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Future Shock: Soothsayer Predicts Radical Times Ahead in Adland

By Published on .

Credit: Illustration by Wenjia Tang

Picture a world in which companies maintain women-only floors, everyone's moods are under surveillance, anxiety is so high that people look for respite via virtual road trips, and computer chips, rather than humans, serve as medical doctors. This Orwellian landscape—parts of which might sound radical, far-fetched or downright depressing—comes courtesy of Faith Popcorn's BrainReserve consultancy and its "Predictions 2018" report.

Popcorn, whose real last name is Plotkin, is a futurist with a pretty good track record foreshadowing our collective fate. BrainReserve's internal tracking claims a forecasting accuracy rate of 95 percent. A small sample: According to the firm, in 1986 it told Coca-Cola that bottled water would be the Next Big Thing. A couple years later it told Kodak that film was dead, and it claims to have predicted in 2008 that car and house sharing would become daily norms.

Ad Age recently caught up with Popcorn and she did not disappoint—or, depending on your point of view, disappointed mightily—with her view of a fantastic future. Note: Popcorn's firm says the predictions won't reach the mainstream for at least 15-20 years, but signs will begin emerging this year.

Faith Popcorn
Faith Popcorn Credit: Victor Jeffreys III

Gender divide

Popcorn paints a shockingly bleak view of gender relations in the wake of the sexual harassment scandals that rocked the corporate and entertainment worlds in 2017: The sexes will be separated, she predicts—at least at work.

"I think there will be female-only floors in companies and male-only floors," she says. "There will be rage rooms where men can act out because they are going to be very angry."

But in what sounds like a contradictory prediction, she sees a rise in genderless retail stores as gender-neutral clothing spikes in popularity. In a presentation on gender fluidity, her firm points to signs of the death of gender, including the rise of gender-neutral names—like Charlie and Sky—and genderless emojis. She envisions apps to help people track their fluid gender identities and chips that can be implanted to tweak hormones. How can she predict gender separation at work and unification elsewhere? "Trends don't always go flow in the same river," she says.

Doctorless medicine

A trip to the doctor could soon become obsolete as people increasingly monitor their health via embedded computer chips, swallowable trackers and color-changing dots that rest on the skin's surface, Popcorn predicts. "Doctors are going to become keyboard technicians because all the measuring apertures will be in your body," she says. "You can have a full checkup without even being there." Amazon—which is eyeing a move into prescription drug marketing—will play a major role on this new health playing field, she suggests. The company "can control the entire supply chain and tap their deep data insights," her firm states in its 2018 predictions presentation.

Looking for calm

Anxiety will become the No. 1 health threat, Popcorn predicts. And virtual reality will prove to be the most-used stress-relief solution. Instead of hitting the road for a relaxing vacation, for instance, people will plug into a VR experience. "You don't really go anywhere," Popcorn says. Also, people will get relief through sound therapy, as well as chemicals dispensed via embedded chips. With VR, nothing is out of reach, including a relaxing trip to outer space or a Narnia-like snow voyage, her firm predicts. Brands could get involved by buying ad placements in these virtual weekends away. "It's a new media," she says.

'Ecopalypse' now

Climate change will lead to strict environmental monitoring and extreme survivalist solutions, with shore towns, under threat from rising tides, being replaced by floating cities, according to the predictions presentation. Also, radio frequency identification, known as RFID, will be used to track how we deal with trash. "We will know where your particular piece of plastic went, where you put it," Popcorn says. "There will be fines based on that. Just like there are fines if you go through a toll booth and do not pay." Home buying will get more complicated, too, because protected and guaranteed water sources will become part of the purchase price, she predicts. And carnivores beware: Meat will become the new tobacco, as land-use and pollution issues push it into extinction, to be replaced by mushroom and plant-based "meats."

Emotional surveillance

"Your interior life is about to go public," Popcorn's firm warns, noting that technology like facial recognition will be used to monitor our moods. This will give rise to hair and makeup methods that can be used to skirt the surveillance, she says. Your escape mechanism? "Private, scan-free get-togethers where people can vent, mourn and rejoice without prying AI eyes" will take hold. "All of us are going to be read and parsed and marketed to by AI in coming years," says Janet Siroto, a managing director at BrainReserve. "It's scary, but it's coming."

You've been warned.­

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