In the “Deep Dive” format, experts from the Mediaplus Group immerse themselves in the world of marketing trends and provide in-depth insights into current challenges: how can trends be categorised socially and economically, and how can problems be addressed with an interdisciplinary approach? Magnus Gebauer, Group Head Trendhub at Mediaplus, sheds light on this with his article on the evolution of hybrid consumers.

Jane and John Smith are facing an identity crisis. While they used to fit perfectly into demographic characteristics, average buying behaviour and value categories, contradictions are increasingly appearing in their lives. Just recently, though, Jane has been attributed a split – almost schizophrenic – consumer existence with unstable consumer patterns. As she is concerned about sustainability and shopping locally, she buys her food from the local organic shop. However, avocados and other exotic superfoods also make their way into her basket on a regular basis. John also feels that things are no longer as simple as they used to be. While reading an article on the consequences of the Facebook privacy scandal, he found himself accepting the website’s cookies information without hesitation.

What the Smiths perceive as an identity crisis has for some time been described by marketers as the erratic and contradictory behaviour of hybrid consumers. A look at current trends reveals that there are more and more of these contradictory developments. We are now at the centre of the so-called battle of contradictions. Sometimes the battle appears in just one person, or other times it is apparent in an entire target group, which only seems to work uniformly.

From a marketing point of view, the challenges in consciously addressing the target group are growing. At the same time, opportunities also arise when brands get involved in current trend themes. Contradictions are not only evident in terms of consumption, but also in social life and media use.

For this reason, we are taking a look at three current contradictions from society, consumption and media use and pitting them against each other based on their significance for marketing and media. Which trend is the most relevant? What are the challenges? How can marketers take advantage of the trend?


FOMO (or the fear of missing out) is known from the world of social media. As an antidote, JOMO (or the joy of missing out) is the conscious decision to enjoy missing out on something – both online and offline. From a marketing point of view, FOMO is more relevant. Seven out of ten millennials experience this feeling on a regular basis. The trigger possibilities of the “FOMO Sapiens” simply offer far more scope from a marketing point of view – just think about the effect of temporary stories, the effect of artificial scarcity on booking portals or strict time limits. And in practice? Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Singles Day are the best examples of the impressive effect of FOMO logic. Played at the right moment, however, JOMO also offers a creative playground, especially with regard to contextual messages in the up-and-coming digital wellness cosmos – Dominos UK provides proof of this with its  “The Official Food of JOMO” advert. In a humorous way, they position their pizzas as an alternative to the FOMO lifestyle.

Ethical Consumption vs. Convenience

Climate change and movements such as Fridays for Future are bringing ethical-sustainable consumption into the consciousness of the masses. Well-known green issues such as organic and local are gaining in importance, while new issues such as flight shame and data shame are emerging. At the same time, there are few consumers who want to do without convenience products – but these are usually not particularly environmentally friendly. Brands cannot ignore any of the issues, but sustainability is a must and convenience is an additional option. Sustainability communication requires a clever balancing act between credible brand positioning – especially for non-green-born brands – and avoiding the greenwashing trap into which Deutsche Bahn recently stepped with its green ICE paint. Brands have a number of options available to them to be able to achieve convenience: Nestlé offers an Alexa Skill for young parents that makes everyday life easier. Rewe, Edeka and other supermarkets advertise with the fact that customers can withdraw cash free of charge as a kind of value-added service in stores, and Lufthansa implements data-based dialogue marketing in the form of personalised newsletters.

Glossy vs. Real

On social media in particular, the image people – and also businesses – present is especially important. On the one hand, there is the desire to be presented as perfectly as possible, while on the other hand the appearance should also be authentic and real. After all, Instagram’s #nomakeup hashtag features 18.3 million posts. The bottom line in this battle of contradictions is that glossy – the faked, perfect self-portrayal – is still a contender, because artificial and staged images still dominate the media. But it is precisely in the flood of “instagrammable” posts that carefully arranged bowls and walls no longer really stand out – Gen Z has grasped this fact and staged itself in a refreshingly authentic way.
From a brand perspective, real and unembellished staging can also have a stronger effect on attention. The successful Real Beauty campaign by Dove has been using the “No Digital Distortion” mark in its visual communication worldwide since the beginning of the year. To create a modern brand presence on Instagram, it is worth being both glossy and real: you can present yourself and your products filtered and perfectly staged, but you should not forget your personal touch. The American make-up manufacturer Glossier has mastered this almost to perfection.

