‘Slow living’: The new fast-rising consumer trend

Roya Zeitoune, Nicolas Szmidt / March 2021

Roya Zeitoune leads Google’s Culture and Trends team, which operates across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Nicolas Szmidt leads international trends research at YouTube. Together their teams delve into YouTube viewing data to uncover emerging consumer trends.

One of the cultural side effects of the COVID pandemic has been the marked slowdown in the pace of our lives. We’re in a new era of “slow living” and many consumers are embracing it.

The “slow living” trend has been growing exponentially on YouTube, and is closely associated with popular themes of simple living and minimalism. Our teams dug deep into viewing habits and found a stunning 4X increase in views of videos with “slow living” in the title in 2020 compared to 2019.1 The data indicates many of us have been inspired to take up hobbies and explore interests that we previously considered too time consuming.

A black and red line graph, indicating growth of viewership of videos that include the words “slow living” in the title. Graph covers 2020 time period.

Slow living requires commitment. The videos are often long, with relaxing music. Some videos are even silent. The gentle pace gives the videos a meditative quality. Creators and their viewers find meaning in paying attention to details. The actions feel intentional and focused.

The content often revolves around tasks and hobbies such as gardening, upcycling furniture, and making a proper cup of coffee.

Meanwhile, baking bread is still a thing and, in some instances, it’s become intertwined with the slow living movement.

The appeal of slow living: Escapism, aspiration, and achievement

Some of these interests related to slow living have been around for a long time. For example, listening to atmospheric music, associated with mindful, serene living, has been a core part of YouTube for at least a decade. However, users have been watching this content more than ever before.

These videos are especially appealing to viewers during the pandemic because they provide a sense of escape and a window into aspirational lifestyles. They can also help viewers feel a sense of achievement.

Aspiration and escapism: Not all of us have gardens or coffee machines, but watching this content lets us retreat into a different world and mindset.

For example, the thousands of viewers who watched a Netherlands-based creator demonstrate how to make lavender essential oil may not have produced their own oil. But simply watching her soothing instructions is a welcome departure from the everyday.

Achievement: Those viewers who take up these hobbies and follow along with the video instructions will feel a sense of achievement when they’ve completed their activities. Being able to follow through on tasks can give us a satisfying feeling of control, while so much around us is uncertain.

Connect with the slow living movement

These interests and hobbies feel like they are part of a retrospective lifestyle, harkening back to “the good old days”. Tapping into nostalgia for analogue times, through digital culture, is a funny irony of the movement.

So what does this growing trend mean for brands, marketers, and advertisers?

At the most basic level, brands associated with related hobbies, such as gardening and cooking, can tap into the slow living trend by adjusting their creative plans to connect with consumers who crave this content. Alternatively, advertising against slow living content can work across product categories.

But the biggest lesson for brands comes from acknowledging and understanding that there’s been a shift in behaviour, and this reflects new consumer desires and needs. This slow living trend provides insight into the state of mind of consumers right now. This can help marketers understand how receptive their key audiences are to new messaging and be more strategic in reaching their goals. Brands can use these insights to recalibrate their media and creative plans accordingly.

People ask us if these kinds of pandemic-inspired trends will continue once we get back to normal (assuming we do get back to normal... We will, right?). We expect “normal” will mean more of us working flexibly and working from home, leaving time and space for these new hobbies and viewing habits to flourish. This slow living trend is definitely one that we believe, and hope, is going to stay for awhile. It’s a slow burner.

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