Trying to predict the future is difficult at the easiest of times, but as we look towards another year of waiting for the ‘post pandemic’ future, the future has never been more unclear, but also optimistic, says DuBose Cole, head of strategy at VaynerMedia London.

Hundreds of 2022 trend reports and predictions were published as 2021 ended, but each has its own unique, interesting and often conflicting view of the world. It’s in these similar or contradictory views of the future though, that we can often find some basis for what may unfold in the next 12 months – combining different trends into macro forces to consider in the next 12 months. Trends can be proven or disproven depending on the market, consumer segments or brands we look through to analyze them – however, the forces behind them are more universal – as something we can take and personalise for our different brands, challenges or markets. 

So without much more forward, and with the caveat that predicting the future is famously hard, here are some of the wider forces I think will shape consumer behaviour in 2022 – as raised by 2021’s class of end of year reports. Respecting the work of all the different trend reports read, things are referenced, but not reproduced – so be sure to go and check out whatever can be linked. 

1. Reconciling post pandemic purpose

Talk of the Great Resignation & the subsequent Great Renegotiation are all universally discussed in 2022 trend predictions, as we globally consider what the world will look like while we reconcile the disruption of Covid across the last few years of our lives. As Accenture’s Fjord Trends cites, nearly half of the global workforce considered leaving their job in 2021 – with the continued discussion of the hustle economy and new technology tempting those who want to make a switch to do so – either within their current sector or out to new pastures. 

However, as written about before, the impact of the pandemic will massively effect how secure consumers feel and subsequently, how apt they are to change their lives. A change in post pandemic purpose could mean ‘van life’ for one, but simply working from home in their current job for another. Life stages will respond differently to a need for change, as Instagram predicts a strong redefinition of entry level 9 to 5, career paths and education within Gen Z post pandemic – with 63% agreeing that Covid had made them reassess their career goals. The sense of control and the rise of, as Trend Hunter referred to it, the ‘Work From Home Prosumer’ will be a powerful sub text under 2022’s discussion of reconciling the pandemic. 

Brands which help to facilitate life changes, such as Hilton’s ‘Workspaces by Hilton’ product or Sharp’s ‘Work from Home’ Technology bundle are positioned to help the mass make renegotiations to their daily lives. Alternatively, brands which continue to own the fantasy of the resigned and rethought life, borrowing the language of ‘No Ceiling’ (Lexus)‘No Limits’ (PlayStation) or a ‘Brand New You’ (Dubai) will serve to inspire those who might not have radically changed to pursue a new purpose, but will aspire to do so (as pointed out by GWI). 

What to look for next year: 

  • The conversation around home working shift to one about productivity maximisation, life work balance or how to make hybrid work for you with new products, bundles and branded advice.
  • A growth in travel as a way to re-evaluate life, with Expedia calling for the Slurge-cation, or bucket list trips that provide the ability to step out of their comfort zone – with travel companies and brands facilitating the difficult parts of this. 
  • A rallying cry or extreme examples of the post pandemic ‘rethought life’ being held up by lifestyle brands – with a new post Covid life taking a similar cultural shelf to marathon training or mountain climbing.

2. Finding balance

2022 looks poised to be a year about balancing risk with optimism for consumers – as a lingering threat of Covid habituates in consumer's minds, while an uneven recovery unfolds in the real world. Omicron’s late 2021 emergence highlighted Covid’s remaining power to spread quickly around the world – however it’s seemingly milder effects amongst the vaccinated and previously infected could be a support for long term optimism. The idea of living with Covid, instead of emerging from it, has taken hold and with it, a sense of how to balance health with normal life or even some long awaited hedonism.

