Which cultural shifts will be the most meaningful?

Juniper Park\TBWA's Dustin Rideout shares four societal trends that brands can use to help write history's next chapter.


By Dustin Rideout

With each new year we indulge in conversations of fresh starts, trends, and cultural phenomena. But this time, the stakes are higher, and the implications are more significant.

The pandemic instigated a reshuffle of global realities, social norms, and individual beliefs. What we knew to be our world is ending, and something else is being born. Nearly eighty years after the original “Year Zero” that followed WWII, we once again have a chance to redefine ourselves and rebuild. 2021 promises to be another “Year Zero,” where growth will be redefined.

To stay relevant during this time of risk aversion and tarry, brands have an opportunity to re-establish their roles. To become forces of disruptive growth in a world that’s stuck in incrementalism.

To navigate a new path forward requires a better map. One where culture becomes our signpost and people illuminate the way forward. Each year, Junper Park\TBWA’s cultural intelligence unit, Backslash, releases the Edges report.

More than a trend, Edges (of which there are 40) are meaningful cultural shifts that have the scale and longevity to propel a brand toward a greater share of the future. These shifts are identified through a rigorous process that involves leveraging insights from over 300 “cultural spotters” from Bogota to Berlin, including our team here in Toronto.

This year’s Edges tell a hopeful story that brands can help write. Here’s a sampling of what lies ahead:


It’s the great undoing. A culture craving authenticity is setting itself free from constraints, toxic polarization, perfectionism, and needless consumerism.

Society is turning its back on impossible standards around one-note beauty, but toned-up professionalism, and picture-perfect lifestyles – ushering in a new, unapologetic attitude. We’re breaking free of unrealistic expectations by shamelessly indulging in life’s pleasures and flaunting our flaws. Aspiring to perfection is outdated.

Optimized Anatomy

After three decades of accepting all technology as progress, we’re finally calling its impact into question. Tech gave us openness, connection, and opportunity – but increasingly, it feels determined to take rights, value, and autonomy away.

We can now beat the limitations of our minds and bodies. New technologies and wellness trends are empowering a growing number of people to improve upon what nature gave them. From simple diet tweaks that boost brain power to high-tech exo suit overhauls – self-optimization is big business. Our desire for control has us taking biology into our own hands.

New School

Learning is no longer reserved for the classroom. The pandemic put the education system to the test, upending the old ways of exchanging knowledge. School curriculums are moving outdoors and onto TikTok. Peer-to-peer learning platforms are disrupting the instructor student hierarchy.

And adults are aspiring to be more self-sufficient — using their time in lockdown to boost professional skills and personal passions. The new school system knows no bounds.

Roots Revival

In our efforts to fight another day, we’re closing in and closing down. But globalization’s fall from grace is allowing us to rediscover our roots.

While being worldly was once a point of pride, we’re now turning inward and getting in touch with our local and national heritage. We’re gaining new appreciation for the people, land, and traditions that came before us. To know who we are, we must start by celebrating where we came from.

My fellow disruptor, Cecelia Girr, said it best – “Culture is fast, often confusing, and sometimes misleading. By separating cultural blur from the shifts that matter, businesses can not only unlock growth, but solidify their role in building a better future.”

Dustin-Rideout-Headshot_200311_142501Dustin Rideout is Chief Strategy Officer at Juniper Park\TBWA.