The Behaviours That Defined 2022

2022 review. Paper post it notes with 2022 sumary written.

By India Doyle, Editorial Director, Canvas8 and J’Nae Phillips, Insights Editor, Canvas8

Cultural, social and political shifts have – this year – emerged faster than ever before thanks to the alignment of mass digitisation, decentralised networks, rising financial anxiety, hybrid working, a war in Europe, and various climate-linked disasters. It’s not surprising that the two words of the year were ‘goblin mode’ and ‘permacrisis’, chosen by Oxford and Collins’ Dictionaries respectively. These two terms encompass the cause and effect of a year full of crisis. As global events unfolded, people retreated into their homes, letting everything go as they focused on getting through.

From people embracing being hot messes to finding maximal joy in micro moments, to the end of hustle culture and new eco standards, we unpack some key themes from 2022 – and explore what’s going to happen next.

1. Hot Mess

We’ve seen perfection fatigue become a form of active resistance against oppressive cultural ideals and archetypes this year. People have found, and continue to find, power in anti-perfection and embracing full feral-ness.

Craving more legitimate and honest forms of self-expression, Gen Zers have been seeking out platforms that promote authenticity and ‘realness’ while promoting self-proclaimed ‘ugly’ aesthetics online in what can be described as ‘anti-aesthetic authenticity’. We’ve seen this through the rise of platforms like BeReal, which taps into this desire through no frills sharing among friends, and also through hyper niche trends on TikTok such as ‘Ugly Cakes’ and goblincore.

Pandemic lockdowns stripped back the idea that there’s a perfect way to look after yourself. Instead, we’ve seen a shift in focus towards ‘doing you’ – performing self care in ways that work for people’s individual needs. The result? Chaotic wellness; expressions of wellness that are loud and messy. Examples here range from mom scream events – where parents gather on football fields across the US to release their anxiety and frustration – to Twitch mental health guru Dr K, and the ‘Healthy Gamer’ who invites experts onto his channel to discuss mental health.

What comes next?

We’re in a new punk era, where aesthetic deconstruction offers a means of processing the experience of the world around us. In 2023, people will continue to find uncertainty in awkward expressions. Our experts predict that we’ll see a boom in nostalgia-driven design that emphasises awkward and DIY appearances. Here, there’ll also be a sense of comfort in these knowing nods, helping people find stability through references to the past.

2. Major Mini Moments

Remote working and the rise of the gig economy means that many people’s days no longer follow standardised arcs. A lack of routine combined with more frugal mindsets is causing people to seek lo-fi, individualised ways to treat themselves – and the tactile, sensory experience of food is proving the perfect outlet for spontaneous moments of indulgence and escapism. Brands such as KFC and Burger King have really owned this new mindset. In the UK, KFC launched its First Bite campaign which portrays customers relishing those few seconds before they bite into their favourite snacks. As each customer raises their treats to their mouths, a crunching sound accompanies the on-screen visuals, followed by the words: “There’s nothing like the first bite.”

In the USA, Burger King’s You Rule campaign features a nostalgic remix of its 1970’s jingle and aims to put people in charge of their own fun food moments. Playing on the classic tagline ‘Have it Your Way’, Burger King is putting its customers front and centre when it comes to individuality. The advert showcases a variety of people enjoying Burger King in different situations, placing customers in charge and emphasising their freedom to enjoy Burger King whenever, wherever, and however they like.

As cost of living pressures bite, this year has also been about people seeking feel-good, immersive moments in small doses. Lower costs, well-reported health benefits, and last minute spontaneity have seen people come to cherish holidays and shorter breaks in the natural world. With the price of international travel rising, local excursions into the wild satisfy a desire for no-frills trips and make people feel good on a budget.

What comes next?

2022 has definitely laid the ground for people ‘doing them’ and making life work on their terms. As people reject the pressure to conform to certain standards or ways of being, and with the pressure of a recession growing, expect 2023 to be an age driven by instinct, with an emphasis on individual needs and mini moments of major pleasure.

