In 2020, India witnessed the biggest social experiment that it has ever seen- the lockdown. A few common physical expressions of the post-pandemic culture were no touching, no hugging, no holding hands, no pats on the back, to name a few. But were these just good-to-do vestigial behaviors or did they have a deeper root somewhere?
People complained about becoming more irritable, less patient and more anxious during the last few months. However, a majority of them blamed the new and intrusive ‘work-from-home’ culture for it. Could this be a sign of something deeper?
Isobar, the digital agency from the house of dentsu India, decided to probe this further and discovered a behavioral new normal known as ‘Touch starvation’. It is a condition that happens when you don't get as much physical touch as you're used to. Thus, as we enter the loop of multiple lockdowns across the world, Isobar India has launched a white paper, ‘Touch-me-not’. Through this paper, the agency further interrogates this concept and its impact on the changing lives of consumers in the current context. The paper brings forth some new potentially powerful trends that can be useful for brands and businesses.
Touch-me-not is a comprehensive study that introduces the concept of Touch starvation and analyses the impacts on larger and subsections of society as we move into an era of isolation. The agency began with a qualitative in-depth study of 15 individuals including few experts from different walks of life and further accredited with a thorough extensive secondary research.
Key highlights from the paper:
- It challenges people psychologically & physiologically: Contrary to an obvious indication that touch starvation leads to loneliness and mental unrest, it impacts our digestive and immune systems which are people’s highest priority today.
- It holds the potential to largely change every aspect of people with disabilities: 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. India is home to nearly 150 million of them and the pandemic has only made the situation worse as it’s harder for them to access critical medical supplies. According to WHO, people with mental illnesses like down syndrome who have completely cut their ties from the outer world even in a relaxed covid environment, are more vulnerable to Covid -19. People with visual impairment find little to no support in the outer world anymore, which is essential for their mere survival.
- The upcoming generation of infants will undergo unforeseen changes: India topped the world with estimated 20.1 million births anticipated in 2020 during the pandemic. Their immune system might not develop as required on a physical front, crediting to no contact with the outside world as a substantial brain activity takes place with touch for them. These changes in the open-door policies are changing the upbringing & family equations completely for Indian infants today.
- Imitating touch is crucial: Replicating touch is the most crucial aspect to fight this. Some of the common practices are long rubs, warm showers, wrapping in blankets, etc. Simple steps like these lead to a 33% and 63% decrease in stress and anxiety, respectively.
- Unlocking new meanings & growth for various industries: 65% growth witnessed in the sexual wellness category, which is an indirect craving of touch starvation, posing a larger question- Will Indian society become more bearable to sex and pleasure related products and services? Retail will have to consider elevated anxiety from consumers in terms of infrastructure, hygiene and product experiences. Changing expectations of products from ‘aesthetics’ to ‘feel’ will eventually change key drivers for purchase. Product with the right feel will unlock the rise of touch elevation categories like furnishing, home décor, fragrances, self-care, etc.
- The new normal holds mental health, holistic love & pets at the center: A 60% increase in messages sent on dating apps, coupled with a 39% increase in the average length of conversations and an addition of 140 % subscribers, is the reflection of craving for a partner. There is a 35% to 40 % increase in people admitting to a mental health crisis in their lives (a considerable amount is due to touch starvation). This has flourished mental health industry and players like Therapize who gained over 15,000 organic followers in merely 4 months. A helping paw is also another way people are coping with this. Pet adaptation has gained popularisation, raising their prices 3X during the pandemic.
- Nostalgia & familiarity will keep people afloat: Resorting to different senses from the past is relieving people of their anxieties & stresses. A grandma’s kitchen candle will let you at least feel her presence if not meet or hug her. Familiarity of touch will elevate industries like beauty and wellness in the coming future.
Commenting on the report, Rahul Vengalil, Chief Business Officer, Isobar, said, ”We are invested in understanding cultural trends and people’s opinions that are continuously shaping human behaviour. Touch starvation is a major part of our lives now. While this trend slowly started picking up even before the pandemic, it is all the more prevalent and relevant today. Our effort is to understand how this affects us and create opportunities for businesses and provide the right experience for the consumers.”
Mamtah Sabhrwal, Director – Brand Strategy, Isobar India, added, “We are in a state of flux and there are many studies on the shift in human behavior and culture. Hence, it was imperative to pick a subject that analyses the root cause of the changes we are going through. We then carefully and consciously identified Touch Starvation as it has impacted people’s lives particularly a few segments without ever getting noticed. And there is a lack of general awareness and empirical data which reflects how common conditions like mood swings can be a direct implication of the same. With this white paper, we aim to uncover where are we now and what comes next due to this skin hunger.”