Last summer, Publicis stuck its neck out and put together a list of
what it felt were the 40 ’Now Products of 1997’.
Compiled by the agency’s Context Analysis team, the predictions were the
result of media analysis to produce market intelligence and predictive
trends for the agency and its clients. The premise is that what
consumers will think tomorrow depends largely on what they see, read, or
hear in the media today.
One year on, apart from a handful of complete flops, the predictions
stand up fairly well to the harsh scrutiny of hindsight. There were some
runaway successes. In its hi-tech section, Publicis predicted the craze
for the Bandia Tamagotchi toy pets, which it saw as part of a wider
trend for controlling and personalising technology.
Other hits were the launch of the Renault (a Publicis client) Scenic
family saloon, which went on to gain a 1.4 per cent market penetration,
and the Vodazap pager. The popularity of the CompuServe Internet
connection and ISDN lines are undisputed. But, sadly, the same can’t be
said for the Philips In-Car navigation system, which Publicis admits was
not the runaway success it had expected.
In the fashion stakes, Publicis got it right when it identified the
obsession with wearing brand names and the success of Ben Sherman, but
was off-target by predicting a trend for easy-care men’s clothing and an
80s revival of big jewellery and big shoulder pads for women.
’Padded shoulders didn’t happen but high-heels and micro-minis did,’
Context Analysis researcher, Rebecca Gledhill, says.
There were a few more failures in the body/healthcare category. Publicis
wrongly identified the super-premium Rembrandt whitening toothpaste as a
hit and also predicted a growth in anti-E-coli household products which
never materialised. On the positive side, it can claim some success with
anti-bacterial household cleansers, tea-tree oil, essential oils and
’scientific’ skin creams.
The agency did better in the household sector, identifying a boom in
coloured kettles and predicting the success of the Dulux paint
In retail, it was spot-on with the continuing expansion of the Muji
Publicis highlighted a big trend for revivals and traditional English
products, which its chief executive, Dan O’Donoghue, admits has since
faded. But it was right in identifying the persistent popularity of
Irish bars, attributable partly to the feminisation of pubs, and the
craze for ’adrenalin’ leisure activities which offer controlled
In media, Publicis successfully singled out FHM magazine, which now has
a monthly circulation of just over half a million compared with Loaded’s
380,000, and Mrs Cohen’s Money Programme on Channel 4, which went on to
attract more than a million viewers.
The Fuse chocolate bar, which Cadbury has claimed is its most successful
launch for 15 years, was another hit along with Kettle Chips
adult-oriented crisps. Market reaction to Yakult bio yoghurt has been
Publicis came a cropper with Kilkenny Irish beer, which is being outsold
by the market leader, Caffrey’s, following distribution problems. And,
showing how hard it is to predict the success of launches, Publicis
scored a definite miss with United Distillers’ Irish white spirit,
Hackler Poitin, which it wrongly predicted would take the UK by
Despite these misses, not a bad first attempt.
MARKET MOVERS IN 98
It’s official - technology is no longer geeky. Anything but, according
to Publicis, which finds technology perceived as not only adventurous,
creative and futuristic but increasingly sensual, designer and
’Technology is becoming fashion,’ says Virginia Cameron, head of the
Context Analysis team which carried out the research. ’It works well,
that’s understood, but it’s so much part of your life that it has to
This is the trend behind the Nokia Xpress-on phone covers - colourful
clip-on covers used to personalise your phone as a fashion accessory
that becomes part of your outfit. Customisation also helps differentiate
between home and work environments.
Controlling technology is also the theme of Lego Mindstorms, tipped as
the top Christmas present of 1998. Retailing at pounds 150, Mindstorms
are Lego robots which you build and programme using software. ’You’re
giving it life. You’re not just telling it what to do - you’re playing
God,’ Cameron says.
Publicis identifies the pose factor of videophones as an upcoming trend,
with Orange Videophones due to be launched next year, allowing you to
make your friends jealous when you’re on holiday - as long as they have
a videophone too.
’The technology has been around for a while. It’s just a matter of who’s
going to package it and market it first,’ O’Donoghue says.
Paul Priestman of the product design group, Priestman Goode, agrees that
customising technology is the future following manufacturing advances
which allow variations on the same production line. The next step
forward, he believes, will be advances in voice-activated
Health and beauty
Like technology, science has become hip and this is affecting the
health/beauty market, according to Publicis. The agency identifies a
strong trend in youth products such as Quiddity by Chipie, a perfume
sold in pharmaceutical ’capsules’ and packaged not as a luxury item but
in a funky CD case designed to appeal to style-conscious teens.
Biore Deep Cleansing Pore Strips likewise capitalise on the fashion for
packaging beauty as health products. A white box gives ’dosing’
instructions for the plaster-like strips, which you apply to remove
blackheads from pores.
Coffee shops, mainstream minimalism, the home and street style are
Publicis’s four key trends for ’98.
Paul Smith’s retail emporium in London’s Notting Hill, designed by
Sophie Hicks, is based on the concept of the shop as home, taking the
form of an elegant Victorian villa containing six Paul Smith boutiques.
