Calling Faith Popcorn: You Are Needed Now
When Faith Popcorn famously coined the term “Cocooning” to describe a deep nesting gravitational force pulling consumers into their homes, she did so by noticing her own behavior: “The profound desire to sleep through my disco nap.” I suspect that “I’m noticing myself behaving a bit differently” is a primary data point for many of us looking to understand how we’re fitting into the world swirling around us. One “me moment” is not sufficient, of course, to map a genuine consumer trend. But it is essential: We have to know it to be true at a gut level. Then, we can begin to imagine and to recognize other proof points coalescing into a new narrative, emerging much as a vision in a pointillist’s painting.
Exhibit A of the power of thus understanding Trends writ with a capital T: Martha Stewart credits Faith with – through having identified cocooning – giving her the external corroboration for her fledgling Martha Stewart Living business model. Exhibit B: Stewart’s new meal delivery service, partnered with AmazonFresh. What better proof points of the longevity and power of Trend-based business thinking? Marketing to the Deep Cocoon. The current term of art may be "the bubble," but I think Cocoon gets at its core: There's a need for self-protection baked into the behavior. One hopes it augers, as well, the notion of a butterfly emerging at the end of the incubation.
And beyond business: What became true at such a primal level for many of us this November is that we’re out of touch with the rest of the country. And, the rest of the country is out of touch with us. Why? We’ve snuggled into our information cocoons (aka comfort zones), bifurcated along either Fox or MSNBC battle lines as our television news source of choice. Getting our social media news feed from Breitbart or Huffington Post. Listening to Rush Limbaugh or NPR in the car. Relying on conversations with PLU (People Like Us) to reinforce a view we believe is accurate and intelligent, but maybe less worldly and certainly less inclusive than we imagine.
We see marketers trying hard to straddle the barricades: advertising on the Super Bowl with spots that may be issue-oriented, but may also not be. Anheuser-Busch says “No, it’s not about Immigration as a policy, it’s about one immigrant as a founder,” a founder, that is, of a company now wholly owned by 3G Capital, the Brazilian investment firm on an acquisition (and job- and thus cost-cutting) spree. 84 Lumber’s “Journey” was simultaneously championed as a paean to the hopes of immigrants when they head towards America and a “No, I actually voted for Trump and this wasn’t supposed to be controversial at all” weirdest of weird disclaimers from the company. Then, too, there was Audi’s “Daughter” equal pay ad, which was polarizing too, garnering both “praise and fury” according to reviews. Trying to have it both ways turns leading brands into pretzels (at best), hypocritical contortionists (at worst) and falling into the abyss (at a minimum).
While Faith wrote first about Cocooning in the 1970s, she later tracked the development of that Trend as it morphed into the mobile cocoon, e.g. SUVs, and the armored cocoon, e.g. the place we never have to leave and want to protect. Amazon has proven over and over we far prefer our mercantile cocoon to the mall. NetFlix has made self-evident we’re happy to be an audience of one in our entertainment cocoon.
We may now be in the world of the thought cocoon, burrowed down and unwilling to let disagreement in. The need to feel safe amidst the slings and arrows of outrageous reality is clear and present. But where can it possibly go from here? Perhaps we may be heartened by Facebook’s and Google’s recent volunteering to at least explore how to add information diversity to our news feeds via reworked algorithms. Perhaps becoming less about the stories our past behavior suggests we want to read and more about wisdom the looming future mandates we need to know. This is probably bigger news than we realize. Faith, is there an algorithm in your future?