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The Set List: FOMO

Image: Jo Jo, Unsplash

Editor’s note: this blog is part of a series discussing trends and insights into the world around us.

First there was FOLO, MOMO, JOJI and YOLO, and now there’s FOMO! We've all heard about this tongue twister trend, but what is it?

FOMO taps into one's fear or ‘the fear of missing out’; creeping its way into the minds of millennials and even linked to new forms of anxiety and depression. Then there's JOMO, which involves joy or ‘the joy of missing out’; the care-free and bolder attitude that members of society are adopting as a means of going against the fear and simply saying ‘no.’

The two trends have many differences, appealing to many types of people, and are coming into play in the ever-growing world of consumers. One key thing they share, however, is that they indicate a demand for a change of pace, and a need to keep up with shifting lifestyles and multiple personalities. As the digital realm advances so too does the human need for both digital indulgence and digital relief. The two needs appear to work in parallel and, as brands battle for attention, they should be aware of these trends in equal measure.

Both the fear and the joy of missing out no longer affect just one type of person. Most likely, we experience a bit of both and switch between the two, giving more for brands to appeal to within just one customer. FOMO in its essence is anxiety caused by the possibility of missing out on an event or social gathering. Nowadays many of us find ourselves with ‘key’ decisions to make over a big night out... Do we go and have a miserable time? Do we stay and miss free drinks and maybe a good night? Do we waste time deciding if we want to go to find out its already too late and we won’t make it? Strangely, these questions have become more important and complex to us than ever before.

Naturally, social media platforms and their users have received criticism for helping users to create an image of ‘perfect’ lifestyles. Generating so much attention and encouraging people to compare has led to negative inward opinions and left many feeling alone and with low self-esteem. This kind of media undoubtedly has the power to change the way our brains are wired, even if momentarily. More recently, FOMO has been linked to forms of depression and anxiety, particularly in younger generations. So much so that it is thought lessons in how to deal with the fear of missing out and other social pressures will be taught in secondary school to prevent the numbers of pupils suffering from anxiety growing any further.

O2’s recent campaign, featuring the blue rabbit. Image: The Mill.

For brands, millennials are the first generation to make long-term financial investments in meaningful experiences, such as travel, dining out and exercise, instead of focusing on saving. Stylus’ recent “US Millennials’ Unique Financial Habits” report suggests that “Millennials' fear of missing out (FOMO) means they are more likely to spend their savings on travel (81 percent), dining (65 percent) and fitness (55 percent) than saving for financial security in the long-term future.” Now, more than ever, brands are using consumers’ desire for unique, spontaneous and immersive entertainment, along with the FOMO trend, to grab consumers’ attention, elevate marketing campaigns and encourage consumers to not miss out on promotions and events.

Telecoms provider O2’s most recent campaign features the blue rabbit, a character who appeals to the FOMO sufferers among us. Targeting those who are “catching up on catch-up,” the advert celebrates curiosity in the unknown, focusing in on live, in-the-moment experiences, which the brand believes to be the most memorable. Furthermore, lifestyle brands like Lululemon and Anthropologie are introducing calendars of both free and paid events in their stores—hosting classes, workshops and even gin tasting—making their spaces more interactive and exciting through customer involvement.

The rise in consumers looking for experiences is unprecedented, even for emerging brands. Experiences like the Museum of Ice Cream, the latest pop-up museum to hit the LA scene, fuel the FOMO fire. Jam-packed full of photo opportunities, the museum features interactive rooms, edible balloons and a sprinkle pool. As we continue to consume these experiences, brands can embrace FOMO to generate engagement and excitement around everything they have to offer. However, they should proceed with caution. Given the effect that FOMO is having on society, and the speed with which social and cultural trends evolve, the future of this trend might lead a tremulous path for consumers and brands alike.

FOMO is no longer just a fad; it’s a part of life and it’s here to stay, for now at least. But, could brands begin to go against the trend themselves, to further engage and even educate their FOMO suffering followers based on a more positive emotion? … cue JOMO.

Harriett Leggett is a junior interior designer in Gensler’s London office, with a spirited approach and passion for retail design. Her previous visual merchandising experience has given her an eye for detail and a good knowledge of how consumers shop, which she applies to the concept development and design of exciting and engaging spaces. Contact her at Harriett_Leggett@Gensler.com.