Spark Spotlight: Predicting the Future – “Just call me Mystic Meg”

A look into the future

Spark Spotlight: Predicting the Future

“Just call me Mystic Meg”

Can research predict the future? Even after over two decades of working as a researcher I would have been sceptical myself, but recently I’ve surprised myself.

When trawling through old files to get GDPR ready (gasp) I came across an old debrief on Future predictions from the summer of 1999.  Thankfully, contrasting to Prince’s prediction of the end of the world encouraging people to “party like its 1999” we all lived beyond the millennium to see if these predictions came true.

The research was undertaken via a series of ½ day youth workshops, with opinion leading teens aged 17-19.  The key objective was to explore influences and motivators on young people’s purchasing behaviour in the future.  We asked them to look at 4 industries; automotive, finance, alcohol (and other highs) and technology, and looking back at their predictions almost 20 years later left us quite taken aback in the office – they were scarily accurate.

I think the statute of limitations is passed by now on the findings, so let’s have a look at what they predicted and how it manifested itself in terms of shopper motivations and product development.

The Future – In General

General predictions alone were alarmingly accurate – improved education via technology, more competition within workplace, more open acceptance of different sexualities, kids growing up quicker (having sex earlier), more online social interaction, Artificial Intelligence taking over jobs, an 80’s revival in the 00’s, more organic and natural foods, healthier living in general – starting to sound familiar to you?

Within the research sessions we visualised two possible future worlds – a consumer world and a producer world, and whilst a producer world offers safety and security the lack of choice was unimaginable.

“We don’t live in a perfect world but at least we have choices”

The Future of Motor Cars

Unlike the flying cars predicted in Back to the Future II our participants went for a more practical approach surrounding increased safety, such as “Airbags as standard in all cars”.

Exclusivity and luxury were also a theme and tailoring the car to express the owner’s individuality, satisfying ‘image need-states’ of consumers.

Advanced technology was anticipated to be the key selling point in cars of the future, with self-parking cars, ultimately leading to driverless cars at some point, so there would be no issues with drinking and driving.

There was an interesting contrast of motivations; security & egoistic needs that are now being satisfied by car manufacturers today.

The environment issues were discussed but were not something they predicted being a key motivation for all – one could argue they were right as we only asked them to look 10 years in the future, so 2009.

“Cars of the future will park themselves”

Financial services in the Future

Their forecasts for financial services were centred around inward motivations such as efficiency and convenience.  They predicted a cashless society, with safety and security of paramount importance.

They expected to be able to access their finances from everywhere, envisioned a 24hr drive through bank branch, or at the very least branches being more comfortable and inviting.

The research was conducted prior to Barclays online banking launch and mobile banking was not present until 2012.

They had further desires for style through innovation and were excited about biometric identification and security.

There was a clear expectation of targeting youth, with teen idols used in marketing to endorse the brand and attract new customers.

“Packages will be aimed at the younger generation”

Technology was expected to enhance lives

Interesting to note that few of the participants at the time would have owned (basic) mobile phones, it was a couple of years later before this was ubiquitous for this age group.

None would have seen a smart phone, of which early models started around 2000, with the iPhone not being launched until 2007.  Nonetheless, they forecasted that technology would become omnipresent with everyone owning a mobile device.  They expected technology to make life easier – everything at the touch of a button, being more connected and never missing out.

Personal technology was anticipated to get faster, virtual and voice activated with no risk to health (mobile technology was an unknown risk to health at this time).   The lifespan would be ‘faddish’ and disposable, with everyone wanting the most up to date and stylish option.   There were concerns for the level of ‘idleness’ caused by future technologies and lack of meaningful social interactions, but at the same time they recognised that group mentality would prevail, and people wouldn’t want to miss out.

Alcohol and other highs – alas there is still no hangover cure

Anticipation of increased choice and variety in alcohol, with premium options delivering new and exciting experiences for them.  One person predicted a soft drink with a little bit of a stimulant drug.  Red Bull became a popular choice with teens in 2002, with ‘It gives you Wings’ campaign being controversial and ultimately banned in 2014 following a law suit.

Control was a key motivation, both in terms of the social responsibility aspect of alcohol and choice of outcome e.g. choice of different strengths and calorie / fat content.

Many social motivations were also evident, with contradicting needs of individuality and belonging, but ultimately, they wanted products to make them look good and attractive to the opposite sex.

Health was also high on the agenda, with slimming and more natural options being available.

Whilst many of their predictions came true, hopefully more control of outcomes & less after effects is one we can look forward to in the next 20 years.

“There will be different options to turn on the required state of mind such as stimulation or energy”

So, what are we in for in the next 20 years?

All in all, I think we did a good job in predicting the future back in 1999, but what will drive customers in the future?  We would love to repeat this exercise to flex our prediction muscles again – who wants to join us?

If you are in any key industry such as FMCG, Finance, Technology or Alcohol and want to peek into the future to help shape your brands for the next generation of shoppers then how about joining us to undertake a syndicated piece of research with Spark?

Places will be limited to one company per industry

Drop us a line if you want to find out more to or call on +353(01) 8103150.


by Julie Angus, Managing Director

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