TBWA’s Backslash Reveals The Cultural Shifts Defining the Next Wave of Wellness


LOS ANGELES, Sept. 30, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Today Backslash, TBWA’s cultural intelligence unit, released EDGE, a new magazine that explores the next wave of Wellness. The project unpacks the evolving $4.5 trillion dollar global wellness industry by exploring its main shifts, pre-COVID and during COVID, with an eye toward helping brands understand the role they can play as consumer behavior and attitudes change. The digital edition of EDGE can be viewed here.

“Wellness has historically been a privileged pursuit. But in 2020, the world discovered that none of us is well until all of us are well. The COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that our own health and wellness is intrinsically connected to that of others around us; and by exacerbating existing access gaps, ushered in a greater consciousness that wellness for all must be a priority. As wellness becomes more mainstream, brands have a role to play in democratizing access to all of its facets: from financial to environmental wellness, from wellness in sex to wellness in death. Every brand, in some way, is a wellness brand now. We hope this project provokes and inspires brands to think about wellness as the new springboard for innovation and social responsibility,” said Agathe Guerrier, co-Chief Strategy Officer, TBWAWorldwide.

The project’s five overarching conclusions are as follows:

  1. Wellness is going back to basics
    A phenomenon preceding but accelerated by COVID-19: we’ve come to trust scientists over influencers; bleach over essential oils; nature walks over gym memberships. We’re rediscovering the value of simple public health practices like hand-washing over complex surgical procedures. This will force the wellness industry to address our basic needs first and foremost.

    Global online searches related to epidemiology are up 80% since November 2019, catalyzed by the pandemic. “How to become an epidemiologist” has consistently been taking over “How to become a brain surgeon” in search queries over the same time period. (Source: Google Trends, August 2020)

  2. It’s “Wellness & Health,” not “Health & Wellness”
    Curative healthcare, however sophisticated, can only do so much. With comorbidities linked to increased COVID fatalities, the pandemic is making us all realize that it’s better to stay well than wait for illness to strike. Increasingly, a wellness-promoting lifestyle will be our priority, while health treatment becomes plan B.

    After a spike of 44% at the start of the crisis, the proportion of Americans who say they are “fearful for their health and safety” has stabilized at a very high level, above 35% in most countries. This will fuel a more proactive, wellness-seeking approach to health. (Source: Hall and Partners, Global COVID-19 Panel, July 2020)

  3. Wellness with a capital W
    Wellness used to be supplemental, superficial, unproven—turmeric in your latte, essential oils. But wellness is growing up: the next wave of wellness will be legitimized by science and elevated by institutions. To win over remaining wellness nonbelievers, it will have to prove that it works.

    Vitamin purchases have declined by 8% since the crisis started, suggesting we are prioritizing more proven remedies. (Source: OMNI, advanced audience data)

  4. Wellness is getting political
    Pre-pandemic, class rage was a brewing battle between the 1% vs. the rest of us, signaled by the canceling of elitist wellness brands like Peloton and movies such as Parasite. But COVID, alongside the Black Lives Matter resurgence, has exposed and created greater divisions in health and wealth. In the U.S., mask-wearing has become a new culture war. And self-care is reclaiming its activist origins. The next wave of wellness will demand “Access for All” and brands will champion democratization.
  5. Wellness is our new global religion
    We’re looking for control in an out-of-control world, and wellness is providing a new order. In a post-truth, increasingly secular world, wellness is now the place people are turning to in order to find meaning, belonging, guidance and hope. While religion used to fulfill our spiritual needs, wellness has taken its place, emerging as a holistic solution that serves our mind, body and soul. In a polarized, COVID-ified world, wellness is something we can all believe in.

Sarah Rabia, Global Director of Cultural Strategy for TBWA and the Editor in Chief of EDGE said, “Before COVID— or ‘BC’—wellness was one of the world’s biggest, fastest-growing and least understood industries. But avocado toast, fasting, athleisure and being shouted at while sitting on a $2k stationary bike are mere saplings compared to what’s on the horizon. This next wave of wellness will converge with the medical and brand worlds. Treating illness and optimizing well-being will become part of the same system, one that extends beyond the self to the planet. We are redefining ‘Holistic Health.’ In fact, we may need new language to describe it. Wellness will still be sold in smoothies, but it will also become a science.”  

Content within EDGE includes interviews, data visualizations, portraits and more, and featuring a balance of pure editorial, alongside some tangible ‘What if’ implications for brands in key categories. Stories include Business of the Body: how Body Hacking is the 21st century’s DIY biology; New Audiences of Wellness: Yolo boomers, Gen-Ziety, Clean Freaks and Fempowered activists are redefining wellness for all; The New Coming Out: how menopause is being rebranded as the best time in a woman’s life; Cottagecore: A youth subculture that fetishizes nature, accelerated by COVID and TikTok; a Wellness Timeline, from 3000 B.C. to now; our inaugural list of 10 Wellness Disruptors who are leading the new wave of wellness; and much more.

Backlash also highlights top Edges accelerated by COVID-19 and top emerging Edges post-COVID. An Edge is TBWA’s word for a cultural shift or cultural value that helps brands identify insights and opportunities. Edges also provide direction on evolving cultural, consumer and category behavior.

