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April 28, 2022

Top 5 Cultural Mutations in the 2020s

David Brashears

Top 5 Cultural Mutations in the 2020s

Everything is changing.  That’s what you hear a lot of people talking about in marketing and communications these days.  While it’s true, it probably shouldn’t be as big a surprise as many people have been making it.  Things have been changing dramatically in our industry for the past 20 years.  The fact that things are changing quicker than ever is a product of our global circumstances over the last three years.  There have been what I call substantial cultural mutations that are going to be permanent within business, and it’s a good idea to adjust so as to not get left behind.

When I talk about cultural mutation I’m using the terms in the same way we think about biological mutations.  Mutation is the force of change within any biological system.  At times when environment and stimulus are concentrated, there is an opportunity for more accelerated mutations to occur.  Steven Johnson, a well-regarded science and technology journalist, put it very succinctly, “If we didn’t have genetic mutations, we wouldn’t have us.  You need error to open the door to the adjacent possible.”

Those cultural “errors” have been at the heart of the human experience over the past few years.  And there are five mutations that have been impacted that I want to discuss today.  However, before we do that we need to recognize that there have been very similar situations in human history that have impacted our social interactions.  Almost exactly 100 years ago, in fact, the Spanish Flu had a huge impact on our planet.  In 1918 and 1919, the Spanish Flu killed more people than World War I, but it hasn’t been talked about nearly as much. The focus became very internalized, and the world had to make substantial changes to survive the deadly virus.

The Spanish Flu pandemic image

So, how did the Spanish Flu impact the human experience?  First, we saw a huge jump in life expectancy.  The morbid truth is that Tuberculosis was a disease that was greatly impacting the average lifespan before the Spanish Flu.  Many people with this disease didn’t survive the Spanish Flu pandemic, and thus the survivors were generally less likely to have issues with Tuberculosis and lived longer.  There were other impacts that can be tied back to the Spanish Flu pandemic as well;

  • There was a baby boom coming out of the Spanish Flu
  • Many people were disillusioned with science in the West and alternative medicine expanded
  • It stimulated the growth and adoption of socialized medicine in Russia and Europe
  • The Spanish Flu spawned mistrust of authority figures and institutions who were unable to provide solutions or support during the pandemic
  • It contributed to the stock market instability that would help bring the Great Depression to the U.S.

Let’s take a look at the cultural mutations that have emerged in our latest pandemic, and how it is impacting marketing and communications.


One of the biggest things that people have struggled with through the COVID pandemic is the many ways that science and medicine have been politicized by governments around the world.  There has been widespread mistrust of our medical authorities by some groups as well as an expanding interest in alternative medicine which has confused scientific facts with political agendas.

There has also been a tremendous amount of stress put on healthcare systems that will likely have long-lasting effects on the industry.  There is a shortage of specialists within the medical field and a lessening of interest by young adults to seek a career in medical fields.  This will also have an impact on our overall healthcare system that will have to be addressed.

Graph from the Health System Tracker on declines in employment within key medical fields.

From a marketing and communications standpoint, there are many new consumer behaviors that have emerged—or accelerated—by these changes.  The main one is a new engagement and dependency on technology.  People are much more willing to forego an in-person appointment with a medical professional and instead turn to new services like telehealth and app-based medical advice.  There has been consumerization of healthcare which means that the patient has chosen to take a much more direct role in their own medical decision-making.  They are using social proof to evaluate and make medical decisions. Marketing personalization of a person’s health advocacy is the new gold standard within the healthcare industry.  They want information, products, and services to be directed much more specifically to their personal needs. That requires a greater level of data analysis and direction for any healthcare or health lifestyle marketing and advertising.

Personalization of healthcare technology and marketing.


The area of sociology has seen a great deal of change over the last three years.  People were locked in and had to evaluate every aspect of their lives.  This created an opportunity for individuals to reprioritize what was truly important to them and focus on the issues they needed to see change within.

One of the biggest challenges has been the emergence of what could be called “Tribal Thinking.” This is the expanding behavior of groups of people creating bubbles of like-minded beliefs that they will hold to without consideration or interest in a greater social discourse.  These closed conversations act as an artificial reality that values its own cultural mindset over a shared human experience.  Core social cognition has changed drastically through the past few years as scientific and professional truths are now being supplanted if they run contrary to a group’s adopted ideology.

Celebrity disillusionment.

Another area that has been changing for several years—but has gained momentum recently—is celebrity disillusionment.  People don’t value celebrity authority as an aspirational indicator as much as they used to.  78% of millennials say they are not influenced by celebrity endorsements in their decision-making. This means that marketers, advertisers, and public relations professionals need to re-evaluate their strategies and adjust to these new concepts.

There has also been a rise in the “people first” movement in social and cultural engagements.  The implementation of DEI divisions within the corporate organization will be a new permanent standard that will influence all directions and decisions a brand will make. People have an extremely low trust in their authority figures and organizations and have largely decided to focus on their individual beliefs as the greater truth.

The new "People First" movement.

