expert outlook 2023

The Age

of Instinct

Anti-establishment sentiment is peaking. Communications are chaotic. And people are bracing against crisis after crisis.

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WHAT COMES AFTER THE CHAOS?

The Age of Instinct

Anti-establishment sentiment is peaking. Communications are chaotic. And people are bracing against crisis after crisis.

In the tumult of 2023, we’ll see people act on their instincts to preserve their sanity, protect themselves, and safeguard what they care about. For some, the Age of Instinct will intensify group allegiances – a reaction to the past two years of atomisation, with data from 2020 suggesting that 41% of global citizens rated their social cohesion as 'weak'. Others will be on the hunt for creature comforts – whether it’s striving for anti-ambition, forgoing sensible spending for impulse buying, or swapping smoothies and CBD for martinis and cigarettes. As highlighted by the fact that 68% of Gen Z buy now, pay later users in the UK have accumulated debt across platforms, coping mechanisms will override measured responses to crises, and short-term gratification will win out over long-term responsibility.

But as individuals self-soothe, businesses won't be let off the hook. Three years on from the 2020 Expert Outlook, Hear Me! – and following citizen-led movements like #MeToo, Extinction Rebellion, and Black Lives Matter – people understand where individual agency hits its limit and where industry responsibility becomes essential to securing a better future. While 73% of people believe companies must act for the good of the planet and society, 71% don’t believe the promises they make – underscoring the cynicism around the CSR status quo.

Last year’s Expert Outlook – Opt In/Opt Out – identified three anti-establishment mindsets vying for power: the Culture Stewards, Systems Sceptics, and Contrarians. Over 2022, we saw our predictions play out...

Our 2022 prediction

Culture Stewards would work towards rebalancing power and influence from the ground up

In reality: In 2022, inclusion and representation became the status quo across industries from beauty to sports. But even as some community bonds strengthen, Culture Stewards are challenged by vocal reactionaries – and growing cynicism around brand involvement when it comes to personal politics and cultural heritage.

Our 2022 prediction

Systems Sceptics would rethink technology, governance and finance – and try to turn others against the status quo

In reality: In 2022, Systems Sceptics soared high – and crashed hard. Crypto scandals, from NFT scams to the FTX collapse, levelled the reputations of so-called world-changers. Yet aspirations to change the rules we live by still hold strong among everyday activists – from climate change to the cost of living, the stakes are higher than ever before.

Our 2022 prediction

Contrarians would find a pressure valve with happy-go-lucky hedonism and 'post-woke' profanity

In reality: Amid growing cynicism, burnout, and fatigue, the Contrarian mindset took off across mass culture – paving the way for the irreverence, regression, and indulgence that will rule communications in 2023. From gaming to fashion, Contrarians made a case for living for the fantasy.

Expert Outlook 2023

Kara MelchersContent Strategy Director
“The Expert Outlook benefits from 15 years of business-changing consumer insights, empowering our members through our award-winning platform to make better decisions, faster.”

What is the Expert Outlook?

States of crisis put people in shock – and shock increases irrational behaviour that can be difficult to predict. As professor of political communication Stephen Coleman notes, “when our minds are geared towards instability or a kind of ontological insecurity... things start to get shaky.” The 2023 Expert Outlook is your map to firm ground amid unstable terrain. Strengthened by the pillars of behavioural science and informed by 48 experts across industries, we identify the key trends, motivations, and tensions set to shape consumer behaviour over the next year, equipping you with the insights to confidently approach strategic decision-making during the Age of Instinct.

Speculative fiction

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s been that sudden crises can switch up priorities and buck steady trends. This year, we’ve taken a new approach to research and analysis. For the final layer of our research methodology, we partnered with two speculative futures writers to create the Age of Instinct Scenarios. These stories – fortified with quantitative evidence, expert insight, and real-world case studies, and decrypted by our in-house analysts – anticipate the reach of high-impact events and surface the connections behind behavioural changes, helping you plan for the unprecedented.

What’s in it for me?

Through our evidence-gathering, expert insight, and analysis, the Expert Outlook will help you feel prepared and confident in your decision-making for the year ahead. It will provide clarity on the key attitudes, behaviours, and tensions set to influence people in 2023 and connect you with the 48 global experts who underpin the research. While our scenarios are set in the near future, the implications can be used to sense-check your planning today.

