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pragmatism or






e are witnessing an unprecedented global shift in how property is defined with profound changes in consumption patterns and a new cultural movement to lead a simpler, more moderate and more meaningful life. This phenomenon has huge, implications for brands, consumer platforms, brand activations and the business models of companies. At pluralthinking we believe that brands succeed if the consumer feels that the brand understands them, has common purpose with

People are ridding themselves of unnecessary

them, solves their problems, and facilitates

‘stuff’. They are digitizing, decluttering spaces

their lives as they wish to live them.

and minds, replacing stuff with experiences, replacing ownership with fandom and sharing.

Much, indeed most, of the work we do at pluralthinking is focused on understanding

If you are managing a brand you need to think

young adult consumers in developed societies

about how you occupy people’s ‘space’ in

around the world. What we are seeing in the

entirely new ways. You need to resonate yet

most advanced economies is, we believe, an

not add to the clutter. This will be the

irreversible shift.

challenge of the next decade for marketeers.

Lives as people wish to live them are changing profoundly.

We’ve presented our thinking in a series of 3 cultural intelligence reports, but of course the thinking is interlinked. Drop us a note or pick up the phone if you’d like to see Part 2: The New Consumption or Part 3: Life After Stuff. Pluralthinking can help your brand to

communicate, position and grow more effectively.

We offer human insights, brand thinking and cultural intelligence to some of the world’s best brands.

We’d love to continue the debate! Say or join us on twitter @pluralthinking



contents_contents_co RISE OF MICRO HOMES



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As a consequence of recent economic turmoil as well as the long-term shift towards

Google analytics reveals that ‘declutter’ has

‘post-materialistic’ values, Westerners are

replaced ‘un-clutter’ as the word of choice in the

becoming less into ‘stuff’ and want to declutter

early 21st century. Semantically, the prefix ‘de-’

and purge their life of unnecessary things.

suggests completeness and finality (i.e. destroy,

According to Steve Howard, global CSO of

demolish, deflate, depart). In other words,


people are talking about a radical break with clutter. So, it’s not surprising that decluttering is now the fastest growing self-help sub-genre.


If you’re a brand that sells ‘stuff’ the implications are obvious; consumers want less but better. Fine if you’re in premium. A problem if you’re not. And what about those brand activations? It even affects FMCG; take a look at what Douwe Egberts have been doing to tell us how their iconic jar is a part of life versus part of the trash.

This is a bold statement for the world's largest

It’s all about experiences versus give-aways;

furniture retailer whose warehouses are

instagrammable fun at a birthday party versus

saturated with an eye-popping array of stuff.

gift-packs; re-usable things that can be re-purposed.

Sociologists have been talking about post-materialism for several decades. This is the cultural change towards values that emphasize self-expression and quality of life over economic and physical security. But until recently, the empirical evidence has been contradictory. After all, unbridled consumerism has been booming in the West at least since the 1980s and is now globalized. The recent economic downturn has caused a shift. Many people have had to reprioritize needs and values, forcing them to reflect on unnecessary objects in their surroundings, to downsize, and to declutter and to truly acknowledge that less really is more. Indeed, ‘declutter(ing)’ has become one of the key buzzwords of the decade. Lifestyle magazines, reality TV shows and even TED talks routinely urge people to purge. Organizing consultants offer to coach clients in their pursuit of minimalist perfection; and Marie Kondo, Japan’s Queen of Clean and the best-selling author of ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ was recently named one of world’s 100 most influential people by Time.

Marie Kondo makes bold claims. She believes that putting your house in order will transform your space, give you confidence and provide you with ‘the energy and motivation to create the life you want. This ‘KonMarie method’ of decluttering is deceptively simple but grueling: First, get out and look at every single possession, object by object (you are meant to do this all at once, even if it takes you several days). Then decide what you want to keep (only things that truly ‘spark joy’ are allowed), and lastly, designate a place for everything and stick to it. Her three books have sold more than two-million copies and have been translated from Japanese into Korean, Chinese, German and English. For over a year, her guide to decluttering took the top slot on the New York Times bestseller list.





When people declutter their flats and houses, they realize that their living spaces are too large and decide to go for a smaller home. Or the need to declutter comes from downsizing or ‘hutching up’ with a partner, or having a growing family without moving house. It’s seen as a more sustainable living choice, and practical for those who are more interested in experiences than possessions. Others

Demographics and urbanization also play a role:

do it because of financial constraints: recession

there has been a steady increase in single person

and slow economic growth is still felt in most

households globally and single people flock to

markets; and as our urban population rises and

cities, not suburbs or countryside.

household size shrinks, spaces become smaller

Micro-homes are part of a bigger strategy by

still. The UK Housing Minister is even suggesting

big-city officials; leveraging the trendiness of tiny

that flats of under 40m sq. could become the

into a new affordable-housing model. In fact,

acceptable building standard for first time buyers.

planning officials are proposing to end limits on

So the cycle of ‘less’ becomes self-fulfilling.

how small homes can be. In cities like London, New York, San-Francisco and Paris, for example, ‘micro-luxury’ developments, are typically marketed to young, single professionals who want to live in the center of the city.

