Last year at this time, perhaps the only thing We the People could collectively agree on was the wish to say “good riddance” to the previous 12 months. Less than a week into the new year, 2021 effectively replied, “Hold my beer.”
Despite that ominous beginning and lingering concerns about COVID variants and uneven vaccination rates, thing are looking up. WPP’s GroupM, Publicis Groupe’s Zenith and IPG’s Magna are predicting unprecedented growth for the ad industry in 2022—good news for the bottom line, even as businesses are still battling various economic uncertainties, from supply chain issues to fears about inflation.
The conversation around diversity and accountability continues more than a year since the George Floyd murder sparked a nationwide movement. “We as societies are demanding more transparency and accountability from each other, and that has also been true of what we’re asking of brands and organizations,” says Martyn Clarkson, executive VP and global head of strategy at Jack Morton. “Purpose-led brands have won a greater share of voice through their honesty and relevance to broader human values. We’ve been increasingly asking brands to be more meaningful, more extraordinary, and more human.”
Before we bid adieu to 2021, we asked the Amp community to take a look at the trends that characterized this year and to predict what will define the next one.
Diversity now, diversity tomorrow, diversity forever
“We saw a much wider array of faces, skin tones, family and relationship dynamics take the spotlight in 2021 marketing than ever before,” says VMLY&R’s chief integration officer, Myron King. He hails Etsy and Procter & Gamble for their exceptional diversity messaging, but describes the majority of the industry’s efforts as “minimally viable DE&I.” “Seeing brands challenge 'traditional' or 'majority' perceptions of cultural norms in their messaging is a positive indicator that change is taking place,” King says, “but the divide between box-checking and bar-setting should widen dramatically in 2022.”
Laura Thomas, VP of strategy at Curiosity, agrees, adding that the “equal representation of humanity, including gender, nonbinary, gender fluid, trans and diversity of race, ethnicities and abilities,” contributes to society’s overall mental health. “The industry trends for 2022 reflect a continuation of 2021 trends: nonbinary, transgender and gender-fluid voices and representation, the changing dynamic of masculinity and femininity, sustainability and mental health.”
"As we watch the world around us continue to struggle with social and racial justice, climate and environmental issues, and mental health challenges, I see agencies and brands working together to push the boundaries around purpose and social impact," says Andy Berkenfield, CEO of Duncan Channon. "The times of statements and donations are over, particularly for brands who want to connect with Gen Z consumers. Within their own companies, leaders are going to need to do more to stay in tune with and support talent’s mental health—which is already frayed in response to working in isolation and shouldering a relentless onslaught of negative news."
E-commerce and online shopping got bigger and better
Online shopping was already popular in pre-COVID times, but when lockdowns hit and quarantining became a regular way of life, digital carts proved they could move product just as well as wheeled ones. This proved especially fortunate for smaller brands.
“One of the key growths we’ve seen on the MikMak platform is TikTok’s popularity and its ability to drive e-commerce traffic and convert them,” says Terence Farina, an account manager at MikMak, who notes that TikTokkers drove 10% of all e-commerce traffic for them. “We’ve also seen the firm rise of last-mile delivery platforms, such as Drizly and Instacart as check-out destinations.” But, Farina cautions, options that support impulse purchasing and rapid fulfillment shouldn’t be taken for granted. “It’s important for brands to make intentional investments into these platforms and develop strategies around incorporating it as a core part of the shopping journey.”
Loyalty programs also began making a comeback as a core advertising strategy, but they’re not your grandma’s loyalty programs. “With innovations like shoppable social posts, consumers are exploring different brands more than ever before,” says Paige Shuman, associate strategy director at Camp + King. “Brands that explore tactics like gamification, surprise rewards and predictive analytics to personalize offers and experiences will build relationships that go far beyond the discount-driven programs of the past.”
The cookieless future is unwritten
Technology will obviously continue to evolve, but 2021 brought with it some of the growing pains of making tech more ethical. Among the rougher parts of the year was “the tension between the tightening data privacy settings and the new targeting solutions” of trying to restructure platforms to eliminate third-party cookies, according to Richard Yao, manager of strategy and content at IPG Media Lab (the innovation arm of UM agency) “With no consensus of a replacement solution for third-party cookies in sight, the ad industry was stuck in this awkward transition period from identity-based targeting to interest- or topic-based solutions.”