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How are consumers feeling? Conflicted

Coley Porter Bell - How are consumers feeling? Conflicted

From politics to the economy, social change to technology, the past five years have been a time of extreme conflict and rewritten rules.  As a result, we experience a whole raft of conflicting thoughts and emotions, not only from one week to the next, but from moment to moment. What’s interesting is how brands are addressing these extremes – or in some cases, even managing to play to seemingly contradictory demands.

Coley Porter Bell brand design agency recently held a ‘Design Futures’ event, looking at ‘Life in Paradox’ - a showcase of how brands are responding to apparently paradoxical consumers through innovation, experience and design. James Ramsden, ECD, and John Clark, Planning Director discussed three paradoxes, and looked at how, through design and careful planning, brands are addressing these seemingly conflicting opportunities.

In a world where we as consumers are living these paradoxes, how should brands respond?  As always, it's different for every brand - knowing your brand and its audience go a long way to deciding the right approach for you but, from the brands they looked here are some learnings.

  • Take a stand.  When consumers are looking for contradictory things, don’t sit on the fence; avoid occupying the ‘beige space’ in the middle.
  • Even better, don't just decide which side you’re on but look for ways to really turn the dial up, and do something that gets you noticed… 
  • …or try both sides of the paradox.  Smart thinking, clever use of technology and less linear traditional approaches all yield ways to square the circle
  • But whether you choose to go to extremes, or attempt to master both sides of the paradox, always commit.
  • Think about what your brand can credibly deliver, do what you’re good at, and do it well.

Key take outs:

  • Instant Vs Experience - Consumers want things quickly, efficiently and seamlessly, yet at the same time are craving deeper, richer and more immersive experiences. At one end of the spectrum we saw Domino’s turning up the dial on instant with innovations like no click ordering. At the other, experiential end, we have seen Ford transferring the experience of the Ford Max car to their concept cot, mimicking the movement of the car to lull your little one to sleep. Some brands have succeeded in delivering against both sides of the paradox, such as LifePrint, a device that instantly prints images from your phone, which then come to life as videos when viewed through their app.
  • Predictability Vs Serendipity – Technology such as AI, VR, MR and facial recognition now allow brands to understand their customers on another level – from when they wake up, to what shops they buy their milk from. An app called PPLKPR is an innovative, if slightly disturbing, way of fulfilling our desire for predictability.  It monitors your response to the people you spend time with - then accepts or declines diary invites from those that have either a positive or negative influence on your life. However, the human desire of serendipity and wonder are as strong as ever. Cheapflights have created EscEscape, where you can press ‘escape’ on your keyboard twice and it offers a completely random flight to take you away. Meanwhile, an app called Museum of Brooklyn plays to both sides of the paradox and offers a great example of how brands are consciously re-introducing humanity back into the algorithm to give us back that touch of serendipity. The app guides you around museums, giving brief information about the exhibits, but at the touch of a button connects you to real-life art experts who can provide further information and make suggestions should you wish for it.

  • Restraint Vs Excess – Minimalism in all walks of life (design, health and well-being to name a few) has been a mainstay in culture for several years, yet we still like relieving stress by over indulging. Fashion label Balenciaga has an ultra-minimalistic website that uses linework and typography to create a simplified user experience. This restraint enhances the brand’s exclusivity. On the other side of this paradox, adidas opened a pop-up shop in Berlin, where the use of full-body scanners and computers created an infinite selection of garments precisely tailored to the exact tastes of the individual customer. However, some brands offer restraint and excess in the same entity. Sony created a projector that has the ability to project user interfaces onto any surface. It has multiple uses, including assisting the user to interact with social content, games and commands for household items connected to the Internet. This huge functionality is cleverly presented with minimal interactions and restrained graphics.


Christina Davis, Marketing Executive, Coley Porter Bell,

About the author

Izzy Ashton, Assistant Editor of BITE, Creativebrief

Izzy is a writer/researcher for BITE, Creativebrief’s daily insight into global marketing trends and the cultural movements driving them. She keeps abreast of the latest communication, technology and consumer news, and is responsible for conducting interviews with key agency strategists and creatives to gain insight into the most innovative global campaigns.

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