As considerate consumption moves from consumer choice to consumer necessity, brands are shaping up. Game-changing sustainability initiatives seem to be launching almost every week, with big brands surprisingly leading from the front. Here, we take a look at June’s sustainability wins.
Leaving sustainability as an afterthought isn’t good enough. With an increasingly informed and compassionate consumer population, it’s imperative for niche and household brands alike to embrace the change.
Held in Sydney, media and marketing conference Mumbrella360 (June 12-14) brought together a range of industry experts from companies including Google and Volkswagen. During conversations on how to use content marketing and artificial intelligence (AI) alike to reach 2018's diversifying consumer psychographics, some pundits suggested that the best way to fix a troubled digital advertising landscape, is to have far less of it.
As the public backlash against plastic continues, an increasing number of brands, designers and organisations are rethinking the way we produce, consume and recycle it. In a bid to further raise awareness, the London Design Fair (LDF) has decided to spotlight the condemned material – naming it Material of the Year.
Returning for its second showcase, LDF’s Material of the Year aims to introduce visitors to the most intriguing materials in today’s design world. At last year’s inaugural event, the title went to Jesmonite.
This year’s show highlights how plastic is being repurposed in imaginative and valuable ways. It will feature the following four noteworthy participants, who are adding desirability through design and treating plastic waste as a new virgin material.
Material of the Year will be on show from September 20-23 – look out for our coverage of LDF in September. For more innovative approaches to plastic, see Evolving Plastics.
China is the last major country to require animal testing on cosmetics and skincare before these items can be sold to the public – but one cruelty-free brand appears to have found a loophole.
LA-based skincare and nutricosmetics brand Ceramiracle has emphasised its cruelty-free ethos with inventory-free, digitally led pop-up stores around China.
The company has partnered with the country’s largest digital platform WeChat to enable consumers to make purchases by scanning a QR code, which leads them to the app’s e-commerce store. The products are then delivered to the customer within three days from a warehouse in Hangzhou, a free-trade zone in Eastern China. In this region, goods can be imported, manufactured and exported without direct intervention from Chinese customs.
Ceramiracle is also capitalising on China’s e-commerce opportunity – online sales increased by 32% and totalled $1.2tn in 2017 (China’s Ministry of Commerce, 2018). Stylus’ Retail editor Stefanie Dorfer said: “WeChat is one of the most dominant digital platforms in China, and the perfect gateway for brands wanting to expand into this booming market. A strategy like this should be explored by other cruelty-free brands as they can bypass the country’s animal-testing legislation.”
Forty-seven per cent of millennials check whether luxury brands foster sustainable values before purchasing (Deloitte, 2017) – indicating the importance of considering ethical sourcing and distribution methods. For more on this, see The Great Beauty Green-Up and Doing Good.
Cars are selling impressively fast online in China, the largest auto market in the world. Total vehicle registrations are predicted to top 200 million by 2020 (MMTA, 2017), and young consumers are most likely to turn to e-commerce to purchase a vehicle – prompting local dealerships to collaborate with e-tail giant Alibaba to transform into smart spaces.
Maserati is tapping into the Chinese consumer’s love of gaming by employing a mobile racing game to grow its loyalty programme and drive shoppers to its physical stores. Running on Alibaba’s e-commerce platform Mobile Taobao – China’s most popular shopping app – it automatically registers users for Maserati’s loyalty club, and encourages them to visit the Italian luxury car brand’s smart stores in Beijing and Shanghai.
Gamers are required to take a selfie to create an avatar in the game. The same selfie is then used by Alibaba’s facial-recognition tech at the stores, where an AI-powered receptionist kiosk scans each face upon entering, delivers a personalised greeting, and gives salespeople a detailed profile of the potential buyer who just walked through the door. This approach aims to maximise personal data to deliver personal service. For more on driving footfall via digital channels, head over to Social Media to Store.
To satisfy Gen Z’s desire for instant gratification, Ford partnered with Alibaba on an automated test-driving experience in March 2018. People can access various vehicles without supervision via a giant unmanned car-vending machine in Guangzhou, China, by taking a selfie within Alibaba’s Tmall app.
Our report Augmenting Automotive Retail explores other ways that car brands can engage with shoppers in the age of the sharing economy and e-commerce dominance.
Digital gaming attracts a huge and powerful player base around the world, with e-sports battle arena game League of Legends enjoying a following of 100 million (Statista, 2017). With this number of engaged users, gaming needs to consider the diversity of its fans and use intelligent design to cater to different abilities and methods of play.
