After 2020’s devastating blow to the creative communications industry, our content streams are rife with “trend talk”—also known as the ad industry’s long-held tradition of forecasting trends to come while reflecting on the prior year.
At Lions, we have an archive that stretches back 67 years, lending us a helicopter view of the industry landscape. We’ve recently mined that data for insight about what’s happening in branded communications right now.
Here’s what we’ve seen: It’s during challenging times like these that we actually observe the acceleration of industry trends.
We identified three clear trends that we expect to define 2021: super fans, hacking production, and e-commerce 3.0. They not only reflect the constant evolution of branded communications and the changing face of the consumer, but also represent a moment in time that forced the industry to double down on creativity.
A focus on brand super fans
Influencers have long been a useful way for brands to better connect with audiences. For instance, in 2019, 45% of work entered into the PR Lions used celebrities, influencers, or key opinion leaders—up from 20% in 2017.
But last year represented a more significant shift. Creative companies finally cracked influencer brand engagement, unlocking access to a brand’s super fans—who also happen to be the most accessible and engaged new focus group.
At Lions Live, Bacardi’s Gabriela McCoy talked about trading stark, unnatural focus groups for one-on-one engaged conversations with brand super fans. Bacardi’s recent “Roommates” spot—featuring three real New York roommates/super fans—saw strong engagement on YouTube due to the piece’s reliance on intimate storytelling.
The same held true for Chipotle. Thousands of Chipotle fans organically advocated for the brand on TikTok, birthing the “Chipotle Sponsor Me” campaign. The series successfully funneled that “super fan” energy into further reach.
Droga5’s Bagelgate campaign for Kraft-Heinz, winner of three Lions, is another great example. Its Twitter poll and Change.org petition, prodding Apple to change its #SadBagel emoji to include a schmear of Philadelphia cream cheese, actively engaged with consumers in a similar manner.
The significant shift we’ve witnessed is the result of maturation—social media companies have refined their features, while brands have realized that choosing talent that naturally advocates for your brand will harmoniously tell the corporate responsibility story for you.
A creative injection into e-commerce
With e-commerce purchases at a record high, more businesses are using the moment of transaction for additional brand engagement, with creative ways to buy digitally becoming acts of engagement in themselves.
Take Pay Per Beer for ABInBev by Africa Sao Paulo, a Lions award-winning example from 2019, for instance. Here, consumers ordered beer on demand through a sports TV platform. As FCB’s Mauro Arruda has explained, creativity with contactless commerce is front-of-mind during the pandemic, especially for brands who are new to this form of transacting.
Capitalizing on the moment of a transaction is key to driving trust around brand safety.
“In the first three months of the pandemic, e-commerce grew as much as it has done in the last ten years, so my takeaway is ‘go contactless.’ Create a seamless online journey, combining extreme value, extreme convenience and extreme experience,” Arruda said. “And if you can, go the extra mile, like this open-source idea: A barcode scanner that kills viruses on packages in seconds.”
For Dentsu Webchutney Bangalore, a Creative E-commerce winner in 2019, that need to stand out was the driving force behind Hagglebot. Created for online retailer Flipkart, Hagglebot—the world’s first-ever online bargaining experience—lets Flipkart simulate the feeling of driving a deal’s value.
Hacking production techniques
The pandemic lockdowns have forced brands, agencies, and production houses to execute creative ideas without the usual resources. Simultaneously, platforms such as TikTok—where homegrown, low-fidelity and authentic content is now hugely popular—have seen dramatic growth. That pairing led brands to actively repurpose material and trial new production techniques to connect with consumers’ lives today.
We’ve seen Chipotle use voiceovers (including ASMR techniques) as a hack instead of music to overcome licensing issues—which ended up providing an unexpected value-add to their consumers.
The pandemic has made lo-fi more mainstream, with creator platforms and locked down audiences in search of more meaningful emotional connections fueling its growth. This under-designed aesthetic that purposely rejects high spec content has won Lions. Brands like Burger King, Reebok and Netflix have all tried it, and we expect to see it having a big presence at this year’s Film Craft Lions.
The above trends would still be happening without the pandemic—2020 simply accelerated them. What brands have now, and many are already embracing, is an opportunity to try something different, to be a bit braver.