Why do Havaianas – the famous flip flops – have the Brazilian flag next to the logo? Should it not be the flag of the Hawaiian Islands, upon which the brand’s name is based, at the centre of the product’s image? Future Concept Lab’s Francesco Morace and Linda Gobbi help clear things up. The Lab is a research institute set up 30 years ago in Milan to study trends in cities all over the world. Between 2004 and 2006 it conducted a study for Alpargatas – who manufactures Havaianas, first made in 1961 – on the international relaunch efforts of one of its most important brands. The study revealed the credibility and appeal of ‘Brazilianness’ on the international markets for a product as casual and ‘extraordinary’ as flip flops.
“Trends don't appear and disappear like a bolt of lightning in otherwise calm skies. They emerge when the meteorological, biological, geological and gravitational conditions are right: it all depends on the quality and quantity of the tools we employ to aid our understanding,” explain Morace and Gobbi, authors of Coolhunting Evolution, published by Franco Angeli. The book tells the story behind 30 years of research, focusing on the processes and methodologies that characterised them and opening the trend hunter’s toolkit to understand how new trends are discovered, how they unfold and the effects they have.
The study focuses on the idea of Genius Loci, the spirit of a place, “the key driving force behind healthy globalisation”, citing the importance of “alignment not just with individuals’ personalities but with the personality of a given place”. According to Morace and Gobbi, places and trends are successful when they are able to capture the spirit of something that has universal appeal. “Something unique needs to have universal appeal,” they write. “And it is capturing this that has made the expression of Cuban music, aboriginal culture and figures such as Mandela such powerful tools for the global manifestations of American Genius Loci such as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Google and Apple. Even marketing campaigns and companies need to appreciate the uniqueness of Genius Loci: the phenomenon may be on a smaller scale than global culture, but it possesses an energy predisposed for significant upscaling.”
But how is it possible to spot a potential global trend in a specific location? It is not easy, says Future Concept Lab: “It requires ethnographic studies and ‘live’ observation of interesting phenomena. It needs participative observation, the ability to interact with the most expressive subjects in innovation – whether they are individuals with their own, original creativity or leading figures in specific companies, such as startups (which are themselves are trend promoters). It requires the use of field research tools, both qualitative and quantitative, to bring to light how different segments of the population experience trends and how that experience can be linked to the world of brands. It takes desk research to analyse the various marketing media, publicity campaigns and social media, to then identify – rigorously – what themes and codes are more or less recurring ones.”
Morace and Gobbi explain that macro desk research is the starting point. This concerns the most visible aspects, such as “the ways in which people express themselves through their purchases, travels, eating habits, how they manage their free time and their hobbies, new products that place themselves on different markets in varying ways.” The next step is an ethnographic study of the field, so-called microframing, the small-scale indications of change seen in the everyday, on the street, in which each of us is a ‘Consumer-Author’ – we are increasingly involved in defining the offers being made to us.
Trends don't appear and disappear like a bolt of lightning in otherwise calm skies. They emerge when the meteorological, biological, geological and gravitational conditions are right: it all depends on the quality and quantity of the tools we employ to aid our understanding.
This all serves to define the context. But veritable trends can be summarised by a methodology that works out in the Italian language as ‘the four Ps’. It is a “simple yet structured and efficient method of carrying out ethnographic research with specific observational focus points that are subdivided into these four different areas of thought and work.” Three of the four Ps are also Ps in English. The first is people: each potentially ‘cool’ person, worthy of having his or her real and digital lives observed. Such observation offers an understanding of lifestyle, thought processes, aesthetic preferences, consumer behaviour, habits linked to values and needs, relationships with objects, the role of the body.
The second P is places, identifying and observing an “ideal market”: cities, countries or locations with distinctive features. The real context surrounding people is more important now than it ever has been. It is not possible to develop a meaningful project without using the values of the Genius Loci to your advantage and that means understanding the cities, neighbourhoods, social spaces… anywhere that people consume, discover and interact. Places are, in fact, made up of material elements, but they are also a sum of their actions and behaviours – the things that make them living beings.
The third P is for the Italian word ‘Pensieri’, meaning thoughts or, in other words, identifying and describing significant trends linked to public and private lives. This methodological step is hugely important when taking into account all the recent evolutions in a world of projects and creativity, cinema, music, art, television, shows, galleries, graphics, comics and anything related to design. The fourth P is Projects. Identifying projects that are interesting from several points of view, that are innovative but also appeal to customs, conceptual originality and various sectors, brands and other success stories. The result? “The sum of those parts essentially leads to the final stage, the most important one. At this point, one has to look into the future and, when it comes to applying the trend, use it to achieve innovation through an original and creative project.” With a trend map in hand, everything is much easier.