Aspirational Lifestyle Marketing Is Dying. Don't Worry, It's A Good Thing

The following was previously published in an earlier edition of Marketing Insider:

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:

  • Pyer Moss: This New York fashion house used the pandemic to host an open casting call for its fashion line, giving everyone an opportunity to start their modeling career. Its social media is also a platform for social justice and corporate transparency. 
  • seed: A probiotics CPG brand turned its website and social media into a platform to teach customers about their own biology. Its Instagram is basically a really well-designed textbook -- a smart play for a product in the unregulated wellness space.
  • Ben and Jerry's: Despite being sold to Unilever in 2000, the company’s branding is still decidedly progressive, with its social media very much focused on social justice. Compare that to Häagen Daz, which still pretends ice cream is a luxury. It’s easy to see why Ben & Jerry’s is by far the best-selling ice cream brand in the U.S.

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.

4 comments about "Aspirational Lifestyle Marketing Is Dying. Don't Worry, It's A Good Thing".
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  1. Ronald Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, April 30, 2021 at 7:32 p.m.

    I will believe aspirational marketing is dead after I see what  influences today's millenials and Gen Z generation when they reach their 40s. 

  2. Tim Wheatley from Zimperium replied, May 3, 2021 at 9:40 a.m.

    Agreed. As long as there are affluent consumers with insecurities (which will likely never go away) there will be marketing aimed at making them feel good about themselves and telling them they are special & unique. I do not disagree that a shift to showing value is becoming a thing, but as the wealth divide continues to grow, brands are going to follow the money...and until human nature evolves past the perception that money equals power and intelligence, then those same consumers will continue to crave the message...especially if that message is candy-coated with a value wrapper to reinforce that the consumer cares more about <"Insert Cause Here"> AND are smarter, more attractive etc...

  3. Andrew Boer from MovableMedia, May 4, 2021 at 3:16 p.m.

    Status seeking is pretty built into who we are as a species, but waxes and wanes in how it manifests itself. For example, the late 1950's/early 1960's were driven by conspicuous consumption and materialism, and the late 1960's were a reaction.  I think you are on the right track about current trends.

  4. Stewart Gandolf from Healthcare Success, May 6, 2021 at 1:47 p.m.

    This article was really good. The aspirational lifestyle ads are so prevalent that we can forget that it doesn't have to be that way. Not all ads have to be the same.

    Dove, Target and other brands have been using real people for awhile, but this broader trend of anti-aspirationalism. (Just made that up.)

    I almost never comment on blogs, but I am going to pick up on this theme in my own blog and link back to it. Great insights. Thanks,

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