In a chaotic cultural landscape, Crowd’s Rachel Rapp and Amy Nicholson present three mindsets that create opportunity in uncertainty…

The last few years have been turbulent across the globe. From climate paralysis and political fatigue, to the cost-of-living crisis and the impact of AI, chaos has become the new normal. Finding what’s good in permacrisis – Collins’s Dictionary word of the year, 2022 – can feel overwhelming.

Luckily, at Crowd DNA, we’re partial to a bit of chaos. As our fundamental human needs shift in response to uncertainty, how we interact with brands also changes, and we think that creates opportunity. Using trends analysis, semiotics and conversations with our KIN network, we’ve identified three mindsets that brands can adopt to make sense of the mayhem. These are: hand holding, distracting, or embracing uncertainty. 

You can get a taste of how to execute against each mindset below. It’s our introduction to how brands can show up for consumers in these incalculable times. There are certainly more mindsets out there to be defined – but we hope these begin to inspire you to think about what’s right for your brand. 

Three Mindsets To Meet Shifting Human Behaviour In Uncertain Times

1. Hand Holding 

Hand holding plays into our human needs for comfort and security. The trick is to offer reassurance and stability by grounding your brand’s touch points with scenes of everyday reality, universal experiences and simple language. While we typically see hand holding in fintech, banking and insurance (industries that are looking to support consumers during the cost-of-living crisis), we’re now seeing brands from other categories presenting themselves as reassuring and stable, too.

Hand Holding: How To…

_Dial up references to familiar rituals. We see this mindset in the Food Love Stories campaign from UK supermarket chain Tesco, emphasising everyday realities – eg a family barbecue. Meanwhile, at London Fashion Week, Burberry took over a London cafe to serve up comfort food (a surprising collision of egg and chips and designer fashion). Both brands are speaking to the need for security through relatability. 

_Incorporate community values and the idea of coming together. The Levi’s 2023 campaign was about people gathering at a funeral in their trusty 501 jeans, with themes of togetherness, support, and to give a sense of belonging.

_Offer a casual, friendly tone of voice. Ganni’s use of informal emoticons suggests a relatable, peer-to-peer relationship with consumers, while Ikea’s language of togetherness creates a sense of camaraderie that cultivates trust and connection.

2. Distraction 

There’s often a craving for distraction from the uncertainty, and brands can offer this with momentary escape. Playing with time – harking back to simpler eras, using nostalgia, or transporting us toward a brighter future – are key tropes within this mindset. After all, an escape from the present is the ultimate distraction from uncertain times. 

Distraction: How To…

_Emphasise intentionally retro aesthetics and allude to nostalgia. The latest design for toaster pastries, Pop-Tarts, is a nostalgia trip back to their iconic 1960s packaging, allowing consumers to be distracted from uncertain times with comforting memories of the past.

_Tap into the surreal. The wellbeing supplement brand, Dirtea, evokes dreamscape imagery that defies reality with a product that actually levitates and positions itself as a portal to a utopian world that distracts from the uncertain present by letting consumers escape.

_Reference futurism through digitised worlds. Coca Cola has catapulted us to the year 3000 with their new release that allows a taste of the future, created using AI, all while using 2023’s Colour of the Year: Digital Lavender. This emphasis on futurist realities invites us to disengage from the present moment.

3. Embracing

This is where brands are really getting stuck into the mess by either doubling down on difficult topics, or making light of uncertainty with relatable humour. Here, we see brands lean into the chaos, by being on the consumer’s side as they find light in the darkness. And, in the more extreme examples, challenging the status quo by forcing the audience to confront an uncomfortable and uncertain future. 

Embracing: How To…

_Get people laughing by playing with the bizarre. Heinz has released its first global ad campaign in 150 years celebrating ‘irrational love’ for the brand, like the idea of putting ketchup on ice-cream, or Heinz tattoos. Elsewhere, product comparison website, Compare The Market uses a witty tone of voice to parody the temperamental British weather. Both are finding humour in the unpredictable.

_Lean into the confrontational and uncomfortable. Balenciaga’s Mud S/S 2023 showcased a dirty, post-apocalyptic world, while Isamaya Beauty has recently presented an extreme otherworldly makeup style. These encourage us to rethink our current way of living by physically immersing us in the darker side of uncertainty.