It is easy to write this off as a young, white hipster trend featured on beautiful but snarky Tumblers and websites such as ‘Stuff White People like’. But many new rental constructions also include designated affordable units geared towards the less affluent. In the US, micro-homes have become popular with single black women. These small homes allow women affordable accommodation and community alongside like-minded others without sacrificing independence. Some suggest that a similar strategy could be used to address the London housing crisis and its Generation Rent. And of course downsizing at retirement has long been a cultural norm amongst seniors.


Micro-homes are not usually only more affordable; they are also easier and cheaper to maintain. All these reasons make micro-homes an important sub-trend that has wide-ranging implications across brand categories. So what if you’re a brand? Household goods such as furniture, ornaments and electronics are the most clearly affected. For example, Hungarian furniture brand Hannabi has designed a modular sofa aimed at consumers who move frequently or live in small flats. But FMCG is also impacted – limited storage increases the frequency of shopping for perishables and demand for multifunctional compact goods. The days of separate cleaning products for kitchen, bathroom, windows, floors feel over. Already the big names in consumables, such as homecare and skincare, are making 3-in-1 or even 5-in-1 products. Because of shortage of space, many products are now multipurpose. Think about the Dettol all-purpose 5-in-1 ‘Complete Clean’ range, think about the multiple 5-in-1 face cleansers in your bathroom or moisturizer with added sunscreen, primer and colour corrector.

Even the weekly shop is affected,

But are they attractive enough to live outside the

because there is no

cupboard? There’s just no room below the sink or in the

space for bulky store

bathroom cabinet – if there even is one. Basic items need to be small and more aesthetically pleasing. Space is at a premium and items remain ‘on show’.

cupboard ingredients or to




Brands would do well to look at Japan as they innovate. Small space living, small family size or singleton




grocery shopping has long been the norm. Some bloggers, such as Erin Boyle of Reading My Tea Leaves, are evangelic about their minimalist lifestyles in tiny apartments; brands should consider sponsoring them to show followers how beautiful, or multi-use products fit into their relatively sparse spaces. Another major resource for showcasing multi-functionality and aesthetics is Pinterest, where consumers can demonstrate multiple uses for items, such as the Ikea Raskog trolley. Brands must ensure that photographs are available that showcase different uses for a product.



An app that helps you declutter

The app Stuffstr helps both consumers and retailers. It provides retailers with information about what happens to their products after sale. The retailer gets to keep tabs on how long the product lasts and how much it sells for used. On the other hand, it provides consumers opportunity to resell, give away or recycle their items.


Aldi leads the way with minimalist messaging

German discount supermarket Aldi launched a campaign that doesn’t feature products or messages around prices. Instead, the 47-second clip shows kids running around, playing and happily creating a mess. ‘Children don’t need much to be happy,’ a child’s voice says. ‘We don’t write emails – we just talk to each other. We don’t need a supermarket that’s so big you can’t decide what to buy. Why do you all believe you need more?’ The ad is part of a strategy to court millennials and millennial parents who are less driven by banal consumption and want to live stress free lives.


Tide and Andrex have joined Amazon Dash ‘refill’ button

Andrex and Tide are just a few of the initial 40 FMCG brands that have joined Amazon Dash. Dubbed as a ‘one-press’ way to order supplies of everyday items, Amazon Dash branded plastic buttons can be placed next to a washing machine, fridge or toilet and when a product runs out, the user simply taps the wi-fi enabled button, re-ordering it though Amazon and reducing the need for storage or bulk purchase.


Website that allows you to effortlessly sell your books

We Buy Books is the hassle free way to turn unwanted books, CDs, DVDs and video games into cash by simply scanning or entering the ISBN number. You can simply send off your old items and receive cash. We Buy Books is just one of growing platforms where consumers can sell their unwanted items.



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People are rediscovering non-screen based activities as a way to switch off life’s daily demands. Others are wary of a Matrix-like discrepancy between the grandiose exhibitionism of social media and the often less glamorous, even mundane, physical world. Just ‘switching-off’ for moments within people’s daily routines is seen as psychologically rewarding. Indeed, a growing volume of research is pointing to the link between social media use and social anxiety. Digital detoxing, from the media and the internet, is becoming more popular. What does this mean for brands? As more activities go online, people are also finding more activities that take them offline for certain times of the day. This explains the rise of the adult colouring book as people seek to colour or doodle away off-line and in private. This also highlights the rise of the paperback as sales at Waterstones are up. People are rediscovering the pleasure of reading in bed with no blue light to keep them awake, and reading a medium that never loses battery, can be enjoyed during flight takeoff and easily shared with a friend.


