Read our roundups in magazine form on Flipboard, via the iOS and Android app or online; click here to find our magazine collection.

-As more people move out of poverty around the world, a series of articles in The FT looks at the fragility of this new middle class, from Africa to Brazil, India and China.

-The Pew Research Center examines American views of technology and the future, and attitudes toward new developments that could become common.

-A book excerpt published by McKinsey spotlights six big trends shaping China’s future.

-A special report on China in The Economist includes a look at the state of its consumer culture.

-A New York Times video explores how India’s elections reveal “deep divisions in society and politics.”

-“In India, mobile ads mean phone calls,” as brands try to reach rural customers, reports Businessweek.

-Newsweek spotlights the dark side of facial recognition as the technology gets more advanced.

-A report from Skyscanner outlines The Future of Travel 2024.

-The Economist looks at how China’s growing middle class is changing the global tourism industry.

-Live interactive online shows—from comedy skits to talk shows—are big in China, reports The New York Times.

Continue reading “Weekly Roundup: The ‘fragile middle,’ China trends and drugware” »

As more advertisers spotlight same-sex couples—including Target, Amazon, Cheerios and, most recently, HoneyMaid—JWT research has found that Americans are largely open to seeing ads that feature LGBT people, as we noted last week. But while the data we spotlighted last Friday showed that most consumers believe showing gay or lesbian people in ads simply reflects the reality of our society today, JWT also found consumers to be quite skeptical about brands’ motivations behind this messaging.

More than half of the 500 Americans surveyed using SONAR, JWT’s proprietary online tool, believe brands that show same-sex couples in ads are just trying to get publicity. And around 4 in 10 think brands that show same-sex couples in ads are just trying to be controversial. As this chart shows, LGBT people feel the same way, though to a lesser extent.

Despite this skepticism, advertisers stand to benefit from featuring LGBT people: JWT’s research also found that 72 percent of people think brands that show same-sex couples in their ads are brave. As Americans get more supportive of LGBT issues, marketers have an opportunity to show leadership, putting a stake in the ground by being inclusive—as long as these efforts are much more than just publicity stunts, judiciously executed and feel authentic to the brand.

Medical tech for older consumers is getting much smarter. Two hearing-aid manufacturers, Starkey and GN ReSound, have created devices that link with iPhones, turning hearing aids into de facto Bluetooth headsets on which users can also take calls and listen to music. ReSound is marketing the LiNX as “the world’s smartest hearing aid.” For instance, users can geo-tag locations so that it switches automatically to custom settings in various locales (movie theater, café, etc.). Starkey’s Halo is a similar device.

Other wearable tech targeting older people includes a wristband from CarePredict that communicates with beacons placed around the wearer’s home. The system learns the user’s patterns, then alerts family and other caregivers of any deviation. Meanwhile, technology that monitors vital signs is getting increasingly futuristic. A team of researchers has developed a Band-Aid-like patch that can monitor vital signs, among other things; the bioelectronics startup MC10 is working to bring it to market. And the smart pill—ingestible sensors, like the ones that Proteus is developing—will monitor health data and transmit it to a smartphone or other device. Proteus’ offering could be on the market within the year.

Mindful Living, one of our 10 Trends for 2014 and Beyond, points to consumers developing a quasi-Zen desire to experience things in a more present, conscious way—that is, more mindfully. To explore this topic, we interviewed pioneering mindfulness researcher Ellen Langer, a Harvard psychology professor and author of 11 books, including the best-seller Mindfulness, which has been translated into 18 languages. She discussed what it means to be more mindful, how to go about it and what advantages it brings—including its many benefits for businesses—as well as why mindfulness is now finding a foothold in the West. 

Can you explain what you mean by the term “mindfulness”?

Mindfulness, as I have studied it now for over 35 years, is a remarkably simple process of noticing new things. When you notice new things, what happens is that it puts you in the present—oddly, everybody says we should be in the present, but when we are not in the present, we are not there to know we are not there. This is the way to be there. You notice new things, then that makes you more sensitive to context and perspective. 

