Dentsu’s 2022 creative trends report suggests that the time has come to think less about consumers, and more about co-owners of an increasingly fragile ecosystem.

Our ‘New Worlds Order’ dentsu creative trends report for 2022 identifies one overarching theme: a profound shift away from conventional centres of community, ownership and authority towards new, decentralised models.

Powering this great decentralisation is the rise of virtual economies, distributed workforces and a climate in crisis.

The urgency of the climate crisis is powering one of the key trends unpacked within the report. We call it Conscious Decoupling: a growing determination among a generation of marketers to decouple the growth of their business from the scale of their environmental impact. We also see a generation of talent questioning the primacy of work an uncertain climate.

Our recent dentsu CMO survey explored changing attitudes to sustainability. We found that 81% of marketers agree that their business will make a fundamental pivot in response to climate change,  from ownership to access, or automotive to mobility. Yet far fewer respondents are making the necessary changes today.

Against this backdrop we explore three sub trends within our Conscious Decoupling theme: Beyond Consumption, Collaborative Economies and The Great Reappraisal.

Beyond Consumption: We see the beginnings of a shift away from a consumption-based model towards a more circular economy, and a shift from a product-focused to a service-led model. Twenty-seven percent of fashion brands are now offering recycling schemes while 14% offer alterative business models such as rentals, according to the Fashion Revolution Transparency Index.

We also see this trend entering the virtual space, with a circular economy for virtual products such as limited-edition virtual bags, sneakers and skins emerging.

Perhaps the time has come to reappraise a word we use, without thinking too hard, every day of our lives as marketers and agency folk: consumer. If we look at the dictionary definition of the word consumer, it’s a little chilling: “To do away with completely, Destroy. To spend wastefully: Squander, Use Up”.

Perhaps the time has come to think less about consumers, and more about co-owners of an increasingly fragile ecosystem.

To do that will demand much greater focus on what we have called Collaborative Economies: the increased willingness among businesses to work together in what is called the “pre-competitive space”. This is a space where the critical enablers that make systemic change possible can be developed.

When we explored the barriers to sustainable change, we found the need for collaboration across sectors and industries was fundamentally important.

83% of CMOs agree that real change is only possible through sustained collaboration between business, consumers and policy makers. 48% identify lack of collaboration as one of the greatest barriers to change.

Enabler brands such as Trove and Caastle are paving the way for a circular fashion economy, removing the logistical burden on manufacturers, while brands such as Thred Up and H&M are entering the B2B space through partnerships such as Thred Up x Madewell or H&M’s Treadler initiative, which opens their sustainable supply chain up to competitors in pursuit of lasting change.

The third theme within our Conscious Decoupling trend is The Great Reappraisal. We see a generation of talent leaving the workforce at unforeseen rates. In August alone, 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs, according to data from the US Labour Department, while in the UK more than 56% of unemployed people are not actively looking for a new job, according to a People Management survey.

What does it all mean for our industry? The idea that 81% of our clients will undergo a fundamental pivot is immense. It is a moment for when our core skills become more valuable than ever, on three key fronts.

1. Experience: How can we take the essence of a brand or business and completely reimagine the customer experience with a mandate to decouple growth from damage?

How, for example, can we deliver all the emotional benefit, status and bragging rights of a real world product in a virtual product? How can we take a product which is individual today but tomorrow could be shared? Which is used and disposed of today but could be circular tomorrow? Experience design will play a critical role in making these behaviours not only effortless but rewarding and delightful.

2. Ecosystems: We can also play a role in bringing diverse groups of clients together for the common good. Uniting clients, stakeholders and policy makers to go further together than we can alone.

3. Emotion: Finally, and too often overlooked in the sustainability debate, we have a unique ability to win hearts and minds. It will not be enough simply to enable sustainable behaviours. We must also make them desirable and aspirational; make it aspirational to drive an electric vehicle, shop for vintage clothing, adopt a plant-based diet or holiday more locally.

Most importantly, we can create hope in a sustainable future. In a world where almost 60% of young people suffer from climate anxiety1 and it is easy to despair of the difference we can make, hope is a vitally important driver of change.

As Charles Revlon said many years ago, “We sell hope”. It may just be the most important thing we ever do.


1. Kantar Survey