3. Resistance Rising

When Molly-Mae Hague provided the immortal soundbite that “we all have the same 24 hours in a day as Beyoncé”, it not only sparked the usual ribbing online, but also some serious and useful conversations about the need to push past ideas like ‘the girlboss’, and recognise them as just more pressure gussied up in millennial pink. By the middle of 2022, the concept of anti-ambition had really mainstreamed. Burnt out and disenfranchised by existing societal structures, workers have been challenging the status quo, and this looks set to continue.

Hustle culture is no longer aspirational. For years, the ‘rise and grind’ mentality has seen people push themselves to the limit. But as many struggle to recover from the shock of the pandemic and wrestle with the cost of living crisis, they’re rethinking how and why they want to work – and are challenging employers to do the same. We’ve seen a work-life rethink and people are calling out poor working conditions and demanding change. A sense of disenchantment with existing systems has resulted in a wave of fresh interest in labour organisations and union culture, with a particular focus on support and structure.

What comes next?

2023 looks set to see the tensions between employers and employees become more fraught. With research from City & Guilds finding that one in ten young people – who have not yet entered the workforce – never intend to do so, there’s a clear challenge for businesses to innovate the experience they offer. An interesting example here is the Other Box, an organisation that provides guidance and training on workplace conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), specifically making the approach intersectional and wide-ranging.

4. Planet-Positive Purpose

With Gens Z and Y especially vocal about businesses’ responsibility to the environment, values-based shopping has become central to purchasing intentions. We’ve witnessed a rise in brands and businesses pivoting to future proof their sectors through holistic sustainability strategies that combat present and future climate challenges.  But despite outrage at Shein’s unethical scale production and human-rights violations and (justified) accusations of greenwashing at Kourtney Kardashian Baker’s ‘sustainable’ collection with Boohoo, Gen Zers are still happy to buy fast-fashion.

Tired of greenwashing, people are pushing brands to radically rethink their sustainable models. But are consumers willing to apply the same scrupulous values they apply to brands to themselves? Since Shein was crowned as 2022’s most popular fashion brand, it appears not.  And that’s thanks to the intention-action gap, inflation means eco-minded individuals are less able to pay the green premium. Despite people’s good intentions – they’re only able to act as they can within the system they’re provided. Individual action can only influence 25-27% of the changes needed by 2030 through lifestyle changes. Brands and businesses would do well to consider their role in influencing change with wider stakeholders outside of consumers, such as government, suppliers and workers.

What comes next?

Speaking to Canvas8 for our expert outlook 2023, Aphinya Siranart, the head of exploration at the United Nations Development Programme in Thailand, said:  “When we talk about sustainability, most people just think ‘sustainability equals the environment’, but it’s actually not the case. When you talk about sustainability, it’s basically the Sustainable Development Goals – gender equality, governance, business inclusion, everything that is included under the word ‘sustainability’. People try to equate it to the environment but the environment is just part of it.” Needing to support sustainable initiatives and bring deeper transparency will be right up there as a key priority for businesses wanting to win trust in 2023.

5. Active Community

2022 was the year of the ‘big twist’ and peak mystery. Our obsession with scandal reflects the desire people have to be more than spectators when it comes to entertainment. The intrigue of scam culture generated new watercooler moments and also allowed people to practise solving problems at a time when many felt they had less agency over their lives, marking a new era of proactive escapism. This was seen most-conspicuously with some of the most-watched tv shows of the year: with The Watcher and Inventing Anna hitting Google’s top five tv shows and movies (global, 2022), and Jeffrey Dahmer making it to the overall top ten trending google searches (global, 2022).  In the media, people shifted towards decentralised communities, engaging with niche passions on dark media, private groups and selective spaces. People are seeking spaces outside legacy social media where they can own and participate to build niche communities, thanks in part to up to one in ten US social media users believing they have been shadowbanned.

While smaller communities have always been part of the social landscape, in 2022 we’ve seen this happen in reaction to 5+ years of political polarisation, and increasing cynicism around platform monocultures. The pandemic accelerated the move of community behaviours into online spaces, with 77% of people saying that the most important community group they are part of now operates online.  Discord and Reddit are a good example of platforms that have seen big growth in the pandemic era. Pseudonymous platforms have been on the rise, allowing authentic community building, improved privacy, and greater freedom of expression. Even Whatsapp is introducing a way to ghost from group chats, while Twitter launched Circles, a feature that enables users to tweet to close friends only.