_Reframe the narrative around uncertainty. The travel planner service, Journee Trips, plays with the language of excitement and mystery to maximise the idea of discovery and adventure; celebrating not knowing your destination until you reach the airport.

Which uncertainty mindset best fits your brand? Or do you tap into another mindset altogether during these turbulent times? To find out more about the opportunities within chaos, please get in touch.

Thurs October 5 at 1pm & 5pm BST / 12pm & 5pm EST. RSVP by clicking the first session here and the second session here.

Everything’s A Mess... a webinar on how brands can navigate uncertainty 

As you may have noticed, it’s been a turbulent few years. Shocks of uncertainty feel like they’re coming more seismically and frequently than ever (though, spoiler alert: things have always been uncertain) leaving us, and brands, and consumers in a constant state of flux. 

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. There is good to come from uncertainty, and in chaos lies opportunity. So, how can you find a way through? 

What should brands do or not do? Are you a hand holder, facilitator of escapism, or relatable realist – and what’s right for your brand?

At Crowd DNA we’re all about embracing the messiness of culture. It’s where we think brands can really thrive, and we relish our role as specialists in navigating unknowns. In this webinar we’ll:

_Discover how uncertainty can be a motivator for both consumers and brands

_Explore the human needs that are heightened in response to instability

_Use our trends and semiotics expertise to provide guidance on how brands can speak to these needs, across visuals, language and more

Join Rachel Rapp, futures director, and Amy Nicholson, associate director, futures, on Thurs October 5 to get stuck into the mess.

RSVP by clicking 1pm BST / 8am EST here and 5pm / 12pm EST here.

This Nan Can

An opportunity in sport apparel for women is being missed. Crowd DNA editor Jennifer Robinson looks at how to win with the older woman who seeks out active fitness…

Our latest report Reframing Ageing: APAC shows what is changing for the older person, and what they want from products and campaigns. We see this as the ‘reframing, reassessing and reclaiming’ of what ageing feels like. 

Download Reframing Ageing: APAC here.

There’s lots to get to know about ageing reframed, but one cohort being overlooked is the 50-plus active woman. We don’t find her on the activewear shop floor. There’s no major menopausal woman range – a natural addition to sport brands that have developed maternity, teen or plus-sized ranges. In campaigns for active women, the athletic older woman isn’t featured: Nike’s ‘Year of the Woman’ launched in Spring without her. She isn’t placed in inclusive ranges, either: not in the adidas new Collective Power or recent Athleta ranges – all of which has otherwise a great record for diversity.

Apparel brands have made great strides in inclusivity, and older active women can be a bigger part of this. So what’s next? Here is how to win with the 50-plus active woman, and to really show that activewear can fit all stages of life. 

Your Body Is Never The Same

There’s an athletic body in there as a woman gets into her fifties, it has just been transformed by menopause. Earlier this year, Nike launched leak proof period shorts: which is great for helping teenage girls feel comfortable doing sport. But similar technical changes to sports wear could be made for menopausal women: who may experience menstrual ‘flooding’; sweating; weight gain around the middle. Who wants a higher neckline for breast support. Or material that ameliorates against chaffing. There are innovative designs that are helping the menopausal body in sport, for example the US clothing brand, Become, that has developed Anti-Flush Technology™, which absorbs heat from the surface of the skin when it gets hot, then releases warmth back onto the body during the chill that follows.

Celebrating Last Place 

A few years ago, Nike launched CruzrOne – a sneaker for the slower runner. It arrived with compelling marketing (even more than usual…). The product, we saw in the advert, originated for company co-founder, Phil Knight – “a slow runner – and that’s me,” he said. What he didn’t say was that he’s over 80 years old. This is a product designed to appeal to older people but marketed focused on actual needs not assumed age – it’s for “all those cruisers” out there – could be 80+ or 20. It’s a product for the active stage you’re at right now – very, very slow running – not your age. It doesn’t make the customer feel their age when buying. Sounds great, right?

Deakin and Blue swimwear is inclusive of all ages

What Is Her Experience?

In our report Reframing Ageing we looked at how life doesn’t stop at 50. And nor does exercise – though how you experience it does change. One successful UK active apparel brand, Deakin and Blue, really leans into this with their uplifting Swinspiration pages, which reframes sporting achievements from physical wins to a candid, honest look at life as an active older woman – often now about wellbeing as much as sporting goals. We see this in their web page section with contributions from customers: Body Stories sparks poignant responses by asking provocative questions, such as: “You’re standing on a beach in your swimwear on a nice hot day. How do you feel about yourself and your body at that moment?”

