Romy Madley Croft

Strategy and the City

Midweek raving, chintz, and the missing pieces

Ogilvy UK's head of advertising strategy explains why it's a strategist's job to pay attention to what's missing in our lives


Enjoy your life. Enjoy your life. Enjoy your life. Smoke filled the club. Lasers hit the roof. Hands in the air. The Wednesday crowd was all love, love, love, as Romy belted out Enjoy Your Life, her club classic for a new generation of midweek ravers. Aside from the phones filming every second, it felt like we’d wound the clock back two decades. Something is happening on the club scene. After decades of nightlife going small, going serious, and going soft, there's a pendulum swinging full speed back to euphoria.

The old IKEA in Tottenham is a mega club with a capacity of up to 30,000 party people. Out goes intimate authenticity, in comes the anonymous thumping crowd. And I love it!

We shouldn’t be surprised. One of the biggest mistakes we make as marketers, and as people, is to think that every trend line extends ad infinitum. When we’re in the moment we struggle to pull our charts back far enough to see that we’re always on the point of a curve somewhere. It’s like the seasons. When the sun shines, we forget that winter ever existed, and imagine summer will last forever.

You see this yo-yo in full swing in the world of interiors. In a BBC podcast about the history of emulsion, Alain De Botton breaks down domestic trends. He points out that there are basically only two: Chintz and Minimalism. We merely flip between variations.

His analysis struck me. He says that when you look at how people decorate their homes, they aren’t showing you what they like, they are showing you what is missing from their lives. During an economic boom, minimalism is in. Lives are go-go-go people and miss the calm so they turn down the temperature with shades of white. Conversely, in hard times, it’s floral chintz that bustles in, filling the lack of economic success with a fantasy of a pre-industrial, un-economic idyll.

And that got me thinking. Perhaps ‘what’s missing?’ is the question that unlocks insight from information.

Our desktops creak with reams of reports. They tell us what people say, where they go, where they tap, what they buy, and how they behave. You can paint a detailed picture with all of it. Or you can use it to identify what is most notable by its absence. 

For example, much has been written about the rise of misogyny among young men. A recent study found 16 per cent of Gen Z men felt feminism had done more harm than good – more than the over 60s at 13 per cent. We can all blame Andrew Tate, point to his popularity and say young men have fallen for him and just don’t like women very much. That doesn’t get us far. If we ask what this trend indicates is missing, we ask much bigger questions.

Are young men missing a sense of their value? Have young men lost a sense of self-respect? Do they no longer feel important?

These are tough questions, and ones that might make a difference.

On a personal level, I heard the Rabbi of my synagogue recently remark that after 7 October, synagogue memberships in the UK have soared. You could conclude that people have started to believe more deeply in traumatic times. I’m not sure. (Reading Primo Levy will tell you that the darkest human suffering is just as much a catalyst for abandoning faith, as it is for finding it). I have a different reading from talking to people who have only recently started to engage in their religious community. For many, this re-engagement is not about faith at all. It’s being driven by a search for what is now missing in their lives - a sense of belonging and safety - at a time when antisemitic hate crimes in Britain reach new highs and demonisation has become par for the course.

Trends and data that tell simple stories are enticing. But it’s our job as strategists and marketers not just to bring the voice of the consumer into the room at face value, but to put what we hear on the Freudian couch.

Because, when we pay attention to what is missing, whether on the dance floor, in the living room, or in houses of worship, then we ask better questions, grow our ability to solve bigger problems, and even, start to grow ourselves.


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