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What Are 2023's Top Cultural Trends, And How Should They Impact Brand Messaging?

Pointing to cultural shifts and forces that can impact consumers' mindsets and spending habits – among them ongoing inflation, job market uncertainty, new power dynamics in Washington, ever-evolving technologies, and social tensions worldwide – Horizon Media's WHY Group has identified the cultural trends advertisers should take note of when adjusting marketing plans and messages this year.

“In 2023, we’ll be asking what role there is for brands to play in helping the current systems work better for more people,” Horizon Media's Senior VP and VP, Cultural Intelligence, Maxine Gurevic and Courtney Mota, say in the Radio Advertising Bureau's Radio Matters blog. The pair also presented these trends during an RAB webinar. “People are tired but better informed, and brands should prepare to demonstrate value upfront before asking people to part with their already-stretched, too-hard-earned money.”

Two of these key trends are changes in strategizing and monetizing investments, and the fallout from failed financial, entertainment or communication systems. “Many brands are focused on short-term profits in service of investors and shareholders, but brands that deliver long-term value, or work to create a two-way value exchange with customers are poised for greater success amid market and inflationary fluctuations,” Gurevic and Mota say. As a result of the crypto collapse, they add, “People who haven’t yet explored new technology or are just starting to dabble in it are now less likely to do so. But at the same time, people often trust brands more than governments, giving brands the opportunity to think more broadly about the role they play in people’s lives.”

Consumers' move to a greater local focus in the wave of the pandemic and supply chain issues is another notable trend, according to the pair. “We found that 72% of adults 18+ appreciate brands that try to get to know their local culture and community. And since each city has a distinct personality, made up of connecting neighborhoods all with their own unique idiosyncrasies, a nuanced and insider understanding can help brands establish preference in a hard-to-win market.”

Even with an uncertain economy, Horizon points out that most people seek ways to splurge on what they love. “Discerning the nuanced differences here is key,” Gurevic and Mota say. “Brands need to tune into how different people are redefining 'treating themselves' because it’s not an equal playing field.” They also note that the current state of the world is driving more people to embrace the past, and brands may want to do the same. “Widespread financial uncertainty is leaving people reluctant to think optimistically about the future,” they say. “Nostalgia is set to become an extreme sport as brands, technology and institutions find innovative ways to recreate our safe space – the past. Brands that lean too future-forward may miss a critical mark as we see a surge in large-scale, immersive experiences that bring history to life.”

There are two sides to changing technologies' effect on consumers: willingness to let AI take over everyday tasks, and concern about big tech taking things too far. “Brands have an opportunity to leverage AI to help alleviate employees, clients and customers of the stressors their industries face to create a more seamless experience,” RAB's blog says, although it adds, “with 63% of adults 18+ concerned that AI will intensify, not help, social issues, brands must also responsibly manage, anticipate and address its shortcomings.”

Then there are consumers' adjustments to the faster-paced attention economy with TikTok-driven short-form videos, and the desire for making changes in their living spaces. “We found that 64% of adults 18+ prefer brands that don’t take themselves too seriously,” Gurevic and Mota say, “and as more people expect authenticity to come packaged in extreme forms, brands need to get comfortable with living on the margins if they want to achieve and maximize relevance.” As that applies to home, they add, “Brands that offer unique, modular design inspiration for mood- or occasion-based décor changes can win favor while also creating new shopping occasions throughout the year. With people eager to update their IRL [in real life] surroundings like they try out filters on social media, capitalizing on spontaneousrather than seasonal product innovations and experiences is key.”

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