The most important trend to understand for 2016

Blame it on 9/11, the financial crisis, ISIS, the media, or the frantic pace of life, or maybe blame the blame culture itself. A sense of unease pervades most of our days.

Havas PR US CEO Marian Salzman
Havas PR US CEO Marian Salzman

Spotting trends means tracking people, social momentum, brands, words, radical breakthroughs, economies, companies, and cultural moments — and it’s big business for people in many industries, especially PR, who need to be thinking ahead, for themselves and clients. By identifying the driving forces behind today and the future, brands can plan for long-term success and discover unexpected, and possibly transformative, opportunities.

Longtime trendspotters can tell you that some of the most important trends can be grouped into übertrends, to use a prefix that has become a trend in its own right — thank you, ride-brokering service that changed everything. The majority of trend reports end up taking a theme, such as maker or DIY, technology or economic behavior, because many distinct and important phenomena originate from a single root cause. Understanding that root is essential for deciphering its tendrils.

For 2016, Havas PR is calling its übertrend Uneasy Street.

Blame it on 9/11, the financial crisis, ISIS, the media, or the frantic pace of life, or maybe blame the blame culture itself. A sense of unease pervades most of our days right now. Whether we’re taking our kids to school or trying to fall asleep, we’re attempting to make peace with the abiding feeling that things aren’t as they should be, that threats are looming, and that people need to do something about it. We’re engaged in a constant struggle between staying in or bailing out. Emotional alarm bells ring endlessly, and we’re trying in various ways to quiet the din.

Stories that make readers uneasy seem to be thriving in the media — bad news sells, which is why groups like No Notoriety have their work cut out for them. In the worst case, it fuels a sense of being at hope’s edge, in crisis mode, and it also brings out all the negative commentators who join the trialogue and claim every form of conspiracy.

Whether PR pro or not, it’s tough for all of us to stop the clanging. For anyone with children, keeping them out of harm’s way seems to have become a full-time occupation. To add to the worries, though, it looks as if going the extra mile to look after them makes them more vulnerable as they grow up. Are they — and we, too — spending too much time with technology? What is it doing to their brains and bodies, and ours? Maybe we won’t know for sure for another few years, and by then it might be too late. And even if it turns out that technology is bad for us, it’s likely to prove a very difficult habit to kick; research has shown that each new cycle of technology is more addictive than the one before. It’s right up there on our list of supremely pleasurable but ultimately self-sabotaging behaviors, like eating the prepared and processed foods that we consume in increasing proportions.

Then there’s climate change. Many are worried about it, or at least seriously uneasy, while others have decided that everything is cyclical and there’s nothing to be concerned about. Either way, global citizens are coping with weird weather. We like a warm day, but as we’re celebrating the New Year, it’s deeply unnerving. Then again, what can we do about any of it? So we try to tamp down our anxiety. Fear drives us, yet we want to be hopeful. This ties into a trend Havas PR spotted for 2013: people pressuring businesses to do good.

More worries: Who can we believe on these topics? Whose opinions can be trusted? The tone of debate leading up to the 2016 presidential elections is only making answering these questions trickier. Does cutting taxes really make for a better economy, or does it just make rich people richer? Does wearing protective headgear reduce the risk of brain damage in sports like high school football, or does it make athletes softer or more careless? We spotted the trend of increasing angst over all things brain-related for 2010, and today discussing brain health is mainstream.

The underlying question raised by this anxiety übertrend is: how can we make our present and future more secure? Or rather: What’s the easiest, most enjoyable way to make our present and future more secure?

Businesses are rushing to answer that question, but for now, real answers are still elusive. This is why marketers need to understand the Uneasy Street trend, so that they can effectively recognize and fulfill opportunities as clients and their audiences strive to find peace of mind. 

Marian Salzman is CEO of Havas PR US.

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