Xbox, Microsoft’s gaming division, has taken a step towards making gaming more accessible for users of mixed abilities with the Adaptive Controller. Designed in collaboration with charity organisations and gamers, the device is flat and rectangular – breaking from the curved palm grips of the traditional model – and sits easily on a table or on a gamer’s lap.
Two oversized A and B pads feature as a softer and larger update on the old model’s pointer finger buttons, while external input points allow users to connect additional joysticks, pedals and switches. The function of these can be programmed to suit the individual user.
“A gamer can game with one hand and one foot, or one hand and their shoulder, or even one foot and their chin,” says James Shields, Xbox product marketing manager. By offering adaptive controls and plug-ins, the controller is an example of how design can incite users to rethink conventional interactions and create products that are both imaginative and inclusive.
This push to serve mixed-ability consumers is gaining momentum across design categories, from graphics and lettering to wearables and ride-ons (see our blog posts on Inclusive Typography and Design for Disability). With 12.6% of the US population reporting to have a disability (Pew Research, 2017), there is a huge opportunity for brands to build on this inclusive mentality with accessible products that move beyond pure utility to excite and empower. For the latest gaming developments from this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, see Connected Play is Changing the Game at E3.
Scientists in Florida have developed an innovative colour-changing fabric that can be controlled with a smartphone app – opening up the exciting possibility of on-demand personalisation for a multitude of products.
Created by a team at College of Optics & Photonics (CREOL), part of the University of Central Florida, the smart ChroMorphous technology lets users decide when and how the change happens. Through the smartphone app, users can choose from a variety of predetermined colour and pattern options – for instance, a solid colour can be swapped for a striped pattern, or shifted into a different colour shade.
The fabric is woven using threads that incorporate thin metal microwire. An electric current is passed through the wire, slightly raising the thread’s temperature. Special pigments embedded in the thread then respond to this altered temperature by changing colour. For small-scale uses, the fabric can be powered with a battery pack.
Like traditional fabrics, ChroMorphous is produced on regular industrial-scale weaving machines and can be cut, sewn, washed and ironed. This makes it suitable for a variety of applications including fashion, accessories, upholstery and automotive textiles. Brands looking to create interactive and colourful spaces and products should consider the potential of this versatile technology.
The team is now working on producing thinner fibres in order to make the material smoother and more flexible, and hopes this development will help to successfully merge fashion and technology for seamless applications.
A new pop-up salon in London is challenging taboos by opening a nail bar for guys. Could it redefine masculinity in the era of ‘male beauty’?
New British pop-up Guys That Nail It is boldly reframing the beauty salon concept with a nail bar dedicated solely to men. Open from June 12-22 in London’s edgy Peckham district, clients are offered treatments ranging from classic pedicures through to more daring gel extensions.
The launch of the nail bar capitalises on the new era of male beauty, which we expect to grow in line with – and potentially overtake – the male grooming market, which is forecast to reach $60.7bn by 2020 globally (Euromonitor, 2017). Lisa Payne, Stylus’ senior editor of Beauty, says: “Although Guys That Nail It has opened as a pop-up, its success will indicate a gap in the market for more permanent beauty spaces dedicated to men.”
Another brand successfully tapping into the male beauty category is British label MMUK Man. It’s set to launch the UK’s first male-only make-up store in Brighton in July 2018, where consumers will be able to experiment with the 80-piece line.
These openings signal the potential of beauty spaces and services dedicated to men, with 45% of parlours and 64% of mobile professionals in the UK currently not offering male grooming treatments (Beautiful Britain, 2017).
Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious about their social and environmental impact, and are on the lookout for brands that are active in those areas. To support its sustainability credentials, US ice-cream brand Ben & Jerry’s uses blockchain to enable fans to offset their carbon impact by paying an extra penny at the till.
Ben & Jerry’s has collaborated with Maltese non-profit organisation Poseidon Foundation on an ice-cream parlour spot in London. Using blockchain tech, the brand is able to calculate the environmental impact of producing and purchasing a cone of ice cream, and gives consumers the opportunity to rebalance their footprint and actively support action on climate change by buying carbon credits. Ben & Jerry’s has pledged to buy credits for each cone and invites consumers to do so too – when paying at the checkout, the cashier asks consumers if they’d like to add an extra penny to their balance.
Carbon credits are tradable tokens linked to projects which offset the greenhouse gases created by organisations and are usually only sold in massive quantities to corporations. Poseidon splits them up into micro transactions, making them accessible to consumers. Ben & Jerry’s credits are used to support a forestry conservation project at the Cordillera Azul National Park in Peru. Since opening in May, the ice-cream parlour initiative has been able to protect more than 1,000 trees – equivalent to an area the size of 77 tennis courts.
