Max is Back: IMO By Emma Byrne

If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that now isn’t the time to be understated.

“Hey Siri, play ‘Return of the Mack’ (Max) by Mark Morrison.”

Past periods of prolonged restriction have always been followed by an OTT approach to life. Just look at how prohibition led to the binging of booze, and how the war led to the roaring ‘20s. We're no strangers to bouncing back from stressful times through overindulgence and boldly expressing our emotions.

Coming out of the spick-and-span era of Marie Kondo, it feels like maximalism today is more about a sense of relief for those who don’t want to be constrained by perfection. People seem less fussed about accumulating stuff for the sake of prosperity as they once were in the glory Gatsby-like days. It’s now about the exuberant and sometimes wildly chaotic art of self-expression. An era I’m totally here for.

The absolute opposite of subtle, maximalism paints outside the lines. Rather than conforming to the norm, it feels like the focus has shifted to the grandiose. It’s high impact and shock value experiences, it’s a surplus of bold accessories, colours and patterns that visually stimulate and it’s a trend that’s popping up in all aspects of consumer culture. Retail and art exhibitions have been reimagined to lure people back to IRL with superlatives and extraordinary experiences. Glossier’s giant Willy Wonka-esque mushrooms, Timothy Oulton’s weird and wacky NY flagship store and Icelandic artist Shoplifter’s immersive fuzzy-like forest installation are prime examples.

The audacious aesthetics of the ‘90s are making a comeback in high fashion. Brands like Louis Vuitton and Givenchy are embracing big, bold, and in-your-face designs, whilst mainstream content powerhouses like Netflix and MGM are creating shows and films rooted in wanting more and the lives of the high-flying (see House of Gucci and Inventing Anna). Kim K recently leaned into high impact when serving a Balenciaga-branded packing tape look during Paris fashion week and Ye’s extra AF listening parties brought a whole new dimension to album drops.

On the food front, the era of indulgent food porn has arrived. Brands are focussing on louder flavours through craveable photography and swapping out the clean and green for gooey goodness. Again, I’m here for it. * Chef’s kiss *.

So, what does all of this mean for brands? Post-pandemic and post couch-bound, we’ve looked to hedonism to inject bottomless pleasure back into our lives. I’ve splashed out on fancy dinners, ordered the nicer wine, paid way more than I should have for the latest top-notch anti-ageing skincare. Consumers, me included, are more than ever looking for rich and unique brand experiences. Because maximalism is a means of voicing personality and outlook, brands should realise the importance of having a strong unique sense of identity and really own that loudly and proudly.

This cultural shift also gives brands more freedom and flex when it comes to self-expression. Gone are the days of simple, stripped back and barely-there aesthetics (less millennial more neon pink). That was a time that set limits for making a good first impression. Especially in fast-paced spaces like FMCG, which give brands very little time to make their mark on shelf.

But despite maximalism opening the doors for more, just going big, brave, and bold with an identity isn’t enough. What really grinds my gears is when brands jump on the band wagon for the sake of trying to be trendy and it has nothing to do with what’s at the heart of the brand’s core meaning. Zero, zilch, nada. Trends come and go. They lack influence for long-term brand building.

What happens when a trend is no longer cool? Neither are you. If a brand wants to ride the maximalist wave, then it needs to fit with a central creative idea that is baked into its DNA and be brought to life across all expressions.

Without trying to blow our own trumpet I think Miller Genuine Draft (MGD) does this nicely. Since its heyday in the ‘90s, MGD has always been about genuine-ness. So, when we combined this with a boldly authentic and nothing-to-hide design aesthetic – which included a big-ass eagle representing American pride and integrity - it worked. From identity and pack to digital and comms – its genuineness was embedded everywhere the brand showed up.

In a nutshell, it appears max is back. Today, it’s about expressing individuality through the big, the bright and the bold. More is more. But if brands want to tap into this cultural shift and win in the space, then it really needs to tie in with the brand’s central idea or meaning. If it doesn’t? It will lack longevity and risks getting lost in the crowd. I’m intrigued to see what brands will do and how OTT they will go – it’s going to be a hell of lot more exciting than the minimalist days. If they remain true to themselves, then I’m sure we’ll still be seeing them in the eras to come. Whatever that may be. But while we're living in the max era, it seems like the perfect excuse to break out the champers. Ciao.