Sandeep Dutta, vice president, insights division, at Kantar group decodes the sharp shift being witnessed amongst consumers from a hitherto fast life to a slower and more sustained lifestyle. He also recommends what marketers can do to benefit from this post-pandemic transition.
Not so long back, fast was seen as the most aspirational thing on this earth. The young and the restless wanted everything fast - fast cars, fast dates, fast lanes, and fast everything. The word became synonymous with energy, upward mobility, excitement, competitiveness, and glamour. To be seen as leading a fast life was decoded as being successful and deliciously reckless. Perhaps the epitome of fastness was Britney Spear’s fateful Vegas marriage to her childhood pal Jason Alexander which lasted for just 55 hours before it was annulled.
Marketers rushed to tap into the fastness mania by coming up with products that promised instant gratification (think of instant money, instant coffee, instant curries, instant skin tan...the list can go on) which were lapped up by consumers reveling in the art of fast living. This fascination continues and nobody, neither the marketers nor the consumers have shown any signs of apathy with fast solutions.
However, a counter-trend is also making itself steadily, albeit slowly visible - a growing interest in the ‘slow life’ especially in post-pandemic times which are touted as the ‘new normal’. There are different ways people interpret slow life, but the overriding theme is: Take a calmer and balanced approach to life. Don’t let time control your life.
Dilankshi, a forty-two-year-old mother of two teen daughters living in Colombo, Sri Lanka recently quit her job as a director in a global consultancy firm and became an organic farmer. “Though life in Colombo is less hectic than Singapore where I have worked earlier, yet I felt it was not giving me time for my family and myself, so one day I decided to quit and became an owner of an organic farm and growing plantains, guava, and other fruits. I am yet to make any money from it, but it has surely brought peace in my life, fortunately, my husband runs a garment business, so I don’t have to worry immediately.”
“The pandemic has made me realize what all we don’t need in life and how we can live simply and slowly. So as life is now coming back to normal or ‘new normal’ as we are calling it, I took a decision to cut down on my work commitments, so from a full-time financial analyst I have decided to become a part-timer and will use the rest of my time writing on films which have been a passion for long”, said fifty-one-year old Aman, a certified accountant living in Bangalore with his journalist wife.
The idea of a slow life is not new; it all began in the mid-eighties in Italy with the ‘slow food’ movement and has been steadily gaining momentum since then, and now expanded to encompass all aspects of life. The pandemic, whether one liked it or not, made people experience a slow and limited life. As the world is now getting back to the so-called ‘new normal’, some people are not too willing to return to their pre-Covid 19 fast lives and are seeking an alternative lifestyle that is anchored to the idea of taking things easy and slow. According to Google’s Culture and Trends team, which operates across the globe, “slow living has been growing exponentially on YouTube. There’s a 4X increase in views of videos with ‘slow living’ in the title in 2020 compared to 2019. The data indicates many of us have been inspired to take up hobbies and explore interests that we previously considered too time-consuming.”
Some like Aman and Dilankshi have taken intense measures to de-accelerate life while others are trying to challenge the cult of speed by taking smaller steps that include things like romanticizing their everyday commute, mindfully savoring their morning cup of tea, finding joy and contentment in slow activities like gardening, cooking, baking and yoga and deliberately taking deep pauses during work. The overall aim is to live life calmly and thoughtfully.
“Earlier I would have my breakfast in five minutes and rush to the hospital, nowadays I keep aside twenty minutes for my breakfast, put on some nice music and try to enjoy every bite of my food. I don’t like to rush through things like earlier, the pandemic has taught us to take every moment with gratitude. Life is unpredictable”, said Dr. Prakhar Roy, a pediatrician in a leading hospital in Delhi that witnessed some horrific scenes during the second wave of Covid-19 in India. After a point, he gets a bit philosophical and says, “It’s time we lived every moment fully…why rush…I remember reading somewhere …Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished”.
It seems that as people emerge from the horrors of the pandemic and settle in their new normal lives, they have adopted different mechanisms to deal with life and its challenges. Some believe that the pandemic has made them wiser, more compassionate, and calmer and this is compelling them to get off the fast track and live a life that is slower but more gratifying in many ways. These people are most likely to be forty plus, belong to the upper strata of society and have secured themselves financially to an extent and hence are willing to trade off financial growth for a slower, comfortable life but by no means one. There are many others who are also aspiring to take the plunge into the tranquil waters of slow life but are not able to do it because of both social and financial constraints.
Adeel, an IT professional living the fast life in Bengaluru says, “My dream life is to live somewhere in the hills in a place where I could be spending hours just sitting and watching the world around. Even though I am doing well in life I really don’t desire anything more personally but have a lot of social commitments so I know my dreams will always be dreams and not reality”.
Marketers need to recognize that along with the desire for fast lives there will run, in parallel, desire for the slow life as well. The fashion and food industries have already joined the bandwagon and created a buzz by promoting slow fashion and food though their slow factor relates primarily to sourcing of local and sustainable materials and ingredients.
Brands have not yet made very conscious efforts to help people, who are aspiring to the coveted slow life, experience it through consumption. It is true that plenty of beverage and chocolate brands promote pleasurable breaks from daily life, but they are not embedded in the slow life movement. It is a good time for food and beverages, personal care, leisure pursuit brands to explore possibilities of catering to the needs of this growing countertrend.
There are several ways it can be done that could range from launching new products e.g., a range of slow-acting but long-lasting personal care products to concocting elaborate consumption rituals around F&B products encouraging people to savor them slowly to creating communication narratives that romance the ideology of slow life. Such efforts may entice people who are weary of getting onto the roller coaster ride of instant everything and are ready to settle for a life that is slower and stylishly unpretentious and profound!
Sandeep Dutta is vice president (insights division) at Kantar group