The evolution of trend reports

Cultural Strategist Amy Daroukakis shares insights from 150 reports

The end of every year signals the time for brands and agencies to share their insights from the year that was and their predictions for the year ahead

Amy Daroukakis

Trend reports, though often debated, have gained traction in recent years as brands prioritise data transparency. Amidst the plethora of reports, navigating the sea of information can be challenging. Cue the trend-gathering team: a group of four strategists across Asia and Europe, curating a comprehensive Google Drive folder housing trends and predictions sourced from agencies, consulting firms, and business industries. Starting in October, the team made up of Cultural Strategist Amy Daroukakis, Media Strategist Ci En Lee, Creative Strategist Gonzalo Gregori, and Researcher Iolanda Carvalho come together to plan, collate, and distribute the trend reports document. MediaCat Magazine spoke to Amy about the collating process, how trends have evolved over the years and what we can expect in 2024. Daroukakis says that the term ‘trend’ can be difficult to define, but ultimately, it’s to ‘focus on things that are actually shifting consumer behaviour, versus getting consumers’ attention.’ 

What has been the process of compiling the report documents? Are there certain criteria that each report needs to fit for you to include them?

There’s quite a bit of planning that goes behind it, and there are certain criteria that we will always adhere to, so nothing paid is ever shared. We’re very, very respectful of proprietary information.

If it’s in the open domain, if it’s downloadable and able to be shared, that’s one of our key criteria. We always give the option of a report being removed, but in the last three years, nobody has ever asked to be removed, there’s been more that have asked to be added. We believe in open learning, and that’s our core ethos as to why we do it. We encourage sharing, but this year, we also encourage crediting. 

The thing that we always highlight every year, which we don’t feel has changed, is there’s still way too much Global North in terms of perspective. We do seek out and encourage it [seeking trends from Global South], but this is not a fair, equal representation of global shifts, and that’s something we think really needs to continue to be driven home.

People have been creating their own ‘TrendGPTs’ from the data provided in these reports — what has been the outcome of this?

This is a very fascinating year, because of the advent of AI. I cannot tell you the amount of people that go, ‘Oh, I’m just going to plug it all into AI.’ So we’ve identified and we’ve started conversations with a few that have actually done this. The next iteration of this is, this month (in January), we’re going to do an open webinar with some of the creators of these tools. I’ve been working on understanding the cultural zeitgeist of AI for the last 12 months, so I’ve been deep in AI in my other work, and one of the biggest challenges with AI is the lack of transparency around data.

There are challenges within data in general, but what makes this unique is that we can see the corpus — what data is pulled into the body. So we know what’s in it [the trend reports], and we’re going to be able to be like, ‘this tool did not pick up this, or this tool was able to summarise this’ because we know the data in a way that just isn’t known. It’s a very interesting example of what happens when you have a bit more transparency within the data.

How have these reports evolved over the years?

For many years, these reports were driven either by agencies, e.g the Future 100, or trend agencies themselves, and it’d be their predictions for the coming year, or even three to five years, depending on who their audience was. Then there’s been this new, interesting bulk in the last couple of years, where brands have realised they’ve got a whole bunch of interesting stuff to share. For the first time ever, Netflix has just released all of their Excel data. They’ve always done a top 10 most watched shows, but this year is different and they are being more transparent. 

As a brand, trend reports are a great PR story, but that’s why they get knocked a bit, as people feel it’s just about brand growth and awareness, but I believe that all data should be shared. And to dismiss people’s buying and spending habits from one of the world’s biggest retailers is a disservice to us to actually know what people are purchasing. A very common challenge with the majority of these reports is they very rarely bring in a human voice. They rely on their data. For example, there’s been a massive boom in heated blanket sales. Amazon could come out and say, ‘It’s one of our most sold items this year.’ The story that is missing is why — because people can’t pay heat. That’s an amazing opportunity to delve into the cost of living prices.

So that’s why sometimes if you dismiss the brand story, you then dismiss the question that you could then ask as to why. 

What are companies getting right and wrong in their reports?

They’re getting wrong, only thinking of the world through the lens of Global North. They continue, for the most part, to really stick with the tropes and generalisation of generations, and there’s so much overlap and interest. They sometimes can generalise one behaviour as a signal for everybody’s behaviour. As I mentioned, sometimes the realness of people’s voices is also masked. 

And I think there’s the ability for brands to explore what’s within their world, and how it also matches what’s within the outside world. Pinterest does that quite well, showing the evolving behaviour beyond its platform. What some are also doing well is addressing data that’s not necessarily in its favour — ones that are willing to be bold and look outside of their own walls. I think that’s where there’s a huge opportunity.

What are the most common trends mentioned in the reports for 2024? I assume AI is at the top of the list

It’s AI, and I think we’re still looking at it through a productivity lens. It’s just very woven in within so many elements of life. So by far, that’s the most trending topic. Don’t dismiss the humanness that went into the crafting of these reports. The industry needs to evolve, but that doesn’t discount the people who are already within the industry and also want to evolve.

Sign up for the Trend Reports Meets GPT Open Webinar here.

Featured image: Mali Maeder / Unsplash