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Raw, real and relatable: How content is reflecting the friendship recession

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For most of 2023 politicians and economists have been engaged in an ongoing debate about whether or not the Western world is in a recession. While I am not here to comment on the financial state of play going into 2024, I can tell you this: We are in a friendship recession.

Despite being more connected than we have ever been - through mobile phones, connected TV, the internet and social media - we are lonely. Research from Survey Center on American Life informs us this endless stream of connection to the outside world comes at a time when people of all ages say they are lonelier than ever, and feel a pressure on their mental health.

Living a life in partial broadcast mode, posting photos and updates, as well as news and views, and then seeking or anticipating likes, comments and shares, means people - particularly in younger generations where social media use is highest - are always performing, existing in a heightened state of ‘always on’ and projecting a persona that they feel under pressure to maintain for an outside audience.

But as we head into 2024 the signs are there that people are pushing back. They are looking for an antidote to this way of life, seeking authenticity within a smaller circle of contacts. Instead of craving likes and likeability, we are increasingly noticing people shifting away from perfectly polished output and instead leaning into something raw and real.

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Joe Hurst

The content that is resonating most with our own creators and audiences right now is that which is authentic and relatable - directly reflecting their current mindset. As a result they are seeking niche communities and smaller worlds where they can share in their interests and engage in conversations that allow them to be their true self rather than a curated persona.

And brands are responding to that. Not only are they seeing first hand how engaged people are with this less polished, more targeted content, but by speaking to consumers in a more relaxed, less guarded mindset they are potentially happier, less stressed and more open to advertising messages.

Creating more tailored ad campaigns aimed at smaller communities will involve some trade off for brands as the creative will naturally reach fewer people, but the impact will likely be far greater. We know that people in these niche online communities are more likely than mainstream audiences to be influenced on purchase decisions by friends and family recommendations, so a presence in that space and being part of those conversations will pay dividends for brands.

So what type of marketing idea should a brand wishing to be present in that environment adopt?

Firstly, it’s all about tone of voice. You are entering a conversation so it is imperative to make sure your voice is right and the content you’re producing is authentic. Purpose-focused work has been growing in popularity for a reason, and is now resonating with more people than ever before.

Brands who are most successful in this space will be so because they put the consumers first. This means putting them at the forefront of every decision made, at every step taken. And while your brand purpose will not resonate with everyone, it will make you relevant to your key demographic so should appeal to them.

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Rebecca Hendin

Once you are clear on what that brand purpose is, it's about going where your audience is, and tapping into the culture that is relevant for that audience. Consumers are increasingly looking for engaging and immersive experiences. And that can materialise in many ways.

Augmented reality, for instance, creates a huge opportunity for powerful connection as it drives user-generated content (UGC) through pre or post-capture lenses that users can interact with. Giving consumers the tools to engage with the brand and then sharing the results, will drive brand visibility and awareness. And it’s not just about entertainment - it can also be directly connected with a purchase, such as AR Try On lenses.

There are other base trends we will see next year, from a dominance of video content - but, again as authentic, user-generated format from both big broadcasters and nano-influencers alike - to the rise of generative AI which I predict will help prompt creative ideas, though in no way replace the essential nuance and experience that only a human can bring.

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Thorbjørn Ruud

Online communities have always been evolving to reflect what is happening in the outside world, and CMOs are highly skilled at responding to that change. 2024 promises to bring one of the more fundamental behavioural changes we have seen in years so a more wholesale shift in brand activity is needed.

Getting more hands-on with products in an augmented or remote way through a creative mechanic that puts the consumer at the forefront of the experience will offer brands the opportunity for engagement in a space where the mindset is positive, and the experience feels on point thanks to a clear purpose and a cultural connection.

By Valentina Culatti, Director of Creative Strategy and Production, Snap Inc.

Header image by Alessio Monaco'

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