The act of noticing new things feels enlivening and is literally, not just figuratively, enlivening. As you notice new things, you come to see that you didn’t know this thing as well as you thought. Then with this modicum of uncertainty, your attention naturally goes to whatever is the topic.

It is not at odds with meditation, but it is very different. Meditation is a tool that sets you up for post-meditative mindfulness. There are two ways of getting to the same place, and the place you get to is a place where you’re responsive to the world around you but not reactive. Right now, people are pulled: When they think something is good, they must have it. When they think it is bad, they must stay away from it. However, evaluations are in our heads and not in the things we are evaluating. The more mindful you become and the more you look at this thing and you see, “Well, in these ways it is good, and in these ways it is bad,” then you are not pulled in either direction, and you can just be.

Mindless, by contrast, here you are letting the past overdetermine the present. You are not there, and, again, you are not aware you are not there. Your behavior is dictated by the sense it made at an earlier time. Therefore, you are trapped in a rigid perspective, and you are oblivious to the fact that you are not seeing much of what is there to be seen. When we are mindless, we are acting like robots, more or less. We don’t hear what is being said that is slightly different from what we expected. We don’t see what there is to be seen, we don’t taste, we don’t feel, and so on—the past governs what we are doing.

Would you say mindfulness stems from meditation, or is that just one route to mindfulness?

[My study of mindfulness] is not based on meditation at all. It is very different. Mine comes from a Western scientific perspective. It was very rewarding for me studying this from this Western scientific perspective to say that I come to so many of the same conclusions as the old masters in the East. There are ways of becoming mindful without drawing new distinctions or meditating, and that would be if we learned about the world in a conditional way from the start. That means that rather than see things as they, in a particular way, we realize that it is only one of several ways it could be.

Continue reading “Q&A with Ellen Langer, Harvard University psychology professor, author of ‘Mindfulness’” »

Read our roundups in magazine form on Flipboard, via the iOS and Android app or online; click here to find our magazine collection.

-The Pew Research Center examines “The Next America” in an interactive look at how the nation is changing and the challenges it will face in coming decades.

-LGBT families are becoming more prominent in American ads, reports Buzzfeed, spotlighting JWT research on consumer attitudes toward this shift.

-Teens are now spending as much or more on food as on clothing, according to Piper Jaffray’s latest look at teen spending, via Marketplace.

-A new BBA report on “The way we bank now” argues that “A revolution is underway in how people spend, move and manage their money.”

-For the first time, Internet ad revenue in the U.S. surpassed that from TV advertising, according to a new IAB report.

-An FT report on the business of food security examines how businesses, governments and organizations can ensure steady supplies amid the disruption sparked by climate change.

-The AP reports that as dieters consider more than just calorie counts, food brands are shifting strategies.

-The Guardian takes a look at how high-end dining is evolving, getting more casual and much less traditional.

-With more luxury fashion available online, showrooming hits high-end retailers, reports The Wall Street Journal.

-The New York Times examines “fashion in the age of Instagram.”

Continue reading “Weekly Roundup: ‘The Next America,’ LGBT families and luxury showrooming” »

In February, we wrote about the trend of American brands painting a more diverse and inclusive portrait of America, from Cheerios to Coca-Cola. Then last month, Honey Maid launched a commercial featuring diverse families, including a same-sex couple and an interracial couple, giving rise to some backlash; the graham cracker brand soon issued a powerful response to the haters. Based on JWT research done for Buzzfeed, it seems that Honey Maid’s confidence is bolstered by clear consumer support.

Americans are largely open to seeing LGBT characters or couples in advertising, according to a JWT survey of 500 Americans conducted using SONAR, JWT’s proprietary online tool. More than half (57 percent) think it’s cool when they see same-sex couples in ads—a cohort that skews female (62 percent of women feel this way vs. 52 percent of men), Millennial (75 percent vs. 48 percent of Boomers) and liberal (80 percent vs. 23 percent of conservatives).

