Is Your Brand Ready for 'Cocoon Culture'? Get Comfy

How to get back to basics and provide simple pleasures

When Dorothy tapped those sparkly red shoes and said wistfully, "There's no place like home, there's no place like home," she had no idea how apt those words would become in the year that has been 2020. 

The word "home" found its way into our language via the Old English "hus," from the verb "to hide." And hiding is what we've been doing, with only 37 percent of adults now saying they feel safe when outside of their home and one in five of us now wanting to work from home all the time. With winter and potentially greater restrictions around the corner, homes have not just become much more multifunctional but taken on new emotional meaning. 

Cocoon Culture is upon us. And brands that understand it will get ahead. 

Here's our practical guide to cocooning across five big sectors, and why your brand might need to go back to comforting basics, provide the antidote to limbo and deliver simple pleasures.

The Home in Cocoon Culture

Let's start with the obvious one, the desire to make our surroundings as comforting and as safe as possible.

Provide the small mercies

Candle sales at Diptyque grew 536 percent in the weeks after lockdown started. We also sought comfort in things we can nurture and grow, with one in five saying they've bought a new plant since lockdown began. We're now living in the age of the lipstick effect for your home—little changes can make a big difference, so make it easy for people to take that step. Find the feel good in your brand, and serve it up.

Bring the joy

Both the new Dunelm ad and the recent John Lewis work perfectly tap into this desire to cocoon with their "For the joy of home" campaign. There's no reference to Covid in either of these pieces of work, which allows the ads to be pure celebration and fun—focusing on the possibilities and the joy that a home can bring, not lamenting the fact that it's our only option. Look out for more of these positive mental shifts about the home as we hunker down.

Be the antidote to limbo

Both B&Q and Rightmove go one step further, reminding people that our desire to cocoon isn't just about the here and now, it's about thinking long term. With the Kingfisher group reporting that like-for-like sales jumped by 21.6 percent in the three months up to July, the B&Q "Build a Life" campaign elevates those mundane jobs into a higher emotional benefit and looks to life after lockdown. Similarly Rightmove's advert, with the endline "No perfect time, just the right time," speaks to this uncertainty and encourages us to just keep going. 

Beauty in Cocoon Culture

We're entering a new normal of cocoon-care which prioritizes the self and personal comfort as opposed to outward appearance. 

Roll out the favorites

In times of uncertainty, we're seeing a move away from insta-led trends and beauty fads, with shoppers placing trust in established products. Cocooning is about taking things back to basics; now is not the time to take a risk. "We've seen a pattern of uplift for key skincare categories, with customers looking for the best moisturizers, masks and serums," says the head of beauty at Selfridges, Melissa McGinnis. "We've seen traction with established, iconic products, like Sisley's Ecological Compound, as well as holistic skincare collections from expert brands, like Dr. Barbara Sturm." 

With season-transcending classics from the likes of Hourglass, Charlotte Tilbury and Nars topping sales at Space NK, brands that double down on tried-and-tested favorites and move away from the trend-led treadmill might fare better. 

Look to the ancients

As Lisa Payne, senior editor at Stylus, says: "In times of crisis we inevitably turn to comforting rituals and uplifting products. As a result, beauty has a big part to play in recovery, therapy and boosted resilience." Space NK reported a remarkable 4,000 percent rise in sales of Laura Mercier's classic Ambre Vanille Souffle Body Creme, Aesops "Resurrection" hand cream is their current best seller, and Chinese medicine, Ayurvana and ceremonial bathing are on the up. Don't shy away from unearthing these historical narratives and making them relevant for today. 

Food in Cocoon Culture

In times of uncertainty, we're seeking out comfort and familiarity wherever we can, including in our food and drink purchases.