2022 fashion looks to be the physical manifestation of balance. As Instagram predicted for Gen Z, Maximalist fashion will sit hand in hand with minimalist and natural beauty, amongst a wardrobe reboot (McKinsey’s State of Fashion). The bright bags and cat suits predicted as being in fashion by NYLON fuel a sense of what Pinterest predicts as ‘Dopamine Dressing’, dressing loud and being colourful in our clothing choices – which is potentially balanced by a greater focus on natural makeup, beauty and skin care and as GWI put it ‘At Your Best’

A balance in how we eat and consume looks to take centre stage this year as well, with an increase in natural ingredients (Bacardi), Kombucha Supplements (Holland and Barrett) and Low / No Alcohol Products on the rise (Bacardi / Hilton) balancing out enjoyment, drinking and health for the mass, while more engaged consumers consider new supplements to ‘bio hack’ through nutrients, as outlined by Holland & BarrettPinterest predicts a rise in afternoon teas as a happy hour alternative in 2022, with ‘High Tea ideas’ increasing 4x on platform. 

Balance won’t just come from health and hedonism, but from reconciling our post pandemic desires with our present pandemic choices. Hilton predicts an increase in pet friendly travel, as pet lovers who adopted or lived with their pets constantly during lockdown reconciling how to travel and go further with them. Wedding Wire believes the way we marry in 2022 seeks balance as well, with destination weddings and a need to express yourself as a bride or groom after pandemic disruption being met by a greater focus on guests and their experience as possible first times that families may be back together. 

What to look for next year: 

  • Expression and enjoyment without a health cost being a key element of many FMCG or lifestyle brands messaging – as we look to go out into the world, celebrate and live our lives safely.
  • Brand which bring enjoyment into our everyday lives, especially as we cement what they look like post pandemic. intel highlights Hendrick’s Gin Scented Bus shelters as one example of how enjoyment enhances life everywhere. 
  • Bold colours, artificial fashion and what Pinterest calls Rebel cuts – creating hard to miss hair, nails and fashion to make a statement amongst daily life while keeping skins and beauty more natural. 

3. Community first, platform second

After two years spent engaging more virtually, the power of community in both the real world and online has grown, continuing into 2022 as we consider new ways to gather and signal our membership in groups and cultures. 

A rise in Goth, Dark Acadamia, Goblincore and other alt fashion is predicted for 2022 by PinterestEtsy & Instagram – as we meet up again in real life and express ourselves to those around us. After years of remote, but powerful intimacy and community togetherness on platforms like TikTok – a year of further re-emergence looks to see community signifiers affect fashion & events heavily. 

Online, increased community power looks to begin to decentralise social networks, pushing brands towards areas where communities live beyond the main social networks. Hubspot predicts this decentralisation will push brands towards in-house social networks and in-app forums, while others highlight a growth of platforms like Discord as new branded communities. 

An increased focus on community engagement looks to continue brands needs to be authentic and genuine in how they portray themselves. Community engagement will be fostered by transparency in how brands advertise (Mintel predicts a rise in measurable transparency), create products (McKinsey predicts a rise in product passports for 2022) and provide customer support. Campaigns like Frida Mom’s ‘Fourth Trimester’ highlight the way brands will use authentic comms to build community, which is then facilitated by different media thinking and innovation in 2022. 

What to look for in the next year: 

  • Brand focus on community colliding with cookie changes and consumer data, pushing many to create new platforms and 1st party experiences to access and learn more about the communities they aim to reach and foster.
  • A growth and overuse of platforms such as Discord by many brands, with successful usage coming from deep community value, rewards and user acknowledgement.
  • A continued push for imperfection and authenticity in social media and influencers, with the decline of finstas highlighting a shift from hiding our struggles publicly.

4. Renewal and reuse + reduction

With environmental concerns rising amongst consumers and a lack of government and private sector action, 2022 looks to see new ways to address sustainability – augmenting reducing consumption with a focus on renewal and reuse. Lack of firm commitments from COP 26 and brands have set the stage for 2022 to be focused on how we can do more – with many consumers wondering how much further they can change their lives. The supply chain and reuse look to answer this challenge in the coming year. 

Reuse of products is poised to grow across many sectors, with Accenture predicting second hand apparel, currently growing 11x faster than traditional retail apparel, continues its growth through platforms such as Depop & Vinted. While in technology, Apple’s shift into a repair program for users highlights an increased focus in brand based mending for products that were traditionally replaced. 

