The Memes 2019

Stone Age Brands
The New Luxury

“If luxury used to be the way that an object is executed, then I think that luxury in the future will be owning your own data. Sharing data selectively – whether its personal, practical, funny or poignant – will help give us back the sense of specialness in a world that is increasingly transparent.”

- Andreas Skjönberg, Happy Thinking People, Berlin

If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the consumer - you are the product. This is the maxim of our lives in the 21st century. Social media gave us ample opportunity to kill time, be entertained on-the-go, broadcast our likes and dislikes, and voyeuristically snoop on the lives of others. All this came ostensibly for free, but we paid for it by surrendering our data – data on our habits, behaviors, prejudices, fears, weaknesses and much more. Soon it wasn’t just technology companies that were keen on our data. Car manufacturers and insurers wanted to get our driving and movement data. Retailers wanted to predict and influence how often we buy, why we buy and what we buy. Pollsters wanted to understand interlinkages between our online interests and political affiliations.

Wider availability of consumer data allows companies to often offer products or services at lower prices. Companies can acquire or poach customers at lower costs and potentially pass on such benefits to customers. The benefits of big data analytics extend even further. From predicting demand and enabling production in a far more efficient manner to reducing inventories and channelizing customers’ desires towards more favorable (and profitable) products and services – the list is long.

For customers, it is no longer a question of trading their data and privacy. More and better analyzed data on consumers allow brands to manipulate behavior in ways that traditional advertising firms could only dream of. Your past is an open book – loyalty and fidelity, beauty spots and old warts, splurges and credit card debts – everything is open for the brand owner to judge and decide what you deserve.

While this will be the reality for a vast majority of brands and their consumers, there will always be a way out. Pay the price and you can escape your digitally determined fate. As humans, we want to be unpredictable, decide on the spur of the moment, be emotional and unreasonable, and guard with caution what others may think of us. That’s the space for luxury that will perhaps open up.

Tomorrow’s luxury brands will be those that promise to never use your data. No prejudice, no knowledge, no desire to know your past and no smart-alec suggestions of what you should be buying next. A fresh, new, unprejudiced experience every time you interact with the brand.

Brands that offer to forego prior knowledge of their customers, or resist selling such data to other ecosystem players, will be the new luxury. Apple is already gearing up to become a brand that valiantly protects user privacy and data. Search engine DuckDuckGo is built around the promise of protecting searchers' privacy and avoiding the filter bubble of personalized search results. It has 30 million monthly users and is rumored to become a paid service.

As we reach peak data, there will be brands that will rediscover good old ways of connecting with the emotional, irrational, unpredictable human beings that we all are.

Backward innovation is already evident in multiple domains. In developed countries, cities that were planned around wider roads and flyovers, are now focusing on cycling lanes and pedestrian walkways. Supermarkets are hosting farmers markets and flea bazaars – the very things they had taken away from communities. Flavorings, processed food, quick service restaurants and food tech are giving way to traditional cooking, craft beer, heirloom vegetables, organic staples and grass-fed meat. It will be the same with data-fed consumer brands.

I bought a newspaper this morning. It’s really great. Tons of information. Portable. Browsing friendly. No pop up ads or auto-start videos. No banner ads of diapers that I was searching last night. And I got to read what none of my friends had read before! Printing newspapers will be far more expensive than operating web portals. Especially if they carry no ads. Perhaps newspapers will be the luxury of tomorrow.