Support Can Be Sexy

Fijjit’s stylish All-In-One workout outfit

Sports bras give extra support, and are still available in the sexier styles. Where is the equivalent across other apparel? Australian swimwear brand Baiia has a product innovation in activewear with the world’s first four piece bikini, a flattering alternative to a full body cover-up (and modelled by older models, acknowledging their experience:  “As women, our bodies are often changing and adapting to the rhythm of life’s varied stages”). The UK brand, Fijjit, offers the stylish All-In-One workout outfit with an extra high waistband and a halter neck mesh bib to keep everything in place. While the US brand Any Age promises stylish kit that compliments and supports the mature body: “Spillage. Sagging. Support. We heard you.”

Apparel retailers have been leading the way on so many great products that help female body positivity. It’s a good time to develop that with the 50-plus women’s sport market, and reframe their ageing experience in activewear. It should be a big win.


How ‘zero-waste’ became the new immersive dining experience – Crowd’s Phoebe Trimingham looks at our appetite for sustainable haute cuisine…

City Limits Volume Nine – download it here.

In our latest issue of City Limits – our regular exploration of changing urban experience – we look at solutions to world problems in the food business – from climate labels on menus to floating farms. One of our spotlights on sustainability is the rise of the zero-waste restaurant as not only a call to action, but an immersive experience for the diner.

Cities around the world are full of immersive dining experiences. From eating dinner in a makeshift aircraft, to sipping cocktails in the cupboard of a pawn-shop; going out for a meal is no longer just about the food. For those looking beyond standard dining experiences, meals are accompanied by a spectacle. So much so that experience fatigue has set in. 

So where do you turn when all the ‘experiences’ have been had? When you’re served yet another once-in-a-lifetime theatre show while trying to eat your soup? You turn back to the real hero: the food. Forward-thinking restaurants in global cities are shunning the temptation for distracting entertainment, and letting the food become the experience again. 

Enter the zero-waste restaurants: establishments attempting to do away with food waste entirely. Here, the food becomes the focus as diners buy into the admirable attempt at fully sustainable dining. While the issue of waste is certainly not a recent obsession for the restaurant industry – lots of places have been experimenting with sustainability for decades – what’s new is the front and centering of the efforts, and the glamorisation that goes with it.

Silo in London, for example, is designed ‘back to front’ with the bin in mind (irony being they don’t actually have a bin, they don’t need one). All food is used in its entirety – think cured mushroom stems and yeast treacle. Any leftovers are composted and sent back to their hyperlocal suppliers. Like Silo, Helsinki’s Nolla (‘zero’ in Finnish) sends compost back into the system, but guests are welcome to take home a scoopful too – a different kind of doggy bag. It’s philosophy of ‘refuse, reduce, reuse, and only as a last resource, recycle’ is consistent, from a reusable coffee container and a composter (above) to not accepting food that comes in single use plastic.

Meanwhile, Mume in Taipei has a dedicated sourcing manager (rare in a small, Asian restaurant) with the mission to champion underrated Taiwanese ingredients and zero-waste cooking practices.

These places strive to avoid food leftovers, but also any scrap of rubbish. Rhodora in Brooklyn – a fully sustainable wine bar also ‘waging a war against waste’ – shreds wine boxes into compost material and donates corks to an organisation that turns them into shoes. Everything is transported on bikes. Back at Silo, plates are made from plastic bags, wall lights from crushed bottles, and ceiling fixtures from dried seaweed. This all-in approach to the zero-waste concept is what makes these restaurants a fully immersive dining experience – no gimmick-y entertainment required.  

But these restaurants aren’t cheap: they’re all mid to high-end. This is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, sustainability is definitely something to be coveted, but why is the experience of it not more accessible? Secondly, could the price points actually work in sustainability’s favour? Making zero-waste dining a sexy, high-end experience brands the concept as an aspirational lifestyle. Like the Tesla car model, fancy zero-waste restaurants could, in turn, make the thought of intensive recycling more desirable – eggshell compost and all.  

Saying that, it is a bit odd to glamorise something that should be an everyday activity. If people are playing at sustainability when they dine out, are they less likely to practise it at home? The very act of going out for a meal that has been beautifully prepared for you distances it – managing food waste becomes something to passively experience and admire, rather than actively do. 

