The year ahead for… Trends

JWT MENA’s second annual trends forecast has uncovered 10 shifts in the Middle East and North Africa that are likely to be with us for a while

In our second annual forecast of MENA trends for the near future, economic uncertainty, social tension and a hyper-connected progressive Arab are at the centre of many of our trends. Our report highlights how in our transitional times, these progressive cohorts are taking on the responsibility of shaping their own futures, leveraging crowd-power and technology as the enablers of self-sustainable lifestyles. We also spotlight how businesses are responding to their pull, in an increasingly assertive consumer landscape.

JWT MENA’s 10 Trends for 2014 report is a result of quantitative, qualitative and desk research conducted by JWT Brand Intelligence MENA throughout the year and specifically for this report. Trends don’t happen in isolation. They tend to intersect and work in tandem with each other, as you’ll see here. Our future trend forecasts in the coming years will be extensions or outgrowths of our current day trends; after all, trends with real significance can’t be assigned to just one calendar year.

The trends we explore here, which we believe will have significant weight and momentum, indicate shifts that are likely to be with us for a while.

Fabulously Flawed
In the anti-climax to the Arab Spring, with little change having taken place, the once optimistic Millennial is adopting a more realistic and, at times, flawed reality. A grounded and more pragmatic urge; instead of looking for perfection, they are more trusting of what is simple, traceable and even imperfect. (Example: Rennie cleverly manipulates existing food adverts with unsavoury food hygiene facts that will have viewers scrambling for the indigestion tablets).

Truncating Taboos
As social and gender parodies become mainstream in the backlash against extreme conventions, consumers will increasingly come to appreciate brands that push the boundaries through honest conversations, more daring innovations, quirky approaches and more risqué experiences – with a more mature approach to acceptance and equality. (Example: Intigral and partners launched the first premium video-on-demand technology, circumventing the ban on cinemas in Saudi Arabia by bringing movies to Saudi homes).

Crowd Hacktivists
As consumers become more vigilant, utilising the wisdom, crowdsourcing ability and group clout of the internet to work en masse to find communal solutions to their country’s most pressing social problems, they will come to endorse brands that step in and become effective agents of civic and social transformation. (Example: Beirut’s waste management company Sukleen has launched an app allowing users to report overflowing bins and other waste issues as they find it).

Hello, I’m an Expert
In our overwhelming and hypercompetitive environments, people are increasingly finding one thing they are passionate about and making it their focus. As young Arabs continue to seek out, master and celebrate narrower diversions, they will breathe new life into industries with their ever-growing super-niche interest needs. (Example: Beirut Street Photographers is an online community for sharing photos and street photography tips. It fosters a sense of community through international trips and by hosting workshops and exhibitions).

Performative Retail
As the new normal becomes a prolonged normal in our hampered region, thrifty consumers are increasingly spending smart as opposed to spending less; wanting more for their buck in the relevant now. As the value exchange shifts from ‘price tag’ to ‘swag’, consumers will opt for choices that make their lives appear better or more enjoyable – rather than bigger. (Example: Red Bull took bar goers in Beirut’s hip Mar Mikhael neighbourhood by surprise with an unannounced balcony concert, setting up a makeshift stage on a balcony directly above Radio Beirut, one of the neighborhood’s busiest bars).

As Arabs strive to define themselves in these transformative times, they increasingly fetish all things retro and crave the commemorative – brand reformations, remakes and sequels and album mash-ups – finding comfort in the pockets of familiarity of a better-defined and more authentic representation of themselves in the past.  (Example: Tarboush, the famous confectionary that Gen X grew up with in their youth, that accompanied them everyday to school, plays the child-ticket for their recent campaign with a series of ads telling them to never grow up). What’s more, eighty-one per cent of Millennials worry that as the world becomes more connected, elements of Arab culture and traditions are being lost.

As Arabs increasingly support, be involved with, and fund products and services that interest them pre-launch, crowdfunding platforms will transpire as the new retail space, with brands capitalising on crowd conception for new and exciting propositions. (Example: Lebanon’s most popular band, Mashrou’ Leila, turned to their fans online for help recording their third album Raasuk. $67,073 was raised (102 per cent of the goal) via 543 funders).

Safety Solutions
As consumers in the region remain fearful of rising urban violence and crime, they will embrace new products and technologies that help them stay safe and in touch with family and friends anywhere, anytime. (Example: HarassMap mobilises people to fight sexual harassment in Egypt, letting them report incidents as they occur on an online map or by SMS. The initiative also offers support to women victims of harassment).

Prolonging Youth
Popular perceptions of ageing are changing, with people of all ages taking a more obsessive approach to staying younger for longer. As everyone seems happy to further this stereotype and medical advances help feed this attitude, brands and governments will need to ramp up efforts to help people achieve their goals responsibly and prevent the stigmas of extreme physical obsession. (Example: Want skin as soft as a baby’s? For their 15th anniversary, Silkor promised consumers they could stay young and smooth forever with laser hair removal).

As consumer readiness for digital transactions continues to accelerate faster than the available offering, digital platforms and interfaces are coming to represent a gateway to opportunity. This presents a challenge for marketers and governments looking to bridge the current content divide and engage with this cohort. (Example: Vida Downtown hotel uses technology that gives the guest the power to future-forward their hotel room experience. They simply use their smartphone or tablet as the control board for all the stuff they need).

Mennah Ibrahim is head of brand intelligence at JWT MENA