As this chart shows, a wider majority are basically accepting of LGBT characters and couples in ads, saying it’s a realistic reflection of today’s society and that it’s just not too noteworthy. A somewhat smaller majority (62 percent) express more clear support, saying that showing same-sex couples in ads is appropriately inclusive. As we noted in February, marketers will be increasingly willing to risk alienating some older or more conservative consumers by moving away from a segmented approach and instead celebrating our differences or simply being matter-of-fact about them.

Stay tuned for more on this study next week.

A year ago, “bitcoin” held little to no meaning for most people around the world. Today, while many are confused about what the cryptocurrency is exactly, a growing and vocal group of proponents are championing it, arguing that bitcoin could reshape how we view currency and handle financial transactions across the globe. To explore this rapidly changing space, Mediabistro held Inside Bitcoins: The Future of Virtual Currency in New York this week. One of a series of bitcoin conferences, the two-day event brought together more than 90 speakers, 35 exhibitors and 1,500 attendees from 26 countries.

Created in 2009, bitcoins are a type of cryptocurrency that function as a digital currency and payment network. Transactions are anonymous and unregulated, which makes the process cheap and easy—but also opens up the system to volatility and security and legal issues. In the opening keynote, Jeremy Allaire of digital currency company Circle stressed the importance of regulation if bitcoin is to reach its potential and move into the mainstream: This would enable commercial banks to create value and invest in bitcoin; give consumers greater protection; and help law enforcement pursue bitcoin-related criminal activity.

Everything from the technology to the industry surrounding it needs to become more sophisticated if we are to see widespread adoption, which could take decades. “We’re in the pre-Netscape era of digital currency,” Allaire said. Yet he foresees a steady rise for bitcoin as startups proliferate and thousands of companies begin accepting the cryptocurrency—although he says we’re still waiting for that “killer app” that makes trading, sending and receiving bitcoins easy for the average person, which is when it will really make an impact.

Nicolas Cary, CEO of bitcoin wallet BlockChain.info, expressed high hopes for bitcoin, citing examples of its growth over the last year. BlockChain.info has expanded from 100,000 bitcoin wallets—accounts that enable users to transact with others—in 2013 to 1.5 million today. Cary’s keynote spotlighted examples of merchants and communities embracing Bitcoin as currency: Café owners from Spain to London are accepting bitcoin to cut down on credit card transaction fees, while some tour guides and cab drivers in Argentina and Chile take the currency. (The currency is big in parts of Europe too, with Berlin’s Kreuzberg district home to one of the highest densities of businesses accepting the currency, according to The Guardian). “Ground zero for bitcoin” is Buenos Aires, said Cary, thanks to the instability of Argentina’s peso, with people doing everything they can to get rid of their pesos.

The value of bitcoin has astronomical potential—if all the pieces fall into place. That was the takeaway from “Wall Street’s View of Fair Value for Bitcoin,” a panel moderated by analyst Lou Kerner, founder of The Social Internet fund. One of those pieces, regulation, appears inevitable, a prospect that troubled some attendees, but eventual government oversight seemed to be a prevailing conclusion of the conference.

Image credit: Nick Ayala

While researching Telepathic Technology, one of our 10 Trends for 2014, we spoke with Ariel Garten, founder and CEO of InteraXon, which creates brain wave-controlled products and applications. The Toronto company’s first showcase product is the upcoming Muse, a stylish “brain-sensing headband” designed to help users learn to better focus and relax their minds. An artist and psychotherapist, Garten has long been interested in brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) and electroencephalography (EEG) devices, which measure the brain’s electrical activity and translate it into usable data. Among the topics we discussed were the mental benefits BCIs can provide, the ethics of neuromarketing and why “a number of very large players” are entering or monitoring this space.

Why are BCIs and EEG readers becoming more mainstream?

