Brands on the barricade

How can brands respond to rebellious consumers in 2023?

Research by The Foresight Factory for the IPA has set the scene for this year with four top trends seeing people turn rebellious.

Research by The Foresight Factory for the IPA has set the scene for this year. More people are looking forward to lower energy bills (39%) than are looking forward to a holiday abroad (26%). In such serious times, The Foresight Factory’s top four trends see people turn rebellious - against Perfection, Authority, Surveillance, and Restraint.

The Rebellion Against Perfection and Rebellion Against Authority trends both challenge elements of traditional brand approaches, of aspiration, education and curation, begging the question of what might replace these in the future.

Rebellion Against Perfection

The Rebellion Against Perfection trend sees audiences embracing individual style and choices in defiance of perfection and sameness, as evidenced in the growth of social platform, BeReal. While content and partnerships allow brands to communicate with more authenticity, there is much debate about whether brands are really ready to show their imperfections and whether this would even be desirable for categories where reliability and safety are paramount, such as Automotive. However, in a future where AI can polish and perfect any image, realness and humanness may become valuable in itself and embracing imperfections may become the only way of ensuring connection and belief. 

Rebellion Against Authority

In a similar vein, Rebellion Against Authority draws attention to how audiences are questioning centralised authority in favour of personal judgements, with 62% agreeing that it’s sometimes necessary to bend the rules. This challenges the role of authoritative media behaviours and ties into ongoing concerns about trust in advertising. For many clients understanding how trust will be built with an audience has become an essential part of comms planning. If this trend continues there will be further opportunities for brands to align with consumer interests, even breaking the rules to do so.

A fantastic example of this came from Brazil where Budweiser’s Unbreakable Courts initiative used a legal loophole to save basketball courts from developers.

With many brands focused on delivering sustainability goals, this trend gives brands licence to move the agenda forward, in partnership with their audience, to bring about societal changes. 

Rebellion Against Surveillance

The Rebellion Against Surveillance trend can be seen as the evolution of data privacy concerns into an emerging desire for invisibility, with 34% of Gen Z believing that people should be allowed to be anonymous when using the internet, compared to just 24% of Gen X. However, some brands have turned transparent data sharing into a competitive advantage. For example Spotify Wrapped, the platform’s annual marketing campaign that provides users with a compilation of data about their listening over the previous year to share on social media, has become a product benefit for its listeners. Winning over a data-conscious audience is a key challenge for data strategy, where alongside the ethical use of data, how a brand will deliver value from data collection and how it will communicate its usage transparently have become essential considerations.

Rebellion Against Restraint

Finally, the Rebellion Against Restraint put an alternative lens on the post-Covid, cost-of-living-crisis audience, where, confronted by an unpredictable future, they embrace the present, seeking in-the-moment indulgence and pleasure. This trend conflicts somewhat with the more serious mindset identified by the IPA and is an area where brands will need to choose for themselves.

Our work with National Express leaned towards the Rebellion, as we noticed that after years of restraint and lockdown our audience just wanted to enjoy their summer holidays. National Express could make it easy and affordable for them to do so, with a highly effective campaign celebrating UK coach destinations. It makes sense that in an income-constrained world, where people are deciding to forego some things in order to afford others, the more a brand can demonstrate and celebrate its value, the more that decision is strengthened. 

National Express ad - woman with glasses

Taken together, these emerging trends suggest a climate where people are happy to challenge accepted rules and wisdom, if it can get them closer to the things they want.

This has three key implications for brands. First, brands must decide how much rebellion they should embrace – in some categories, the risk may outweigh the reward and reflecting this consumer mindset may be unnecessary or damaging. Second, as not all brands have the luxury of being able to break rules, many will need to think creatively about how they will build trust without relying on traditional authority and aspiration, which could lead them to align with audience interests and sustainability concerns.

Finally, at a time where there is conflicting evidence of compliance and rebellion, it is even more important for brands to understand where they fit in relation to the things their audiences value and to use this insight widely, guiding their data strategy as well as their advertising.

Download the slides from The Foresight Factory presentation


Rachael Lake is Executive Director, Strategy & Planning at mSix&Partners

Last updated 01 May 2024