Decluttering minds from information, ideas and negative emotions stemming from both digital and physical world, seeking headspace and achieving mindfulness is now seen as a necessary step for many people. Headspace apps have (ironically) become an international success. Some actively seek occasional solitude and are rediscovering ennui: existential boredom that forces them to reflect on their lives and aspirations. Although more and more companies and public schools offer yoga and mindfulness classes to their employees and students, paradoxically the technology industry is leading the way in enabling new apps that help manage people’s emotional wellbeing and even teach them meditation techniques. The key issue is that most people are not mindful of their actions, because their actions are mediated through technology or hectic, non-reflexive lifestyles. With short attention spans and scattered focus, consumers are in a constant state of transition.



need to be aware that some people

desire to replace rapid scanning of information and

instant gratification with slow, deep concentration and detailed

thinking and reflection. This has opportunities for brands to gain real

consumer loyalty. It might also suggest that consumers don’t always want more choice; instead they might just want brands they trust. So, it’s not just about stopping to smell the flowers; it’s about being constantly mindful, rediscovering all our senses and living in the radical present. Brands that helps people achieve this will be absolute champions. Can your brand offer the moment to stop, be in the moment, allow deep, personal reflection? Think about rituals, routines, those moments apart that your brand offers. Tea brands have been doing this for a little while. Twinings have ‘Drink it all in’ and Yorkshire tea had ‘Everything stops for tea’. How can you make more of that morning skin-care regime, that moment making the packed lunch, eating it, or resting in the bath? Warning: the age of (social media) engagement has given people interruption. People want to interact more with lovers, family, friends and even pets than with brands. Cunning brands give people opportunity to do both: authentic engagements with close ones AND interaction with their products at the same time. Maltesers, for example ran a high profile TV campaign that sought to normalize disability as well as showcasing intimacy between female friends. Warning: we can expect a greater codification of ‘good digital health habits’. What does this mean? There will be times when people take themselves offline, to prepare for better sleep, to focus on playing with their kids on the floor, to enjoy the present moment with friends during post-work drinks. Brands need to think about how they connect to consumers during these moments of digital detox.



Mobile messages for mindfulness

App Budify calls for ‘mobile mindfulness’. Instead of guilt-tripping people about how long they spend online, the app uses Siri-style personalized instructions to help people reduce their stress levels, manage difficult emotions and become calmer.


Beer company bars phones in pub

Amstel beer temporarily installed cell phone lockers in bars around the UK, with patrons who stored their phones getting a free beer as part of a promotion that aimed to remind people how to socialize without digital distractions.


Being in the moment with an instant coffee

Nescafe’s dinosaur ad is just one of the recent campaigns that uses the theme of mindfulness in mass advertising. By positioning their product as a catalyst for allowing people to be in the moment, Nescafe is positioning their brand on the cusp of the cultural Zeitgeist.


Boring TV a hit

One of the most popular ‘programs’ on Norwegian public television, NRK is an hours long anti-TV show that features a static camera travelling through provincial Norway. Mundane scenes from small towns have proven to be more popular than glitzy TV spectacles.


These important cultural shifts are altering the way people connect with brands, and creating new products and category innovations across almost all industries from property developers, furniture, media, FMCG, travel, and service industries such as taxi companies, hotels, the night-time economy and airports. Is there a category not touched by these changes to consumer behaviour? It is essential

There are opportunities for traditional brands

that established brands continue to provide

and products to engage with these times and

excellent products and customer service,

tap into this mindfulness mindset. Tea, coffee

continue to find ways to connect deeply (online

and soft drinks brands have developed

and offline) with consumers, and be vigilant to

campaigns around mindfulness and living in the

cultural trends that could knock established

moment, but what about soup or breakfast

norms in your industry; who would have guessed

products? What about other products used

a few years ago that established hotel brands

routinely, in private and during quieter moments,

would compete with local people’s spare rooms?

such as toothpaste, nail polish, or washing up liquid? There are also opportunities for ‘old

Micro-living should be recognised as a major

products’ to reconnect with people’s lives -

new trend, not just for the financially-stretched,

people are seeking out vinyl collections, paper

but those who are remaining single and childfree

books and colouring-in pads.

for longer, wishing to remain in an urban location, or downsizing once children have left

Brands would be foolish to assume that this is


just a young, hipster interest. Digital natives, those who have always grown up around

People are seeking an aesthetic that is less

computers are certainly adopting these habits

cluttered, but they are likely to have less storage

on mass, but they are also bringing older

than their parents’ generation. Brands need to

generations with them.

think about making smaller, but also more beautiful and versatile products. Brands also

And this highlights another important message –

need to bear in mind that when people are

don’t assume that this new minimalism is being

buying less, they have more money to spend on

driven by economic necessity. It is much more

each item.

about values, aesthetics and changing life stages and lifestyles. There is money to be made

Desiring less physical ‘stuff’ around the house,

in all of these areas, as long as the offering is

people are moving more of their lives online. We


are decluttering social media and becoming savvier about connecting with brands online. At

Of course, at pluralthinking, we are always going

the same time, brands need to recognise that

to stress the need for better insight into how

people have a desire to be offline at certain

consumers are living and engaging with your

times: for privacy; for time alone or to create

brands. But with people’s lives and homes

deep connections with loved ones.

become radically different, has it ever been more necessary? Pluralthinking can help your brand to

communicate, position and grow more effectively.

We offer human insights, brand thinking and cultural intelligence to some of the world’s best brands.

We’d love to continue the debate! Say or join us on twitter



� Pluralthinking


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PEAK STUFF PART 1 - Getting Rid  

PEAK STUFF PART 1 - Getting Rid  


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