Crystal, which will be part of the agency's planning department, has already watched the growth of such consumer movements as VIP culture, which produces products that convey the allure of exclusivity but are widely available. Next to hit the cultural mainstream: fetishism.
"We've been tracking fetishism for a while now," said Richard Welch, Crystal's newly appointed co-managing director, based in New York. "It has been a major manifestation of changing attitudes toward sex. You see it in fashion. For example, you have John Galliano sending out rubber in collections for Christian Dior." Indeed, other designers, such as Alexander McQueen, Helmut Lang and Vivienne Westwood, all produced fetish-inspired collections in March.
Mr. Welch and co-managing director Zoe Lazarus were hired in April by Tony Wright, Ogilvy & Mather's director of strategy, to increase the agency's awareness of global trends, something that Mr. Wright identifies as one of the most important new fields of strategy and planning. Ms. Lazarus (no relation to CEO Shelly Lazarus) will keep track of consumer trends on the other side of the Atlantic, based in London, while a third person is being hired to coordinate information about Asia from Beijing. Mr. Welch and Ms. Lazarus had previously worked for a London-based brand consultancy, Headlight Vision, producing a global trend newsletter called D-Code.
Mr. Welch added that Crystal will also tap a network of around 200 opinion formers all over the world. They'll include graphic designers, fashion designers, filmmakers and DJs based as far afield as Berlin and Buenos Aires. These correspondents will send reports with photography, fliers and fanzines related to what's new in their markets.
Another trend Crystal has tracked is the influence of Jamaican music, which has been transported back to the Caribbean by way of London DJs who've altered reggae slightly. "It isn't just about the music, it's about perceived Jamaican values associated with the musical heritage," said Mr. Welch.
Crystal aims to categorize cities into A, B and C lists, according to how much they influence other parts of the world. Mr. Welch said that Berlin recently moved up in influence from a B city to an A because of the rich cultural movements emerging. "It's a really cheap place for young people to live," he said, noting that it is emerging from a recession, which is always a boon to creativity. Buenos Aires, Argentina, is another city currently influencing trends.
According to Mr. Wright, the new global consumer-insights unit has been created as an investment in the agency's own knowledge base, as opposed to another added offering for clients. Mr. Welch presents his findings to staff every two months.
Crystal has already completed a project for Motorola that looks at sub-cultural affiliations that exist in its markets. Mr. Welch also presented the findings on mainstream gays to senior managers at Kraft Foods headquarters outside New York City. Both Kraft and Motorola are Ogilvy clients.