It’s been around for thousands of years but astrology, horoscopes and mystical advice seem more prevalent than ever these days. It’s fairly obvious when you’re doing your daily Instagram scroll: first, there’s a rotation of ads for online crystal sellers, then IG Stories that make use of the multiple-choice function to offer free amateur online tarot card readings, and of course, those girlfriends who repost spiritual advice from Jay Shetty or warn of upcoming planets in retrograde, and their potential for emotional destruction.
That’s part of the appeal behind brands such as Advisory Board Crystals, founded in 2016 and combining Hypebeast-approved streetwear (the site dubbed it “the next Off-White”) with a selection of healing crystals. In the four years since its inception, the brand has collaborated with the likes of Guess and Swarovski as well as American rapper Lil Wayne and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.
In Asia, luxury brands had long cottoned on to the notion of zodiac marketing, focusing this mainly on the Chinese lunar calendar and its roster of 12 animals, with an annual, limited-edition push of crimson-hued homages to the rooster, pig or whichever creature is ruling the year ahead.
Today, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that a brand that hopes to stay relevant will in some way or other turn to horoscope marketing: last year, customers of New Balance received an email newsletter suggesting they match their sneaker style to their star sign. Spotify teamed up with astrologer Chani Nicholas to create 12 playlists catering to the assumed sound whims of each zodiac sign, and also streams a daily podcast called Horoscope Today. Decidedly unsexy American train company Amtrak early last year posted 12 suggested itineraries on its blog, recommending Geminis take a tour of the southern states, Cancerians follow a trail through western USA, and Librans hit the likes of Boston and Chicago.
In April last year, Fast Company published an article titled “Why is Amazon Prime using astrology to sell you stuff?”, where it wrote, “In a truly bizarre, capitalist twist on astrology, Amazon Prime’s Insider newsletter is sending monthly shopping horoscopes to its members”. The article ends with, “Prime’s tactic falls flat for several reasons, but mostly because it doesn’t understand its audience — or the practice.”
In the beauty world in particular, zodiac marketing is fairly part and parcel, given the overlap between makeup buyers and horoscope readers. Fresh Beauty was one of the earlier brands to catch on, launching zodiac-themed products in 2015 that came with predictions from Susan Miller, a well-respected astrologer. Today, the barrier to entry is lower: a glitter-filled eyeshadow palette from Huda Beauty named Mercury Retrograde advertises “18 incredible galactic inspired colours and textures to deliver infinite possibilities”.
Given this generation’s penchant for authenticity, brands that are simply jumping on the spiritual bandwagon will see their efforts backfire. Just as poor diversity or sustainability policies can turn your customer base against you, a cheap-trick horoscope ploy is a huge turnoff. A study done by McKinsey on the spending habits of Gen Z-ers notes, “Discerning consumers can easily spot the difference between gimmicks and a genuine purpose that aligns with the values of the organisation. Companies can expect consumers to closely examine the level of continuity across campaigns and the nature of their strategic and operational decisions, as well as their tone.”
So while Dior might have been a bit later to the astrology game, launching star-sign necklaces last year, customers would have appreciated the brand’s long history with the practice — the maison’s founder consulted his clairvoyant before he even launched the house of Dior. Another thoughtful approach is the one used by Uniqlo in creating its Japan-only IQ app, which combines machine learning with data points such as zodiac sign, product popularity and occasion specifics to make personalised suggestions.
The way that this generation interacts with its spiritual side differs from the past. For one thing, this is a generation that has the Internet and can access a wealth of personal information with this tool, such as the difference between sun, moon and rising signs, as well as compare readings from different astrologers. It’s less serious, as the preponderance of meme-ification shows, but can also be more incisive. In an age where connections are made via Tinder profiles combined with a quick-swipe mentality, horoscopes are like personality shorthand. In fact, a survey by MTV Insights last year showed that a quarter of respondents would nix a potential connection based on star sign, while a third would choose to date a person solely based on zodiac compatibility.
A host of studies also show that Gen Z and millennials are more stressed about the world and its issues than previous generations, and astrology provides a helpful coping mechanism, whether it’s framing global happenings as written in the stars, turning to a favourite crystal for positive vibes or seeking higher-level consolation via once-voodoo practices like reiki or energy healing.
Astrology has been booming for the past few years, but in a year rocked by a pandemic, global uncertainty and a major American election that’s been making daily headlines around the world, it almost seems to be the only thing that makes sense anymore.
Many sources have pinpointed popular reliance on spiritual signs as a new narrative art, a way of explaining the way the world is and why things go wrong — mercury retrograde sounds much more authentic than the dog eating your homework, and surely, the frantic energies of a full moon are the only explanation for a relationship blow-up.
These days, astrology isn’t just about predicting the future. It’s also categorising people, in a way that isn’t politically offensive in the same way that race, religion or gender might be. So it makes sense that brands — who, in a post–Diet Prada era, are rightly afraid of offending anyone and everyone — are tending to the market’s desire for personalisation with spiritual profiling, which, for now, is fairly safe territory (that is, until all the fire signs get riled up).
Because of its classification as a pseudoscience, most people who do admit they read horoscopes, call upon their spirit animals or seek guidance from higher, non-religious powers tend to attach a caveat in daily conversations — “it’s just for fun”, “if you believe in this stuff”, etc. As such, this serious business has the appearance of being as much fun and games as a Buzzfeed personality quiz, for now.
And that seems to be the sweet spot for spirituality: popular and controversial without being incendiary — a conversation topic as universal as the latest Netflix show or the weather. It seems almost inevitable that the gatekeepers of political correctness will soon descend upon ideas of zodiac discrimination, but in the meantime, it’s a free zone, a safe space, a haven. As such, it is a space that is sacred, and it would be nice if it could remain so for as long as possible. So while we love a zodiac listicle, maybe we don’t need one to help us decide which sex toy is best or to find our personal “spirit snack”. But once mercury retrograde rolls around, you can bet we’ll be needing our crystals to get through it.
This story first appeared in the November 2020 issue of A Magazine.