M&C Saatchi FABRIC board director Laura Coller explains the threshold moment that the lifestyle space has reached this year, and how brands should behave in it
Laura Coller’s journey at M&C Saatchi Group is intrinsically linked to brands steadily moving their focus towards lifestyle. When she joined the London agency in 2009 it had recently won the Reebok account. “At that time, that brand had a huge sport side,” she says. “And the lifestyle side was a portion.” But as the marketing landscape has shifted Laura’s watched brands like Reebok and adidas move their focus from straight-up sportswear towards lifestyle.
This shift has come to define her career somewhat. When M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment launched its Lifestyle division in 2016, she took on a new role as head of lifestyle. Now she’s board director of the newly launched M&C Saatchi FABRIC, which describes itself as “a specialist service, offering fully integrated creative solutions to support brands operating in, or looking to break into, the lifestyle space.”
M&C Saatchi FABRIC comes at a crucial point in defining the concept of lifestyle, Laura explains. She and her team saw an opportunity to launch as a separate proposition within the M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment network, using the kind of strategic thinking that had evolved over the years within it.
Several people within the agency had been thinking about how the space was changing, but then Covid happened and, as with so many things, those shifts accelerated. “It essentially solidified a lot of the things that we were saying. The things that we’d identified about the diversification of passions were leading to the lifestyle space growing. All of these elements were then amplified even further by everyone's experience through Covid. It's only made our space more relevant to people.”
Central to that thinking is the idea that more than ever, consumers’ passions are coming to define who they are. “It used to be what we did and where we lived,” says Laura. “Now it's what we love.”
She looks back to the time when she was defining her own sense of identity, in the age of MSN Messenger, when you’d ask someone “a/s/l” (age/sex/location). Then when other social media platforms emerged, we began writing our bios on Twitter and Instagram - your pitch would be your age, what you do for a living or other broad ways of defining yourself. “Now, younger generations lead with what they're passionate about,” says Laura. “How they describe themselves on Instagram is a series of emojis that represents the things they love. Or the first thing that they talk about is what they're passionate about. It's like a badge of honour to have passions and knowledge. With that in mind we've been talking internally specifically about Gen Z and the Millennial-Gen Z crossover. They almost have a portfolio of passions. They don't just have one big thing that they're interested in. It’s brag-able to be interested in lots of different things, and to be able to talk about them articulately and to have knowledge on them.”
One observation that illustrates this shift in how people define themselves is how CVs have changed. Laura remembers that section that used to be at the bottom of a resume that usually said something like: “I enjoy socialising and playing football”. Now it’s the first paragraph on a CV, she observes. “People are leading with their passions.”
Laura identifies social media and specifically the way influencer culture has evolved within it, as something driving this change. “Because of the influencer space and how it works, the minute elements of people's everyday lives are now becoming glamorised,” she says. Take for example the concept of the #5amclub
. What used to be a personal choice - when you decided to wake up - is now becoming an online community, with people defining their identities around it. “That simple lifestyle choice of getting up early becomes something that's almost a commodity,” says Laura. “It becomes something that's got a culture around it, a community around it.”
In short, the main way lifestyle has been altered is “the move from things being used as a functional utility to things being used as community membership,” says Laura. “You used to buy workout clothes because you went to work out and you had to wear something to wear. Now you buy workout clothes because that says something about who you are.”
“Now, you wake up in the morning, you drink the coffee that you're passionate about, you put on the sneakers that you're passionate about and say something about who you are, you walk to work and listen to the podcast that you're passionate about, you go to the workout class on your lunch break. Our lives are punctuated with all the things that we're passionate about.”
The point that’s key for brands to understand is that people’s days are now no longer filled with things that they do; they’re filled with activities that define how they see themselves and want to be seen. And these moments are opportunities for brands to empower people through. In 2020, Laura defines lifestyle brands as “brands that you feel represent who you are.”
And with identities becoming defined by so many small details, each of these can be an opportunity, “I think that it's become that almost any brand can fit in the lifestyle space,” says Laura.
All of this was affecting culture already, but Covid’s impact on this landscape is significant. Laura explains: “First of all, it's put people's daily lives under a microscope. There are certain people who live very consciously anyway. The influencer space has kind of amplified that. But I think that rather than this robotic getting on with everyday life and just going through the motions, people are now obviously much more considered about the choices that they're making, how they're spending their time. People want to spend their time, their efforts on something that's going to make them feel good. People are prioritising that now as a result of Covid.”
Some brands were already intimately involved with these moments in people’s lives, but Laura’s noticed this click with more of them in 2020. “Even more brands are picking up on how important it is to enable people to indulge in their passions, or to communicate with them through the things that they love.”
This enabling is crucial to it all to the thinking that M&C Saatchi FABRIC is built on. Whereas brands used to dictate what was cool, or suggest how people should act, that doesn’t wash with people whose identities are so meticulously constructed. “Brands are looking for consumers to define what it is that they perceive as being cool, or the objective. The brand's role in that scenario is to enable them to achieve that. That's where we come at it from with our clients: how can we offer that level of enablement?
“It's all about being reactive to what the consumer believes, finding those synergies with what you as a brand believe, and then enabling them through it. And the brands that have done that have succeeded during this time.”
Shoutouts from Laura to brands that have done this include Selfridges, who empowered people who were enthusiastic about sustainable fashion to buy or sell “pre-loved” designer clothes through RESELLFRIDGES
. “They know their consumers, they know who they are, and they know what the current trends and culture are. And they found a really nice way of fusing those three elements to empower that consumer against the things that they care about. For a retailer that’s commercially sustained by selling products, that’s quite ballsy.” She’s also impressed by how the department store opened an outdoor market in response to Covid changing how people view retail. “I feel like everything that they do lands strategically bang on, when that consumer wants it,” says Laura.
Other obvious choices for best in class this age are Patagonia and Fenty: “The ones that understand the consumer really well, have a specific point of view themselves, and then find a way to really maximise this moment in time and the opportunity around it.”
A project that Laura was proud to work on that speaks to this theme was the PR element of Coca-Cola’s ‘Open Like Never Before’ campaign. “That was very much about capturing this moment in time from an emotional perspective. And give something back to consumers, rewarding and enabling them.”
2020’s extraordinary circumstances have caused M&C Saatchi FABRIC to crystallise its thinking into a philosophy that Laura and her team are excited to apply to clients. “You hear about a lot of agencies who say they connect brands to consumers. And that's all well and good. But our approach is enabling consumers to connect to each other. We get this community that's built around the brand, community builds culture, and culture builds brand impact.”