WHAT’S HOT WHAT’S NOT: In 1997 Publicis put its money on the Tamagotchi, pagers and ... er ... shoulder pads. Pamela Buxton assesses its nose for winners a year on, and what it thinks we’ll be rushing to buy in 98

Last summer, Publicis stuck its neck out and put together a list of what it felt were the 40 ’Now Products of 1997’.

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

’no-brand’ chain.

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.



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

look good.’

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

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.

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus