Backslash: Turning today’s stories into tomorrow’s opportunities

17 March 2023

Backslash: Turning today’s stories into tomorrow’s opportunities

In today’s fast-paced VUCA world, it’s no longer enough for brands to simply keep up with culture. To be truly future-proof, they have to help shape it.

At TBWA, we are committed to our statement: “We locate and involve brands in modern culture.” Our expertise does not stay within the realm of advertising, but everything we do is focused on uncovering new sources of growth for businesses and supporting the brands to have a meaningful presence in the world. To do this, understanding the “modern culture” and being one step ahead of it is crucial.

In today’s STORIES, we’ll talk about TBWA collective’s cultural intelligence unit Backslash and their methods of reading and deriving invaluable insights from modern culture.

Analyze the cultural meanings underlying the trend

Backslash, the cultural intelligence unit of TBWA\worldwide is powered by over 300 TBWA Culture Spotters from 70 offices across 45 countries. The Spotters report on culture-shaping stories as they unfold, delivering the real-time knowledge which feeds cultural intelligence for the entire TBWA collective. In the Backslash Japan team at TBWA\Hakuhodo, there are 10 Spotters who actively dig and provide culture insights to the agency and to clients.

The mission of Backslash is “Translating cultural blur into business opportunity”, from the belief that culture is the biggest opportunity and threat to businesses today. Culture does not change on any given day; it changes gradually, and without careful attention, it is difficult to recognize the signs of change. Backslash does not simply present “this is something trendy,” but rather analyzes the underlying culture and considers how to connect it to business opportunities.

Why Culture Matters

Backslash: Turning today’s stories into tomorrow’s opportunities

So, why does culture matter?

In the past, advertising and media industries were leading the culture of the time. But in today’s world where anyone can be a creator and make social movements, the drivers of the culture have expanded from corporations to individuals. In such a time, for brands to survive and thrive, brands need to view the culture as their biggest business opportunity and the biggest competitor at the same time.

Perceiving cultural shifts not only leads to the growth of the brands but is also the key to breaking away from the conventional way of working and thinking in the advertising industry. Until now, the main role of advertising agencies has been to provide solutions in response to client requests (briefs). Today, however, simply waiting for a brief will end up being left behind by the trends of the times – agencies must quickly grasp the shifts in culture and proactively bring new insights and proposals to clients to seek new possibilities for the brands. It is essential for us, to be always at the pulse of culture around the world in order to lead and shape the culture itself.

What we do – TBWA\HAKUHODO Backslash Japan

There are four main contents that the Backslash team produces.

① Edges
“Edges Glossary” is the core content of Backslash, produced by global collaboration. The Backslash team compiles a Glossary report on the cultural shifts taking place around the world and updates it annually.

Backslash: Turning today’s stories into tomorrow’s opportunities

In EDGES 2023, released in March 2023, 39 cultural shifts were introduced and analyzed thoroughly. (※ Japanese translated version will be available from April 2023)

So what is an Edge? At Backslash, temporary fads and sudden or instantaneous trends are called “Trends or Trigger”, and medium- to long-term major cultural shifts are called Edges.

There are three standards to be named “Edge”:
■ Edges must be rooted in human values, be recognizable through consumer behaviors, and lead to clear business implications.
■ Cultural shifts must have sustained relevance for over a year before being declared an Edge, and should continue to matter for the foreseeable future.
■ Edges must be globally relevant, manifesting in over half of Backslash designated regions.
In short, it is a meaningful cultural shift that has the scale and longevity to propel a brand toward a greater share of the future.

To take one for example, there is an Edge called “Kinder Cult”.
Recently in Japan, there has been a lot of talk about the boom in “game trading cards” (Trekkas), including Yu-Gi-Oh or Pokemon, as well as the growing number of adult fans who are into toys like Sylvanian Families and Lego. Also “Gacha-gacha (Capsule Toy)” has also spread in popularity to the extent that it has been called the fourth boom recently.
However, this trend is observed not just in Japan; in fact, it is a global phenomenon. Last year in South Korea, the popular 90s bread “Pokemon bread” was released again, and it was historically popular, with many going out of stock so quickly throughout the country and even a limit on the number of purchases per person. Also, various luxury brands turned their attention to candy, the ultimate childhood delight, with Prada’s caramel-scented perfume (Candy Eau de Parfum) and Jimmy Choo’s bag (Candy Embellished Crossbody) inspired by the sparkle of candy.
Highlighting these global phenomena, the EDGES report analyzed “The allure of childlike joys is stronger than ever – A generation of adults under pressure is granting itself permission to play” and provided insights as “Kidults are turning juvenile hobbies and old-school comforts into cheerful acts of resistance against grown-up rules. Nostalgia’s stock is going up in price.”

Backslash: Turning today’s stories into tomorrow’s opportunities

The complete glossary of 39 Edges can be downloaded at

② “Future of”

Backslash: Turning today’s stories into tomorrow’s opportunities

Whereas Edges is a glossary focusing on culture shifts for the world as a whole, the “Future of” report focuses on specific industries. So far reports focusing on Finance, Wellness, Retail, Travel, Tech have been published. The reports themselves are in English, but the Backslash Japan team shares the report internally in TBWA\Hakuhodo as well as with clients in tones of their own.