48 global experts – 15 sectors

Methodology

Insight: Expert panel

We spoke to 48 experts across 15 sectors, including experts in economics, geo-politics, and the environment – each with a distinct and forward-facing perspective. We mined their thoughts on the year ahead, distilling their input into core insights.

Analysis: Relationships

Prevalent themes from the expert panel and the Canvas8 Library were cross-analysed with our Sector Behaviours and Macro Behaviours. Our analysts mapped the key drivers, tensions, and trend trajectories set to influence consumer behaviour in 2023.

The Futures Cone shows how scenarios are mapped by probable scenarios as time opens up the possibility of a range of outcomes.

Synthesis: Scenarios

Speculative futures writers extrapolated near-future scenarios from our research findings, surfacing unexpected outcomes and areas of impact. Canvas8 analysts ‘decrypted’ these stories to reveal cross-industry implications.

Forecasting: Horizon Radar

Key events identified in our trend trajectories and expert agendas make up the Horizon Radar, where real-time tracking will reveal which implications should be prioritised as we move through 2023.

Future Scenarios

Insights from the research were transformed into three near-future scenarios. Read the stories and explore the annotations to understand the insights and data behind the fiction.

Endangering the Future

Illustration: Gabrielle Merite

Endangering the Future

To cope with the global energy crisis, state-mandated blackouts roll across Neo Tokyo. Rebelling against decrees banning parties, protests, and gatherings, Kaori and Shoji take matters into their own hands.

Author: Tim Maughan

Highlights

Two signs hang on the chain-link fence in front of Kaori, black text against pollution-stained white backgrounds. The first one she’s seen before on every tower she’s tried to tap.

Christina Adane
“I think we will see a change in people's approach to activism. Organisations and individuals alike are taking a much harsher tone in the way they are demanding change as they have run out of patience.”

DANGER

LIVE ELECTRICAL EQUIPMENT

Interfering with Cell Tower power supplies and batteries is HIGHLY DANGEROUS and carries the RISK OF DEATH.

ANY form of tampering, disconnecting, rerouting, or otherwise disruption of Cell Tower power supplies and batteries is an ILLEGAL OFFENCE under the 2026 Tokyo Metropolitan Government Energy Crisis Mitigation Act, and carries a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment.

Disruption to Cell Tower power sources can SEVERELY impact police and emergency services, putting the lives of elderly and vulnerable populations at risk.

Next to the word soup is one of those drawings of a stickman getting impaled by a big lightning bolt, which always makes Kaori giggle.

The second sign she’s never seen before and is apparently new. Same font, same energy, new word soup:

BE RESPECTFUL TO YOUR NEIGHBOURS!

Causing unnecessary noise and public disorder during scheduled blackout events is an ILLEGAL OFFENCE under the 2027 Public Order Amendment to the 2026 Tokyo Metropolitan Government Energy Crisis Mitigation Act, and carries a maximum sentence of 18 months imprisonment.

Loud music, illegal gatherings, trespassing, use of fireworks, and unauthorised protests during power blackouts can cause distress to the elderly, young children, pets, and anyone with open windows due to health-threatening high-heat events.

Many young people are pessimistic about their prospects having lived through several crises already – a feeling that’s heightened by the constant connection to bad news on social media.View article

THINK FIRST before ENDANGERING THE FUTURE OF YOURSELF AND YOUR COMMUNITY!

Conscious consumption at an individual level will be hindered by the economy, with many people weighing their eco-attitudes against financial factors before buying. This presents a chance for brands to offer affordable green choices or highlight internal changes that are making their practices more sustainable.

Across the sign, however new it might be, someone has already scrawled in marker pen just one word: cringe.

Mounting criticism of the idea that businesses can be truly ‘caring’ will lead to a preference for openness and candour over ‘relatability’ in brand communications. This will happen alongside a resurgence in the role of nostalgia in brand voice, opening the doors for a tone that is both frank and open while recapturing the whimsy and irreverence of the ‘90s and early 2000s.

Kaori smirks. Couldn’t put it better myself. Fuck this sign. In fact, fuck both of these signs. Endangering the future? What fucking future?

Many young people are pessimistic about their prospects having lived through several crises already – a feeling that’s heightened by the constant connection to bad news on social media.View article
Kaori knows her future was taken from her before she was even born.

