THE WAR AGAINST WANT
Every year, several thousand people travel from across the globe to experience the Integratron sound bath, which uses a range of noises to induce a meditative state. The wooden dome, which is 38 feet high and 55 feet wide, is located near California’s Joshua Tree National Park and is perhaps the ultimate temple of the “self-care” era.
David Frymann, strategy partner at Frontier, describes his experience at Integratron with a quote from the character Alex in the Anthony Burgess book A Clockwork Orange: “Bliss and heaven! Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh.”
He attributes its success to sitting at the sweet spot of two trends: self-care and the experience economy. “Whether you’re a brand owner or looking to attract and retain talent, who wouldn’t want to create a magnetic proposition that gets talked about and lures people in from everywhere? To turn disengaged audiences into avid consumers, it’s a question of listening to what matters and acting on it,” he says.
Listening to what matters is not necessarily an easy feat in the always-on marketing ecosystem. Nonetheless the concept of self-care is no longer the sole preserve of the New Age movement, enlightened ad agency leaders or the Silicon Valley set, who ban screen time for their children, while simultaneously selling their platforms to the masses.
Historically, brands have perpetuated the myth that men pursue “hobbies” while women have the somewhat empty promise of “me time”. Conversely, self-care is emerging as a genderless and fluid marketing platform, which is expanding to encompass a growing range of products and services.
Even McDonald’s has jumped on the self-care bandwagon, with a social-media #selfcare campaign surrounding the act of having a McCafé premium roast coffee. So is “self-care”, once considered a niche trend, now becoming mainstream?
Absolutely, according to data from the Pew Research Centre, which found that millennials are investing more than twice the amount baby boomers do in self-care products and services such as diet plans, life-coaching and therapy. Meanwhile the growth of apps such as meditation aid Headspace continues to point to the burgeoning role of technology as a solution to the problems of its own creation.
Hans Howarth, group chief executive and founder of creative transformation company Nomads, argues that self-care is one remedy devised in response to a sense of detachment and powerlessness among consumers.
“Studies show a correlation between anxiety and depression exhibited by teenagers and social-media usage. And the way we do business on these platforms – shouting loud and far – is part of that problem. We’ve brought down the barriers in the name of connectivity and proceeded to drive consumers to the point of feeling disconnected from themselves,” he says.
The result of this sense of disconnectedness has relevance to marketing across the board. In New York, the city that famously never sleeps, Nap York has launched, a facility where you can pay $10 to rent a “nap pod” for 30 minutes. In business circles, meanwhile, the need to cultivate self-care has led to the era of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In being superseded by the wellbeing agenda of Arianna Huffington’s Thrive.
Gracie Page, creative technologist at Y&R London, says the burgeoning of the mindfulness economy over the past five years, coupled with the fatigue brought on by an ultra-fast lifestyle, is causing people to reconsider how they can reclaim their sanity and health. This shift, she argues, is important to every brand, not just those with an obvious right to own a slice of the wellness market.
The rise of this social-media-fuelled self-care agenda means that brands are prioritising experience, self-improvement and the environment above the traditional aesthetics of marketing.
Lily Fletcher, strategy director at design agency Accept & Proceed, which works with Moleskine, Nike and Nasa, believes that self-care is part of a larger awakening about how new ways of living are affecting us. She says: “It is a big opportunity for brands to have a more conscious dialogue with consumers, creating products and services that deliver on a more emotionally aware level.”
In the tech sphere, the Time Well Spent movement has driven a renewed focus on operating-system designers taking a stance on the way digital technologies can help, rather than hinder, human health. “We’re officially in the realm of big tech championing quality over quantity,” Page says. “This is going to spell the beginning of a new era in content and comms consumption, and it’s our job to understand how to navigate that in a meaningful way for our brands.”