we try to predict what the following 12 months will be like. And when the New Year coincides with the start of a new decade this urge to prognosticate is, of course, even more marked. The natural tendency is to extrapolate in linear fashion, assuming that the dynamics which dominate the present will hold even greater sway in the future.
But this is usually a mistake. More often than not, the trends of today are repelled by opposing forces: the conservatism of the ‘50s is replaced by the liberalism of the ‘60s; the anarchy of the ‘70s is overcome by the capitalism of the ‘80s; the waves of history shift by ebb and flow, rather than relentlessly onwards.
Personally speaking, I am glad that this is the case. Because as I review the last decade and look forward to the next, I find myself hoping for a cultural sea-change. In the last ten years, we’ve seen the rise of an ugly populism; the denigration of expertise and the advent of fake news; a widening gap between rich and poor; and a wilful ignorance of the plight of our planet. It’s been a decade of division, during which society has been atomised and individualism lionised at the expense of the collective good. If this were to continue unabated for the next ten years, I’d be pretty worried for our future.
But, despite some obvious indicators otherwise, I think the tide is just about to change.
Consider the facts
(you know, those awkward voices of reason which have been silenced in recent times): in the next 10 years, earth’s population is due to increase by 1Bn to 8.5Bn; over the same period, our planet’s temperature is forecast to rise by at least 1.5 degrees Celsius (and only then if we take significant actions to limit it); according to virtually every reliable source, our current rate of consumption is unsustainable and without drastic changes to our way of life, we will be facing a climatic, economic, and cultural catastrophe. So what’s the alternative?
Well, I’m an optimist.
While I know that there are powerful, vested interests who would gladly accelerate the destruction of our planet and the demolition of society, in the pursuit of a quick buck, I think the movement against this is about to gain the upper hand. And importantly, I believe that marketing can play an active part in this epochal shift – rather than be a barrier to change.
As long as we shift our collective mindset: from one of dog-eat-dog competitors to root-and-branch collaborators.
I believe that this coming decade will see people, companies and countries coming together, like never before to solve the world’s problems – because we will have no choice. Sure we will compete, but not to the point of mutually assured destruction. We will fund each other; share cars, houses, clothes, tools and jobs; use technology to combat isolation, distribute power, spread learning and leverage group bargaining. Politicians from across the spectrum will embrace collective strategies – although of course, the solutions will differ wildly, from left to right.
The philosophy of the East – where the notion of communal good has always been central – will gain ascendency and influence over the West. This shift will emphatically not mean the end of marketing. But it will sharpen our discipline, make it less wasteful and more socially useful. Brands will help us make better choices because it will be increasingly clear that we have no other choice. It’s time to put the years of division behind us.
Here’s to a decade of co-operation.
This article appeared in issue 4 of Marketing Society members' publication EMPOWER. View the archive here.