2.1 Does death need a rebrand?
Giving new life to a practice known for anything but.
Life before death
Death is many things to many people. It’s grief and loss, a bridge to reflection, connection and community, and for most, a fearful and finite reminder of our own mortality. But ask anyone who’s fronted the bill for a funeral of late and they’ll tell you first hand — death is also a business. And the customers just keep coming.
With the first paid funeral dating back to over 2,477 BC, we’d say the industry hasn’t evolved much beyond white rose motifs and powerpoint montages. A space in constant flux between compassion, exploitation and cliché, we began to ask ourselves — does death need a rebrand? And if so, what needs to change?
Welcome to Forethoughts 2.0: The Business of Death, where we’ll explore the nuances of the death industry, spotlighting and learning from the brands that are giving new life to a practice known for anything but.
MATTERS OF LIFE AND DEATH
Despite its inevitability, death’s taboo is undeniable. For a practice that happens up to 150,000 times a day globally, with unique rituals embedded across countries and cultures, the approach to ‘end-of-life’ advertising in modern marketplaces is still discreet. A societal shift sparked recently within the menopause movement (another taboo that impacts half the population) with campaigns like Tena’s #LastLonelyMenopause and through highly popularised long-form podcasts like The Griefcast — we’re seeing more frank conversations around traditionally unspoken topics, a tactic that aligns particularly well with Gen Z’s nonchalant, humour-driven buying habits.
A generation whose casual colloquialisms are littered with references to death — “I’m dead over that”, “you’ll die when I tell you”, “it’s killing me, honestly…” — to the emoji language barrier developed by their substitution of the ‘laughing’ emoji for the skull, Gen Z are seen to approach death with a healthier mindset. With groups even using TikTok to explore the requirements for their own funerals.
EARN YOUR LIVING
And it’s with the youth that true change within the business of death begins. Because keeping death on the radar of those least concerned with it is no easy task, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be an experimental one. Just ask life insurance brand YuLife‚ who’ve developed an entire ‘Yuniverse’ to engage younger customers — gamifying their operation by allowing users to trade real life tasks such as bike miles or meditation minutes for a currency called YuCoin; which is transferable to airline, Amazon and clothing store vouchers. Shifting the conversation of life insurance from protection from end-of-life, to the convenience of enjoying life in the present, instead.
MAKING A KILLING
And it’s in this ‘convenience’ that innovative death-service technology has emerged. A new found focus on simplifying preparation and encouraging proactivity has seen businesses such as online will-writing websites Farewill and Beyond thrive — providing custom, legal documents in as little as 15 minutes. Or ‘virtual moments’ provider Afternote, whose technology allows users to record personal messages for their loved ones after they die, and even create virtual bucket lists to tick off alongside them. Within Biscuit Tin’s secure digital vaults, users can prepare important documents, account details and post-life wishes; ensuring their family members are left with complete peace of mind following bereavement.
But not only is this proactive push towards death made accessible through these emerging brands, but approachable too — with each evolving their visual identity, tone and marketing efforts to reframe death in a more positive and less fluorescent-funeral-parlour light.
Honing in on comfort and nostalgia, Biscuit Tin’s name was inspired by ‘the old biscuit tin every family used to have for storing important documentation’ — using imagery of safety and sentimentality as barriers against fear. Farewill’s lighthearted tone of voice once described as ‘death warmed up’ toes the line between sociality and sincerity; using warm language, bright colours and animals as metaphors for death (such as cats with their nine lives) for a less-threatening impact. Finally, Co-op Funeralcare’s ‘right by you’ campaign is unconventionally high-spirited; pairing physical comedy with genuine messaging to frame their services as a partnership rather than a paid service.
It seems in rebranding the business of ‘life-before-death’, relevance and approachability are the true drivers of change. In an industry fueled by inevitability, phase one of earning favour begins with engaging proactivity and appealing to convenience. Phase two? Helping those who feel most at unease claim a small ownership over a force entirely out of their control. And phase three? Cashing the cheque, obviously.
Quotes around death are more than overused in this industry, but in the case of contemporary Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, we’ll dip our toes in the cliché. “Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it” — and for those in the business of it, we couldn’t agree more.