From Me to We — Virtually
Adobe Stock’s first visual trend for 2020.
Championing change in 2020 looks completely different than it did even just a few weeks ago. The online social scene of 2010 is now a massive, global multimedia network, with information travelling at millions of clicks a minute. This is not hyperbole — in 2018, the calculated tweets per minute alone came in at an average of 481,000, according to calculations done by Cumulus Media. That’s nearly 28.9 million tweets per hour. Images of justice in action, protests in progress, and community collaboration move faster and farther, with the ability to reach a vast audience in seconds.
“We’re living in a world where visuals are being pushed out 24/7,” says Brenda Milis, principal of visual trends at Adobe Stock. “Now add to that the rapid and global spread of COVID-19, and lifestyles and priorities are shifting on both a local and global scale at an astonishing pace.”
The boon of social media is impressive enough on its own, but even more so is the way people have taken this massive sharing of information as an invitation to connect with one another and advocate together.
“We’re all living in this world, and we’re all very concerned about this world,” says Brenda, who was inspired to name one of this year’s visual trends “From Me to We.” “And this was a shift in attitude we saw building steadily in recent years, before COVID-19 began to spread at an astonishing pace.
“Consumers are becoming more and more identified with being citizens — citizens of the world. People have begun to understand that they can use their time and their resources to support the causes and communities they value.”
These questions remain constant, but so does the flow of voices rising in answer. Some of them are startlingly young; Bana al-Abed was just seven when she hit the news for using Twitter to speak out about life as a child in a war zone, and 11-year-old Naomi Wadler, who led a walkout at her school after the Parkland shooting, wowed the audience with her powerful speech on racial justice at the 2018 March for Our Lives rally.
Greta Thunberg, at 17, has become an international household name for her work on climate issues. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Greta has urged her peers to use social media as a platform for activism rather than attend any events in person, suggesting that they post pictures of themselves with protest signs under the hashtag #DigitalStrike. Photos are popping up from all over the world.
As a group, these young people are passionate informers — and the companies they gravitate toward are, too. According to Irregular Labs, a female and gender nonconforming-run think tank that publishes an annual document called The Irregular Report, teens and tweens “want brands to engage publicly with causes that matter to them — globally and locally.”
Brenda noticed this during her research, but also in conversations she’s had with her 11-year-old son. “We’re always talking — about gender identity, personal dignity, self-esteem, being a good citizen, and how what we do affects not just our community but also the world,” she says. “Not just being a good person but also being a good citizen.”
This new group of socially conscious youth has earned itself a name to match: Generation We. WGSN, a trend forecasting company based in the United States, is behind the moniker. “Compassion is in their DNA,” said Sarah Owen, senior editor at WGSN Insight, of Generation We. “Caring is the new cool.”
“New cool” has a storied history. The collective drive of Generation We is built on the work of longtime activists, some of whom are several decades older than their young counterparts. The late Frances Crowe, an American peace and climate advocate, encouraged her peers’ continued involvement in social justice movements right before her arrest while protesting a controversial gas pipeline installation in 2018 (she was 98 years old at the time).
Frances spoke to the press covering the event, right before she was taken into custody. “I feel the only way we can bring about the change is for us to act on our conscious [sic],” she said to Boston’s NBC affiliate News10. “I think it takes the older people like me to step up and put their bodies in the action.”
And they are — especially when it comes to how and where they spend their money. As with the Gen Zers and millennials who make up Generation We, the older set’s sway is also financial — socially-informed consumerism, according to a 2018 study by global communications firm Edelman, has seen “an 18-point increase among people 55 years old and up.”
Companies are paying close attention, especially as statistics continue to echo consumers’ desire to spend based on ethics overall. There’s an official term for what Edelman’s “belief-driven buyers” are looking for: “corporate social responsibility” (CSR for short). It’s a measurable value. The Ethisphere Institute, a company dedicated to evaluating CSR, has developed a specific method for determining corporate ethics. Each year, the Institute selects an annual list of “The World’s Most Ethical Companies” based on their findings. Heavy hitters H&M, Microsoft, Pepsi, and the AARP are among the 132 companies on the list for 2020.
For Brenda and the content team, this means a shift in what Adobe Stock clients are looking for — particularly now that the health pandemic has spiked these concerns and commitments.
“[They’re] saying, ‘What we want to find, what we want to put in our next campaign, is people using their time, their resources, and their lives for the greater good,” Brenda says. “We’re seeing more and more people, more and more consumers and clients, search for this content on Adobe Stock.
“People are looking for imagery that shows a thoughtful lifestyle, the personal being purposeful, and people helping causes large and small — and COVID-19 certainly makes the demand for this kind of imagery at an all-time high.”