A rising number of consumers are banding together in essentialist communities, with the shared desire for a more intentional, minimalist way of living. New York start-up Klein is set to appeal to these consumers with its affordable, self-powered micro-cabins that can be erected in remote locations within weeks.
The company lets people go online to choose and customise sustainable houses designed by architects from around the world. Within six months of ordering, their micro-cabin will be installed in any location in two weeks. Currently available for pre-order, its first prototype is the A45 – a 13-foot-long wood and glass cabin designed by Danish architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group.
Rising real-estate prices and construction costs make it increasingly difficult to own a holiday home. Klein hopes to change this, with planned prices for the houses ranging from $50,000 to $300,000.
The smart idea chimes with the Swedish ethos of lagom – meaning "not too much, not too little", which is inspiring people around the world to enjoy the bare necessities.
"We're seeing more people opting for the tiny life, eschewing larger, family-sized homes for the simplicity of smaller houses," says Kate Johnson, senior editor of Consumer Lifestyle at Stylus. "These so-called 'tiny housers' choose to downsize due to environmental and financial concerns, as well as the desire for more time and freedom."
Such micro dwellings also allow users to reconnect with the natural world – a key consumer desire we explored in Nature Embracers and further unpacked in our A/W 19/20 Design Directions Essence report.
"Artificial intelligence [AI] is a business opportunity, not a technology matter," said Akshaya Bhargava, executive chairman of investment insights firm Bridgeweave, at the CogX Festival in London (June 11-12). Speakers throughout the event were keen to prove him right, and highlight the need for every brand to be working with AI to supercharge their processes.
"Increasingly, you can't separate out AI and digital," commented Alex Willis, head of communications at the All England Lawn Tennis Association. "AI is becoming a layer that underpins all of [our work], not just a single activation." Willis described the way the Wimbledon tennis championships have embraced AI to transform the brand into "a data-driven media organisation" more than simply a sports event. "We're being judged on technology being launched last week, not last year – how do we adapt to that? We need to think about audience, experience and content," Willis added.
The Wimbledon audience is being served this year by hyper-personalised tools and services, including two chatbots, on-site augmented reality experiences, and SlamTracker, a scoring and insights app that's tailored to the type of fan engaging with it. "You now think of innovation when you think of Wimbledon," said Willis.
This is the kind of transformation – from brand to media platform – that we're tracking in every industry, from fashion (see the Kate Spade example in SXSW 2018: Take Back Control of Your Brand) to automotive (see the BMW example in State of Media: The Fan-First Revolution).
According to Dr Karen Croxson, head of research at the UK's Financial Conduct Authority, "the Silicon Valley view is thinking about [AI] as an engineering problem: how do I get an AI to do what you do? They've set themselves a very high bar. Better to think about how can AI improve what I do."
AI as a job enhancer was exemplified by the work AI solutions firm Satalia has been engaged in with British furniture brand DFS. Satalia helped DFS optimise delivery routes to ensure greater efficiency, replacing a cumbersome non-automated system with one underpinned by machine-learning algorithms that could adapt in under 500 milliseconds to offer the most optimal time windows to customers in real time. "Adaptive is key," commented Satalia's chief executive Daniel Hulme. "If your system is not adapting itself then it's not AI."
Allaying fears that AI could replace roles like delivery drivers, DFS's head of technology Russell Harte explained that using Satalia's technology has improved employee engagement ("drivers consistently get [home] on time now", whereas before they might have no idea when their shift would finish), as well as customer satisfaction.
One of the most intriguing presentations at CogX came from Ben Livshits, chief scientist at web browser firm Brave Software. Brave is a blockchain-driven browser that seeks to offer users high levels of privacy and a faster experience by blocking ads by default.
So where does that leave advertisers in this Brave new world? "Digital advertising is broken," said Livshits. "There are too many middlemen, there's too much fraud – an estimated $16bn in fraud in 2017, rising to $50bn by 2025." Brave's solution is to offer "blockchain-based digital advertising" to brands. Brave users are rewarded for their attention with a Brave cryptocurrency called a BAT (Basic Attention Token). "User attention is privately monitored on-device in the Brave browser," said Livshits. "Advertisers achieve higher ROI, better targeting and reduced fraud, and publishers receive BAT based on user attention."
It seems like a neat solution, although Brave has a long way to go to challenge Chrome's dominance as the leading web browser – Brave currently boasts only 2.2 million monthly active users.