Beyond consumer resale & repair, 2022 looks to increase the focus on the sustainability of the supply chain and product circularity. Dentsu refers to it as a ‘Responsible Rebuild’ in 2022, highlighting PepsiCo’s millions of acres of regenerative farm land and Colgate’s incubator to find supply chain sustainability through startups. Trendhunter predicts that B2B waste will be a growth area, as startups help to sell fashion waste – mirroring McKinsey’s focus on dead stock within the fashion industry. 

What to look for in the next year: 

  • Brand focus on product passports and clearly articulating the story of how a product was made and where it can go after use. 
  • A greater focus on enabling consumers to repair, fix, mend or sell products, making consumer marketplaces a part of the greening of consumption.
  • Growth within the B2B space for waste reduction and reuse startups, as well as partnerships between competitors to improve sector sustainability as consumers call for greater action.

5. The metaverse! Well it’s only a model for now

The single most used term in any 2022 trend report was the ‘Metaverse’, reflecting consumer and brand excitement for the wider evolution of mixed reality and technology. With many of the components coming together for this: NFTs, Cryptocurrency, Virtual Goods, Decentralised Communities, AR / VR, AI and others – predictions are bright overall but mixed for 2022 when it comes to what it will mean in consumer’s lives. 

Overall, it would seem 2022 will be the year that different discrete components of the Metaverse develop more tangibly, while discussion overall continues to grow. Trend Hunter predicts the Metaverse will expand in different directions, but with brand partnerships growing, while INC. believes that collaborative productivity, consumer tech, digital currency and others will continue to mature as parts of the metaverse in the next year. Dentsu predicts that VR will continue to grow, with cited research highlighting that VR headsets have grown in 2021 and continued usage amongst adopters bodes well for the future.

While a single, recognised metaverse feels far beyond 2022, predicts the growth of Mixed Reality in 2022, especially amongst retail experiences – citing Burberry and Nike as two examples of how things will develop. In a similar vein, Bacardi has predicted a rise in Augmented Mixology for 2022, citing its focus on assisting at home mixology with technology such as the Bacardi Mix Lab. 

What to look for in the next year: 

  • A continued maturation of NFTs, especially amongst IP holders in sport and entertainment as brands begin to understand how to deliver greater value through the technology.
  • Continued cultural conversation around the metaverse as a concept, with technology working to catchup. Expect to see brands start to adopt the language and visuals of what consumers expect from the ‘metaverse’ in advertising – but with fewer attempting any experience.
  • The growth of metaversal components in our lives, with AR / MR poised to mature further and deploy out in wider retail experiences.

6. From retail abundance to at home curation

As supply chain shortages and disruptions globally look to continue into 2022, many reports touch on a shift from abundant to just in time mindsets for consumers. The combination of consumers in many markets dealing with shortages on retail shelves for the first time, environmental consumption concerns, the growth of DTC experiences and JIT delivery services means marketing in 2022 may shift from abundant choice to curated delivery. 

Accenture predicts the ‘End of Abundant Thinking' for 2022, highlighting the shortage of workers, products or materials that consumers have, until now taken for granted, combining with sustainability concerns limiting purchase. While Forbes predicts that with retailers limiting assortments of products within categories, markets such as the US which have been over assorted with choice will err towards greater curation and limited selection in store. 

A shift away from abundant selection most impacts the retail experience, and DTCs are poised to capitalize on this next year. Trend Hunter predicts a growth in Specialty DTC, with brands leveraging a ‘direct from source’ authenticity to capture buyers and power a greater sense of curation. A greater JIT delivery option for consumers, powered by automation and immediate delivery sector growth from brands such as Gorillas, Zapp, DoorDash, Uber and others means that experiences can be crafted, sold and delivered to consumers faster than ever.

What to look for in the next year: 

  • Greater content marketing and curation from retail brands in fashion, food and drink – limiting supply assortments, but telling a deeper story around the products and possibilities they do offer in store. 
  • Increasing use of pop-up experiences within the food and drink sector, as Bacardi predicts consumers look for novelty in their social occasions as they begin to socialise more. In countries such as the UK where high streets have begun to create gaps for new stores and spaces, this can fuel the temporary experience market. 
  • Growth in partnership with JIT / Rapid delivery services, with market consolidation amongst rapid delivery players driving the need to win through partnerships to offer unique goods or experiences in the home.