Publicis interprets this as part of a trend for seeing the house/home as
a forum for design. Street style such as the current embrace of late 80s
hip-hop music and street combat gear has found its way on to the high
street, with Urban Outfitters, an American retail outlet which opened in
London’s South Kensington in May, stocking hard-wearing, hard-living
Minimalism has gone mainstream in retail design, personified by Muji and
the new Virgin Vie beauty chain. Proclaimed by Publicis as an elegant,
pared-down successor to the Body Shop, Virgin Vie is already set for an
overhaul to attract more customers.
The arch-minimalist designer, John Pawson, also sees more minimalist
influence in retail design: ’Simplicity makes the goods look more
Tim Greenhalgh, creative director of the retail design consultancy,
Fitch, completely disagrees with Publicis that minimalism is now
Instead, he finds shops increasingly textural and more like magazines
with temporary, changeable features. Paul Smith, he says, is an example
of the growth of non-retailers, such as fashion designers and brands
including Disney and Nike, on the high street. He predicts an increasing
blending of retail and lsisure and a huge rise in on-line shopping.
Coffee shops such as Seattle and Coffee Republic are booming as they
become an important part of the urban singles lifestyle. ’The UK is
trying to live an American lifestyle and the coffee bar is the easiest
place to start doing it,’ O’Donoghue says.
After innovative man-made fibres such as Tactel, ethical and natural
fibres like hemp are making a comeback. Hemp is now being used by
designers such as Prada and is filtering down to the high street through
outfitters such as Urban Poison. ’Natural fibres are in but you don’t
want to look like you’re wearing an old sack. You want it to be
designer,’ Cameron argues.
For some, hemp still has a risque appeal: the ultimate kick of wearing
drugs in the form of a dress.
Combat trousers are now so mainstream that you’ll find them in M&S and
in silk as well as robust fabrics. Publicis identifies them as a uniform
that proclaims that you’re street aware.
Chris Cleaver, director of innovation at InterbrandNewell and Sorell,
comments that combat gear is also a symbol of urban decay and the
conflict in daily living. Wearing them is symbolic of being able to
survive in a harsh environment.
Food and drink
Following the rise of organic raw ingredients, Publicis predicts the
success of organic products such as Sainsbury’s Organic Pasta and pasta
sauces to meet consumers’ requirements for no-stress as well as no-guilt
eating. Frozen organic products will be next.
After Italian, Indian, Thai and Chinese sauces, it’s the turn of the
Caribbean to provide the next big ethnic food, possibly prompted by the
anniversary of the Windrush immigrations. Publicis singles out Tropic
Isle’s Trinidad Lime and Ginger Cooking Marinade as a hit in ’98.
For Bappies (babies of affluent parents), the only thing to eat will be
the new Heinz Baby Range/Junior Cuisine Range, as professionals give
their children food like their own, only pureed.
Sensual, noisy food is also popular, such as the crunchy-coated Magnum
Ego lolly and Nestle’s Crackler, which gives a crackling, popping
sensation in the mouth. The indulgence factor is important, according to
Cleaver, who sees it as the pleasure revenge of people who are otherwise
disciplined in their eating habits.
The home is huge in the media, with countless homes magazines, home
supplements in newspapers and home television programmes. Viewing
figures for the BBC’s Changing Rooms have soared from 4.4 million in
1997 to 10.4 million in 1998.
Just as brands remain huge in fashion, decorating brands - such as
brightly coloured Benetton wallpaper, aimed at the young first-time
home-buyer - are taking off. Benetton’s diversification into home
products is part of a broader trend for fashion retailers who are
pushing their brand into new areas: see also Nicole Farhi and Calvin
Linked to increased interest in the home is the rising popularity of
gardening and the garden, now treated as an extension of the home and
covered in magazines such as Red as another forum in which to exhibit
your consciousness of design. ’You can’t have a trendy house and a
disastrous garden. It all has to be right,’ Cameron says.
This heightened interest in gardens has led to more design conscious
products such as Zoo Poo, an elephant dung compost from Paignton Zoo
available in B&Q.
Unwins Seed Tapes - pre-sown, paper seed tapes ideal for first-time and
busy gardeners - are also tipped as ’98 hits as well as garden lights,
which continue the idea of the home into the garden. Cut flowers are
back in, but only in interesting shapes and blocks of colours, not mixed
Singles dating is in vogue with personal introduction agencies and
singles bars, possibly because of the Bridget Jones factor. Dateline’s
latest advertising campaign destroys the image of its clientele as being
socially inept. It reports members are generally more open about joining
Dateline than at any time since the 60s, when it was established.
Cleaver comments that singles dating, like videophones, can be
interpreted as a mechanism for human contact as technology increasingly
reduces the need for face-to-face communication.
For toys, Publicis plumps for Beanies - soft toy animals filled with
beans - as their ’98 toy hit. Models are ’retired’ after a short while
to retain their rarity value.
And real space, rather than aliens and the X-Files, is in again
following the discovery this year of ice on the moon.