March 13, 2012
JWT’s Ann Mack delves into FOMO at SXSWi
As part of the SXSWi festival in Austin, our own Ann Mack, director of trendspotting, talked to a packed house about FOMO (that’s the Fear Of Missing Out, for those who aren’t familiar). FOMO is the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out—a timeless social angst, as Mack noted, but what’s different now is how social media can amplify FOMO to the nth degree.
Today’s unprecedented awareness of how others are living their lives is stirring up FOMO for almost anyone with a Facebook account. Mobile devices and location-based tools also facilitate conspicuous living, with people clamoring to show and tell all as it’s happening around the clock, wherever they are. Mack pointed out that whether we realize it or not, this has led to an endless game of social one-upmanship: “I’m more witty, worldly, on-the-go, in-the-know than you.” Indeed, in a survey JWT conducted in January, nearly three-quarters of U.S. respondents said they feel people use social media to brag about their lives, a notion that rang especially true among teens and young adults, with 81 percent in agreement. (For more U.S. findings, check out the data visualization below.)
Social one-upmanship is feeding into relative deprivation, a sociology term that refers to the dissatisfaction people feel when they compare their circumstances to others’ and perceive that they have less. And while social media brings us closer to the upper echelons via tweets from the rich and famous, we’re most susceptible to relative deprivation when we see that those with whom we compare ourselves are engaging in enviable experiences. The hyper-connected Millennials are especially susceptible. Mack noted that this is in part due to age and life stage—a narcissistic period that’s focused on defining identity and exploring others’—and in part to the fact that FOMO-inducing tools are so ingrained in their lives.
For brands, this has powerful potential: FOMO can drive spending, since it heightens participation on social media platforms and motivates consumers to do more. Mack concluded that although there’s no cure for the common FOMO, brands can ease it, escalate it, make light of it, turn it into a positive and help people to live with it.