Crowd Shortcuts – a quick chat about something that’s caught our attention. This week, we're getting our teeth into cannibalism in culture and campaigns

What’s all this then? Last year was a cultural smorgasbord in cannibalism with films, TV shows and books having an appetite for flesh. British Vogue even crowned cannibalism: “The Defining Cultural Trope of 2022”. 

Hungry for more? Well, yes. Now cannibalism has been culturally accepted, the ad industry has begun to build it into campaigns. One particular success is using it to help sell fake meat products. 

Huh? Yes, so cannibalism is winning awards. 

Tell us all the gory details… Plant-based meat maker Oumph! won a silver prize at 2022 Cannes Lions Festival for its ad teasing a “human meat burger”. (No humans had actually been harmed). 

Meanwhile, Liquid Death ran a special Halloween promotion for their Vegan Cannibal Steakhouse delivery service featuring New Yorkerless Strip Steak, Guiltless Grilled Rack of Sam, and Manless Meatballs in Marinara.

As LOLA MullenLowe, the agency behind the Oumph! campaign explained, it was a way to convince meat-lovers that plant-based products could replicate the taste of any meat – even human.

We hear cannibalism is also helping save the planet? Very much so.

Bit of a stretch? No, the ‘Eat a Swede’ satire presented eating human meat as an option should we fail to act on the impact of the climate crisis on food supply. The Swedish Food Federation campaign won a Grand Prix at the Cannes Lion Festival.  Meanwhile, the “Ouroboros Steak” exhibit at London’s Design Museum imagined growing meat using our own cells and donated blood to also highlight the plight of the food industry…

Just to be clear then: Cannibalism no longer has us clutching our pearls? Yes, the cannibalism trope has been warmly embraced. 

TL;DR: Nihilsm rocks 2023. Or as put by Chelsea G Summers, the writer of A Certain Hunger about a female cannibalistic serial killer: “Cannibalism is the need to nourish yourself in a depriving, neglectful world.”

Crowd Shortcuts: Teddy bears

Crowd Shortcuts – a quick chat about something that’s caught our attention at Crowd. This week, teddy bears for grown-ups

 

What’s all this then? On the top of a cupboard, carefully stored away – maybe gifted on to a child – but adults don’t usually display their teddy bears. Until lately, that is. We’ve seen it from music’s most stylish Drake showing that he “only love my bed and my momma (oh, and my teddy bear)…” and Harry Style’s collaboration with Gucci featuring pouting pink bears. Plus there’s the ubiquitous teddy coats on the high street, the spike in TikTok searches for cockapoo#teddy#bear, and Thom Browne showing his A/W 2022 collection in front of an audience of 500 stuffed bears. 

Surely it’s all harmless though? Yes, if it’s for the Lidl 2022 Christmas campaign. But it’s not without risk. As Balenciaga catastrophically found out, there’s a problem with adults co-opting toys: they had to pull their Christmas 2022 campaign featuring teddy bears trussed up in bondage attire being modelled by children.

Ah. Let’s stay with bondage for a moment? No.

But is the teddy bear craze about security? Yes, of course being wrapped in a full length fleece is cosy. As is cuddling up to a soft toy or softy tufty doggy. And sitting next to a childhood toy rather than Anna Wintour on the front row is probably preferable if you are of a nervous disposition. But to be serious for a moment, it’s no surprise that the teddy bear is one of the items the Red Cross pack in their disaster kit.

So why are adult toys so popular now? As an item that can take us back to our childhood, evoking those secure memories, the teddy bear is standalone in its power. Adults are seeking out this comforter as part of a wider trend shift to calmness and serenity – as we also see in 2023 colour of the year, Digital Lavender. A teddy bear is a transitional object needed at a time when the Emoji of 2022 is the face holding back tears and the Collins Dictionary named ‘Permacrisis’ as Word of the Year 2022.

OK, now I need my teddy… It’s fine, go for it. And remember that cockapoos are hypo-allergenic, so that’s another bonus.

TL;DR: There’s no shame in needing a cuddle whether as an adult or a child, and if that means reaching for a teddy bear, then at least now you can tell the haters that it’s a fashion statement. 

 

In the latest issue of Crowd Signals, we step into the world of Wellbeing Recharge and analyse online conversation around Psychedelic Health...

In times when our resilience is tested, we turn to ways to bolster our mental and physical health – we call this shift in focus Wellbeing Recharge. Our Crowd Signals series reports on the trends in Wellbeing Recharge, and focuses on the potent developments in Psychedelic Health. 