Contradictions don’t make the world worse, only a little more complicated. This can be transferred to direct customer contact. In addition, not all solutions can be found in media communication – products, sales and customer service are also decisive building blocks and should be included in overall strategic considerations. It is important to be open and bold in the face of these contradictions and to see them more as an opportunity for versatile, authentic communication.

Holistic agencies not only observe current trends, they also analyse and evaluate them based on their relevance for their customers. On this basis, they will be able to react quickly to consumer trends and create innovations from them.

Authors: Florian Haller, CEO Serviceplan Group, and Niklas Schaffmeister, Managing Partner Globeone

The rapid changes of our time lead to conflicts between cultural traditions and new ways of life. Career advancers spend more time in the office, they often go on business trips, they have less time for themselves and their families. The lack of time changes everything from eating habits to family orientation, the way of communicating and consumer behavior. And in many international markets, foreign influences, industrialization or massive urbanization are turning even ancient traditions upside down. Individualization is increasing and consumer behavior is spreading, particularly in the middle classes around the globe, which is intended to showcase the newly acquired status.

There can be no question: culture is and remains a decisive factor for consumer behavior and thus also for brand positioning. Niklas Schaffmeister (Managing Partner Globeone) and Florian Haller (CEO Serviceplan Group) therefore explain why an intensive examination of the culture and cultural values in the target markets is indispensable for successful brand development or repositioning. Read more in detail in our new Springer publication “Successful brand development in the major emerging markets”, written in German, by Niklas Schaffmeister (Managing Partner Globeone) and Florian Haller (CEO Serviceplan Group).

Powerful factors: culture and cultural values

The definitions for the term culture have become as diverse as the cultures of this world. Things may become clearer if the term culture is separated from cultural values: Culture then refers to the totality of human behavior in a society, while cultural values refer to a series of beliefs about certain behaviors that are considered particularly desirable in a society. In marketing, the conviction has therefore developed that cultural values are a powerful factor that has a decisive influence on the motives of consumers. This applies to their lifestyle as well as their product selection.

In the jungle of values: What is decisive for brand development

Foreign brands that want to address these different cultural preferences must therefore familiarize themselves well with the cultural environment in the local target market. In view of the diversity of values and moral concepts, however, this is easier said than done – brand managers are often faced with the challenge of identifying the consumer-relevant value dimensions for brand development. In such cases, so-called catalogues of values have proven to be a helpful instrument. Sociologist Shalom Schwartz, for example, has developed a catalogue of values that identifies seven important cultural value dimensions on the basis of data from 73 countries. On the basis of these dimensions, it is not only possible to differentiate between the essence of cultures worldwide, but also to record individual, culturally specific and consumer-relevant value dimensions.

According to Schwartz, the most important dimensions of value include:

  • Harmony (harmony with the environment)
  • Social embedding (social order, obedience, respect for tradition)
  • Hierarchy (authority, social power, orientation towards wealth)
  • Ability (ambition, daring, success)
  • Intellectual autonomy (open-mindedness, curiosity, freedom)
  • Affective autonomy (joy of life, pleasure, tension)
  • Egalitarianism (social justice and responsibility, equality)

Infographic cultural values

It quickly becomes apparent that there are enormous differences along these value dimensions, for example between European countries and the major emerging markets such as China and India. While in China and India hierarchical values are given high priority (e.g. in the form of the caste system), in Europe the focus is on egalitarian values and intellectual autonomy. Put simply: people want to enjoy their freedom, work creatively and realize their full potentials.

Significance for brand communication: cultural values and consumer motives

Besides the family, society, religion and educational institutions, the mass media – not least digital and social media – have developed into important carriers and mediators of cultural values in the post-industrial age. However, it has been shown time and again that advertising also has a great influence on the representation and communication of cultural values. Advertising is based on linguistically powerful images and metaphors. These, in turn, are strongly influenced by cultural values which have an influence on culture, insofar as they are received by a broad circle.

The “similarity acceptance hypothesis” is regarded as a rough compass for successful brand communication in the local target market. Its message: The more similar the values communicated by a certain brand are to the values of a certain social class, the higher the probability that the brand is attractive for this grouping.

Conclusion: culture has a strong influence on consumption. In marketing you have to find the most effective levers to use this influence. This requires a profound knowledge of local cultural values.

“Manufacturer of sustainable products seeks solvent consumers with an interest in green issues.” This looks like a classified ad, bringing green producers and consumers together. Unfortunately, classified ads are out of fashion and those who buy green products are often very different from what many people think. So where do you find green consumers? And what do they look like?

