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Icon Toppling

noun, [ˈaɪkɑn] [ˈtɑpəlɪŋ]

1: A new socioquake transforms mainstream America and the world as the pillars of society are questioned and rejected.

2: One of 17 known cultural and societal undercurrents, first identified by Faith Popcorn, whose shifting dimensions reflect the human experience as it evolves to define future consumer behavior.


Times are changing – quickly and deeply. Faith Popcorn first detected some important tremors in the late 1980s; they revealed that a new consumer sentiment surfacing. Skeptical consumers were ready to tear down the long-accepted monuments of business, government, celebrity and society.  She saw that major corporations were no longer perceived as trustworthy – AT&T, Amex, and IBM were scrambling to look small, friendly and personal. Big was no longer better. Loyalty to one lifelong employer was over; temp agencies became the single largest employment sector in America. Around the world, her trendspotting team saw the death of the celebrity spokesperson and soon, the rise of the “real person” influencer. And, as the Internet flourished, and crowd-sourcing rose, consumers began to trust friends’ and even strangers’ reviews of products more than advertising and expert opinion.

Practical Application

Faith and her team channeled these insights into such projects as a reinvention for Tylenol. Previously known as the safe, trusted and gentle pain reliever, Tylenol found its message wasn’t resonating with Millennials. That’s because this demographic didn’t shun pain but instead embraced it. Whether doing extreme sports or getting tattooed, they embraced pain. With a “Claim Pain” positioning and an InCulture program that included paying for health insurance for daredevil athletes as well as zines celebrating scars and the life events they chronicle. Tylenol produced a black and blue tablet that gave the company a double-digit lift with target consumers and made it culturally relevant, even earning a spot on Saturday Night Live.


Today, Icon Toppling is all around us. The old ideas of binary gender are gone, as gender fluidity rises, and Facebook offers people 70+ options to describe their identity. Stores like NYC’s The Phluid Project offer clothing for those who prefer not to be constrained by “boy, girl” notions. A college education is no longer the ultimate goal, as entrepreneurialism and skills-based work rises in the Gig Economy.

Upwork, the job-matching platform, is emblematic of this, with its $1+ billion worth of jobs per year. Airbnb has forever changed the notion of home and hospitality; Uber, Lyft, Zipcar and others are redefining what transportation means. And certainly, around the world, we see the pillars of government questioned as a new nationalism sweeps through countries as diverse of Brazil and Hungary.


In the years ahead, Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve sees only more change. The home-ownership dream is a dinosaur, as cash-poor Millennials turn to a nomadic lifestyle, enabled by co-living networks, like Roam, and home-sharing via Airbnb and others. Entrepreneurship and the Gig Economy rises, allowing everyone to be their own boss – but perhaps necessitating Universal Basic Income as benefits like vacation and sick pay, health and life insurance, and retirement accounts fall by the wayside. Gender Fluidity is being embraced with only 48% of teens identifying as heterosexual, making the old binary “male or female” choice seem antiquated.  Some consumers – especially those in the lower socio-economic categories – will cling to the past ferociously, and governments and companies will need to step in to manage the change and alleviate the stress it triggers.

How do legacy brands compete in a brave new world? Can they?

We have some provocative thoughts on the subject you’ll want to hear.Let’s Talk

Trend Pairings

Icon Toppling and 99 Lives both express ways in which the consumer is trying – desperately at times – to keep pace with changes in the status quo that are unfolding at a hyper-rapid pace. These two Trends often merge and demand that businesses radically transform to stay relevant.


Icon Toppling also aligns with Anchoring – as the world changes drastically, the consumer seeks the support, tradition and grounding that Anchoring can bring. These Trends may seem to be in opposition but can have a powerful impact when both are engaged.


99 Lives

Events with Faith Popcorn

March 12, 2020

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August 23, 2023

99 Lives

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February 28, 2023

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