For example, “Future of Travel,” released in 2021 in the midst of COVID-19, focused on the global tourism industry, which was one of the most severely damaged industries by the pandemic, and analyzed how people have come to think about “travel” and what new forms of travel have emerged since COVID-19.
Based on the “Anchorless Living” concept that was described in the Future of Travel report, Backslash Japan member published an analysis article in WARC, highlighting the diverse types of “connections” that people come to seek from travel – including online connections that transcend social distancing, a travel style that moves away from simple sightseeing to “sight-being” that integrates into the daily life of the destination, and a movement to seek ongoing connections with tourist destinations. As the line between travel and lifestyle becomes blurred, the existence of travel agencies, which used to be about “creating memories” for travelers, is expected to evolve into a role of creating the future for people, including “creating livelihoods”.
In this way, the “Future of” reports, which look a little further ahead in the industry by delving deeper into trends and consumer attitudes in conjunction with research, offers many hints for businesses in the era of the “New Normal”.

③ Weekly Video

Backslash: Turning today’s stories into tomorrow’s opportunities

Weekly Video is a short clip that summarizes the cultural trends happening around the world, spotted by the global spotters. While “Edges” and “Future of” are about reading the times from a mid- to long-term perspective, the Weekly Video follows current trends such as “AI Content Creation” and “Single-Use Tableware Bans” and other current topics that are relevant to Edges. You can find out more on TBWA Backslash Instagram account (@tbwabackslash)!

④ Article

Backslash: Turning today’s stories into tomorrow’s opportunities

Utilizing the unique methods of the Backslash, the Backslash Japan team of TBWA\Hakuhodo is actively engaged in planning and publishing articles that provide insights on cultural shifts through specific trends and triggers, so that anyone can analyze and explore insights into the changing culture with just a little culture antennae.
・1. Discovering the insights of the future! Capturing Cultural Shifts through TBWA\HAKUHODO’s Backslash method
・2. What are people paying for when they buy Gacha-Gacha (Capsule Toy)? Insight for “Emotional Efficiency”
・3. Was “Visualization of Enthusiasm” the Reason for the Hit of the Game Apex Legends? New Rules for Creating Loyal Customers
・4. Insights from “Finding Yourself Today” What do we see from others’ “true selves” on social media?

Backslash Japan team member interview
Masakazu Tagai

Backslash: Turning today’s stories into tomorrow’s opportunities

Disruption Consulting\Backslash\Disruption Strategist

After his experience at an IT platformer and then a digital agency, Tagai joined TBWA\HAKUHODO.
He is in charge of vision-based strategy planning and implementation support for clients of various sizes and industries, ranging from small and medium-sized companies to global brands and government agencies. Utilizing Backslash’s data and perspectives, he searches daily for the points of connection where the brand and the values of the times overlap.

Q. Tell us about the work you do as a member of Backslash Japan.

As a Backslash Japan member, I am primarily responsible for analyzing trends in Japan, collaborating with the global team, and sharing information within TBWA\HAKUHODO. Of course, we gather information by watching the news in the morning and keeping up with trends on social networking sites, but we also place emphasis on considering the values of the times that underlie the facts, rather than simply collecting them.
I also work with the Transcreation team for subtitling the Weekly Video that will be distributed or do research in preparation for the next Cultural Talks (an interactive initiative in which team members bring together triggers and edges on a specific theme to gain cultural insight).
We regularly collaborate with the global team to discuss brand and business strategies, and we recently held an Edges 2023 release meeting where over 200 global backslash spotters and members gathered to discuss how global trends have changed over the past year.

Backslash: Turning today’s stories into tomorrow’s opportunities

Q. What do you find interesting or challenging as a Backslash team?

In between working on strategy formulation, each team member is constantly checking current cultural and social phenomena, mainly based on information that he or she is interested in. It may be difficult for one person to analyze what kind of major trend this one phenomenon may lead to, but it is interesting to see how the small accumulation of information that each member brings in between meetings and the opinions exchanged on social networking sites can lead to insights into a new era.

Q. Anything you would like to challenge as a Backslash team in the future?

Backslash is a TBWA Global initiative, and while it has the advantage of being able to read trends not only in Japan but also globally, the overwhelming majority of content is still in English, which means that it has not yet penetrated the Japanese market. As a team, we are gradually enriching the Japanese content by releasing Japanese translations of Edges reports and creating analytical articles. We have also begun working with people outside the company to examine Japan’s unique culture, and we hope to spread the “cultural perspective” throughout Japan.

Q. How should people utilize the contents from Backslash?

The use of Backslash is really depending on the person who reads it, but it is very useful in many ways. For example, in business talks or proposals, when you want to include specific examples from Japan and abroad to increase persuasiveness, the insights from Backslash can be used rather than just saying vaguely “the world is changing.” It can also be helpful as a hint when you want to dig deeper into the background of a trend. You can also use Edges to make proposals when you are working together with a client for a new business idea.
We believe that the value of Backslash lies not only in the “information” it provides but also in the “perspectives” from which that information can be found. One of our approaches is “Connecting the Dots,” which is to gain insight into common values from multiple events, which is different from analyzing quantitative data. In this era of big data, it goes without saying that it is important to have a statistical perspective. And by having a Backslash perspective, you may be able to find new signs of cultural shifts that cannot be seen from quantitative data.

Through a dynamic hybrid of strategy, data, and journalism, Backslash turns today’s stories into tomorrow’s opportunities. For more, follow @tbwabackslash on Instagram or visit To connect with Backslash Japan, please contact

Communication Team (