Community? What fucking community? From the roof of the abandoned Lawson convenience store, she stares out at the surrounding neighbourhood. She’s not from around here but it all looks instantly familiar – endless cookie-cutter houses and squat blocks of flats line empty streets, their inhabitants hiding inside from the heat and whatever moral panic phantom Shukan Shincho and their private Facebook groups have got them scared and angry about this week.

63%of respondents believe that people are more politically and socially polarised than ever before (C8 Data)
The elderly population? You mean the people who watched everything get this fucked up and broken and did nothing to stop it?

Emergency services? You mean the ambulances that never come?

41%of Americans say they lost trust in their doctor during the crisis (SymphonyRM, 2021)
Last time Kaori got hurt – sprained her ankle falling off a light rigging, it was dumb – she had to get a bus to the hospital, where she spent 19 hours waiting to be seen.

The police? The fucking police? Are you fucking kidding me?

Kaori stares back at the signs, the chain-link fence, and at the cellphone tower they stand defending, its top a robotic-looking mess of monolithic 5G aerials and squat microwave transmitters.

With political tensions running high, technology’s role in influencing public opinion will once again be under the spotlight in 2023. In particular, there will be renewed concerns over the spread of misinformation, disinformation, and deep fakes. For brands and organisations looking to engage in topical conversations, care will need to be taken to fact-check claims before getting involved while efforts to separate fact from fiction will be widely appreciated.
Time is short, she’ll have to work quickly.

She’s over the fence in less than a minute, using an old towel to cover the barbed wire at the top, just like TikTok taught her.

Lateral forms of communications – think peer-to-peer as opposed to top-down – will gain more ground as people seek decentralised and democratised systems of influence. This community-driven online synchronisation will translate to collective offline action, leaving opportunities for brands to foster engaged and trusted communities.
She’s getting good at this now, fast. Next, she’s pulling out her phone, opening the same YouTube tutorial she always refers to. She laughs at how strong her signal is, how crystal clear the stream looks. She props the phone up against the tower so she’s got both hands free as the toolkit comes out of her backpack. She pretty much knows what she’s doing these days but likes to have the video playing there just in case.

The maintenance cover – studded with more hysterical warnings and lightning-murdered stickmen – makes a satisfyingly metal clang as it hits the concrete roof. Another minute later and she’s identified the feed from the tower’s backup batteries – 30 seconds later, she’s disconnected it, leaving an open power socket. The tutorial video stutters and dies, her phone angrily moans about not being able to find a cellular connection. Next out of her backpack is the tightly coiled but bulky power cable – one end goes into the open socket, the other she skillfully tosses over the chain fence, and she follows it.

Just as her feet hit the floor, Shoji emerges from the building’s stairwell, the end of a similar-looking cable in his hand.

- We good? he asks her.

- Should be, she replies.

He hands her the end of his cable and she slots the end of hers into it. There’s a satisfyingly mechanical click as the two connect. Shoji is already on his walkie-talkie to someone downstairs. He grins as the reply comes back.

- Says they got juice, ready to go, he says. Should be kicking off about now. You coming down?

-Nah, gimme a couple of minutes.

Shoji smiles back at her, looks out at the view. Gonna watch, huh? Never gets old. And then he’s off, back down the stairs, leaving Kaori alone in the warm night air.

She waits, finding herself trying not to blink in case she misses it.

And then it just happens, always so suddenly and without warning, even when you’re waiting for it. The world in front of her vanishes, extinguished, as every light in every building goes out.

She stares at it for a few seconds, and then she’s moving again.

Down the stairs, the light on her phone – the only thing it's good for now

66%of people think experiences are more valuable to them than material possessions (C8 Data)
– guiding her feet as she follows the snaking cable down into the dark building. The sound system starts up
From escalating rents to pressure from local authorities, nightlife venues across the UK are facing an onslaught of obstacles. Yet clubs remain important in the rites of passage for young Britons and help to cultivate new musical talents. So, how can these establishments be saved from closure?View article
just as she hits the bottom, the force of it almost knocking her sideways – the rumble of 165 BPM techno kicks, the cascade of clattering breaks, the piercing staccato stabs of sampled fairground organs. A pitch-black room, rapidly filling with bodies – enthusiastic party people who have come from all over and bored, signal-less local kids wandering in to see what’s up.
Karen Barnes
“There is a sense of uncertainty in society. That links into a need for comfort and nostalgia, coupled with a desire still to be able to have treats, even if those treats aren’t the kind of luxuries people might have been able to afford before.”
Strobe lights. No phones. No cameras. No sharing. Kaori grins to herself again. Fuck your signs. Fuck your acts and laws. Fuck your community. This is mine. This is ours. This is all we’ve got left.
Matt Klein
“As we debate information credibility – from politics to public health – legacy sources of truth and their messaging have become incredibly dubious, biased, and polarising, at best.”