Top 5 Edges accelerated by COVID-19:

  1. Helicopter Tech: Everything is watching you. Governments, brands and devices are turning into “helicopter parents” — or worse, monitoring your every move. Fitbit shares user data with health insurers — and some customers have walked. Universities vet applicants by stalking social media. Friends track each other through geo-location apps. With privacy at a premium, new businesses are being born to help users stay stealth or monetize their data. What if… data was assigned a universal monetary value? Making it easy to understand the worth of your information?
  2. Get Mild: Gen Z and millennials are denying the stereotypes of wild youthful transgressions. Rates of drug use, drinking and teen pregnancy have all fallen off a cliff as a generation opts to play it safe. From knitting scarves to drinking mocktails, mild activities are building the bedrock of the next era of community gathering. What if… tech devices tracked our downtime instead of our activity? Prompting us to fit relaxation into our daily routine?
  3. Frugalicious: Frugal is the new sexy. People are looking to spend less and look good doing it, with penny-pinching apps and FIRE retirement goals. For many, the pandemic made it essential. Frugal doesn’t mean cheap. It’s a lifestyle choice that allows people to do more of what they love in the face of economic uncertainty. What if… budget apps and financial services helped customers live their best life on less money?
  4. Indie Health: Alternative health isn’t on the sidelines anymore. It’s gone mainstream and is complementing and sometimes competing with traditional medicine on efficacy, accessibility and price. With the corporatization of healthcare, a simpler, patient-led, indie approach to staying well is gaining traction. What if…every business had an internal team focused on promoting self-care to their customers and staff?
  5. Zero Out: From always-on to the “Time of Off,” welcome to a reflective new era. Sleep is the new Adderall. Headspace, our Lululemon. We’ve overstimulated to the point of detachment, and now we’re collectively hitting the pause button to reconnect to ourselves. Nothingness is a new ideology we’re embracing—from zero waste to silence at work to “JOMO,” and we’re creating new language to sell the benefits of zero. Absence is the antidote. What if… brands created the simplest, quietest, even invisible version of their product?

Top 5 Emerging Edges Post-COVID:

  1. Neo-Animism: Should animals, land and rivers have the same rights as humans? A growing global movement says yes. In Bangladesh, rivers now have the same legal status as people. And Colorado ruled that animals can sue corporations for harm. 40% of the world’s population is “animistic”—the belief that all things have a soul. With the rise of eco-activism and veganism, we’re entering a new moral frontier that challenges the dominance of capitalism and humanity itself. What if… businesses respected nature’s rights just as they do workers’ rights? 
  2. Wacko World: We’re all weird now. The absurd, inexplicable and plain silly have become common vocabulary in memes, fashion and marketing. This is a reaction to overconsumption and logic, and signals a desire for the unique and irrational. What if… health became the new hedonism? Think sober boozing, self-care sprees and Animal Crossing-style worlds?
  3. Travel Right: From carbon footprint-shaming and overtourism laws, to taxes on international air travel, the pre-pandemic world was taking action to deal with the damage of thoughtless travel. Now, with many people staying close to home, local destinations are gaining steam. Coupled with new ecotourism and micro-travel movements, consumers and businesses are working together to establish a new moral compass. Don’t just travel light; travel right. What if… tourism brands helped us discover local destinations and not just new, far-flung ones?
  4. Work-Life Boundaries: Work defined us, but we’re losing our religion. Say goodbye to work-life blur and hello to drawing the lines. People are starting to put work in a box that’s separate from the rest of their lives and decouple passion from paycheck. And progressive companies and governments are helping them do it, to remedy burnout and attract talent. You are not your job anymore. We’re looking for purpose elsewhere and new ways to self-actualize. What if… companies and culture celebrated well-rounded individuals over workaholic go-getters? 
  5. Homebody Economy: COVID-19 has made homebodies of us all and transformed a millennial, DC2-led sector into an economy encompassing every industry. From restaurants to hotels to hygiene, it’s at-home or bust — for good. What if… every business reimagined its products and services for the home?

To put together the Wellness project and magazine, TBWA’s team drew from its global spotter network of more than 250 strategists and creatives in 45 countries within the TBWA collective; conducted desk research and interviews with more than 50 doctors, VCs, semioticians, authors and teenagers; and utilized proprietary research from sibling agency Hall and Partners. The magazine’s articles were authored by individuals within TBWA’s Backslash team. The publication will be shared with TBWA clients and employees to inspire and shape their thinking, communications and actions.

About Backslash
Backslash is a cultural intelligence unit powered by global advertising agency TBWAWorldwide that monitors cultural shifts around the world and translates them into business opportunity for brands. Backslash is shaped by more than 250 agency creatives and strategists who monitor emerging and evolving trends that directly impact society, consumers and category behavior. Each cultural shift enables Backslash to codify a change and identify insights and opportunities for brands. For more information on Backslash, follow us on Instagram at @TBWABackslash or www.backslash.com.

About TBWAWorldwide
TBWA is The Disruption® Company: the cultural engine for 21st-century business. Named one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company and Adweek’s 2018 Global Agency of the Year, we create disruptive ideas that locate and involve brands in culture, giving them a larger share of the future. Our collective has 11,300 creative minds across 275 offices in 95 countries, and also includes brands such as Auditoire, Digital Arts Network (DAN), eg+ worldwide, GMR, The Integer Group®, TBWAMedia Arts Lab, TBWAWorldHealth and TRO. Global clients include adidas, Apple, Gatorade, Henkel, Hilton Hotels, McDonald’s, Nissan and Singapore Airlines. Follow us on TwitterLinkedIn and Instagram, and like us on Facebook. TBWA is part of Omnicom Group.

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