We certainly have seen a mass explosion in the consumer EEG-BCI space. Probably the first thing that made that possible is the release of low-cost consumer headsets in the $100 to $300 range. We started seeing them on the market in 2009. There was no real thing that made those possible before—they simply had not been released to the public. Honestly, I don’t know what the tipping points were that allowed this item to come to market. However, that certainly facilitated the explosion we are seeing in brain-computer interface.

The next trend that allows brain-computer interface to be something that is common is a smartphone in everybody’s pockets. We now have sufficient processing power on a phone to receive data from a headset and allow you to take it into the world in some meaningful way. That allowed an awareness of the technology, and people now know what it is. It is a huge education component.

Some of the things that are limiting the development of the technology right now are dry-sensor placement in locations that allow you to do a range of activities. Getting the right balance of sensor placement with a consumer-usable headset is critical to open a market and move it forward. Then there is the need to identify better and better signals from noise. That is really the start. As the technology gets better and better with more users, we are going to see better signal processing and machine-learning approaches to EEG data and then from that, take data to be able to pull out a range of complex signals.

What are some technologies that are still in development that will change the equation?

Dry sensors that read through the hair. Right now it is either dry, bare skin or it is a wet sensor.

Continue reading “Q&A with Ariel Garten, CEO of brain-tech firm InteraXon” »

As we outline in one of our 10 Trends for 2014 and Beyond, images are increasingly supplanting words as consumers embrace images over text. Mobile devices—with their built-in cameras, emoji-enabled keyboards and many visually oriented apps (Instagram, Vine, etc.)—are especially conducive to a visual vocabulary. Reflecting this shift, we’re seeing some m-commerce discovery tools built around images rather than product descriptions—enabling consumers to identify real-life products they like using their smartphone camera.

In February, Amazon launched Flow, an image-recognition feature on its app that lets customers add items to a shopping list by holding them in front of the smartphone camera, removing the need to scan a barcode. (Amazon appears bent on removing the need to type in words: It’s now testing Dash, a Wi-Fi wand that lets users scan barcodes or verbally add items to a list.) Similarly, Slyce, which raised $11 million in its first financing round last month, offers a mobile app (as well as a desktop service) that provides purchase information based on a users’ photo. The company is pitching the service to major retailers. The Hunt is a desktop and mobile tool that relies on crowdsourcing rather than image recognition software to help shoppers find purchase info based on photos.

The selling process is also becoming more visual. Depop, for instance, is a social app operating in the U.K. that lets users “sell by just taking a picture.” Similar apps include Shpock in Europe and Rumgr in the U.S.

As image recognition technology enables more image-based discovery, brands will have new ways to help consumers compile instant shopping lists and discover what they need or want, and to lead them quickly to purchase.

Image credit: Amazon

Read our roundups in magazine form on Flipboard, via the iOS and Android app or online; click here to find our magazine collection.

-A New York Times section on the future of money includes a look at a potential “revolution in money,” the credit card of tomorrow and the bank branch of the future.

-Americans are becoming less likely to identify as middle class, reports the AP.

-As sales of consumer staples stall in the U.S., brands are resorting to aggressive promotions, reports The Wall Street Journal.

-A Wired columnist muses on “Why Privacy Is Actually Thriving Online.”

-A new report examines macro trends that will drive growth in the travel industry over the next decade.

-In its Women’s Issue, Adweek spotlights women’s TV-viewing habits and how they grocery shop.

-Cheaper smartphone brands are making gains around the world and improving in quality, as The Economist reports.

-The Guardian considers why wearable tech isn’t taking off as expected.

-China is experiencing a “breakup boom,” reports Businessweek, with divorce on the rise over the past decade.

-Rolling Stone explores “Millennials’ Sexual Revolution” and new approaches to intimacy, commitment and hooking up.

-The #AfterSex selfie is the latest in Instagram trends, via Time.