Decrypting the scenario

Canvas8 analysts 'decrypted' these stories to reveal cross-industry implications.

Crisis of control

Crisis of control

Following years of crises beyond their control, people are responding to a perceived lack of power to better their lives by redefining what success means on their terms. People have begun to look inward for markers of value rather than abiding by conventional measures of progress.

Hedonism as escape

Hedonism as escape

A loss of agency has evolved into a persistent hedonism – if the world cannot be controlled, why not squeeze as much enjoyment out of what you can control right now? This has enabled spontaneity and relaxed inhibitions as people search for certainty in pleasure.

Anti-anti-establishment

Anti-anti-establishment

While trust in mainstream institutions has been in slow decline, cracks have begun to show in the facade of the decentralised alternatives that were heralded as a replacement. For some, this has given birth to retrograde traditionalism, while others have fallen into a deeper cynicism as a result.

I think we will see a change in people's approach to activism. Organisations and individuals alike are taking a much harsher tone in the way they are demanding change as they have run out of patience.

Christina Adane

Campaigner

Book with Access
As we debate information credibility – from politics to public health – legacy sources of truth and their messaging have become incredibly dubious, biased, and polarising, at best.

Matt Klein

Trends and strategy lead

Book with Access
There is a sense of uncertainty in society. That links into a need for comfort and nostalgia, coupled with a desire still to be able to have treats, even if those treats aren’t the kind of luxuries people might have been able to afford before.

Karen Barnes

Editorial director

Book with Access
Persistent polycrisis

Persistent polycrisis

Before COVID-19 began to fade from headlines, it was quickly usurped by a series of problems that, under normal circumstances, would be era-defining. Overlapping crises – climate change, social inequity, disrupted supply chains, and the rising cost of living – have created a paradigm where people have to process multiple existential threats at the same time.

Neverending austerity

Neverending austerity

Long-term stagnation in the ratio of wages to cost of living made many people worldwide poorer relative to their parents, even before inflation rates spiked. Between rising costs and diminishing spending power, a prolonged need to put long-term decisions on the backburner is shaping culture everywhere.

Crises of faith

Crises of faith

The erosion of democratic norms, loss of faith in cultural heroes following #MeToo, and declining levels of social integration have caused people to look for meaning in unconventional places. Spirituality is rising to fill this void, providing a sense of meaning for some while leading others down a dark path.

Brand implications

Embrace openness to build trust
Embrace openness to build trust

As people grow to trust individual influencers more than brands, it becomes imperative to drop pretences and allow loyalists into the fold. How can brands make their biggest supporters feel like they’re a part of the story?

Expanded value
Expanded value

With notions of value expanding to include benefits such as flexibility, health, and moral certainty, there’s an opportunity to reassess what brands can offer customers beyond material comfort.

Open to imperfection
Open to imperfection

After years of top-down mismanagement, blind trust in authority has eroded, and people are looking for authentic, open communications instead. People are increasingly interested in less hierarchical communication and trust issue-specific communities more than they do brands.

Expert panel 2023

Yong-Chin BreslinFashion and beauty make-up artist, futuristic and extreme beauty enthusiast

"I believe the future of beauty will be a complete reinvention of identity. 'Try-on' make-up will not be limited to just make-up but trying on another person’s image entirely, being able to get celebrities' looks in the digital world."

Book with Access

Join the live stream

Join us for a 45-minute live stream with an expert panel to uncover the most important questions to ask as we go into 2023.

Want more?
Join us for our live stream on the 10th of January for a 45-minute session where we’ll review the three scenarios with an expert panel.
Kick-start the new year with a 45-minute Team Briefing where we’ll walk you through our headline theme, 'The Age of Instinct'
Chat with one of the lead analysts on the project and dig a little deeper into specific themes, tensions, and brand implications. This Analyst Call is your opportunity to ask a question related to the research.