OPINION13 March 2014

The new consciousness consumers


A fascination with the macabre sets the tone for new consumption trends, says consultant Lida Huji?.


The underground scene that has dominated the mainstream since the start of the 2010s came to be known as ‘vintage’. It bubbled up in underground clubs, before gathering momentum to become synonymous with ‘cool’. From tea parties to 1940s-themed events; from burlesque to shabby chic – everything had to have a vintage feel, symbolised by the ubiquitous cup cake.

Initially, ‘vintage’ codes were used by market leader brands to communicate with their youthful (read ‘cool’) consumers. As with any impactful trend, the mainstream brands adopted it too, such as Virgin Media’s integrated marketing campaign with a burlesque dancer advertising annual sales. While there are still brands using the vintage theme in their communication, this trend is reaching its laggard stage.

Now, in the underground, ‘macabre’ is all the rage. It’s been building up into a movement for a few years and it is now ripe for bursting into the mainstream. The happy-go-lucky vintage attitude has been replaced by a more apocalyptic vision (but not to be confused with negative feelings). Rather, it’s a new aesthetic with a fascination for all things ghoulish.


Anatomical baking (see right) has replaced the cupcake; bones and scrap metal replaced the knitting and crochet. Beauty in decay is the new the pin up. Tattoo is evolving into body modification. These are just a few signs of how visual codes have shifted.

But unlike vintage – which was a fad – macabre can be seen as an early indicator of new consumption trends, relevant for medium to long-term innovation. To see how, let’s bring on the ‘mavericks’.

Makers, not takers

Mavericks, along with hipsters, made up the ‘early adopter’ segment of the 2000s. Together, I dubbed them the ‘new premium consumers’. United by a belief in being alternative to the homogenising forces of the mainstream, the new premium consumer set the tone for consumption that the mainstream followed in stages, from early to late majority.

They were the first to buy into what were then new ways of shopping (such as concept stores, farmers’ markets, boutique hotels) and new ways of communicating (collaborations, limited editions and pop-ups). All of these models were originally part of the innovators’ alternative lifestyles, who operated through webs of underground connections at first and whose ideas gradually started to spread outwards. Today, these are the norm.

As in the previous decade, today’s mavericks are acting in reaction to the mainstream. If the 2000s were defined by bling (brash consumerism), credit (buy now, pay later) and apathy (disengagement with politics), the 2010s are defined by recession and debt: the insurgence of the macabre underground is reflective of the sombre economic climate since 2008 and the questioning of moral values. An emergence of new alternative movements and protest groups is countering apathy.

The new mavericks (essentially, new start ups) are emerging in this climate as well, in relation to new technological developments that will shape the new decade. It will be a decade characterised by the rise of socially conscious enterprises. An army of self-starters, responsible for their own livelihoods, are developing a web of informal economies: they are ‘makers’, as opposed to ‘takers’.

Scattered all over the world, what they have in common is the belief in what Philip Lauri dubbed the “triple bottom line” – where the public and private sector work together towards a more sustainably profitable future. It’s significantly driven by business models based on various forms of ‘collaborative consumption’ and founded upon aspirations to make success not only for yourself but also your (immediate) community. In terms of innovation opportunities, the triple bottom line model indicates a shift from a linear to a circular economy.

The new early adopter can be located within this paradigm shift. They are the new consciousness consumers.

  • Lida Huji? is an insight and innovation consultant. Her website is tftk.info. Huji? is speaking on day one of MRS Annual Conference, 18-19 March. Click here for details.



10 years ago

Excellent article and perspective

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10 years ago

Great article! This trend is coming through on the US mainstream/pop music front e.g. Katy Perry's Dark Horse single and everyone is buzzing about it here so its just a matter of time before its influence becomes the new consumer consciousness.

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