Are You In or Are You Out?
It is not uncommon to see an eco-conscious Toyota Prius parked across the street from an oversized Cadillac Escalade as you drive through suburban sprawl. As consumers are offered numerous options, concurrent trends occur: Do you want to drive the vehicle with the latest in hybrid fuel technology or the one with the most luxury options? Both are the “next big thing” in the auto industry in a time when there is no longer one next big thing, but a thousand.
In Robyn Waters’ latest book, The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape, the conventional notion of trend is deconstructed to show that we live in a world of paradox, where it is acceptable to wear vintage jeans with a Michael Kors jacket while driving a Ford Escape Hybrid SUV.
Decades ago, a trend was either hot or not, and you were in or out. However, as consumers became more inundated with choices, marketers and trendmasters were less able to predict what the next big thing was going to be. “There wasn’t just one next big thing,” Waters informs. “Rather there were many different next big things, and they were happening concurrently. It became clear that for every trend there was a countertrend, and both were equally valid.”
Thus, contradictions have hit the market full force, with vehicles getting larger and ostentatious –– such as the Hummer –– while at the same time becoming smaller and cute –– like the Mini Cooper. Since there isn’t one big trend to follow, Waters suggests that the opposite ends of the trend spectrum should be examined to spot the emerging paradoxes that will eventually become hot.
Is It Vintage or a Rerun?
Trends, especially within fashion and films, tend to follow a cyclical pattern. The bell-bottoms that were worn by baby boomers in the 1960s and 1970s appeared for a second time in the mid-1990s, donned by the children of the boomers. As for Hollywood, the updated special effects of Peter Jackson’s 2005 blockbuster King Kong was a successful remake of the 1933 black-and-white classic.
As Waters makes evident, a number of the most innovative ideas are simply reinterpretations of old ideas. She claims, “… we increasingly find comfort in the familiar, but nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake will not suffice. It isn’t enough simply to replicate a former success, right down to the last detail. The most successful reincarnations are ones that engage us emotionally and respond directly to our new concerns.”
Exactly the Way You Want It
Aside from looking at “old is new again” products and services, Waters delves into the world of mass customization, citing the example of Toyota’s Scion xB, a highly sought-after vehicle that the company markets as “a cheap car with audacious accessories for the discriminating body piercer.” Accessories range from illuminated cup holders to colored door-lock covers, and buyers are able to create a virtual vehicle online before entering the showroom. Waters also identifies Cold Stone Creamery, Jones Soda and Build-A-Bear Workshop as other leaders in the customization sector.
The idea of luxurious commodities is explored, with Waters claiming that it’s all about “taking a ‘need’ and turning it into a ‘want.’” Designer Michael Graves has created a toilet brush for Target, while Christian Dior has entered the world of couture eyewear. However, Dior has moved beyond the standard eyeglass frame design and branched into the latest: contact lenses that enhance the eyes’ natural color, while rimming the iris with a gold or black ring and a miniature CD logo.
Waters also takes the time to look into the trends of less-is-more, healthy indulgences and counterfeit authenticity, giving ample examples of current products and services. Though the idea of paradoxical trends is not especially new, she calls to light many that are at the top of their game and gets readers thinking. “Life may be more complicated than we’d wish,” she writes in closing the book, “but it’s also simpler than we realize. We simply need to embrace the power of paradox and put it to work for us.”
Why We Like This Book
As the former vice president of Trend, Design and Product Development for Target –– one of the most popular and successful retailers –– Waters is an expert you can trust when it comes to what’s really in vogue. Citing numerous examples of trends that tend to contradict, Waters assures her readers that this is the face of the future. The Hummer and the Mini also enlightens marketers about accepting the paradoxes within the business world and how to take advantage of these contradictions as a source of innovative ideas.