Yoga poses, athleisure, and people joyfully eating salads. The cliches of wellness are as well worn as the soles of the trainers of your nearest weekly Parkrunner. But beneath the stretched lycra surface, the wellness movement is experiencing something of a rebirth.

For many, acts of physical exercise were put on pause during the COVID pandemic, and wellbeing discourse took something of a backseat, as health narratives instead focused on the business of hunkering down and simply surviving. Not only did this pause not stop the march of the wellness movement however, comparative language analysis of social media conversation in the UK, shows it encouraged its evolution into something broader and more nuanced.

The traditional imagery and discourse of wellness has tended to focus on the body. Awareness of the importance of mental health has long been growing but is now showing startling levels of growth among Gen Z, with its influence pervading broader conversation. This is evident in the fact that within the discussion of wellness, the use of ‘therapy speak’ is over 20x more prevalent for Gen Z than previous generations. The increasingly everyday nature of references to “emotional wounds”, “doing the work”, “mental exercises”, and “trauma” are illustrative of the growing focus on the role of therapy to promote wellbeing, and the applicability of its principles to our daily lives and challenges. 

While therapy speak is less prevalent for Millennials, it is notable that they still refer to “mind power” nearly 10x more than their Gen-X elders. This shared growth in both the language of therapy, and advocacy for the power of our minds, as well as the increasing availability and visibility of remote mental health services like Betterhelp and Headspace reflects the opening up of the wellness discourse to embrace mental health challenges.

This sense of broadening is further supported by language that indicates that wellness is taking on ever more holistic perspectives. For example, among Gen Z, references to spirituality in wellness conversations increase by 1.8x vs older generations. This reflects a growing focus on emotional and spiritual wellbeing. At its most unusual end this more mystical perspective on wellbeing even embraces references to “witchcraft”, “spells”, and “magic”. ITV’s recent advert for the 2023 Rugby World Cup clearly plays on this, making use of tarot cards to blend physical sporting practice with the spiritual realm, and aligning with the spreading appeal of wellness as something that transcends beyond just the body.

The growing influence of this spiritual narrative is further evident in concepts like “buddah bowls”, or Itsu’s “zen water” which co-opt the language of religious virtue for dishes offering a fundamentally physical wellness benefit. Brands like Feel multivitamins also blur wellness boundaries by focusing their communication on the emotional benefit of physical nutrition.

An important subset of this ongoing expansion of wellbeing scope is the discussion of nature, which also occurs in wellness discourse nearly 2x as much for Gen Z as for previous generations. Increasingly, true wellness for Gen Z must extend consideration even beyond the personal, to embrace a sense of global environmental wellbeing.

This development is reflected in the growing number of products that offer a kind of environmental ‘trade’ when purchasing the product. Rewild wines or Brewdog’s Lost lager for example that plant trees every time consumers buy a pack or bottle. Through this mindset, even these seemingly ‘indulgent’ or treat products can be framed as vehicles for a kind of planetary wellness, while of course also satisfying a personal emotional wellness narrative of self-love and permissible enjoyment.

Finally, fuelled by the broadening out of the wellness narrative, the concept of wellbeing is increasingly entering unexpected areas of culture. Discussion of ideas like “financial wellbeing”, “vocational wellness”, “intellectual wellbeing” or “digital wellness” are illustrative of these new facets of the wellness complex. This is an ongoing evolution, a quick Google search reveals a number of evolving typologies of wellbeing that identify anything from 4 to 11+ distinct categories of wellness, and we should expect this number to rise ever higher in the coming years. There are a growing number of categories where framing your product or service benefit in wellness terms is becoming an increasingly viable and desirable cultural strategy.  

3 key takeouts for brands:

  1. The concept of wellness is moving beyond a narrow focus on the physical to embrace mental, emotional, spiritual, and even planetary wellness. Brands offering a wellness benefit will need to similarly broaden how they talk about the benefits of their offering in order to continue to communicate a compelling wellness proposition.

  2. Similarly, as the wellness narrative is entering new categories, brands in spaces previously disconnected from wellness now have permission to frame their offerings as providing a wellbeing benefit. But, this must be linked to a clear emotional, spiritual, lifestyle or ecological benefit for the consumer.

  3. Internal brand values and mission statements concerning values like wellness have a cultural life of their own. If your organisation is to meaningfully embody the values included in your brand mission statements it is important to periodically conduct cultural research to meaningfully understand any ongoing changes to the meaning of those values in culture.

Mark Lemon, Director

Widening Wellbeing: What brands can learn from the changing conversations around wellness