Continue reading “Weekly Roundup: The future of money, Millennials’ sexual revolution and fake meat” »

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Things to Watch

  • Uniqlo, H&M and Retail As the Third Space
    April 15, 2014 | 4:30 pm

    “Retail As the Third Space,” one of our 10 Trends for 2011, is rapidly accelerating: As digital commerce becomes habit for consumers, brick-and-mortar is increasingly focused around experiences, unique environments and customer service, giving shoppers new reasons to visit retail spaces. Uniqlo’s flagship in New York is a good example. A newly renovated floor incorporates a Starbucks (a favorite brand among teens) and, as MarketWatch reports, “lounge sofas, tables and chairs and an iPad station, allowing shoppers to stay and mingle.” Thanks to a partnership with the nearby Museum of Modern Art—resulting in a range that uses images from famous artists—the floor’s design is museum-like, with T-shirts in framed display cases.

    Another recent example in Manhattan is H&M’s flagship, which opened in late 2013, which one writer dubs “The most retail fun you can have with your clothes on.” For more on Retail As the Third Space, find our 2103 report Retail Rebooted here. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Uniqlo

  • Bitcoin middlemen
    April 10, 2014 | 2:45 pm

    Given its volatility, security issues and legal concerns, merchants interested in accepting bitcoin have a lot to worry about, especially with the possibility (as some see it) that looming regulation could upend the entire system. To mitigate the risk and open merchants up to new revenue streams, startups such as BitPay and Coinvoice make it easier for companies to accept the cryptocurrency.

    These payment processors act as middlemen: A shopper pays in bitcoin, but the merchant can decide whether to be paid in bitcoin, fiat currency, or a combination. This allows companies to shield themselves from the uncertainty of the currency or to dip a toe into accepting it as payment. Until bitcoin becomes more stable and regulated, payment processors such as these will be a safer option for merchants. (For more on bitcoin, see also our post on the Inside Bitcoins conference.) —Nick Ayala

    Image credit: BitPay

  • Delta’s Innovation Class
    April 3, 2014 | 2:15 pm

    Delta’s new Innovation Class allows the influencers of tomorrow to spend a flight with a current industry leader—the airline calls it a “mentoring program at 35,000 feet.” The first mentor was Pebble smart watch creator Eric Migicovsky, on his way to Vancouver for the recent TED conference, who was paired with visual artist James Patten, a 2014 TED senior fellow. The next flight, in May, will feature chef Sean Brock as he heads to the James Beard Awards.

    While Innovation Class isn’t the first such initiative, it’s the first to leverage existing social networks on LinkedIn, where potential seatmates apply to Delta. The program illustrates creativity in using the plethora of touch points marketers have access to and can leverage to create valuable experiences both online and off. —Matt Goldenberg

  • Virtual reality rugby
    March 27, 2014 | 1:00 pm

    While the Oculus Rift headset doesn’t yet have a launch date, brands are already using the virtual reality platform to amaze consumers. To promote Game of Thrones, HBO made fanboys’ dreams come true at this year’s SXSWi with an experience that took viewers on an immersive trip up the show’s famed “Wall.” And U.K. phone company O2 has created “Wear the Rose,” a rugby training experience that combines footage from GoPro cameras with an Oculus headset to give fans the experience of training with England Rugby.

    “Rugby balls are thrown at you to catch, charging players run at you to teach you tackles, and at one point you find yourself in the middle of a scrum,” writes Eurogamer. O2 recently debuted “Wear the Rose” at a stadium match and will showcase it in select U.K. stores starting in June. —Aaron Baar

  • Security as a USP
    March 20, 2014 | 12:45 pm

    As we note in our wrap-up of SXSWi, security is fast becoming a unique selling proposition. Rather than treating it as an afterthought and scrambling to compensate if user data is compromised, more tech companies will build highly secure environments for their users from the start—selling security as a point of differentiation until it becomes a right of entry.