The impacts of our new social mindset are fairly comprehensive. Self-care and the human experience are the new mandates for all advertising and marketing.  That drives companies to also re-evaluate their positions and promises within brand culture on how they deal with ecological urgency issues and social equality and inclusion directives.  There is also great dependence on personalized tech as people have made the conscious—or unconscious in some cases—decision to value a more curated experience at the cost of some privacy loss.  DEI audits need to become standard practice for all communications to ensure that every public message aligns with a brand belief and social truth.


No one really needs to be told that workforce dynamics have changed… like, permanently.  If you don’t think so, what’s the weather like on your planet?  Flex schedules are the new standard, people expect their employers to work with them on their schedules and are invested in being productive in a non-traditional sense.  Many companies are also dealing with the new reality that they are no longer competing locally for their valued professionals.  Remote work has opened up the country—and the world—to come looking for the very best people. 

Impact of remote work.

The flip side to all this new professional flexibility is that mental health will become a much bigger point of consideration for many people.  In a Forbes study, they found that 60% of people now work from home at least a few days a month—and 32% of those work full-time remotely.  Nearly two-thirds of those people feel more isolated and lonely in their new work environment.  People are working harder and the lines between work and life have been blurred.  This will create new avenues for socialization beyond traditional social media and professional interrelationships.

There is also the widespread democratization of financial planning that is impacting our global economy.  People are taking personal responsibility for their wealth planning using technology and access to data as leverage.  The traditional market analysis models are having to be rebuilt under this new era.

The new economy is requiring brands to evolve their strategies and communications with the new mindset of consumers who are now working remotely and have new pains and needs.  Digital marketing will drive new tactics and technologies to efficiently connect brands to non-commuting targets.

Also, the accessibility to big data and increased financial savvy means that brands must make their stockholder position a greater priority in their marketing and public relations as consumers now want to invest in companies not only as consumers but as stakeholders.


The political landscape within the U.S. has never been under so much scrutiny as it is today. The current trust in our political system is nearing the historic lows which occurred during the 2009 financial crisis—which was the lowest point in our country’s history.

Politicization of key social issues.

The politicization of the pandemic, racism, LGBTQ+ issues, and employment concerns have made people’s belief in the U.S. as a force for good reach an all-time low.  Since people don’t trust the government to do what is accepted as socially “right,” and are unwilling to cross political ideologies to make any progress, there is a huge gap in cultural cooperation.  

Politics are more involved in marketing and communications than ever before in history. Most topics are now imbued with a political stigma that can quickly undermine any positive message.  Marketing and communication strategies must be sensitive to the political affiliations within their audience.  Attempting to be politically agnostic is now seen with great scrutiny as well.  It is seen as a manipulative position to take and can do a great deal of harm to a brand’s acceptance.  It’s important for brand strategists and communicators to understand that messaging can no longer just be developed with the target audience in mind.  It must now take into account the greater audience of media outlets, their own employees, their vendors, and the greater cultural community.  The strategy you develop today must take into account all possible impacts and implications.


The new internet will drive digital transformation for every company.  New technologies, new cultural touchpoints, and a new behavioral paradigm will create vast opportunities for growth for those that can adapt—leading to a new renaissance for business.  Supply chains are being completely overhauled and corporate financial models are being reinvented. Unfortunately, that new and improved lifespan for businesses that can make the changes necessary also means that there will likely be many companies that will suffer and disappear through these changes.

New era of entrepreneurship.

A new entrepreneurial renaissance will also be emerging in the coming decades.  New business applications grew by 24% between 2019 and 2020, and women-owned businesses grew by 27% in that same time period.  Young people are bypassing the traditional higher education route and using that money to invest in their own professional business models.

Companies are now balancing employees and consumer initiatives to find stability and success.  In a Harvard Business Review study, they found that Employee Experience (EX) and Consumer Experience (CX) are now equally important for corporate and brand growth and sustainability.  However, currently, only 22% of the companies they surveyed are making EX a top-five priority.  This will change within those companies that will gain market share moving forward.

Balancing both employee and customer experience will be a new model for brand success.

A holistic view of a brand’s human impact will be a new priority within a company’s marketing and communications.  Strategies must focus on empathy regarding everyone a brand impacts. PR and advertising stories need to focus on brand advocacy that resonates with their expanded audience (see the new audience definition I outlined above).  Digital marketing strategies must be heavily audited and re-focused to align with new consumer behaviors. In a Nielsen study, they found that 74% of people believe their shopping behaviors have changed in some way—and 30% say they’ve completely changed their shopping priorities.  Shoppers are now personally navigating a business ecosystem where supply chain challenges, employment disruptions, and inflation constraints are creating new barriers to brand loyalty.

New data on changes in consumer behaviors.

This is a lot, and we understand that.  The thing to keep in mind is that this is not a tragedy, it’s an inevitability.  It’s been coming, and the past few years are the product of a much larger evolution within the human experience.  The cultural changes we are seeing have the potential to have a great positive impact on our industries and our client’s brands.

New cultural norms.

As marketing and communications professionals, it is our responsibility to craft narratives that are compelling to our outlet partners, our client’s employees, and their audience.  We’ve never wielded more power for both positive and negative impacts than we do now. If you feel like it’s time to review your own brand’s position within the new marketplace, we’re ready to discuss.  Please feel free to contact us, and we’ll schedule a time to evaluate your current brand position and help you find the path to the successful evolution of your human impact.