As the stability of spaces such as school, home and socialising in the traditional sense becomes harder to achieve or maintain for many people, some are developing alternative ways of creating a sense of place, relying on objects and third spaces to evoke feelings of rootedness.

What comes next?

As people look to focus more on community and find a sense of connection and rootedness in their local or online communities, smaller, less curated, and topic-oriented services like LetterBoxd and Geneva will continue to rise, making way for even nicher references and new forms of insider references to emerge in culture. Meanwhile, in times of uncertainty, we know that objects can bring a sense of comfort. People will seek out new forms of nostalgia that bring a sense of settledness within their physical environment – expect DIY objects like collages and pinboards as Y2K makes itself felt in new sectors.

Identity Flex

With chaos reigning around them, people are defining themselves on their terms. As the geopolitical landscape has become increasingly unstable, we’ve seen a surge in nationalist movements that are making many people feel uneasy about the future of their countries. In the absence of a shared global or even regional vision, people are using local pride to express patriotism and find a sense of purpose and belonging. This is really clearly playing out in America, where polarised values are seeing people move states to find political representation that better reflects their beliefs. Meanwhile in China, young urban Gen Zers are generating the 土酷 (tǔ kù, or ‘too cool’) subculture which takes inspiration from rural, older audiences, to re-engage with their history in an affectionate way.

This year we’ve seen new gender dynamics emerging as younger generations confidently experiment with and express their identities in evolved ways. Progress isn’t always linear – while some are reclaiming traditional gender stereotypes for a new age, others are looking to the past to subvert the direction of cultural change. The rise of Gen Z’s gender traditionalists speaks to the fact that progress isn’t always linear, even for younger generations. Two key examples that really embody this behaviour include LEAK NYC, a US based lingerie brand which is pushing industry boundaries to make lingerie more inclusive, advancing the notion that it’s not just for women. From mesh bodysuits to crystal harnesses, its lingerie line caters to expanded conceptions of masculinity and gender expressions and by making luxury affordable. Leak NYC also makes it easier for people to splurge as a means of self-care and boosting self-esteem. And also NYX’s PROUDLY PRO-YOU campaign celebrates and supports the talents of the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly people of colour within the community. With many people feeling underrepresented by the LGBTQIA+ media in the UK, brands are aiming to embody unhindered self-expression and self-acceptance.

What comes next?

In 2023, the idea of carving your own identity will deepen as polarisation grows. Canvas8’s research found that 44% of people across the UK and US say that ‘personal history’ is the key factor in their identity. As such, people will expect brands to level up their equity initiatives and pursue holistic strategies. People are becoming accustomed to seeing not just gender-neutral design but radical expressions of inclusivity that centre the shared experiences that bring people together. Inclusion has become imperative across all sectors, and those brands that don’t catch up will soon be seen as retrograde or reactionary for maintaining their position.

2023 Outlook

Amid the perma-turmoil that so many are living through, we are entering the Age of Instinct. Loyalty, sustainability, and conformity are all going to take a back seat to survival, the preservation of our own sanity and safeguarding.

As the cost of living crisis continues to take hold of peoples’ lives, parting with money for anything and everything will become an even bigger deal than it already is. As a result, shoppers will be looking to brands to help them legitimise their spending – whether through enhanced customer service elevations, or leveraging augmented and virtual reality to increase customer confidence when shopping online.

Self-soothing and emotional spending will continue to rise, particularly among young people – but with the cost of living rising to increasingly unmanageable levels for many, the instinct to reduce spending will be a powerful one. Longevity will be key when it comes to making purchases, as people look to invest in products that they believe will last, indicating a move away from movements like fast fashion and towards a deeper appreciation of craft and creation.

Brands can look to help people justify their instincts for self-preservation through emotional spending, and positioning themselves and their products as a way to fuel that self-gratification many will be craving throughout 2023 and beyond.

Preview Canvas8’s take on the behaviors set to define and disrupt 2023 here:

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