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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Illustration: Gabrielle Merite
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.
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.
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.
THINK FIRST before ENDANGERING THE FUTURE OF YOURSELF AND YOUR COMMUNITY!
Across the sign, however new it might be, someone has already scrawled in marker pen just one word: cringe.
Kaori smirks. Couldn’t put it better myself. Fuck this sign. In fact, fuck both of these signs. Endangering the future? What fucking future?
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.
Emergency services? You mean the ambulances that never come?
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.
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.
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
Canvas8 analysts 'decrypted' these stories to reveal cross-industry implications.
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.
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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.
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
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.
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?
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.