Either way, city diners are hungry for new, immersive experiences – and zero-waste restaurants are a welcome addition to the menu.

City Limits Volume Nine – download it here.

Collaborative Cities

Cities don’t need to feel devoid of empathy. Crowd’s Olivia Anderson explores how safe and inclusive urban spaces begin with building for women

Urban mobility specialist Mónica Araya was recharging her electric car in a remote part of Norway when she had a thought: she wouldn’t have felt safe there without her husband. But while much thinking about the female experience of cities is rooted in functional-spatial concerns around safety, she acknowledged it can be taken so much further. 

“We will find that in the next 10-20 years more women will be running cities, which leads me to think; will this look macho or female and will it feel and look like a city that has new elements coming from women?

Mónica Araya 

While streetlights and street-facing windows can mitigate the problem of women’s safety, they aren’t completely solving it. We can consider what happens when you take values traditionally associated with femininity – kindness, sensitivity, co-operation – and use them to shape a city. How embedding a different value system could be the catalyst for impactful cultural shifts. And how to plan a city through the prism of the female experience can make space for values like inclusivity and empathy.

For example, cities can take into account a more modular mode of living with decentralised hubs and flexible, multi-functional spaces that make it easier for women to access all parts of the city. In 2020, mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo led on this with her hyper-local vision for the 15-minute city: urban planning so that people live, work and have access to all the services they need — whether that’s shops, schools, theatres or medical care — within a 15-minute walk or bike ride. 

The drive to prioritise accessibility in urban design can also be seen in the creation of inclusive spaces; Geneva uses female figures in road signs, and Vienna features LGBT couples in traffic lights. These simple acts legitimise the presence of women, and other marginalised groups. And here we see how attitudinal shifts can often follow these concrete planning initiatives – in this case, tolerance.

Meanwhile, ensuring diverse representation in urban planning at the different stages of development is a way to also avoid oversights that make cities inaccessible for women; for example, planners in Barcelona identified that the public restrooms couldn’t accommodate prams. In Amsterdam, there was a public outcry around the lack of sanitary facilities for women. Conversely, Edmonton in Canada supplies free period products in every public restroom. This kind of provision has the power to drive inclusion. 

Most persuasive for a collaborative city is knowing that if you get gender right, it can build empathy and emotional intelligence into the DNA of a city – making space for those to whom cities have historically been inhospitable. Improvements like more rest areas for people with disabilities, or better lighting, and facilitating access to all the things a city has to offer signifies that the city is for everyone. 

The social implications of empathic infrastructure have the potential to be far-reaching and to effect a more equitable urban environment. After all, our spaces define us as much as we define them. 

To read more about spotlighting safety measures for women our City Limits: Solutions here.

Human After All

It’s easy to forget the importance of empathy in the face of new technology but, as Crowd DNA director Paul White explains, for cultural insights, it will always be the star of the show...

In the world of research and insight, it’s easy to be tempted by new methods, new delivery systems and new technologies. And while staying current is really important, delivering great results always comes back to the core skill of qualitative work: empathy. 

Nursing scholar, Theresa Wiseman, breaks empathy down into four key attributes:  

 1. Seeing the world the way others see it

2. Beginning from a non-judgemental space

3. Understanding another person’s feelings

4. Communicating your understanding of that person’s feelings back to them.

A perfect place to start, but we like to think there’s a fifth step to this process in cultural insight work, and that is: Communicating people’s feelings honestly and objectively to the client that commissioned the research.

So, if empathy is the cornerstone of our industry, why is it so easy to forget? Short answer: we unknowingly participate in systems that push it out of the conversation. Consider the chat you might have with a food stall trader compared to a targeted ad telling you the latest lunch deals. Both are marketing the same thing, but feel very different. We can’t change the current model of communication, but it has pushed us further away from IRL interaction. Short-termism then compounds this with quarterly targets and the need to make quick wins. So we all stay on the treadmill, often unable to take a long enough view to address larger human needs and do something truly empathetic.

This perspective is intensified by a tendency to focus on the newest, slickest methods – because, honestly, suggesting we’ll talk to some people and build recommendations on what they said (yet again) doesn’t sound as exciting as whatever the latest method might be. In our opinion, as long as your methodology is answering the problem you’re trying to solve, you’re on the right track. No need to get starstruck by the latest eye-tracking, VR gadgets or neuroimaging if it takes you away from the initial problem – a problem which is almost always a human one anyway.   