The hard stop of the global pandemic gave many of us an opportunity to pause and reconsider the balance in our lives, while notions of collective – including global health – are now being confronted. This connection with ourselves and those around us is now a multi-layered endeavour as we explore spiritualism, tech-enabled optimisation, new-wave ingestibles and alternative healing therapies. 

Our third edition of Crowd Signals is now live and available to download here. This is informed by our regular exploration of unstructured data using our trends platform Crowd Signals, designed to identify real-time cultural change and future opportunities with advanced NLP, AI and machine learning capabilities. 

Using our Crowd Signals Hub we have identified seven trends within this shift to Wellbeing Recharge. This edition of Crowd Signals looks into one of them: Psychedelic Health. The full report features: 

– innovation in health technology with start-ups in micro-dosing

– insight into how knowledge about psychedelics is shared online

– trend analysis of psychedelic use from underground to mainstream

– our emotions tracking tool illustrates the role played by trust in conversations around psychedelics.

So turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out – and read here to open your mind to all the potential. 

Contact us to find out more about the seven trends in the Wellbeing Recharge culture shift, or to talk more about our Crowd Signals platform.

 

Crowd Shortcuts: Twinning

Crowd Shortcuts – a quick chat about something that's caught our attention. This week, twinning in fashion and beyond...

What’s all this then? Gucci tracked down 68 identical twins – some scouted at the annual Twins Day festival in Ohio – for their Twinsburg show for Spring/Summer 2023. This followed its creative director Alessandro Michele appearing at the Met Gala 2022 accompanied by actor Jared Leto styled as twins, their long locks flowing. In a hyper-individualised world, rebellion is to be twinning, and being part of a gang.

But I thought we are all as individual as a snowflake, right? Well… on the inside for sure, but this season, fashion wants us to be comfortable with dressing the same as others – in fact, looking exactly the same.

Does the look work? It certainly stops traffic. 

But isn’t wearing the same outfit a fashion no-go? Gucci doesn’t quite see it that way – it took the concept of sameness way beyond fashion and into a mediation on the ‘new normal’.

So it’s a new fashion rule? Yes, it’s not about being a trend leader. Instead, it’s about sharing your love. Or ‘co-belonging’. Alessandro Michele explained that the intention behind his casting choice was to illustrate a “rift in the idea of identity”, breaking down the notion of singularity, and wanting “sisterhood” to prevail.  Meanwhile, for Prada’s 2022 collection, co-creative director Raf Simons shared this sentiment on the catwalk – he described having the collection take place in Milan and Shanghai simultaneously as “about sharing —not just sharing imagery, not just sharing through technology, but sharing a physical event.” 

So twinning is about belonging? Yes, and don’t we all want a bit more of that right now?  

Anything else…? Well, now you’ve asked, the twins stomping down the catwalk aren’t the only twins blowing our minds. They are a visual on our potential metaverse future: our physical and digital twin, living (beautiful) simultaneous lives. 

TL;DR? We’ve always been fascinated by identical twins to look at – and Gucci has taken that and wrapped it up in a bow. But twin as a verb – to pair up – goes deeper. Digital natives are likely to actually experience life as an identical twin. So for now images of the twin are full of impact and potential that goes beyond fashion and into a fascination about how we will actually live sometime soon.

 

Crowd Shortcuts: Bad Beauty

Crowd Shortcuts – a quick chat about something that’s caught our attention. This week, the bad beauty revolution…

What’s all this then? People deliberately applying ‘bad’ makeup, posting it online, and dismantling conventional beauty ideals in the process. Think grey lipstick, green freckles and influencers glueing baubles to their eyelids. 

Sounds messy. What’s wrong with a flash of red lippy? Quite a bit, it turns out. Bad beauty is there to disrupt old-fashioned beauty standards and make us think twice about concepts like learned attractiveness. 

Gotcha, but how is it different from any other beauty trend? It’s more than just a new ‘look’. The question of what makes bad beauty bad is rooted in the dismissal of an entire industry. Although trends of attractiveness ricochet through the beauty world and are always evolving – there are certain rules that have remained fixed when it comes to the idea of ‘attractiveness’. Bad beauty bluntly rejects that with its absolute disruption of makeup’s dos and don’ts. 

Fun! Exactly, the rules are well and truly out the window. Each look is unique, and no one post is the same.

