The rise of “Gen Whimsy”

In a recent post, we discussed the success of the 'Dumb Ways To Die' advertising campaign. The success of this campaign can in part be boiled down to a catchy tune, engaging animated characters and unbridled ageless joy. After some thought there may have been another element here worth mentioning - the element of whimsy. Whimsy has become so ingrained in modern entertainment and popular culture that we at Stancombe have labeled the emergence of ‘Gen Whimsy’. These are people who live and breathe feel-good, innocent popular culture, read Frankie magazine cover to cover, ride vintage bicycles, eat fanciful cupcakes, love to put birds on things, incorporate flowers into their outfits and listen to modern folk music. It’s an aesthetic, a taste as well as a popular mood; it’s a penchant for simplicity, childlike wonder and light, fluffy ideas.

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This incessant feel-goodery has well and truly set up shop and it’s here to stay - at least until it flutters off into a pastel-shaded, ephemeral distance. Whimsy has even begun to rear its head in some rather odd and perhaps inappropriate places… note the obvious pulling of the heartstrings in recreating a beautiful and/or traumatic moment that we’ve all been part of in one or more ways, and the addition of the glockenspiel - an instrument that takes us right back to the cot. 

All this cutesy-petutesy imagery in advertising and popular culture isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon; if sex sells so does "cute" and whimsical. Remember the ‘run rabbit run’ frolicking through the city of Melbourne ad? It's also unlikely any of us have forgotten the countless scenes of puppies playing with toilet paper. However a key cultural tipping point for the world of whimsy from our point of view occurred when cupcakes (fanciful, twirly, playful and decorative) well and truly trumped muffins (grounded, heart-felt, substantial and earthy) as the dominant bakery goods du jour. (Some may argue a parallel role for cats and the internet too - and we'd certainly agree - there are always many threads to any cultural shift. So how about some kitties AND some cupcakes?)

In fact so prevalent has this kind of imagery become that Australian brewer Lion decided to put a slight twist on it with their Tooheys 5 Seeds 'Not As Sweet As You Think' campaign. 

Now we’re not averse to this uplifting draught of the whimsical; it’s refreshing to see cute filling up some of the space that would otherwise be occupied by sexy.

Zooey Deschanel is a welcome addition to popular culture after the bad smell that was Paris Hilton.

But it’s the extension of this mood into the adult domain that makes us wonder what it’s all about. You don’t have to look far to find whimsy and wonder plastered all over everything from cafe décor, billboards, retail shop fronts and advertising for insurance policies - one of the more sober and grown up of matters. We can only hope that our motor registries, banks and courtrooms find a way to incorporate a bit of whimsy into their overly stern approach. Alice in Wonderland playing on the TV screens, Angus and Julia Stone playing in the corner, complimentary fairy bread, a bouquet here and there … wait, is that another tourism ad for Melbourne – making a play to be the ultimate city of whimsy?

So is this fixation with childlike whimsy and wonder a retreat from the ills of the modern world? A form of denial? Terrorism, global financial crisis, climate change; has it all become a bit much to deal with? Are we all craving innocence? Or just a retreat from adult responsibility for the moment and instead climbing into a collective onesie – our own very special mental whimsy onesie?

Who cares; here’s a cute little jingle to take us right back to childhood and tell us it’s all going to be ok. 

Glockenspiel's at the ready, one and all!

‘No Thanks, I’m Just Using’

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With Australia Post in the news over price hikes of up to 30% for pre-paid parcels, competitor Toll has announced its trial rollout of TZ locker technology. Consumers simply rent the automated lockers in anticipation of a parcel delivery and pick it up from a 24 hour localised pick up point. While this innovation is an evolution of the almost ancient concept of a PO box, it got us into a discussion about the broader trend it is part of and what this says about our changing society.

Once upon a time it was standard practice for a young adult to get a job, buckle down and save their pennies in order to buy a house and things to fill it with. But this trajectory may be on the wane.

Things seem to be gradually giving way to the services things offer. Lately we’re seeing the emergence of a number of innovative short-term rental/usage concepts whose success indicates that for some Australians it is no longer appealing or necessary to commit to fully purchasing something to enjoy its benefits, or to have that something to hand all the time. The service comes before the product.

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Spotify is the pioneering commercial music streaming service that has been described as the saviour of the moribund music industry. Spotify offers users access to almost every piece of recorded music for a modest monthly service fee. Essentially this negates the need to purchase or own music; users are simply borrowing the music they want, as required.

GoGet is one of a handful of car share services launched in Australia that claim to be more convenient than car-rental and cheaper than car ownership. Members can book a car online, take a short walk to the nearest GoGet rental car, unlock it using a smart card and return it to the same spot when finished. No vehicle registration, no insurance, no repairs, no saving or commitment. To add to this in recent years

Melbourne has embraced the bike-sharing trend occurring in over 200 cities in 33 countries. The idea is much the same as GoGet, with two wheels.

So what’s driving this shift towards services rather than products? Is it an affordability issue? Not really. According to a report released last year by NATSEM, the cost of living isn’t increasing as rapidly as many would have us believe. Australians are experiencing financial stress due to greater discretionary spending and consequent expectations. We think this ‘service over product’ shift is about something bigger and more significant - services such as these offer lifestyle without encumbrance; they mitigate the rising cost of lifestyle, cater to an attitude of entitlement present amongst some, and talk to the new narrative that sees young Australians less willing to set aside part of their weekly wage to purchase a car, bike or LP. A service doesn’t deteriorate like a consumer durable, and disappears as soon as you’ve finished using it. It’s all the wheat and no chaff.

So what’s next? Could this trend, coupled with some quirky Japanese inventiveness, be the answer to Sydney’s housing shortage?