Commentary

Risky Business: Rebirth Of Roaring '20s?

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

Since the onset of the pandemic, parallels have been drawn to the Spanish flu that hit the United States in 1918. Like today, gatherings were prohibited, businesses and schools shut down, and the country ground to a halt.

Once over, the result was the Roaring ‘20s: a period of prosperity, flourishing culture and widespread vice. Risky behavior -- whether with sex, alcohol, style or crime -- ruled the day. 

Our rebound will likely be similarly sharp, especially for the social parts of our lives. To create worthwhile experiences, today’s brands have to navigate a new era of excess. Here’s where they might want to start.

Selling sex. Isolation has upended sexual norms. I read a tweet that said: “This is the first time in my life where I’m certain that married people are having more sex than single people.”

That may have been a joke, but here are the facts. A survey by the Touch Research Institute showed that 42% of Americans feel deprived of touch due to the pandemic.

For singles, social distancing has put a crimp in their sex lives -- and unfortunately the stress of the pandemic has produced a lot of singles, more than any of the last three years, according to research by Dating.com. 100 years ago, similar circumstances occurred, resulting in both a sexual revolution and a softening of perceptions of sexual morality. 

The lesson for brands? Post-pandemic experiences should be progressive in their views of sex and sexual roles, especially when all those virtual dates turn into real-life hookups.

Changing tastes. If you are a parent like me, you are probably desperate for an opportunity to hire a sitter and go out to a great meal with friends.  Let’s hope restaurants will still be there when we finally get the chance.

The restaurant industry has been decimated. Will it come back? In the 1920s, this industry saw unprecedented innovation: faster food, new business models, less pretentious settings, and broader customer demographics. Restaurant Management reported that by 1927, 25% to 30% of all meals in cities were eaten in restaurants.

Signs point to another huge boom, with an increased demand and smaller supply of restaurant experiences. Businesses will be able to charge more, because customers will expect to pay more for a social experience, as long as that experience delivers.

Restaurateurs should take this downturn as an opportunity to reset their business models to incorporate more of the entertainment guests have been missing.

High standards. As people start socializing more, expect drug use to come along for the ride. Certainly, some have self-medicated to some degree during the pandemic, but I’m talking about use that enhances events.

Alcohol was the cannabis of the 1920s, prohibited but popular and consumed in speakeasies, at parties and other social events.

No category has a bigger opportunity than cannabis. The incentives for federal legalization are apparent (states need revenue from taxation), and our culture is more accepting than ever before. Smart brands will be leading voices to destigmatize the category and educate users on responsible consumption, while positioning cannabis as part of an aspirational lifestyle.

If those brands are successful, this century’s Great Gatsby will toast guests with a hand-rolled joint instead of fine champagne.

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