Winter is for hibernation; summer is for adventure. It’s a polarity we seem to have adopted in our climate. And the media know this. Rainy season television schedules are packed with time-filling programs for dark days. Even the people on the shows themselves are mirroring our activity – Gogglebox families are huddled together, perhaps simply to keep warm, on their all-consuming sofas.
But this cocooning is damaging our health. According to Public Health England, we now spend around 6 hours a day sitting down. It’s not just a feature of the home, but also the workplace. Our Victorian counterparts ate up to 5,000 calories a day, but their active working lives meant that that they burnt off their intake. As Ipsos MORI’s Health Survey tells us, millennials are the first generation where over half of us are overweight, because our calorie consumption and activity levels are both at the wrong end of the spectrum.
If Gogglebox has helped to normalise this winter entrenchment, hygge has gone further to turn it into a positive thing. Hygge, for those who missed the 2016 trend, is a Danish concept, a feeling that many describe as ‘untranslatable’ while others translate as feeling cosy, comfortable and charming. It’s something the Danes do in their home in their famously stylish manner – sheepskin rugs, the flicker of candles and warm knitted footwear. Our British hygge equivalent – onesies, fully-carpeted homes and M&S slippers is less than glamorous and perhaps lifts the lid on how hygge has gone from cultural trait to huge global industry. In the UK, hygge has been mistranslated as the ‘easy life’ and it’s often used as a justification for being a bit lazy.
Over the course of the 2016 winter season, we saw a number of companies riding the ‘hygge’ wave, associating their products with the notion to enhance it in the eye of their customer. Volvo, for example, set up a Winter ‘hygge’ chalet as an immersive brand experience. And companies have found other ways to keep people in the home too. Digital Assistants such as ‘Amazon Echo’ and ‘Google Home’ make home life even more agreeable and less active, as they are initiated with a simple voice command. Having a freshly-prepared meal delivered to your door is now easier and faster than ever before, thanks to the growth of a £3.6bn industry and the digital services of ‘Just Eat’ and ‘Deliveroo’.
This new technology is making our life easier in the short term. In the medium and long term however, our life could be become harder if we become overweight, unwell and unhappy. Brands have a responsibility to recognise and respond to this, not only if it’s because consumers are beginning to recognise this too. The UK population were significantly more likely to agree that technological progress was destroying their lives in 2016 vs 2014 (41% vs 31%), and we expect this trend to continue, given that the younger generations are the most concerned demographic (Ipsos MORI Global Trends Survey).
Reassuringly, brands are beginning to think about their technological innovations with a healthier mindset. Branded content that brings fitness professionals into the home has been created by the likes of Sweaty Betty and Lulu Lemon. Even Public Health England have found a way to get kids up and dancing with their Disney branded ‘10 minute Shakeups’. The gaming industry is growing rapidly (Ipsos Tech Tracker) and as Virtual and Augmented Reality become more advanced, games will involve a physical element that wasn’t previously possible. And we see a similar trend in food services, offering healthier alternatives to the traditional take away can help turn cosying up to an experience that is less harmful.
Don’t throw out your soft furnishings yet - we are certainly not encouraging consumers to remove every inch of cosy from their lives (mental health is important too!) But perhaps it’s more about disrupting our routine in more subtle ways. We can respond to hygge with slygge (meaning ‘hassle’ or ‘friction’). Taking a longer route to work for example, or a timer switch on our televisions to limit the time sat in front of it will certainly begin to take us down the right path.
Ultimately, cosy is irresistible. But, if consumers buy into shortcuts that make their life easier, they must maintain elements of their life which makes it healthier too. And, if brands want to tap into our hygge needs, they should tap into our healthy necessities at the same time. Only then can we say the wand has been waved over the curse of cosy.