This isn’t going to be ‘the year of’ anything

This isn’t going to be ‘the year of’ anything

Looking back on 10 years of trends forecasting can help us make sense of the future.

It’s that time of year again. Throughout January, the ad industry will be gazing into its collective crystal ball and trying to predict the future.

2024 marks the 10th year that Mindshare has produced a Trends report. We have discovered that the ideal methodology is to combine both industry and consumer perspectives. Alongside our in-house specialist teams, over 30 media partners highlighted what they will be working on in 2024. We then surveyed over 1,500 people to gauge changing consumer opinion and behaviours around these topics.

This year, we decided to mark a decade of trends by taking a look back to remind ourselves of all that’s happened. We analysed what we got right and, perhaps more importantly, what we got wrong and what we have learned.

The big picture

While it’s fun to reminisce about BlackBerry, Vine, Google Glass and Amazon Dash buttons, the real benefit of having access to 10 years of insights and data is that it offers us the opportunity to look at the bigger picture.

Improvements to connectivity have driven innovations. Cast your mind back to 2016, when Instagram was launching Stories and the first AirPods were hitting the market, our report looked at how slow mobile internet speed was encouraging the public to ad-block. Fast forward to 2020 and we talked about how 5G was starting to create waves.

In the time we’ve been writing Trends, online shopping and mobile commerce have exploded. We’ve seen the emergence of “showrooming” and “webrooming”, the dominance of online reviews and the growth of augmented-reality visualisation tools.  We have seen retail media become the fastest-growing digital advertising medium.

Every media channel has been disrupted. Take social media. When we started writing Trends, Facebook and Twitter ruled the space. Then WhatsApp, Instagram and Snap started to gain traction with younger audiences. All went through significant change, as they introduced things such as the algorithmic feed (in 2016). Then came the launch of TikTok and everything flipped. Bring on the creator economy, the migration to short-form video and every brand trying to establish its niche.

What have we learned?

People’s perceptions of their tech use and media consumption are not always accurate. Ask the public about smartphone penetration 10 years ago and they will recall the reality of more like 20 years ago. Most will say that not all family members had them and they didn’t spend much time on them. In fact, in 2015, around 70% of adults had smartphones and things like online banking were well-established. Likewise, people don’t recall tablets “being a thing” 10 years ago when in fact the iPad had launched four years previously.

The same is true when looking at the future. When we started Trends, nobody highlighted that they had a TikTok-shaped hole in their lives. Today, it has over 1bn users.

Status: it’s complicated

We’ve watched technology and media developments evolve over time. In hindsight, some trends have taken more time than expected to really hit home — think social commerce, AR, speech to text and smart home technology. Sometimes, the tech just doesn’t meet consumer expectations — voice and virtual assistants would fall into this category, but this could all change with generative AI. Sometimes, it can simply be a case of right tech, wrong time.

Society, politics and the economy all have a significant impact on technology adoption too. The QR code was a solution looking for a problem until the Covid-19 pandemic. But Covid is only the most extreme example.

When trying to predict the future today, we need to ask ourselves what impact the cost-of-living crisis is having on people buying new technology or what declining trust in institutions means for our audiences’ social media usage.

As a result, it can take multiple attempts for an innovation to find its final form. If QR codes can come into their own, who is to say that the time won’t be right for the metaverse, non-fungible tokens, 5G, cryptocurrency or delivery drones to reach mass market in the next 10 years?

At the same time, it’s important to hold your hands up when predictions look to have been incorrect — smart shelves and connected FMCG products have taught us that just because you can connect everything to the internet, it doesn’t mean you should.

All this means that anyone predicting the future should beware “the year of” anything. Whether it’s mobile, short-form video or retail media, behaviours are developed and enriched over time. Keep in mind Amara’s Law — that “people tend to overestimate the short-term impact of new technologies while underestimating their long-term effects”. Some trends can have an immediate impact, while others are stepping stones. Telling the difference between a new development and a paradigm shift is tricky.

One prediction: the next 10 years will be different to the last 10

Looking ahead, we’re already seeing a tonal shift. If the last 10 years saw tech bros “moving fast and breaking things”, there is a growing awareness that in the next 10 years we need to fix things — or at least handle them with care.

In an era characterised by global political, social and economic instability, carelessly throwing AI and deepfakes into the mix could impact our lives in ways that nobody fully understands.

Trends forecasting isn’t just about prediction. It’s a way of understanding the current media, marketing and tech landscape and thinking about how we can react, shape and contribute in a positive way.

Sophie Harding is the head of futures and innovation at Mindshare. Contact Sophie if you would like to read the full report. 

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