Business in the age of escapism. Where do brands look for customers on the run from reality?

Brands and we are escaping reality in this article for (originally published on August 28th, 2020).

A lot went wrong in 2020. It seems like only yesterday our world was rock solid, and today our future is teeming with anxieties and uncertainty.

In these trying times, people are looking for ways to escape their reality, and the brands are following them into the uncharted territory of escapism by transforming the services, products and communications.

Anxieties and escape from reality

If you ever felt anxious about the future of your family, your country, our entire species, let us assure you that you were not alone. This feeling is experienced by people all over the world, and in the world of today, such feelings proliferate rapidly.


75% of people all over the world believe that life is becoming more dangerous; 52% expect a global conflict to erupt in the next 25 years—that’s the figures presented by the report compiled by Ipsos, an international consulting company.


Unlike the post-war generations, that were brought up in the age of ever-present optimism, people of today are far more pessimistic about their future. The ever-changing world is not to blame here—it’s the sheer pace at which the information about conflicts, confrontations and threats is being delivered to the people.


Living in fear for what future has in store is a heavy load to bear. All over the world, people are looking to products and platforms that offer them the Blue Pill (if you will pardon us the Matrix analogy here) that will deliver them from unsightly truth and whisk their minds away into blissful oblivion.


Clients of companies everywhere are looking for ways to escape into the world of fantasy and illusion that the modern technologies and mass culture have cultivated. The brands observe the rising societal trend for escapism and look for ways to interact with their clients in a place where they feel safe.

Get your clients back into the past

Past is one of the places that people escape to. People tend to idealise the past, whether they have lived through it themselves or only heard about it from other people


People living in the developed world are more likely to think that the past was better than the present. They tend to idealise the past—and that presents an opportunity for brands that are looking to build new emotional bonds with their clients. The solution presents itself: if your clients want to escape from the present to the past, let them.


The Welcome to the 90’s ad campaign by McDonald’s does exactly that. It transports the clients back to the age of VHS tapes, ridiculous haircuts and cheap burgers.

This short video is like a jump to the past where life was calm and easy. It attracts clients’ attention, elevates their mood and energises them.


McDonald’s is not the only brand that exploits nostalgia by providing them an idealised image of the past. Here is what Klarna, a Swedish online store, came up with:


Brands use the markers of the past decades to help their clients distance themselves from the issues of the present. This demand for the past, however, is not universal: each company is its own entity, and if it’s all about present and the future, then the imagery from the past should probably be avoided. Conversely, if your company serves a conservative audience, then you should probably avoid futuristic solutions—they may not be appreciated.

Follow your customers into the virtual worlds

People will escape into videogames and mobile apps for as long as their reality remains unappealing. Many well-known brands are already establishing their presence in that space and looking for new ways to interact with their clients.


The official Gucci app lets the customers try on footwear, accessories and makeup sold by the brand in Augmented Reality. The user can point their smartphone at their feet and the screen will show them how will a new pair of luxury sneakers look on them.


Fashion brands Valentino и Marc Jacobs added real apparel from their actual collections into the wildly successful videogame Animal Crossing: New Horizons that captured the audiences everywhere during the coronavirus pandemic, selling 22 million copies worldwide.


Videogames are a growing industry with massive amounts of investments flowing in. People lose themselves in videogames because they want to escape the reality, and brands follow these people, developing new ways to interact with their clients.


Even if your brand doesn’t have as much money to spend on advertising as Gucci, you can always find some popular videogames developed in Russia that are in fact promising platforms for interactive communication with consumers.

Give your clients a sense of belonging to a community

Despite the rapid expansion of urban conglomerations and ever-growing urban population, more and more people report experiencing loneliness. Social networks and messengers create a facsimile of connectivity but they are unable to substitute genuine human contacts entirely.


Without the privilege of genuine in-person meetings, people are more likely to choose brands that make them feel like they belong to something greater than themselves.


Cisco Systems, a US-based company and an official partner of Machester City football team, released an unusual ad for their telecommunication platform, Webex. The video in which football fans, locked away during quarantine, sang the anthem of their football club, not only advertises the Cisco Systems technological product but also gave every fan of the club a sense of belonging to a close-knit society at a time when these people needed it most.


People can feel like they belong to a greater community or participate in a big event even while they stay at home. Find interests and values that unite your clients and build campaigns and events around those. That’s how you can make your clients feel like they belong to a community built by your brand.

Inspire people and energise them with your positivity

People grow tired of the endless news cycle reporting on military conflicts, protests and cataclysms—this creates a robust demand for positive information and entertainment content, even if it doesn’t make sense in utilitarian context and doesn’t have any practical applications.


TikTok—the home of strange but entertaining video clips—experienced an explosive audience growth. This is proof that no matter how many degrees you have, you are still going to watch a cute puppy/kitten video. Brands have to remember that and adapt to this demand that their clients have. Brands must become the source of joy and positivity.


This funny video by a UK company Just Eat and rap artist Snoop Dogg is a good example of a brand introducing a bit of humour to their clients’ lives.


Telekom Electronic Beats and singer Billie Eilish released a creative collaboration that showcases a way for brands to inspire their audiences.


Ads and brands have always been there for people who wanted to escape reality, and that need is more prescient than ever right now. No wonder that companies learned how to do it in a more interesting fashion just now. Companies that are capable of self-irony inspire brand loyalty in their clients. This is the exact kind of information that causes a positive reaction and spreads well under the dominating trend for escapism.

Offer your clients something natural and organic

Over the last two decades, the processes of urbanisation have been accelerating rapidly. In 2007, urban population has exceeded rural population for the first time in history. Four billion people worldwide live in cities, and by 2050 that figure could grow to seven billion.


The demand for natural, organic and environmentally-friendly products is already growing. People are locked up in their cities. They dream of getting out to the countryside or at least getting in touch with it when they go to the store. More and more consumers start pushing big companies to contribute to fight against the climate change and other environmental issues.


Just a few years ago, manufacturing and sale of alternative products was a niche industry—today, this is an industry driven by international corporations. Nestlé is constantly expanding its product portfolio and launching new innovative products: in addition to vegetable-based meat, the company is developing alternative seafood. Recently Nestle released plant-based tuna.


Major manufacturers of dairy and meat also invest in plant-based products—these products are made up partially or entirely of plant-based ingredients. Here’s an example: Danone bought out Whitewave, a company that owns several plant-based product trademarks including the Alpro milk brand, for $12.5 billion. Valio, a dairy company from Finland, sells oat-based productsunder the Oddlygood brand.


In a world full of anxiety and total distrust, consumers need additional arguments to persuade them to buy a specific product. One such argument could be the company statement that ensures the customers that the products were made responsibly, in strict adherence to the principles of sustainable manufacturing and with minimal damage to the environment and people. This is how the companies can make the customers feel like a part of a good cause: saving the planet.


Growing anxiety and escapist tendencies among the modern population are a part of the objective reality of the modern world. But even in this bleak landscape, there are opportunities for emerging brands willing to seek new customer touchpoints. The aesthetics of the past could help businesses to attract customers’ attention; videogames could provide a new platform for interacting with them; making customers feel like they belong to a close-knit community that contributes to protecting the environment could strengthen their loyalty; positive and inspiring content could cheer the customers up. There is nothing better for business than happy clients.

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