futurespeak

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The idea that animals have individual rights will become a generally accepted notion within the next 10 to 20 years.

AD: What's one of the most interesting things you see happening on the fringe that you think will transfer into the mainstream?

LS: The animal rights movement. In San Francisco, legislation was passed to change people from pet owners to pet guardians. That elevates the legal status of pets. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals continues to launch strong campaigns. PETA is now lobbying Burger King, for example; they've copied the company's logo, but changed the name from Burger King to Murder King.

AD: Do you mean that mainstream consumers are going to become militant animal rights activists?

LS: As this spreads into the mainstream, there will be less of that kind of hard rhetoric, but within the next 10 to 20 years, the idea that animals will have some individual rights will become a generally accepted notion. We've seen it happen with recycling, something that only a few people did at one time. We've seen it with groups like Amnesty International, where it's become a generally accepted notion that people should be free to express their opinions and not get beaten up or thrown in jail.

AD: How will animal rights play out in the mainstream? Will we all become vegetarians?

LS: I don't think we're going to become a nation of vegetarians. I think it's likely that we're going to pay a lot more attention to how animals are treated, not only as pets, but as sources of food. There are a lot of interesting books on the fringe now about how livestock is treated, and the implications of that for human health. If we eat animals that have been given antibiotics, for example, then we get the drugs in our systems too. You don't have to be a hard-core vegetarian to be concerned about animal rights. Even for a devoted carnivore, you'd like to eat meat that's not been pumped full of antibiotics, steroids, and hormones. I've seen menus in restaurants that assure diners that the animals they're about to eat were raised in a happy, drug-free environment. There will be more of that kind of labeling in the future.

No Faith in Food

In 2000, more than 25% of consumers were at least somewhat doubtful about food safety at their local supermarket.

PERCENTAGE OF CONFIDENCE LEVEL OF FOOD SAFETY IN THE SUPERMARKET.

Completely confident 15%
Mostly confident 59%
Somewhat doubtful 22%
Very Doubtful 3%
Not Sure 1%
Source: Food Marketing Institute

AD: Will consumers be able to stomach that?

LS: Right now, it's easy not to ask yourself too many questions about how animals that become your food were handled and treated. I think that there will be more attention paid to this now, with the publicity surrounding mad cow disease and the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

AD: What will it mean for marketers?

LS: If you're in the food business — a producer or marketer — you should pay a lot of attention to this because it may cause you serious problems. And in general, marketers should monitor the alternative press and get comfortable reading information that contradicts what they believe. Even if you believe that eating meat that contains antibiotics is perfectly safe, there's a growing number of people out there that don't. Marketers need to be tolerant of different points of view and investigate those points of view because they may ultimately influence the future of their business.

If you really want to know what's next in consumer behavior, don't spend time watching mainstream consumers. According to Lee Shupp, strategic director and futurist with Cheskin Research in Redwood Shores, California, the best way to understand what most consumers will be buying tomorrow is to visit the outer edges of society today.

But keep in mind that all that you see on the fringe won't necessarily play on Main Street — it's only the strongest ideas that will make the leap. And it takes a broad and deep understanding of consumer behavior to tell the difference. Shupp gets his understanding through the practice of “ethnofuturism� — a combination of ethnographic research techniques and futures research tools. On the ethnographic side, Shupp relies on direct consumer observation and interaction, and combines that with the futures research practice of “environmental scanning� (combing through hundreds of newspapers, journals, and magazines to identify trends). Shupp shares his perspective on the future with clients ranging from Motorola and Microsoft to Hershey and PepsiCo. American Demographics' Alison Stein Wellner spoke with the futurist about his forays into the fringe, and what it may mean for marketers tomorrow.

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