In a brief overview of trends for the year ahead, Patricia McDonald, Chief Strategy Officer, Dentsu Creative, explores the modern dualities of progress and regression, optimism and anxiety, a shifting balance of old and new, technology and humanity, innovation and tradition.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”

– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

At the close of 2022, it was hard to escape the feeling that eras were ending – or beginning. Britain’s Elizabethan Age came to an end. The US elected its first Gen Z congressman.

As 2023 begins, we see both alarming steps backward as a society – with talk of power cuts, rationing and hyper-inflation – and bold leaps forward. As old certainties disappear there is a sense that people are writing their own narratives and building their own worlds, rejecting top down, homogenous cultural influence.

Our Dentsu Creative 2023 Trends Report identifies 12 trends for 2023 which explore the volatility and fluidity of the world we live in today; a world where storm clouds are gathering but where after the rain we may perhaps build back better.

With that in mind, we explore two sides of every trend; the best of times and the worst of times, the endings and the beginnings.

The end of monoculture and the rise of culture shock

As Western economies have stalled, traditional milestones, role models and aspirations have evolved. We see a powerful shift towards soft power and a desire to embrace a much wider cultural landscape as post pandemic consumers seek genuine cultural immersion. A fascination with all things Korean continues to drive trends across the globe while language app Duolingo has seen 1.3 million consumers seek to learn Ukrainian in 2022 as a gesture of empathy and solidarity. Meanwhile a generation raised in worldbuilding platforms such as Roblox or Minecraft are telling new stories and reclaiming old narratives.

Mental health in crisis and the joy economy

Climate anxiety, a cost-of-living crisis and political instability across the world have created a perfect storm for mental health. In China and South Korea we see the gamification of mental health, with a host of self analysis apps designed to provide self awareness and insight, while in many parts of the Western world we see deeply challenging data on levels of anxiety and mental wellbeing. It’s unsurprising then that we see in parallel the rise of what we call “the joy economy”, the quest for small, simple moments of joy in darker times-finding dopamine hits in the everyday.

Big tech unravels and meta diversity

After a period when the inexorable rise of Big Tech has been taken for granted, 2022 saw sudden vulnerability in this most resilient of sectors. Concerns over privacy, toxicity and misinformation have created newfound caution among consumers and advertisers alike. Conversely, we have seen a drive and desire to build a more inclusive and empowering online space. Embryonic social platforms such as Mastodon and Post are striving to create a more civilised debate, balancing privacy and accountability. Meanwhile activists are championing diversity and inclusion in the metaverse, as users seek to express themselves online as fully and authentically as they can offline.

The great opt out and the great outdoors

If 2021 saw the ‘Great Resignation’, 2022 heralded ‘quiet quitting’; a step away from the pressure and pace of hustle culture. As well as a dramatic reappraisal of the role of work we saw consumers take a step back from the performative hobbies of the pandemic years. Today rather than show off our sourdough, we are happy to chill, connect with friends and watch TV. In another significant tipping point, time spent online declined as consumers chose to engage in outdoor pursuits – with a surge in camping and cycling activities in China in particular.

Rebel without a filter and AI-dentity

As consumers worry less about performative lifestyles, we see aesthetics spring up diametrically opposed to the homogenised perfection of previous years. Rejecting the polish and artifice of “doing it for the ‘gram,” aesthetics such as #goblincore, #weirdgirl, #uglychic and #cluttercore embrace a chaotic, playful aesthetic that’s about personal expression not polished perfection. On the flipside, particularly in Asian markets, we see the rise of virtual avatars and influencers, with streamers and V-tubers embracing the anonymity of a virtual persona and AI-assisted creativity pushing new boundaries.

Handbrakes on growth and the imperative for good

Any number of factors contribute to a challenging environment for growth in 2023, with even those markets that avoid recession set to experience significant economic pain. Brands and businesses caught between a cost-of-living crisis and a cost-of-goods crisis may finally realise the urgency of reimagining their business model to reduce their dependency on the relentless consumption of increasingly volatile and unpredictable resources. The cost of inaction may (finally) begin to outweigh the cost of action for many, unlocking investment in sustainable change.

So what does it all mean for brands? It can feel just now like Dickens’ “Winter of Despair”. But those brands who can find fresh inspiration and connect with a new generation of consumers will find that the “Spring of Hope” will come faster.

Our report aims to help them there; to identify the small, surprising and profoundly human truths that give us hope that the best of times are still to come, and to identify what they mean today for brands and businesses.