Get Ready for ‘UFO Green.’ Inside the Strange Science of Trend Forecasting
Labels like Levi’s, Adidas, and Fila have all spent five- and six-figure fees on companies that predict fads years in advance. This is how trend forecasting works.
Robyn Lange thinks she knows what colors you will want to see a lot of in the coming year.
“People are looking for something that’s really bright and pop-py,” Lange, curator at the stock photo agency Shutterstock, told The Daily Beast. “They want something that’s comforting but exciting and fun and the same time.”
Color is just one field of investigation in the intriguing world of trend forecasting. Labels like Levi's, Adidas, Fila, and Coach have all shelled out five- and six-figure fees to companies that predict what fads will be years in advance. Clairvoyance may be considered a pseudoscience, but trend forecasting is a viable, booming business.
Lange’s team identified three top colors after finding the most-searched colors in 2018, and comparing that data to what they found the year prior. “Most of our customers are designers, creative directors, marketers, filmmakers, and those are the people who drive the trends forward. We want to catch their data so that everyone else can be on board as well,” she said.
According to Lange's data, “Plastic Pink,” a neon light-esque fuschia is sizzling brightly. The look is undeniably Barbie, and probably inspired by a recycled admiration for noughties kitsch (think the bubblegum palette for Ariana Grande's “Thank U, Next” music video, which recreated scenes from 2000s music videos).
“Proton Purple,” another 2019 trend, is similar to Ultra Violet, Pantone's 2018 Color of the Year, but with a bit more edge. If Ultra Violet represented a desire to connect with the spiritual world, “Proton Purple” brings out the fantasy of real life. It's the color of lavender fields, barrels of eggplants, a rare kind of butterfly. It doesn't hurt that “purple berry” is also a cannabis strain that induces relaxation.
Lange suggested that searches for the lush “Proton Purple” and the last 2019 color, “UFO Green” could herald a back-to-nature push inspired by a desire to reduce the effects of climate change. “UFO Green” is piercing—as its name implies, there is a fantasy element to the color. It looks as if someone turned up the regular levels of chlorophyll in a fern to a cartoonish extent. (And, again, it reminds people of pot.)
Trend forecasting is not new, but it is constantly evolving. A generation ago, trend forecasters were bit players in the retail world who quietly attended preview events, then worked with stockists to create products based on what they saw. Now, analysts are behind-the-scenes power players.
Sarah Owen, a former youth editor at WGSN, told Fashionista that her predictions come from what she sees at festivals such as Afropunk and Coachella, but admitted that a large part of her job gets done behind a desk. “I'm constantly glued to a Tumblr or Instagram,” Owen said.
Analysts are often compared to psychics, but Linda Ong does not see her company as such.
“We’re not crystal ball-gazers,” Ong told The Daily Beast. “It’s not about guessing. We’re just paying attention to culture in a very focused way.” She prefers to think of her job as anticipating rather than forecasting.
As chief culture officer of Civic Entertainment Group, Ong leads a team that pulls insights for companies such as Ford, HBO, Verizon, and Facebook.
Rather than setting up focus groups or sending out surveys, analysts at Civic monitor and analyze cultural moments, by bingeing TV shows, reading new books, scouting design events, or speaking with field experts like doctors or psychologists to discover what breakthroughs are on their horizon. Lange found that political and social tumult influenced her annual color report.
Along with chasing hunches, analysts must be sure to cross-check their research. “Being an analyst is a really tricky business, because you've got to constantly play devil's advocate with yourself,” said Julia Millot, senior research analyst at 1010data, a provider of analytics and consumer insights solutions.
“If I believe that vegan purchases are going up, I'm going to start looking for examples of vegan purchases to put in my report,” Millot said. “But I should also do a simultaneous opposite analysis. If I'm looking for vegan purchases, I should also ask, 'What about meat-lovers?' There’s always going to be the flip side of whatever you’re chasing down.”
Bluprint, an online subscription video service for crafting videos, recently recruited Civic to study the increased popularity in creative pursuits such as knitting, yoga, and meditation. If you have recently began journaling or picked up a new hobby to distract you from any kind of stress, then Civic would like you to know: you're on to something.
“We’re living in really disorienting times,” Ong said. “Mental fitness is the new health and wellness movement, and creativity is the new workout,” Ong said. “Doctors are beginning to prescribe that people do activities such as knitting, crossword puzzles, or meditation the way they used to prescribe they do exercise.”
While trend forecasters use both data and experience to create their reports, there is one, less tangible element to the gig: a certain instinct.
According to Ong, good analysts “have to be able to sense things.” That feeling may not be something you can just find on Instagram. “I pick up on when things start to change. I’m always the first person to get cold in a room.”
The work may not require a crystal ball; that sixth sense may just be what separates trendsetters (and the forecasters that chase them) from followers.