Top Cultural Trends of 2023

Contributors: Maxine Gurevich, SVP/Cultural Intelligence and Courtney Mota, VP/Cultural Intelligence, Horizon Media

In 2022, we saw several pivotal events — the overturning of a 50-year law by the U.S. Supreme Court, Elon Musk’s seemingly impulsive Twitter takeover, FTX’s high-profile collapse, nationally televised hearings of the January 6th Committee and a contentious mid-term election. These are the kind of events that force people to question how the actions of a powerful few impact the majority. In 2023, we’ll be asking what role there is for brands to play in helping the current systems work better for more people. People are tired but better informed, and brands should prepare to demonstrate value upfront before asking people to part with their already-stretched, too-hard-earned money.  

Horizon Media’s WHY Group has identified major cultural shifts and key forces at play influencing the nine trends we’re seeing unfold for 2023. They include ongoing inflation, an uncertain job market, a new Congress with a new party in power and a relaxing of the hypervigilance we held for the past three years. We’re starting to see the practical uses of technology that just a few years ago seemed futuristic, and at the same time, we’re grappling with the broader societal impact of these technologies. 

Our Top Trends 2023 report dives into the following trends and illuminates each with brand implications and activation ideas. Below is a snapshot of the report.

  • Financial Frontiers: We’re seeing a major reform of the way people are strategizing and monetizing their investments today with an eye to their financial tomorrow. We found that 75% of those 18-34 are considering alternate forms of investments like reselling luxury goods or fine art. Many brands are focused on short-term profits in service of investors and shareholders, but brands that deliver long-term value, or work to create a two-way value exchange with customers (e.g., fractional shares with purchase) are poised for greater success amid market and inflationary fluctuations.
  • Failed Alt Systems: Inspired by evolving needs and enabled by emerging technologies, new or disruptive financial, entertainment or communication systems that are often designed to be more egalitarian than their legacy counterparts. But increasingly, we’re seeing them fail. Post-FTX scandal, people who haven’t yet explored new technology or are just starting to dabble in it are now less likely to do so. But at the same time, people often trust brands more than governments — giving brands the opportunity to think more broadly about the role they play in people’s lives.

  • Local Love: When the world’s supply chain came to a screeching halt as a result of COVID-19, brands were forced to streamline their products, and people were forced to streamline their lives. This gave people a renewed focus on their immediate surroundings and an increase in local patriotism. We found that 72% of adults 18+ appreciate brands that try to get to know their local culture and community. And since each city has a distinct personality, made up of connecting neighborhoods all with their own unique idiosyncrasies, a nuanced and insider understanding can help brands establish preference in a hard-to-win market.

  • Little Luxuries: Regardless of how the economy is affecting people across varied income levels, psychological outlooks and ages, people are finding ways to indulge on any budget. Seventy-four percent of adults told us they still make room to spend on their favorite little indulgences despite inflation concerns. But discerning the nuanced differences here is key — brands need to tune into how different people are redefining “treating themselves,” because it’s not an equal playing field.

  • Living History: Large-scale loss from the three-year pandemic (nearly three in four Americans know someone who has either been hospitalized or passed away from COVID-19) on top of widespread financial uncertainty is leaving people reluctant to think optimistically about the future. Nostalgia is set to become an extreme sport as brands, technology and institutions find innovative ways to recreate our safe space — the past. Brands that lean too future-forward may miss a critical mark as we see a surge in large-scale, immersive experiences that bring history to life, AI-generated art that pulls from past and present styles and a wave of historical fiction and nonfiction in entertainment.

  • Personal (AI)ssistants: Of the many systemic and societal faults illuminated by the pandemic, one looms large: burnout caused by the constant pressure of productivity. As AI moves from fantastical, or from fun TikTok filters to wide-scale utility, 52% of adults 18+ say they are willing to use the tech as a personal assistant to everyday tasks, like writing emails. Brands have an opportunity to leverage AI to help alleviate employees, clients and customers of the stressors their industries face to create a more seamless experience.

  • Tech Morality: Despite growing adoption, people are questioning advanced technology’s impact on society as ideas of ownership, authenticity, identity and altruism spark debate. As evolving technologies become mainstream, it is essential for brands to embrace this space. But with 63% of adults 18+ concerned that AI will intensify, not help, social issues, brands must also responsibly manage, anticipate and address its shortcomings. In adopting new technologies, brands have an opportunity to be proactive and transparent around their limitations when hiccups arise, putting integrity at the forefront of planning and communications.

  • Extreme Expressions: A prolonged period of restriction has led to a chaotic behavioral response. Coupled with the rise of short-form video in a fast-paced attention economy, people are pushing the limits of weirdness to grab and hold people’s attention. We found that 64% of adults 18+ prefer brands that don’t take themselves too seriously. And as more people expect authenticity to come packaged in extreme forms, brands need to get comfortable with living on the margins if they want to achieve and maximize relevance.

  • Flex Aesthetic: As rent and mortgage rates continue to rise, an increased desire to refresh our existing living spaces is sprouting new occasions for style and interior design changeups. Brands that offer unique, modular design inspiration for mood- or occasion-based décor changes can win favor while also creating new shopping occasions throughout the year. With people eager to update their IRL surroundings like they try out filters on social media, capitalizing on spontaneous rather than seasonal product innovations and experiences is key.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *