiences acne. It’s defiance against negativity.

Virtual Influencers

Some people may be blind to it, some may not understand the concept. But one Instagram account, posting under the handle ‘lilmiquela’, has 1.5m followers – and is based around the life of a CGI avatar. The digital campaign and the success of the campaign has led to Miquela penning influencing deals with massive brands like Supreme and Diesel. ‘If influencing is fake, why not make it really fake?’ asked Greene.

Other new marketing techniques include augmented reality filters to advertise products, such as the Adidas Deerupt filter on Snapchat or the Candy Crush filter on Instagram. They raise awareness of brand just as much as a billboard ad does. It’s the 21st-century version.

Greene and Safian-Demers didn’t have time to cover the full 100 – and here we don’t have to cover all of their trends. If you’re interested, check out the live stream replay on InsiderLive.

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