The cultural codes of Health & Wellness are changing

Say hi to the new, smiley face of science, thanks to the changing expectations of Gen Z.
03 February 2021
smile health wellness gen z
Yannis Kavounis

Partner, Consulting Division

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From a macro perspective, every category is characterised by big periods of cultural expression where the cultural codes are usually centred around one big idea. As the zeitgeist evolves, so does the big idea and its surrounding codes, pushing the category to a new era of cultural expression.

Remember back in the late 90s and early noughties when Health & Wellness was dominated by clinical science? It was the ‘white coat era’ where everything was black and white, sterile, lab-centred and heavily scientific in tone and language. It was right for the time to establish the credibility and trust needed from consumers.

Then came the ‘natural era’, which has led the wellness debate in the late noughties and during the last decade. Millennials were the force behind this, driven by their desire to elevate health to an aspirational lifestyle – not just a tool to solve problems for older people. Language was softened, aesthetics were placed at the forefront, green and earthy tones entered the visual landscape, and nature became the new lab. Many brands with traditional clinical heritage struggled to adapt to this new reality, failing to balance the tension between science and nature.

Health and Wellness today

We have embarked on a new era of what you might call ‘human science’. The sub-category placed at the leading edge of this new set of cultural codes is Biotech and, in particular, at-home-health-testing and next-gen supplements. Think of app-based brands like 23andme, Zoe Nutrition, Health Path, DNAfit, Atlas Biomed, Thrive, Seed and many more. 

There are some evident cultural shifts happening, centred around the idea of science-enhanced nature: science is having a comeback, providing simple tools to consumers to help them take control of their health. But this time around, science is more human, more approachable, more playful, more colourful, at times artistic, and above all, simpler. Think of pastel rainbow colours, clean lines, uncluttered images featuring imposing human faces, and the use of animation and cute symbols to breakdown complex scientific processes.

human science

The role of Gen Z

Our hypothesis is that Gen Z’s new expectations from health are behind all this. COVID-19 has accentuated this shift. They were already one of the most pragmatic youth generations, but COVID-19 has pushed this to extremes, creating a highly savvy and realistic mindset, raising their expectations around functionality and purposeful innovation. They see health as a tool with which to take control and optimise their body and mind in order to cope with the everyday, not just a fluffy opportunity for an Insta moment. They need the science present for credibility, yet they won’t compromise on simplicity, straight forwardness and beauty.

We did an analysis on our Global Monitor data comparing attitudes and values between Millennials when they were young (16-25yo) back in 2010 vs. the current 16-25yo Gen Z (in 2020) and one of the biggest shifts for Gen Z was around simplicity – as you can see in the chart below.

gen z simplicity

The devil is in the detail, obviously, but it’s good to have this over-arching big idea as a guide. We have a dedicated Cultural Insight team tracking these changes, as well as an AI-driven tool named EVA (Enhanced Visual Analytics) that can do this type of analysis while we humans are sleeping.

If you want to be part of this journey, or find out how your brand stacks up in this new cultural context, just get in touch.

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