A quick look back: in the past, people were distinguished by the fact that you could immediately tell who belonged to which group. Purchasers in organic shops in the 80s, for example, belonged to the green-alternative subculture. You could recognise these green environments by their clothing. For women: Birkenstock sandals and a flared skirt. For men probably a leather jacket and striped trousers. In this group they shared not only a passion for sustainable food but an entire world view. Whoever bought organic food was also simultaneously against rearmament and nuclear power but in favour of Nicaragua and the legalisation of cannabis. Tolerance was overlooked via small inconsistencies – such as the over-compensation of the beneficial effect of organic apples by mass consumption hand-rolled cigarettes. You would be against a crazy idea like an “organic supermarket”, using the jargon of the times, believing it to be an intrinsic contradiction, in other words an almost ridiculous idea. An organic shop had to be anti-capitalist, small and somehow or other be called Rapunzel.

Today, the world looks rather different. Organic foods have undergone an unparalleled career. There are not only organic supermarkets, there is even organic food at discount stores. And under the extended term “sustainable” there’s everything from fair-trade smart phones to holidays. But where has the clearly identifiable green environment gone?

A clear answer: it doesn’t exist anymore. Clearly defined environments in which one shared everything from fashion to ideology are either extinct, have shrivelled to insignificance or are more or less involuntary emergency associations (e.g. pensioners in dying villages). Instead, there is a patchwork existence as an individual equivalent of the patchwork family. You can make use of individual drawers of a huge lifestyle storage shelf and build up your own individuality together. And this is often not of pleasure, but because it has become a necessity. Where there is no environment to connect to, there is, so to speak, pressure for freedom. And the price of this freedom is firstly disorientation. Therefore, the search for guidance is as pronounced as ever. Each look at a Smartphone is a look to guide yourself. Am I still up to date? Have I missed something important? What should I do?

To illustrate how radical this change is, have another look back to our green-alternative environment of the 80s. Then it was discussed constantly, but only to reassure themselves that the shared ideology stood on a firm foundation. The perceived progressiveness of the group was at the expense of individuality within the group. If someone had said “No to rearmament” and “No to Nicaragua” simultaneously, one would have at best assumed that someone had smoked something wrong. This pressure to conform was not perceived as a loss – after all, they were indeed on the right side. In return, there was also a lot of love and security, and confirmation. And indeed this comforting feeling is lacking today. People who seek the company of others who think the same way as themselves have to go to a football stadium.

Of course, the desire to build communities beyond football is still there. And indeed it is the will to belong to the “community of the good” that drives sustainable consumption. Only it is simply no longer a closed environment in which this takes place. Statistically, about half of the population in developed countries belongs to the community of those who are “somehow sustainably oriented”. However, if one looks for similarities within this large group, it becomes vague. Trend: the wealthier and more educated you are, the greener you are. The poorer and educationally disadvantaged you are, the less interest you have in sustainable consumption. This is also obvious. It is more interesting to consider the motives for sustainable consumption. In closed environments with high moral ideals – like the faded green environment of the 80s – consequence was the most important driving force. In other words, you wanted the things that you stood for ideologically to be implemented as well and as comprehensively as possible. Implication: “Let’s create a better world.”

In today’s world of patchwork existence, however, it comes to compensation. Not everything we have pulled off the lifestyle-shelf and integrated into our lives is sustainable. Strictly speaking, much of it not sustainable. And because we are aware of it, we are simultaneously doing things to compensate for this: “I fly to Bali but I cycle to the office”, or “I live in a very big apartment but I have solar panels on the roof”. Compared to the idealistic consistency of the green pioneers this obviously appears a bit weak. Instead of saving the world we are content with doing a little something so that it doesn’t perish. Overall, the balance for sustainability is positive though: a) because there are many more people participating, at least sporadically, in sustainable consumption and b) because the range of sustainable products is growing steadily.

As a final question: how do we reach the great mass of consumers, some of whom consume sustainably? The answer is simple: by giving guidance. It has already been said that through the disappearance of closed environments and the emergence of patchwork existences a compulsion has arisen for people to define themselves. There is a correspondingly high demand for guidance. Guidance which companies must give. When consumers who are looking for guidance are simultaneously asked by companies what they would like, that’s not on. Figuratively speaking: It’s no good when two disoriented people ask each other for directions at a crossroads. It is the company’s task to bravely say where it’s headed. They must clearly formulate what they stand for as far as sustainability is concerned and state why they do what they do. The more attractive and credible this communication turns out to be, the more likely it is that guidance-seeking consumers will pounce upon it.

Interestingly, a circle closes here: the world again belongs to the persistent men of conviction – only this time they are on the corporate side.

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