Brands in Britain 2024

Brands in Britain 2024: Will the return of Fyre Festival be a portent?

2024 promises many things - and it certainly won't be boring, say the BBH joint CSOs

By Simon Gregory and Will Lion

This year, Fyre Festival - the greatest party that never happened - will return. Will it be a disaster, just fine, or a knockout? What will the sandwiches be like?

It feels very 2024 because never has a year been so hard to call.

Stocks are up like there’s no recession. Gold and bitcoin up are like there is one. Inflation is falling but everything costs a billion pounds. Home prices are up like inflation is rising. Most banks’ outlook for 2024 is “cautious”, “mixed”, no-one-really-knows. There are real wars, cold wars and cultural wars. Big elections are coming. And artificial general intelligence may be simmering up into existence. On the plus side we'll have the Paris Olympics and astronauts might go for a loop around the Moon. It’s something.

So what might 2024 have up its sleeve for us and what should brands be thinking about? Here are six ideas.

1. The economy will surprise us

There have been 23 US elections since the S&P 500 Index began. In these election years 19 of the 23 years (83 per cent) had positive performance. Other reasons to be optimistic: rate cuts by central banks should begin in 2024 in developed markets, economists expect growth in real disposable income and jobs, headline inflation is dropping, and the issues that have plagued industry are easing. Goldman Sachs puts a recession probability at just 15% over the next 12 months. For brands we think this means don’t get stuck in the recession waiting room, think big and long or get lapped by those who are.

2. Cultural unrest will intensify

No politics at the dinner table might be good advice for brands in 2024. When America sneezes the world catches a cold and this year the US (and UK and India) have big elections. These will be more tribal and angry than ever, as people get hosed with a 24 hour, AI-spiced algorithm incentivized for extremes. As the FT reported recently, perceptions of economic ‘reality’ are a function of how you voted, not the data. It’s all vibes, so the bubbles are only going to get worse. For brands, with such strong reality distortion fields in play, we say: be Switzerland (but less boring). Don't get involved unless you really, really, really have the goods to back it up and feel like a fight. Stick to your lane, sell with flair and entertain. Do not commit brand sabotage chasing the latest culture war ball around.

3. The Deserted Middle will be an opportunity

With media extremism whipping up the big issues and brands often operating in very tiny moments, it’s easy to forget life happens in the inbetween. Neither macro nor micro. In the The Road to Somewhere David Goodhart recognises that the biggest group of the population live close to the community they grew up in, connected by family, school friends, and jobs (he calls them Somewheres). Most days are not extreme but extremism sells newspapers; most people are ordinary but extraordinary sells; most brand managers are left-leaning but their audiences are mixed. For brands who want to be a salve for the fragmentation, focus on bonding and consolidating groups around the major passions in your category or the increasingly deserted ‘new middle’, where most people are. Ignore the madness at the edges and aim for the heart: families, relationships, the office, the everyday, the stuff of actual life.

4. Safety vs truth will be the new faultline

Media will crack apart further and be seen differently depending on your viewpoint. Mainstream media, which is at all time low levels of trust, will either be the flawed authority or untrustworthy, partisan tripe. TikTok will either be the most vibrant, authentic platform or Chinese propaganda. X will either be seen as a bastion of free speech or a cesspool. Instagram and Facebook will either be comforting safe spaces or sterile government sock puppets. As such brand safety will rear its head again. For brands, we suspect that the mood will shift as businesses find the economic biting point between safety and profit. The Overton window - the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time - will shift and instead of jumping at the sensitivities of vocal extremes brands will increasingly do what matters to the majority of their audience more.

5. Straight talking will punch harder

Did you see how Ricky Gervias sold his new Dutch Barn Vodka? “Sure, like all strong liquor, it may damage your liver — and your well-being — but think about how happy it’ll make me if [you buy it]...And the best bit is, this could literally make me hundreds of millions”. It’s refreshing in a world of polished messages how much just the straight truth of a matter can grab you by the shoulders. In 2024 there’s going to be more generative fakeness, over polish and sanitising going on - all on election steroids. Zigs will multiply. For brands, we think straighter talking is going to stand out. The truth zags. Tom Waits once said he likes his “music with the rinds and the seeds and pulp left in.” Brands, let’s give that a try.

6. Automation economics begin

In 2023 we all had a play with AI. In 2024 it gets real. With pressure on budgets and with cost curves getting forced down because AI can do it more cheaply, things like data analysis, strategic recommendation, presentation design and content creation get increasingly outsourced to the robots. Humans will still conduct this orchestra but bigger and bigger chunks get handed over. For brands, these savings are to be embraced of course. But caution is warranted. AI assets should be strategic and not just the cheapest content possible optimised for clicks, or we race to the bottom of the human psyche and tarnish our brands. And ‘Difference’ should taped on to the top of every brand manager’s laptop, because we've just created the greatest zig generator of all time. When everything starts to look, sound and feel too AI-y, lush, fresh, surprising zags will win attention and wallets. Or just sod it, and have a good old laugh with it on the socials - that’s what people really want.

It won’t be a boring year that’s for sure - but maybe for once we could live in slightly less interesting times.

Enjoy Fyre Festival 2 everyone. Let’s pray for better sandwiches.

Will Lion & Simon Gregory are joint CSOs at BBH London


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