So the opposite of ‘selfie face’? Yep, that’s a good way of looking at it. Bad beauty’s irregularity jars with the uniform that we’re used to seeing on social media: big lips, wide-open eyes, and feature-enhancing makeup perfectly applied. 

I’ve just clumped my eyelashes together – am I ready? Absolutely. Just be aware that things are moving away from being solely concerned with defying conventionality. Bad beauty is also about inhabiting spheres of expression that extend beyond the limits of binaries and societal constructs (you look lovely, by the way).

Ah, so it’s not really ‘bad’ then. More ‘transgressive’ beauty? Sure, but that’s not as catchy. There is a shift, though, toward influencers applying bad makeup as a way of transgressing boundaries of gender, race and sexuality. It’s becoming more about expressions of total honesty, and the power that comes from ownership of personal narratives.

TL;DR: Bad beauty is so much more than aggressively clashing eyeshadow and offensively bright lip liner. It’s a new-wave beauty movement that goes against the grain and chooses self expression over conventional attractiveness.

Innovation in the healthy food and drink space is becoming more adventurous, responding to a growing desire for more complex, emotional connections to the natural world. Celine Longden-Naufal from our Crowd Signs semiotics team investigates how brands are encoding this new explorative frontier into their products...

Beyond the old oat milks and pea-based protein powders, we’re seeing a new wave of creativity and exploration in the healthy food and drink landscape, one that embraces a deeper emotional connection to the natural world. This emergent outlook is not only more playful, but also more complex, involving tantalising fusions of the ancient and innovative.

Age-old processes such as fermentation are being refreshed to create indulgent desserts. Experimental ingredients such as mushrooms and seaweed are enhancing our morning coffee. And even luxury spirits are breaking with tradition, toying with the alternative and unorthodox.  

Here, we’re taking a look at how the semiotics of this new frontier are playing out. We analyse how brands optimise these innovations to help us keep healthy, but also foster a sense of interconnectedness with nature. This, in turn, stimulates emotional and imaginative satisfaction, now part of any balanced, healthy diet. 

Mythical Escape – Isle Of Harris Distillery

Healthy foods are often portrayed as having a light touch, with ‘natural-ness’ encoded through minimal packaging design and aesthetics. Traditional ingredients are used as reminders of a cleaner, simpler time.  But, brands such as the Isle Of Harris Distillery are drawing from ancient magic and historical mystery to enhance the excitement of innovative ingredients such as algae.

The product is shown withstanding the forces of nature. It’s positioned among grass blown by strong wind, crashing waves and roaring fire, which encode power and natural invigoration in all environments. The imperfectly ridged textured bottle resembles ripples or fish scales, communicating an appreciation for all of Scotland’s marine bounty.  

The glass bottle and cork stopper connote potion bottles from childhood fairytales, and the luminescent blue of the gin itself resembles hypnotic bioluminescent algae, evoking enchantment and a magical escape. This is also communicated by the fantastical descriptions of the Scottish lands, from where the hero ingredient originates – ‘From the wind-blown seas of Luskentyre to the sweeping sands of Seilebost.’ 

Through these signals of natural mysticism and fantasy, the Isle Of Harris Distillery embeds itself within a vibrant ecological network, inviting the consumer to engage with a widened multi-species way of thinking. The brand playfully revives and integrates ancient ingredients and wisdoms to bring a sense of wonder and magic into the lives of consumers. Sometimes the way forward lies in the deep (sometimes primordial) past.

Surreal Elevation – DIRTEA 

Once a motif of earthy folk culture, the humble mushroom is having a wholesale rebrand, with fungi’s powers as a meat alternative and source of Vitamin D going mainstream. But some brands are going further. DIRTEA are using otherworldly and futuristic scapes to visualise how adaptogenic mushrooms are innovating our caffeine habits, bringing calm to our mental and spiritual states.

The warm pastel packaging and backdrops, along with levitating products, evokes surrealist, dreamscape imagery, suggesting a journey of fantastical escapism. Pristine and high-tech packaging resembles astronaut food, conveying an out-of-this-world experience. The intricacy of the mushroom’s structure also resembles the futuristic style of ultra-modern biomimetic architecture, bringing a sci-fi, almost surreal, atmosphere to the brand’s identity. Adding to this are DIRTEA’s recipes, which are named after mind-altered states – ‘Dreamweave’, ‘Supernatural’ Frappuccino, ‘Astral World’ – promising consumers a sense of elevated consciousness.

