Nice Things For Good Life

Why aesthetic innovation is the backbone of the modern brand strategy

This post was written before the current crisis, and now seems prescient. It looks into how the fragility of the modern aspiration leads us to find fulfillment in the mundane. It was something I felt we were going towards anyway, and this crisis accelerated it.

Nice Things is a monthly that features items like Hina dolls and rice bowls, photographed against a clean, monochromatic backdrop. There are also images of people cooking, foraging, farming. Everything is simple, artisanal, understated, wholesome. It promotes “good life with nice things.”

There are more periodicals like this. Ordinary is a fine art photography quarterly focused exclusively on creative riffs on a single everyday object (cabinets, a mop, a sink). &Premium is a “guide to a better life.” It is dedicated to artisanal coffee roasters, hand-crafted knives, flower bouquets, and ceramic bowls. There are entire pages on a “nice scent,” “spring bouquet,” “beautiful shoes.”

What links them is their focus on the ordinary. “The ability to see great beauty in the everyday objects around you is a rare and precious gift.” For this, thank (or blame) our post-growth age. Climate emergency, global pandemic, aging population, and the new cultural, social, and environmental capital create new sources of value.

In the past, more was always more. Brands promised us to be more attractive, more accomplished, more affluent, only if we bought more of their products. “Buy more, save more” was marketers’ favorite call to action. Similarly, bigger was always better: a bigger house, a bigger car, a bigger sofa, a bigger logo.

Today, more important than a Mari Kondo lifestyle is a general shift to micro in our relationship with the world. There’s micro-socializing, micro-attention, micro-experiences, micro-focus, micro-expectations. Unable to succeed economically, millennials are turning their attention to everyday things with an almost obsessive, laser-like focus. Can’t afford a home? Get a great mattress. Cook with nice cutlery. Don’t have a retirement account? Enjoy looking at your sill filled with plants. Invest in a beautiful spatula.

Modern brands turned millennial existential anxiety into a taste regime.

Read the rest of this article at my newsletter, The Sociology of Business, and subscribe to stay up to date.

Strategy Executive. Author of “The Business of Aspiration.” Doctor of Sociology. Forbes’ one of The World’s Most Influential CMOs.

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