Serve up comforting childhood classics

While we've had more time on our hands to attempt making complex sourdoughs or embark on creating our own kombucha, the flip side of this is the desire for simple flavors and traditional products. Sales of traditional quick-fix packet desserts have been on the up, with a 738 percent rise in sales of trifle and a 336 percent increase in custard powder. This trend looks set to continue as 37 percent of us have revisited dishes from our childhood. The "Heinz to Home" DTC initiative, launched in April, is testament to this, with a 200 percent increase in sales in Q1 for those who were craving the humble baked bean. Now really is the time to embrace the simple joys of food that makes your tummy smile. 

Frame food for mood

While comfort food can make you feel good, "good mood" food has a more scientific grounding. With 90 percent of your body's serotonin produced by your gut microbiome, choosing foods that make your stomach feel good will also make you feel good—something everyone can agree on. So this winter, expect to see a rise in foods packed with Vit D's, Vit C's and antioxidants, with brands dialing up the health benefits of their products to help to combat the rise of SAD and other mental and physical changes that come with the seasons. While the wellness movement is often criticized for being too middle class, this winter we all have a collective responsibility to ensure that good mood food is available for all. 

Entertainment in Cocoon Culture

Go old school

Imagine a pandemic without Netflix. Lots of people are. During lockdown, searches of board games such as Mousetrap and Scrabble soared by 136 percent and 127 percent, respectively. A spokeswoman for John Lewis said board game sales saw an increase of 52 percent during lockdown, with a focus on the nostalgic game of Monopoly. Heinz even released their "ridiculously slow" 570-piece jigsaw. So don't shy away from a slice of nostalgia and togetherness in a category that is all about newness and the latest must-haves.

Get the band back together

There's been a 61 percent increase in sales of Lego during lockdown as parents looked to purchase sets they can build together as a family during this time. And even new digital platforms such as Instagram CoWatching and Netflix's Teleparty are getting us together more. Consider how your product can ladder back to or facilitate these emotional benefits of togetherness and making memories this winter.

Fashion in Cocoon Culture

Lockdown has already turned our wardrobes into a selection of elasticated waistbands, but with winter around the corner, the loungewear trend is here to stay. So let's be unapologetic about our cocooning attire and embrace a wardrobe that is finally designed for comfort first.

It's time to get comfy

The need to wrap our bodies in comfortable fabrics isn't new—athleisure has been on the scene for 10 years—but the difference now is that cosy comfort will no longer play second fiddle to style. With Mango releasing their new every(wear) collection with the line "Comfy is the new everything" and with brands like Ninety Percent, who make all of their garments with innovative, sustainable and comfort led materials, such as GOTS-certified cotton, EcoVero and Tencel, we can expect cocoon culture comfort will be here to stay.

Beware the Cottagecore backlash

This rejection of "style" BC (before corona) is epitomized in the rise of cottagecore—an aesthetic that celebrates a return to traditional styles. "Every time there's been a spike in cases, there's a spike in cottagecore right along with it," says Amanda Brennan, a trend expert at Tumblr. The idea of running away and embracing the cottage aesthetic, with chunky knits and prairie skirts, has permeated the fashion world and wider culture. This is epitomized in Taylor Swift's Folklore album, whose official merchandise includes a cardigan, which she sent out to her squad. But with Christmas around the corner, we're going to crave the glitz of the season, using this opportunity to trade in our joggers (just for one day) and remember what it's like to dress up to stay in. 

In Summary

Cocoon culture is here. Brands should connect with it properly if they want to get through the winter feeling good, too. There are three themes underpinning it all:

Bring on the comfort

We have a deep desire to wrap ourselves in cotton wool, comfort and the familiar this winter—from the clothes we wear to the products and ingredients on our skin, we want to feel soothed and safe. Nostalgic cues are reminding us of when life was happier and easier.

Simple pleasures

We can still find joy while we cocoon, meaning small inexpensive items to lift our mood are important. We need to all make sure we're treating ourselves with the little things to keep our mood buoyed, especially those we can do together. 

Look up and out

Tonally, brands should bring the joy or serve as a reminder that there will be normal times again over the horizon and to keep striding towards it.

Have a lovely hibernation. See you after the cocooning in the spring.

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Lucy Moody
Lucy Moody is strategy director at BBH London.

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