As I look back on 2021, my first full calendar year as U.S. editor of Campaign, there’s a lot to be proud of.
In the second year of a long and grueling pandemic, the ad industry has managed to create compelling, innovative and impactful work while continuing to operate mostly remote.
On the media side, massive accounts have been pitched and won, from Meta to Coca Cola. Ad buyers continue to adapt to a rapid shift to streaming and whiplash privacy changes that promise to upend the digital media ecosystem.
Creativity has flowed from social media into the metaverse, as agencies and brands tested and learned in cutting edge, emerging spaces (NFTs, anyone?). Brands continued to move at the speed of culture, with last week’s stunt by Peloton a prime example of how marketers must be quick on their feet.
Change isn’t slowing down. U.S. demographics are evolving to be more diverse, and therefore this industry must, too. People’s preferences have shifted, both as consumers and as employees. An enlightened consumer won’t be tracked around the internet without repercussions; an empowered employee refuses to be told where and how to work.
As change continues to come at us fast and hard, there are a few things this industry can leave behind in 2021 to make 2022 a year of real progress.
1. The multicultural vs. general market paradigm
This one came to me as I was reading Campaign US reporter Sabrina Sanchez’s coverage of an interview between Procter & Gamble chief brand officer Marc Pritchard and VMLY&R executive creative director Walter Geer. Pritchard suggested marketers eliminate the term “general market” from their vocabulary, stating that “[general market] means caucasian market. Multicultural marketing is mainstream marketing.”
I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I suggested as much in a September blog post about the critical need for brands to engage with Hispanic audiences. U.S. demographics are changing fast. Marketers know that if they fail to keep up, they will be left behind.
I’m not so sure, however, the industry understands the damage business jargon such as “general market” can cause. The world is changing, and so our vocabulary must, too.
2. Talk without action
The DE&I drumbeat has grown louder, and amid the horrors of 2020, there seemed to be an inflection point. Agencies and brands made specific commitments to meeting targets and promised to be more transparent about their progress. Chief diversity officers were hired. Programs and ERGs were spun up to foster inclusion.
But the work that needs to be done requires real, systemic change. I’m talking about overhauling procurement practices to put diverse supplier programs in place. I mean tearing down recruitment processes and rebuilding them with diversity and inclusivity at the core.
We’re having the right conversation. Now it’s time to burn some harmful norms to the ground and start fresh.
3. Cookies and creepy tracking
Rampant consumer tracking is fading away whether the industry likes it or not. Instead of waiting for Google, Apple or the U.S. government to put you on a diet, be proactive and cut out the cookies now.
Of course, it’s not really that simple. The industry, built around an ecosystem of willy-nilly tracking, is furiously working on methods to preserve personalization and targeting. But if privacy is the end goal, does tracking cohorts or anonymized groups really get the job done?
The winds are blowing toward privacy, and the industry is always a bombshell from Google away from being upended again. So get ahead of the winds of change and think long term.
4. Rigid ways of working
In 2020, we were forced to work from home. In 2021, we began dabbling in flexible work. Some companies mandated hybrid work. Others sold their office spaces. Others still tried wacky things like meeting up in a new city every month or operating from a boat.
Flexibility is no longer a nice-to-have. Every employee’s situation is different, so the workplace must bend and flex to meet individual needs. Otherwise, in this job market, talent will find somewhere else to land.
Still, in a creative field, it’s important to offer a space and thoughtful moments where employees can get together. The big challenge of 2022 will be to bring the social and collaborative aspects of work back without forcing people to stick to a rigid schedule.
5. Marketing for marketing’s sake
The ad industry often speaks into an echo chamber, and industry events and awards shows can amplify that. It’s important, especially when dealing with topics such as DE&I, social justice and purpose, that anything said in these spaces is backed up with real action. Don’t jump on the bandwagon because you’re worried about being scrutinized if you don’t.
The same goes for embracing new consumer trends. Marketers will always be caught up in the hype cycle — it is, after all, their job to stay ahead of the next big thing. But don’t just make an NFT because it sounds cool. Immerse yourself in the space and the communities that surround it and make something valuable that moves your business.
If we can leave this baggage behind in 2021, then 2022 is looking bright.