As a creative director and designer, my role has always been to add emotion to a product and business by building out its brand world: a fictional aesthetic of dreamy styles of living for businesses and consumers to aspire to, created with words, colors, scenarios, graphics, etc.
But the past five years have seen a shift in the branding landscape -- a change accelerated by the pandemic. The aspirational lifestyle marketing approach is dying.
Don’t mourn it. It really wasn't great. If I’m being completely honest, it was kind of mean, especially in categories that play off body image and financial position or fashion sense.
Aspirational lifestyle marketing is essentially a negative psychological marketing tactic that may have finally run its course. Perhaps a more apt term would be "insecurity marketing." Perpetuating this notion of an easily achieved ostentatious lifestyle was once merely douchey, but post-pandemic, it feels closer to Mr. Burns-level sadistic.
Aspirational lifestyle marketing was waning in its usefulness thanks, in part, to the ease in which internet sleuths could find every unethical supply chain and icky corporate policies for aspirational brands, knowledge that was amplified on social media.
Only a short time ago, it seemed every brand wanted to be a lifestyle brand. Mundane purchases like a mattress or bottled water became choices that connoted some smart, urban lifestyle. Brand marketers didn’t try to reflect on who customers were, but instead promoted a lifestyle their product was a part of.
The smartest brands today are replacing the negative of aspirational lifestyle marketing with something that's substantive and positive. The term I’ve been hearing for it is “post demographic” or “post lifestyle”: meaning, if you do something that is a value with your brand, you don't need to focus on a specific demographic. It works for everyone.
Some examples I’ve seen recently run across categories:
Aspirational marketing is dead. Now what? You’re liberated to start thinking about what value your brand and its social media channels, resources and marketing can actually provide.