Path of flowers the colour of Peach Fuzz, Pantone Color of the Year 2024

The Future 100: wellbeing, humanity, emotion and tech

This annual trend spotter – by WPP’s VML – gives us the context for the new normal for marketing in 2024. VML’s Marie Stafford explains 

By anyone’s reckoning, 100 trends are a lot. But VML’s Future 100 report for 2024 is not only the identification of 100 trends that will impact marketing and communications throughout 2024, these trends also suggest a number of macro themes that result from multiple trends pulling in the same direction.

Overarching the 100 trends is a general sense of the return to human-centric, softer values. “Empathy, connection, togetherness and emotion will be a dominant theme across everything in 2024,” says Stafford. “This is an interesting phenomenon given that we are in an age of technology and AI. Even the colour forecasters are saying that ‘peach fuzz’ – a soft colour – will define the year ahead.” 

Whether this human-centricity is a response to technology or is associated with the increased value we now put on emotional wellbeing, what is clear is that this softness pervades everything surfaced by VML in its 2024 report, including the four macro themes identified by Stafford below.

The great deceleration

“People – including consumers – are seeking to slow down. They are becoming overwhelmed by the level of stress and anxiety they are experiencing, whether that is because of technology or everyday pressure, and they are looking for the off ramps,” Stafford says. 

The 2024 report includes a global survey that enquires about collective health challenges. What is clear from the survey is that people are really concerned about stress and how it's affecting mental wellness. “The survey shows that stress is now the number one concern and mental illness is number two. Worries about physical health conditions are way down the list,” she says.

“In response to this concern about mental health, people are looking for ways to manage the pressure, especially at work. We’ve already seen the great resignation, quiet quitting and questions around the role of work. This is just an evolution of some of the trends we've seen in recent years.” 

With consumers putting their health and wellness first, a new question arises: is the sheer pace of the trend cycle getting too much? “We're starting to see some brands thinking about the pace at which they go to market,” says Stafford. “They’re focusing more on quality, functionality or longevity now.”

Radical reconnection 

Radical reconnection revolves around the idea that togetherness and connection deliver an important opportunity for brands. And radical reconnection is the antidote to the epidemic of loneliness being reported since the pandemic.

“If we can foster this, the benefits are huge. The upside of people experiencing more human connection is not only good for individual wellbeing, but it’s also good for communities, and then by extension society and economies,” says Stafford. “This is interesting for brands because they thrive when society thrives and when the economy is strong.” 

And, of course, all the challenges the world and its communities are facing require collective effort if they are to be solved. “There are lots of reasons why radical reconnection is a good thing,” she says.

“Nevertheless, it still requires overcoming barriers, be that the proliferation of screens, the way cities are designed, hostile architecture and so on. Despite this, we are seeing a real appetite for people being together, sharing space, organising supper clubs, and so on. There is joy to be found in a shared experience. And it provides the ideal environment in which businesses can lean in and drive the economy.”

Emotion is back

“Injecting emotion into experiences is a growing trend,” says Stafford. “Brands are designing emotional payback. We hadn’t seen tangible examples of brands measuring the emotion they were injecting into their experiences until now.” 

She continues: “For the first time, we are seeing a brand saying to the consumer that they will pay more or less depending on whether the brand actually delivers on an emotion, and they are measuring this emotion using physical indicators like the human pulse.”

We are in an age of the next level of immersive, almost theatrical, storytelling that delivers experiences that transport people from the everyday. Take theme parks: the latest don’t just offer a few rides, they invite guests to solve a crime or go on a quest. “One of the things that we discovered about many emotions is that they prime people for connection – they are prosocial,” says Stafford. “It runs parallel to that reconnection trend.” 


“We’re predicting that we’ll spend the next few years interrogating and reimagining what it means to be human, especially now we live in an AI environment,” says Stafford. She queries whether we will continue to define ourselves in terms of intellect, or whether we are increasingly valuing emotional qualities like empathy, compassion and intuition. 

“In the context of AI, there’s an intersection between intellect and emotion,” she says,” and we will have to work out what that will mean for human identity.” Importantly, however, academic research is already demonstrating that people are exhibiting a preference for human created outcomes – rather than pure AI – in some contexts.

“We found that, when you ask people about creative content, like films, music or even branded communications, people still have this preference for human made. Potentially that will become more premium in years to come,” she says. “But imagine how AI might elevate us. Imagine – powered by AI – what we will be able to achieve.” 

For more on the Future 100 and other trends visit VML Intelligence or email [email protected].

Image: Peach Fuzz, Pantone Color of the Year 2024, courtesy of The Development x Almost Studios


Marie Stafford


published on

22 February 2024


Experience Commerce Communications

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