News & Views

What's Progressive is actually The New Normal

by Contagious Team

Tara Hirebet, Contagious' head of Asia Pacific argues that New Normals in terms of love, gender and technology provide the perfect place for brands to find authenticity and relevance

I am the first person to love history and tradition. I love walking through Pont Neuf in Paris, visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia and batik printing in Indonesia. I love the idea of Sunday family dinners and I love the chai tea that you can depend on every Indian household offering when you visit. Tradition, habit and archetypes are comforting. They stand for something and give us something to hold onto in a rapidly changing world.

Especially in Asia, with its ancient cultures and histories, and where development is occurring at a breakneck speed, there is a fear that culture, values and foundational basics are being lost. Established generations look at youth and younger Millennials and feel that their values are eroded. Youngsters don’t know or respect cultural traditions, they don’t dress as respectfully, they’re less religious or pious and they don’t respect the institutions of love and marriage.

Globally, we feel this generation is letting technology take over their lives. There are doomsday articles on how technology is ruining us and social media is making us strangers. On how younger brains are actually developing neurologically differently, due to being device-dependent from birth. This instant gratification means that younger Millennials and Gen Zs now have shorter attention spans. They’re used to effortlessly getting what they want, so they are more self-righteous and expect to be promoted rapidly in careers rather than work their way up like the rest of us.

Anyone reading this would think that the world, the state of work and the human race are all in utter ruin. However, this demise gives brands and their agencies a fertile space to play in, as some brands can leverage fears by showing that they still have tradition and values and stand for something. Others can play at the opposite end of the spectrum, showing they are progressive and able to keep up with the rapidly changing world and can take you forward into the fast-approaching “unsure” future.

The truth is that the world is always changing and “eroding” and will continue to do so, because we as humans continue to innovate in the hope of changing it for the better. What needs to actually shift is our entire attitude and our ability to adapt, absorb and accept those changes and see them not so much as progressive, but just “normal”or a New Normal. We need to reframe normal from meaning safe, familiar and the status quo, to actually standing for adaptation, being in flux and constantly evolving in response to the changing shifts in the landscape (which is what the world is today). If we look at most major inventions (metal, electricity, mobile phones and more) they were all once thought of as progressive and controversial, scarily new and therefore threatening to society. But they have now become part of the fabric of normal every day life. We somehow survived and have not been eradicated by any of these predictions (well, not yet).

In advertising, we are starting to see brands and agencies create products and marketing that is more purposeful and, in doing so, take what we usually see as more of a “progressive” or “outlier” standpoint in society. What these brands and agencies have actually done, which is what we all as an industry need to do, is to acknowledge faster than anyone else that this is the New Normal. In fact, statistics illustrate that these are now majority behaviours and show the way the world is heading. It is just that most of our audience (and sometimes even us) are still hung up on yesterday’s vision of the world and don't want to scare anyone or rock the boat. 

The New Non-Traditional, Traditional Family

Take Droga5’s Honeymaid campaign, that showed America that families today aren’t one mum, dad and a kid, or 2.5 kids and a picket fence, (and got a pile of backlash for it). However, this doesn’t make them any less loving or any less a proper family. The campaign and message has been seen as progressive, but what it is actually illustrating is the normal or New Normal American family. Today, American nuclear families are, in fact, the minority. The majority are the very families Honeymaid’s ads champions  single parents, gay couples, divorced parents, step parents, military families, adopted kids and more. According to a study by Pew Research Center, only 46% of kids have a nuclear family lifestyle. That’s over half of American kids below the age of 18 living the New Normal. According to Gretchen Livingstone, the author of this Pew Study, what we believe to be the traditional family is actually a “figment”. There is no such thing. There is just the family of that socio-economic period and circumstance. As socio-economic circumstances are always changing it makes sense that the concept and structure of what a family is will keep evolving too. According to Gretchen Livingstone, 'In a lot of ways the 1950s and 1960s were an anomaly in family structure; the birth rate was uncommonly high, people married young. So even though people think of that as the traditional image of the family… it was actually [an] anomaly.'

In India everything from racy paperbacks to Bollywood focus on falling in love with “the one” followed by shaadi – marriage. It is the biggest sales opportunity for jewellery companies, and most TV commercials feature a young couple getting married for the first time. Jewellery store Tanishq sparked controversy and discussion when its ad showed an Indian bride's not first, but second marriage or wedding. The ad signalled this by showing the bride walking her daughter to the altar or stage, suggesting that the bride is not only divorced but has a child and is remarrying (that’s like taboo to the power of three btw). The reality and New Normal is that there are more unhappy marriages and a rising rate of divorce and second marriages in India today than ever before.

According to the Delhi Center for the Study of Developing Societies, as many as 40% of marriages in metros like Mumbai and Delhi, end up in divorce courts, with 7% nationally ending in divorce. Last year, in Mumbai alone, 11,667 divorce cases were filed vs. only 5245 back in 2010 (Hindustan Times, January 2015). Sure, this figure is nowhere as high as long term marriage numbers (there are 13 divorces per 1,000 marriages, but five years ago it was as low as 1 divorce per 1000 marriages), but in a populous country like India, niche is mass, making it a sizeable enough and increasing demographic to make it worth Tanishq staking its future-facing brand on. 

The New Non-Gender Gender

Finally, gender. Last year (and just in time for Valentine’s Day), Facebook updated its gender profile from just two options: “male” and “female” to 50 options including Trans person, Intersex, Androgynous, Pan gender, Gender Questioning, Gender Nonconforming, Agender, Gender Queer, Gender Fluid, Neutrois and Neither. The options were created after consultations with numerous gay and transgender groups and societies and the specificity means Facebook can also deliver more targeted advertising within the alternative gender category. Is this just a controversial PR stunt? Maybe. But the reality is also that “the kids today” aren’t confused, like we all like to think they are. The New Normal is that gender is a spectrum that youth are constantly experimenting within. Gender, like everything else, is a context-based option, and youth today decide who they are and want to be on that day, and according to circumstance, mood, and more. So choice and a multiplicity of genders and gender-based attitudes in one person is normal. And while neutrality, androgyny and ambiguity may appear as signs of clear confusion according to the old paradigms, to youth these are actual choices to show they are being genderless or not subscribing to those kinds of labels (for now).

If we take a step back, we live in a brave new world of New Normals. Maybe Tinder isn't this frivolous new world of love, sex and relationships, it actually stands for and caters to the more polygamous open view of love, sex and relationships that Millennials and Gen Z find suit their transient lives and needs. TCKs or Third Culture Kids (kids from mixed ethnicities, growing up in different countries), may be fast becoming the New Normal over the kid who grows up, marries and stays in the same hometown. The list is endless and for brands the New Normal is the perfect place to find true authenticity and purpose.

Who would have thought that what's seen as normal today isn't trite and boring but instead the most engaging position to be in?