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« The Set List: The Age of Empathy | Main | The “New Hybrid” Experience: Beyond the Mall »

The Set List: In Pursuit of Imperfection

Photo by Sam Burriss on Unsplash.

Editor’s note: this blog is part of a series discussing trends and insights into the world around us.

Over the years popular culture and advertising have sold us this idea of the perfect life. Based on aspirational wants and backed by celebrity ambassadors, on paper, the ads tick all the boxes. Pushed by a thirst for perfection, we’ve re-touched our online lives with Instagram filters, searched for perfect ‘selfie lighting’ in order to be just like our favourite personalities, and in turn, purchased the brands they associate themselves with.

In more recent times, however, there’s been a shift in consumer behaviour, led by millennials seeking a new type of brand engagement that offers them something more. Bored of striving to be something they’re not, 56 percent of millennials now consider themselves to be harsh critics of advertising, according to Millennial Rules. Shoddy ads have made them cynical and resistant to the hard sell. In a world where having flawless appearances are celebrated, these consumers are pushing back against the pursuit of perfectionism. With Dac Group reporting 40 percent of millennials in the U.K. and U.S. asserting cynicism about the way brands market to them, rejecting glossy mainstream values and embracing all things raw and flawed is ‘in.’

Is imperfect finally the new perfect?

‘Perfection fatigue’ has meant that more consumers are desperate to be themselves and seek products that feel more natural, authentic and relatable. You’d think that this trend would only be applied as part of a dynamic advertising or marketing strategy as consumers wouldn’t want to purchase imperfect products or experiences. Well, that’s where you're wrong. In a recent JWT study, 85 percent of millennials agreed with the statement that flaws make people more authentic, and 63 percent of them even said they liked to buy flawed goods.

This rising counter-trend is already being used by brands to create intimate relationships with consumers. In 2014 Intermarché, the third largest supermarket chain in France, decided to sell ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables at a 30 percent discount to reduce global food waste, calling them “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables.” The campaign saw a 60 percent increase in traffic to Intermarché's fruit and vegetable section, and a 24 percent rise in overall store traffic as a result. This isn’t a one-off example. A few months ago, Wal-Mart announced that it too would start selling damaged or ’ugly’ fruits and vegetables at a discount, and in the U.K., supermarket chain Asda is trialling a “Beautiful on the Inside” range in 128 stores in an active effort to tackle food waste across the food supply chain.

In fashion, ASOS has taken the bold step to celebrate imperfections and showcase natural as normal, by using untouched photos of models, featuring beautiful stretch marks and acne scars on their website, providing consumers with an honest and true representation of their products. Although this isn’t the first or only example of the celebration of imperfections in the retail industry, ASOS's celebration of realistic beauty has been a huge success online, helping the brand engage with its current and new consumers in a non-aspirational way. ASOS has been praised online, with many calling the move impressive, amazing and epic, highlighting a huge change in how consumers WANT to be engaged by brands.

What’s next for Imperfection…

As more brands start to tap into consumers’ hunger for a more realistic portrayal of their attitudes, habits and desires, we could soon start to see a new divergence of this trend. So far, the focus has been on millennials who, in all fairness, have the greatest spending power, for now.

But what about Gen Z? This generation is on the rise and currently makes up a quarter of the U.K.’s population, and they have a lot of pulling power. In the U.S. alone, Campaign Live reports that they have $44bn (£28bn) in annual purchasing power and, most importantly, they act and think differently than generations before them. Gen Z’ers are hyper aware and a socially conscious, so they don't tend to identify with traditional images of perfection. Brands will need to work a lot harder to cut through the noise and reach this group. To go beyond merely celebrating imperfection brands will need to truly embody the essence of what celebrating imperfection means to these emerging consumers.

This new level of realism and honesty could see brands take on more human-like personas and narratives, in turn becoming better versions of themselves. In the physical space, this could manifest as a new form of environmental graphics, strategically shaping brand honesty, creating stimulating experiences that connect people to place and their brand. This direct approach would appeal to Gen Z'ers who yearn for highly emotional, contextual and personal moments in their daily lives in a way that’s relevant, reinforcing and direct. This move won’t be driven by financial benefits per se or act as an effortless way to get rid of imperfect goods, but rather a new form of engagement where brands will need to live, breathe and be authentically honest.

Rachel Barnes is a graduate of Graphic Design and Marketing based in Gensler’s London office with four years of experience in the design industry. In her daily communications role within the office’s marketing team she is a passionate storyteller, applying blue sky thinking to help create engaging Gensler stories, whilst striving to find the perfect light bulb moment. Contact her at Rachel_Barnes@Gensler.com.