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Escapism has long been a driving force for consumer behaviours.

The need to seek distraction and relief from the unpleasant realities of the world influences everything: from the media we watch and the products we buy, to where we travel.

‘Escapism’ in many ways has become a marketing by-word for seeking entertainment or engaging in a level of fantasy.

“Instead of escaping every day, we are now looking to escape into the every day”

But what ‘escape’ means depends on the culture that we wish to escape from.

Often people have sought to escape the values, routines and traditions that govern their daily lives. However, significant cultural shifts can change these values, routines and traditions and as a result produce new narratives of escapism which can drive consumer behaviour.

In the Covid pandemic, we’ve seen that the consumer perspective on escapism – particularly, values of control and freedom – has been turned on its head, resulting in a new kind of escapism that taps into the novel needs of a world post-lockdown.

The traditional narrative of escapism is all about giving up control…

The narrative of escapism that has pervaded our marketing and media outputs (at least up until the pandemic), is one of exploration and immersion.

It’s built upon on the notion that the lives we live are now hyper-controlled and defined – that many have slipped into a predictable ‘9-5/2.5 kids/ house in the suburbs’ life model. As a result, we’ve become disconnected from ‘real’ and authentic experiences.

Within this culture of control, escapism comes in the form releasing oneself from day-to-day restrictions and expanding personal horizons.

Books and films like Eat, Pray, Love, Into the Wild and Wild by Cheryl Strayed really tap into this idea of escapism as ‘giving up control’ and submitting yourself to the will of something greater, whether that be nature or fate. It’s a story that’s also leveraged heavily within marketing, across everything from cars to perfume to cruises.

…but Covid-19 has introduced a new, emergent narrative of escapism

However, in recent months a new kind of escapism has emerged.

Global events such as Coronavirus, climate change and impending economic collapse mean that our lives feel increasingly beyond our control, with larger forces determining our futures.

As a result, our fantasies of escapism have become increasingly focused on re-gaining a sense of control and autonomy over our lives. Instead of escaping every day, we are now looking to escape into the every day.

The clearest example of this ‘new escapism’, is the rise of the Cottage Core aesthetic on social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram and tumblr.

The Cottage Core movement gained significant traction in the UK in during lockdown, with its google search score peaking this July.  At its ‘core’, the Cottage Core aesthetic celebrates and fetishizes the stillness and serenity of pastoral living. Its insta tag #cottagecore is littered with images of quaint cottages, bread baking, farm yard animals, milkmaid smocks and mushroom foraging.

Instead of giving up control, Cottage Core-ists fantasize about having their own rural idylls, where they are in complete control of their surroundings – growing their own plants, making their own food and crafting their own clothes.

Lockdown and Escapism - Marketing and Covid-19
Lockdown and Escapism - Marketing and Covid-19
Lockdown and Escapism - Marketing and Covid-19

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But it’s not just the aesthetic language of escapism that has changed, our favourites games and TV shows have also become focused on this ‘new escapism’ as well.

Games have always focused on immersing the user in a new, exciting and fantastical world. However, the biggest game of 2020 so far is Animal Crossing: New Horizons a life simulation game where players are the architects of their own village small holdings. Action-packed fight sequences are replaced with calming activities such as fishing, picking fruit and planting trees.

While in lockdown our TV habits have also changed. Instead of glamourous travelogues or escapist reality TV shows, shows like The Great British Sewing Bee, Countryfile and The Repair Shop are topping the charts (according to BARB consolidated figures).

The Good Life 2.0

This new narrative of escapism is also influencing our day to day behaviours.

Analog activities like crochet, gardening, sourdough starters have boomed during lockdown – so much so that the term ‘grand millennials’ is now a thing!

Trend forecasters have named this new consumption pattern ‘The Good Life 2.0’. Instead of yearning for adventure, consumers are trying to regain a sense of control through becoming self-sufficient – controlling what they eat, what they wear and the objects they surround themselves with by making them all themselves.

So how can brands tap into this new narrative of escapism?

It feels like there are a few things brands can do to tap into this new escapism:

  • Keep it small scale: instead of looking to grand, sweeping images to convey escapism try and use smaller, quainter imagery that feels ‘closer to home’.
  • Give back control: place the control back into the hands of the consumer by emphasising their role in creating products, meals, their own environment. Think about how you can give consumers the power to ‘do it themselves’!
  • Offer escape from the noise: audiences are looking to escape from the noise and confusion of social media. Offer curated or streamlined offerings which allow them to filter out the noise and focus on what is important to them.
  • Find beauty in the traditional: play into cultural tropes surrounding cottage culture, rural living and DIY culture. Present a modern vision of traditional rural life.

The cultural shifts that have occurred under Covid have influenced what it means to escape, instead of grand adventures, escapism is now all about the fantasy of control and self-sufficiency.

Looking towards our post-lockdown limbo, Cottage Core fantasies of escapism are likely to bleed into our cultural and artistic outputs. It’s already happening with Taylor Swift releasing an album called ‘Folklore’ filled with Cottage Core fantasies about escaping to the woods!

In order to appeal to consumers in the coming months brands will have to work to understand the cultural shifts that are occurring, instead of presenting escapism as a grand adventure, they will need to tap into the new fantasy of control and self-sufficiency.

Enjoy this thought-piece? Check out the rest of Lucy’s Covid & the Consumer series!

Each month, Hook's experts create a roundup of hot takes and insights into the Kids and Media industries... for free!

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Each month, Hook's experts create a roundup of hot takes and insights into the Kids and Media industries... for free!

This information will never be shared with third parties.