Ultimately, DIRTEA demonstrates how multi-species thinking goes beyond physical sustenance. By using signals of surrealism & dreamstates, and playing with the visual history of psychedelia, the brand positions itself as a doorway to “the beyond” – a place to gently stimulate the mind and the soul.

Contemporary Wisdom – Chantal Guillon

When we think of fermentation, sauerkraut, miso and kombucha are usually the foods that come to mind. These are simple foods that were made to last, and that have been passed down from generation to generation through ancestral wisdom. However, in the spirit of creative discovery, culinary enthusiasts are collaborating with art, science and each other to update fermentation, appealing to the growing numbers of alternative and fun-seeking consumers.

Brands such as Chantal Guillon are building on tradition, using modern fermentation processes to innovate the classic French macaron. Here, alternative processes not only benefit our bodies and environment, but is also something that stimulates our imaginations, breaking all category norms, from ingredient list to design. 

Clashing colours and fonts, from dainty and cursive to big and bold, suggest unhindered playfulness, where the lightly scattered crumbs suggest reduced restriction. Tie-dye patterns and shiny rainbow gradients connote mind-altering substances, encoding cerebral stimulation, while the seemingly un-curated product placements and bold splashes of silver on the food challenge convention.

Chantal Guillon are confronting and updating current aesthetics and behaviours, reimagining multi-species thinking as a space for exploration and discovery, one where all your senses are vitalised and boundaries are pushed. 

Lastly… 

Recent innovations in healthy food and drink and noticeable for their playfulness. Minimal and stripped-back visual languages are giving way to senses of exploration and discovery that border on the psychedelic. Simplicity is shifting to complexity, with consumers encouraged to see the food and drink they consume as part of an evolving and ultimately unknowable ecological network. Here, mystery, magic and ancient wisdom play a part, as do more contemporary trends for multispecies thinking.   

Ultimately, these brands are championing lifestyles that put people and planet on equal footing. Whether this is through flavour, texture or packaging, experimenting with the intriguing diversity of up-and-coming processes and ingredients can allow brands to transport consumers to new worlds of nutrition, which help them rethink their engagement with the natural world.

 

One of our Crowd Signs film looks to the act of playing, and how its powers can be harnessed to solve a huge variety of problems...

Serious play may seem like no fun at all. But far from being kill-joys, at Crowd we’ve noticed that play is being radically reimagined. This trend taps into the importance of play as an often overlooked resource for design, urban planning, architecture, therapeutic processes, and even decolonisation. No more is the act considered merely ‘childish’ or ‘silly’. Its explorative powers are finding new cultural and social applications. Play should stay playful, but we need to get serious about what it can do.

So why’s that? 

People are beginning to regard play as something very different from ‘taking a break’. They’re realising that, when people play, their minds open up and new, unexpected connections can be made. This openness can find solutions to problems we once thought irresolvable. Play is also being recognised as something that can teach both children and adults important lessons about trust, risk, communication and innovation.

What’s next? 

We predict that play will take on an increasingly fundamental role in design, education and therapy. Its powerful unpredictability and serendipitous discoveries providing new means to understand the world around us.      

Check out the video here.

 

City Limits has landed. This time we're looking to cities less as places to live, but as places to visit. With international travel now back on the agenda for many, destination cities, both big and small, are waking up...

Check out the full pdf here.


We’re careful right now not to label everything as post-pandemic. After all, for many the hardship goes on. But, in a way barely entertained for the last two years, actually travelling to another city is back in consideration. Meaning this felt the right time to turn the attention of City Limits – our ongoing exploration of the ever-changing urban experience – less to the places we live in and more to those we visit.

And so the Crowd DNA team have been busy making sense of the new-found appreciation of tourists that some cities are cultivating (distance makes the heart grow fonder). The refreshingly different types of relationship now forming between visitor and destination, often with sustainability as the guiding principle. Elsewhere, we follow the digital nomads to Dali, and pause to consider what Instagram and TikTok are doing to the way we explore. The home share trend gets a look over as well, as do some of the lamest places in Texas. And we send you postcards loaded with stories of traffic, pizza, cannabis, risking it all in 4x4s, and miscellaneous chocolate spreads.  

While we start planning for volume nine of City Limits, we hope you enjoy everything we’ve packed into this one. And if you’d like to hear more about our own work in areas such as tourism, travel, hospitality and placemaking, we’d love to hear from you.


Check out the full pdf here.