Next, if we know empathy is in short supply, how do we build it in? It starts by remembering our own humanity. At Crowd, we treat our colleagues and clients like humans and create space for people to bring themselves into their work and interactions with participants. By being present and using active listening, we are able to develop deeper connections and quickly bypass the researcher/respondent relationship. There is always insight to be found by truly listening, seeking to understand and not being scared to ask why. 

Don’t be afraid to advocate for human beings. All of us (even global heads of marketing and CEOs) happen to be people – and looking for commonalities between yourself and your customers is key. When we make business decisions in boardrooms (or Zoom calls) with little view of the outside world, the people at the end of the process can be easily forgotten. Instead, bring real people into the room in any way possible. This could be audience immersion work, insightful videos to build empathy or literally inviting your living, breathing customers into your process. 

We must stop reducing people to their ability to consume products. It’s a false shortcut that does no one any good. People are consumers some of the time – but they’re people all of the time. They have lives, worries, families, goals and dreams. It’s only by being more empathetic as professionals and companies that we are able to realise this, and harness the power of cultural insight to add true value to people’s lives.

Every Wednesday morning we turn off our emails, set an out of office message and create three to four hours where we can focus on deep work. Here’s why...

If you’ve landed on this, the chances are you’ve received one of our out of office messages that let you know we dedicate every Wednesday morning to what we call Deep Work Wednesday. Not the most original name, but it does the job. So, in the spirit of deep work, we thought it best to quickly explain our thinking, so that you can get back to some deep work of your own.

Why deep work?

It was hard enough to maintain focus prior to Covid-19 upending the way we live and work. Now, video calls get booked up against each other with barely a bathroom break in between. Our calendars fill up before we know it. We’re sure you can relate to the feeling of coming to the end of a working day and wondering what you truly achieved. Our hope is that, by carving out these hours once a week, it will allow us the time to switch off, think and really sink our teeth into the complex problems that our clients come to us to help solve.

Where can I learn more about deep work?

We love this TED Talk by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi called Flow, The Secret To Happiness. Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work, is a great resource too. If you’d like to learn more about Zoom fatigue, we suggest this article summarising a piece of research by the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab highlighting why it can be so tiring to be in video calls all day.

When will you get back to me?

We come back online at 1pm every Wednesday and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. Promise!

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but a lack of human connection has forced us to completely rethink our love lives. Our new edition of Crowd Tracks opens up...

The fifth edition of Crowd Tracks is now live and available to download here. Crowd Tracks is our regular exploration of unstructured social data, uncovering emerging trends using our Culture At Scale method. This time round, we’re covering the fascinating world of sex and relationships, analysing relevant conversation and interactions over the last four months.

After a year quite unlike any other, the way we discuss and approach dating, sex and relationships is in flux. Following a Covid-staggered start of ‘can we, can’t we?’, many of us have succumbed to yet another lockdown of minimal romancing. While dating culture has stalled and the novelty of Zoom dates has fizzled out, people have been experimenting with new ways to find fulfilment. Whether that’s looking inward and practicing self care or navigating the burgeoning worlds of sex tech and science, pleasure will always prevail. 

The full report features:

Viral stories from around the world – from Jojo Siwa’s announcement on TikTok, to a new, openly-gay Indian podcast and the Japanese government’s investment in AI matchmaking

A language tracker highlighting the shifting discourse and tone when it comes to love, relationships and online dating culture

– An Instagram-based image analysis unpacking over 450,000 images relating to romance, revealing the most popular backdrops and colour choices

– A closer look at Lora DiCarlo – the brand on a mission to destigmatize sex tech with help from Cara Delevingne, with discussion around the pitfalls of inclusivity in this area

Trends analysis of the increasing presence of data and science in our bedrooms, as well as the rise of singledom as an act of self care.

Download the full copy of Crowd Tracks: Sex & Relationships here.

Culture At Scale at Crowd DNA

At Crowd DNA, we’re constantly tracking conversations online across a range of categories. We deploy social media and other unstructured data sources in a number of ways; either as a stand-alone method (including producing one-off and periodical reports for our clients) or integrated alongside semiotic, ethnographic and quantitative approaches. If you’d like to find out more about how we can use Culture At Scale to meet your business challenges, get in touch.