noun, [smɔl] [ɪnˈdʌlʤənsəz]
1: Stressed-out consumers want to indulge in affordable luxuries and seek ways to reward themselves.
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.
The human desire for little treats is nothing new, but what Faith Popcorn identified in the 1980s was an emerging twist on that – the sentiment that having a taste of something exquisite, luxurious, maybe even forbidden, was now a right. Consumers were determined to access what their hearts desired – and savor a little reward for their stressful lives. The snack category was revolutionized, with miniaturization soon being on every marketer’s mind and every consumer’s lips. The fun of seeing tiny Oreos – or eating Snackwells cookies, at 100 relatively virtuous calories per serving – struck a chord with consumers.
Affordable luxuries began entering the marketplace, proving good things come in small packages, from premium-priced toothpastes, to $350 Mont Blanc pens. Designer change purses and keyrings allowed not so wealthy shoppers to sport Louis Vuitton and other luxury labels. The rise of rewards from our financial services and travel companies – free tickets, free movies, free cashback and more – further stoked the consumer’s appetite for regular mini rewards.
As this Trend rose in the culture, Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve applied it to develop new markets for their clients. Hostess found new relevance with consumers as Faith and her colleagues came up with miniaturized treats; another major food and beverage company created snack crackers and chips in unexpected flavors and shapes to delight consumers. For Quaker, the Faith Popcorn team developed a constellation of ways to make the humble and familiar oat become fresh and exciting – and spur new growth.
Small Indulgences is traveling on a new path in the years ahead. Yes, there will still be a desire for cake pops, nail-art manicures, and other small-scale ways to get a dopamine boost and feel special and cared for. The vanishing factor – limited editions that are here today, gone in a second – also rises. In an era where everything is available to everyone at every moment thanks to the internet, exclusive, limited-edition treats drive interest. For proof, look no further than the hordes of young people who seek out Supreme and Kylie product drops.
In addition, experiences are rising as the new indulgence and they are creating new ways to connect with one’s consumer. Memorable moments – whether at a Third Rail Project’s immersive play, a stint at the Color Factory (an immersive experience that celebrates every hue in the rainbow, with rooms filled with ways to experience a given shade) or a visit to Glade’s Museum of Feelings – represent a new kind of indulgence. The experiences lift the consumer out of the everyday and shake up the routine. Innovation is intensifying, as vaped drinks are created to give consumers a sensory as well as a taste reward. Elsewhere, Merrell has wooed the hiking-boot customer with an in-store VR mountain-climbing jaunt.
Like so many other aspects of the culture, the Future of Small Indulgences will be communicated via tech. Just as today, millions are addicted to online games like Candy Crush for hits of dopamine, soon, tech will deliver new ways to spark joy. Headspace and Calm are already soothing stress on demand via meditation apps, but soon, this will all be anticipatory. Apps will know when the consumer needs a little mood tweak and will deploy a visualization, a resurfacing of a happy memory into consciousness, or a sensory tingle (like the ASMR videos of whispering or hair-brushing that are surging in popularity). To sate the consumer’s appetite for Small Indulgences, a new approach must be adopted, that isn’t merely about a product or service, but also about indulging and elevating the mundane.
Small Indulgences pairs up seamlessly with Egonomics, our personalization Trend, as consumers seek customized rewards to relieve stress.
It also partners with Pleasure Revenge – the “I want to be bad” Trend. In some ways, Small Indulgences is the kinder, gentler version of Pleasure Revenge, as it expresses a socially acceptable way to give oneself some fun and indulgence. Pleasure Revenge is an instinctual urge to overload on good feelings – even if it means breaking some rules.
Tomorrow’s trends, Today