    The secure-communication app Wickr is offering up to $100,000 to any hacker who can crack its defenses and is selling a suite of six privacy features to developers and apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp. Another such app, Telegram, offers a bounty as high as $200,000 to anyone who can crack it. Meanwhile, the upcoming Blackphone is described as “the world’s first smartphone which places privacy and control directly in the hands of its users.” —Ann Mack

  • Watson, AI and customer service
    March 13, 2014 | 1:45 pm

    IBM has been promoting the commercial applications of Watson, its artificial intelligence service, with CEO Ginni Rometty announcing a Watson challenge for mobile developers at the recent Mobile World Congress. Rometty also noted that North Face is testing a website that incorporates Watson intelligence to answer customer queries, as seen in this video of an IBM demo at the MWC. Watson could serve as a “personal shopping concierge” for e-commerce brands, as Ad Age put it.

    At this week’s SXSW in Austin, where IBM has Watson powering a food truck to demonstrate its multifaceted potential, an IBM exec talked up Watson’s potential in the customer-service arena. We’re seeing the beginnings of a world where artificial intelligence powers (and personalizes) an array of brand interactions with consumers. —Marian Berelowitz

     

  • Spritz
    March 7, 2014 | 5:00 pm

    Slate may have to adjust the Minutes to Read feature on its articles. In line with our Age of Impatience trend for 2014, Spritz is a new reading app that uses a new visual technology to help people read at Evelyn Wood speeds or faster.

    Pinpointing the “Optimal Recognition Point,” at which the brain begins to recognize numbers and letters, the program highlights that space for each individual word and places it at the same place on the screen, reducing eye movement. The program can push reading speeds up to 500 words a minute. (You can see it in action here.)

    Sprtiz will be available on Samsung’s new line of wearable technology. —Aaron Baar

    Image credit: Spritz

  • Virtual fitting rooms
    March 4, 2014 | 11:45 am

    PhiSix, a 3D virtual technology company recently acquired by eBay, plans to bring more of the outside world into physical stores’ dressing rooms in an effort to increase sales. We’ve reported before on websites that offer 3D virtual try-ons at home and brick-and-mortar stores that have become living, breathing websites. But PhiSix’s technology takes the virtual fashion experience one step further, allowing shoppers to see how specific items of clothing look on them, in a variety of sizes and contexts, without actually trying them on. With PhiSix’s computer graphics, which will be made available to third-party retailers, shoppers will be able to enter a store dressing room and view themselves wearing clothing in a number of active settings (e.g., swinging a golf club, walking down the street). The technology also recommends other items to consumers, based on a few basic measurement inputs. Although virtual try-on technologies, which have existed for a while, haven’t succeeded in displacing trying on actual clothing, PhiSix’s sexy timesaver may draw more shoppers into physical retail outlets. —Alec Foege

    Image credit: PhiSix

  • Daily Mail’s Just the Pictures app
    February 25, 2014 | 3:15 pm

    The U.K.’s Daily Mail, whose digital content is dominated by photographs, is planning to release an app called Just the Pictures that strips out the text for smartphone readers—or non-readers, in this case—who are looking for snackable content while on the go. At a Mobile World Congress panel in Barcelona, Melanie Scott of the Mail Online said the app will be out in March. Per Scott, the Daily Mail’s current iOS app attracts about a million daily users in the U.K., and they’re opening it four or five times a day for 12 minutes at a time, largely for the pictures. 

    Just the Pictures is another sign of images replacing words in our increasingly visual culture, one of our 10 Trends for 2014. For more on how this trend is affecting the mobile platform, watch for our annual mobile-trends report in April. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Daily Mail

  • Full-fat comes back
    February 20, 2014 | 6:00 pm

    Bring on the brie! Last week NPR reported on two studies finding that “whole-fat dairy is linked to reduced body fat,” research likely to boost a recent shift away from lower-fat dairy products. Butter has been bullish lately: Annual sales in the U.S. have increased 65 percent since 2000, with per-capita consumption reaching a 40-year high. And while milk sales in the U.S. declined in 2013, full-fat fared relatively well (with sales declining 0.8 percent vs. 4.1 percent for reduced-fat). 

    The trend ties into a growing preference for foods that feel less artificial or newfangled, as well as the ongoing urge to Live a Little (one of our 10 Trends for 2012).  —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: liz west

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