See Cryptocurrency's Journey into Mainstream Culture for more on the potential of blockchain technology.
The Swedish manufacturer has acknowledged the huge influence of e-sports with a new collaboration tackling ergonomic seating design for a generation that sits playing computer games for up to 20 hours per day.
As revealed in Designing Amplified Experiences (part of our Active Lives Macro Trend), e-sports is big business, with revenue forecast to reach $1.5bn by 2020 (Newzoo, 2017). Ikea has long dedicated its creative focus to improving ergonomic design, and with gamers sitting down for up to 20 hours a day – sometimes resulting in sports injuries – the pairing is a logical fit.
The collaboration – announced at Ikea’s annual design conference Democratic Design Days last week – is with Swedish e-sports education platform Area Academy, and US medical wearable company Unyq. The latter creates custom prosthetics from digital body scans, which are used to create 3D-printed casts that are tailored to the user’s body. Ikea wants to bring this technology into its stores, demonstrating that customisation is possible within the mass market.
Unyq’s scanning technology will be located in Ikea stores next to its standard chair models. Users create a 3D map of their body, which can be saved and sent to Ikea with their product choice via an app. From these scans, Unyq prints cushions that fit onto the product and feature a lattice structure that guides the user into the correct posture.
The speedy and scalable production made possible with 3D technology is driving new commercial opportunities by creating custom-fitted product. This is a major theme within our A/W 19/20 Design Direction Burst, which explores how designs are being left open-ended to enable users to realise products that reflect their bodies, needs and creativity.
A host of streetwear brands have opened outposts in the city, echoing findings on the projected growth of the market as highlighted in our Spotlight Trend Sneakerheads Unboxed.
New Cult Brands Land in LA
For more on Glossier, see Streamlined & Minimal: Fresh Beauty Directions.
Read Floristry x Retail: VM Trend for more on the rise of biophilia in-store.
Fast-food chain Domino's is 'being a bit extra' with a roadworks initiative that ensures a safe final mile for its takeout pizzas – drawing branded attention to US infrastructure issues in the process.
On the Paving for Pizza campaign website, customers can witness what adverse road conditions can do to a pizza bouncing around in its box. To avoid such wasteful damage, they can then go on to nominate their own area for a visit from the Domino's road maintenance team, who will fill in potholes to create smoother rides for local deliveries.
"We can't stand by and let your cheese slide to one side, your toppings get untopped, or your boxes get flipped," said Domino's press release. "So we're helping to pave in towns across the country to save your good pizza from these bad roads."
Prior to the official campaign launch on June 11 2018, the initiative had already fixed more than 50 potholes. In Burbank (California), Milford (Delaware), Bartonville (Texas) and Athens (Georgia), where the brand worked with local administrations to fill holes in the roads caused by holes in public infrastructure budgets. Collaboration with local communities is key to ensuring the brand's assistance is welcomed and well-executed.
In our review of the 2018 D&AD Awards, we highlighted how brands can cut through the content clutter on media channels by surfacing their own platforms around community issues and spaces. Paving for Pizza is a great case study for turning a consumer problem into a point of brand engagement.
The Artisan Bar at London's Langham Hotel has tapped into the increasing consumer desire for emotional connection by launching a crowdsourced cocktail menu that evokes memories of life's milestones.
The bar asked 500 people what flavours they associated with particular events such as birthdays, moving out of their parents' house and retiring, as well as more abstract concepts such as falling in love, reflecting, and discovering who you are. The resulting 17-drink Artesian Moments menu includes First Bike Ride (gin, citrus, gangnam tops, lavender and iron sorbet), Going Travelling (rum, papaya, noni, cardamom and monoi) and Retirement (Grey Goose vodka, melon, geranium and absinthe blanche).
Artisan's head bartender Alex Kratena said: "Our wish with Artesian Moments is to create a deeply personal menu for our guests; one that can be enjoyed collectively, but still inspire an individual memory. It was our customers' experiences and memories that helped create these drinks. You could say they were there all along – we just had to ask."
This is a great example of how alcohol brands and hospitality providers can reach consumers on a deeper level – particularly millennials and Gen Zers, who are drinking less and are looking beyond the buzz when they do decide to imbibe. See Alcohol's Healthy Future and Marketing Alcohol to Millennials for more on how alcohol brands are targeting this health-conscious and experience-hungry demographic.
See also Vodka Brand Launches Clean Air Bar, 360 Sports Nutrition and Mood-Boosting Cocktails. For a wider industry perspective on how nostalgia, memory and connection can play into your marketing and branding strategy, see Retro Reboot.