Skip to main content

Navigating the Consumer "Pleasure Revenge"​ – advice from Mark Twain, a Surfer and a Futurist Named Popcorn.

The post-pandemic "Pleasure Revenge" is accelerating consumer spending and a return to pre-Covid behaviors.

As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, Americans are returning to gyms in big numbers; booking vacations and plane trips; rocking out at concerts; and going to popcorn-scented movie theaters to see Hollywood blockbusters such as Spider-Man.

What the WSJ missed is that we see this same human behavior after every major shock to the national psyche, as well as the inevitable post-exuberance counter-trend...which brings us to Mark Twain, Faith Popcorn and Laird Hamilton.

"History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes."

Mark Twain told us this would happen.

The national and personal sacrifice endured during WWI was followed by the Roaring Twenties. After WWII, the U.S. economy boomed as Americans bought homes, moved to the suburbs, drove the latest tail-finned beauty from Detroit, and had many, many kids. The economic malaise of the '70s ushered in the 1980s and "Beemer"-driving Yuppies with a voracious appetite for wine, martinis and cigars. And following the severe emotional and economic pain inflicted on 9/11, per capita consumer spending began to steadily climb.

"For every trend, there is a counter-trend."

This "Pleasure Revenge" – popularized by trend expert, Faith Popcorn – taps into a deep human need to soothe pain and maybe even re-exert control over our lives after having had our "normalcy" abruptly taken from us.

But as important as it for businesses to have strategies to profit during the post-crisis Pleasure Revenge, Ms. Popcorn cautions us to think beyond that exuberant period and prepare for the counter-trend, a theme she frequently cites.

What might a counter-trend look like a few years from now? Well, consider that each of those boom periods mentioned above eventually led to an equally large counter-force.

The Roaring Twenties was followed by the Great Depression. The insatiable consumerism of the 1950s and early 60s preceded the economic stagnation of the 1970s. In 1989, Yuppies woke up to Black Monday – their first global economic crisis. The post 9/11 economic growth abruptly crashed in 2008 because of the subprime lending meltdown.

Which brings us to surfing.

"Surfing's one of the few sports that you look ahead to see what's behind."

So what should businesses do? Well, perhaps take inspiration from surfing legend Laird Hamilton. Like a riding a heavy wave, get too far ahead of it and it will crush you; drop in too late and end up nowhere. Timing is everything.

Businesses must invest in products and experiences that satisfy the current unbridled demand and consumer spending.

But as Laird Hamilton advises, be aware of what's following from behind – a big counter trend that may lead to an eventual economic downturn. Best to not invest and expand with a mindset that this frothy consumer spending will never end. It will.

Just ask Mark Twain.