Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Driving back from work last evening, a sudden commotion at a traffic signal caught my attention. The exciting disruption of a normally excruciating wait was being caused by, of all things, a live musical sound!

The sight that drew both a surprise and a smile at the same time was that of a middle aged woman driver, playing the beautiful melody on her wooden flute, as she waited for the signal light to turn green.

Yes, in spite of the pall of gloom in the downturn, there seem to be many positive Signs pointing towards a new way of “being” for us all. Signs around Brightsiding, or optimism about a positive future beyond the recession, are washing over the globe. Simultaneously, Signs around Maturlism, a new trend of mature materialism, are helping us counterbalance our past socioeconomic excesses and revert to the stable values at the very foundation of our society.

With the economy having flipped the way it has, there are signs that our idea of normalcy and everything that constitutes normal seem to have undergone a significant change. It looks like the harsher times are helping us reexamine our priorities. A refreshing wave of maturity, humility and realism seems to be imploding within the saturation of decadent consumerism, winning and expression.

One of the clear fallouts of the economic slowdown is the concept of slowing down itself. We seem to be pausing more, paying greater attention to the smaller things that were earlier lost in the rush of the work-life frenzy. Visiting Dads, used to seeing their kids grow up in sleep, seem to be finally discovering the Grade in which their sons or daughters are.

People also seem to be spending money differently. The global crash has led to the intertwined quartet of realty, credit, blue chip and oil being more affordable. But inspite of sales abound, we have all become far more conservative in what and how much we buy.

The excesses of our past may not have been erased completely. However, they definitely are catching up with us. The auto industry is a clear example. Take GM for instance, the poster company of the US and a true symbol of the industrialism that led to mass affluence in the first place, has also buckled and sworn to correct the irregularities of its past as it inches towards bankruptcy.

Big fat cats of the Stock Streets who rode the crest of notional wealth, splurged, debauched and generally thought of nothing as impossible, are being overtly rebuked for their bonuses and extravagance.

While our financial and social senses seemed more attuned to the rich-poor juxtaposition earlier, the truths we must now confront are helping us evaluate matters more deeply - examine the way we lead our lives and what we spend our precious time and money on.

Quality of life has become key. Take for instance, the growing popularity of “home do’s”, parties and get-togethers at home for friends and family. They’re quickly replacing the splurge and dazzle of yesterday’s template parties. Or the increasingly popular dual-SIM phones that can separate one’s work and family lives with just a flick.

Media too seems to be catching on. The new splash in broadcast media is around a new channel, and genre, tellingly christened ‘Real’. A showcase of real characters and real stories - a welcome change from the usual melodramatic quagmire on offer. Getting real seems to be the mood of the season.

As are hope and optimism. And in tough times, the breakdown of traditional systems and symbols of power seem to provide that very hope and optimism. The story of the victorious underdog is everywhere. President Barack Obama springs immediately to mind. As does Slumdog Millionaire - the little movie from India that raced up the red carpet and podiums of all awards to bag top honours. “Jai Ho!” has become the clarion call of the world.

Change then, is in the air. Brands and their custodians seem to have sensed it too and are reflecting freshness in approach that is more grounded and rooted in realism, yet buoyant with a sense of hope. Banks, the harbingers of the meltdown, are now speaking of ‘The Power of Belief’ and structuring their brands around a solid foundation of leadership, ideas, trust and education.

In the aftermath of the crash, there seems to be a nascent optimism and an increasing need to chip away at frivolous luxuries to leave what is real and solid underneath. People are looking for and responding to symbols of hope and trust. There are signs that we’re all just waiting for all the noise to quiet down and the light to turn green again.