All the lonely people

Editor Jennifer Horn examines how brands are making efforts to bring people together.
Jennifer Horn

Bordering on mild agoraphobia, I sometimes feel like a social recluse. One day, my inner outlier will convince me to flee to the woods and hide from the big anxiety wolf in a remote cottage.

If my fantasy triggered spine tingles in you, I’m not surprised. Removing oneself from society with Into The Wild thoughts is a shared experience. Most of us are prone to some level of social isolation. It’s that inner hermit, itching to come out when life stresses overtake and overwhelm. And we’ve been prepping for its escape for the last two decades. Maybe more.

In a recent Fast Company article, the author shared a crushing stat: almost 90% of people report using a smartphone during their last social interaction. Yes. I can personally attest to participating in this frowned-upon behaviour, as I’m sure you can too. I can also relate to the notion that our planet’s “social capital” is in decline. That same article talked about the collapse of community and people’s lack of interest to join things like organized religions, neighbourhood meets, or even sports leagues. I, for one, would rather take the “virtual” spin class at the gym so that I may ride the saddle alone.

But are we doing ourselves any favours? Social isolation is the #1 leading cause of loneliness, which is “as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking,” says The New York Times. I wonder, when it comes to this “epidemic” (which we touch on as a part of our feature on wellness), have we gone too far down the hole to be able to climb out unescorted? Just like any challenge facing an era (climate change, gender disparity, etc.), sometimes a little push from a big organization can help correct mid-course.

“Movement marketing” isn’t new, of course. For more than a decade, Scott Goodson of StrawberryFrog has postulated that “sparking cultural movements” is a foolproof marketing strategy: build a brand through social change. That’s never been more welcome than among today’s world of socially anxious civilians. Just ask President’s Choice.

It’s one of a few for-profit brands tapping into the wellness zeitgeist through movement-based marcom. The company’s “Eat Together” platform embraces values like community. And it follows a list of others that have attempted to treat similar symptoms of the “homebody” economy. Spending time outdoors (a rarity in our technological age) dulls anxiety and boosts well-being, so the scientists say, and Nature Valley, MEC, GoRVing, to name a few, have taken on mobilizing Canadians around disconnecting to de-stress.

Wellness will likely not be a passing fad. And plenty more brands will continue to build equity (and trust) by tapping into the growing consumer desire for well-being. For more traditional players, the trick will be authentic ownership. While newer entrants get a headstart (being born in a cause-conscious world), more established brands without a built-in purpose are slightly more challenged. It’s best to not blindside consumers with your new wellness agenda by hastily jumping in the sandbox. Remember: slow, steady and stress-free wins the race.