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Bates bites into recent changes with ChangeBite

As a follow-up to last year's report, Bates 141’s recent thought leadership report is a compilation of the ten changes that the year will bring centre-stage

Bates 141 has released its recent thought leadership report, titled ChangeBite. As a follow-up to last year's report, it discusses the top 10 changes that are to take place in 2009, and that have already begun to take shape.

The agency would like to maintain that the report is not a trend report. It is an insight into how brands and people can engage differently, via new products, new experiences, new distribution avenues, or simply, new language.

ChangeBite, last year, took a look at some changes that would become visible in 2009, in spite of or due to the economic slowdown. For instance, last year, the report talked about China moving “farmland to the world stage”. This edition, however, looks at China as a newfound superpower, using its status to overtake America.

Frederique Covington, regional executive planning director, Bates 141, says in an official communiqué, “For many, 2009 will be a tough year. But our point of view is that the changes will also present unforeseen opportunities for marketers. Previous downturns have produced vast swathes of creativity and many companies have flourished through them. There is no reason why, armed with the right information on change, brands cannot seize ChangePoints.”

Out of the 10 changes, the first that the study talks about is the switch from the decade of greed to the age of Obama. With regard to Asia, up to last year, lifestyles were sustained and ambitious development projects were realised with the assistance of borrowed money and unsustainable consumption of natural resources. Probably due to that, like the rest of the world, Asians are feeling the effect of a collective global greed, and have succumbed to the slowdown.

Barack Obama's victory in the US elections suggested the stepping in of an icon of a new era. In spite of media reports of gloom, the victory has given consumers a sense of positivity. Having a point of view, seeing a better future, and being the change that they wish to see is inspiring consumers.

Brands could, therefore, take a positive tone and adopt a more hopeful course, rather than add to the messages of crisis and meltdown. However, brands also need to put their marketing dollars against tangible action. Bank of America, for instance, could look at sponsoring shelter programmes for those who defaulted on their mortgages, instead of running a multi-dollar corporate ad campaign. By using social networks and viral marketing to support a cause, brands can ensure owning a debate, rather than simply joining one.

The second change is that China has emerged as the new land of dreams. Hosting the Olympics in 2008 was an indication of an emerging superpower. It is a favourable time for the country to celebrate its achievements and encourage local entrepreneurs, for instance, via branded grant programs, to produce cutting-edge ideas that will herald the new global icons.

The third change is that of moving from eccentricity to sobriety. The decade, where eccentric fashion tastes, design trends and eating habits dominated, is over. This year, sobriety will be the mood in everything from the colors and fabrics used by fashion houses, to food and architecture.

Brands can use this change to appeal to consumers by removing anything associated with excess in their product line, including packaging. According to the report, consumers gain comfort from images of freedom, nature and rusticity; and not in-your-face craziness.

Moving on from Dubai-esque luxury that is glittery, oversized and in your face, the fourth change will be in the luxury space, where it is the turn of luxury brands to introspect. In Asia, where the luxury market has been growing faster than anywhere else in the world, it is essential to understand the impact of the new sobriety.

With the recent downturn, luxury will take a new, scaled-down form. People have begun to reexamine who they are, what they buy, as well as what constitutes true luxury. Producers of luxury will have to offer more than fashion, aspiration or illusions of grandeur. Now, to justify a premium, luxury brands must rediscover genuine, timeless values, such as quality, craftsmanship and service.

To reverse perceptions of greed, luxury brands should begin to give back to society. This could be through preservation of cultural folklore and tradition, for instance, setting up a heritage centre that showcases product inspirations by local craftsmen.

The fifth change is the transformation from eco-chic to eco-cheap. While being eco-chic was about looking good by doing good, eco-cheap is a new form of green consumerism, more concerned with saving money.

The current economic turmoil is making it difficult for brands to command a premium for being green. However, the upside is that more consumers might end up going green with the objective of saving money. From selling sustainability or fashion as a cause to believers, marketers now need to consider equating green with value for money to attract savers – the new segment of green consumers that is likely to grow the most rapidly.

The sixth change suggests that the urban age has set in. An indication of this is that for the first time, more than half of the human population – around 3.3 billion people – is living in cities. Cities are more crowded than ever and their claustrophobic inhabitants are taking a stand. They seek solace in nature to escape from concrete wastelands.

Brands can set about using green spaces so that people get a breather from the city. From cinema under the stars, to rooftop garden parties and picnics in the park, brands should make use of urban gardens as new touch point opportunities.

It's about playing safe now, suggests the seventh change. While gold credit cards, luxury holidays, shopping sprees and risk-taking were just part and parcel of life, even for the middle class, consumers will be much more averse to risk in 2009.

Brands would need to offer consumers products and services for a low-risk lifestyle, rather than tease them with high-aspiration values. Marketers should think of new forms of insurances they can tie to their products, look at return guarantees, sponsor savings schemes and use better money management as part of their CSR (corporate social responsibility) efforts. It is time for brands to help consumers to save, rather than spend.

The eighth significant change is that of moving from attitude to gratitude. While attitude was all about finding status through consumption, gratitude is about finding happiness outside consumerism.

With challenging times round the corner, people will be seen looking for positive ideas that spread cheer. From CSR to upbeat advertising, green efforts to 'good'vertising, consumers will seek more empathy, generosity, positivity and reciprocity from people and brands. 2009 is the year when social activism will become mainstream.

Time to go slow-tech from high-tech, suggests the ninth change. Technology has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, to the extent that it is becoming a nuisance. Slow tech is the response. New products need to be simple, ensuring that technology complements, rather than dictates, the lives of consumers.

Brands should not focus on the bells and whistles of technology, but should sell simplicity. Time and time again, research has shown that consumers only use 10 percent of a given technology, due to its complexity.

It is also time for brands to challenge themselves to think differently about innovation. To consumers, more natural technology might just be the latest advancement they've been waiting for.

The final change is about marketers accepting the reality, rather than looking at only the second life of consumers. Last year, marketers were learning about consumers' real life and their second life, and how to communicate online or offline.

Today, brands need to embrace the new complexity of augmented reality. Brands can bring added value to consumers' everyday life by using virtual technology, games or 3D, helping to educate as well as to entertain them. The divide between the real and virtual worlds is gone; brands must not only gain a foothold in both, but try to improve one with the other.

Bates 141 plans to put in place videos on each of the ten changes identified and how they are manifesting themselves in the local markets. The videos will be posted on the Bates 141 website, as well as the agency blog and Youtube page.

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