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Ideas Strategy2020-12-16

The Global Takeaway: Predictions for 2021

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Great work has always come from challenging the status quo and pursuing a deeper understanding of the human condition. In strategy, our role is to inspire (and sometimes provoke) novel approaches grounded in the world of our consumers.

To share that world with our fellow Essentials, we started The Takeaway, a trend-reporting series on the unexpected and the unusual in culture, media, and tech. It’s our way of making advertising more valuable, for Essentials and clients alike.

In 2019, The Takeaway covered hundreds of trends while making bold predictions for the future. In 2020, everything we thought we knew was upended; “in these uncertain times” became the motto of the year. Who we are evolved at a rapid pace, and we sought to catalogue all of it.

Read a selection of the team's predictions for 2021 below or download the PDF to see the full list of 2020 trends and predictions.


In EMEA: Destination Unknown

This year, many have had to look beyond borders to “get away,” with domestic vacations rising and travel experiences going virtual. Airbnb launched Online Experiences, while art destinations like the Louvre and the Vatican offered virtual tours. In the wake of its absence, travel has taken on a renewed sense of value beyond just a destination, instead provoking a personal experience—a way to relax, a form of therapy, or a method of escape. According to a GWI COVID study, over 70% of Europeans are already planning their next vacation, with “feeling safe” and “relaxation” being the most important factors when deciding where (and why) to go.

Moving forward, the future of travel will look a lot different, with personal experience at its core. Brands should look to tap into these experiential moments for an audience craving “the feeling of sun on my face” or “the sound of silence,” whether on the other side of the globe or closer to home.

In NA: The Rise of "FOBO"

Last year, we predicted the rise of JOMO (joy of missing out) due to consumers generally being tired of the experience economy. However, the normal outlets we use to escape—visiting friends, live music, group dining—disappeared. Digital became our escape, with 55% of US households now subscribed to more than one streaming service. Instagram livestreaming exploded, launching programs like Verzuz. This increase in digital content has evolved our FOMO to FOBO—fear of better options. 40% of generation Y is overwhelmed by subscriptions, and 43% intend to cut down.

With screens dominating our daily lives, less may be more in 2021. Streamlining offerings to combat choice fatigue or expanding the definition of self-care may be options to cut through FOBO.

In APAC: It took a Pandemic to Unite Us

The pandemic is melting barriers and making us more humane. We all share a common enemy, and the suffering is uniting us in spite of our geographic and cultural barriers. Developers worked day and night to show nearby shelters and food, water, and clothing centers on Google Maps for the underprivileged and for donors. Sharing is more than caring—it may also be curing. The Government of Taiwan ran a successful social media campaign to contain the spread of COVID-19 becoming a case study for other countries.  And a SAARC COVID-19 fund was created following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to South Asian leaders.

As we place a higher value on personal relationships, priorities, and life's simple joys, empathetic advertising is poised to dominate in 2021.


In EMEA: Borderless Brand Experiences

Experience-led media has obviously been heavily impacted by the closures of 2020, causing many brands to rethink how to deliver the best experiences to their audience. While nothing can replace that “I was there” feeling, innovative substitutions have been a catalyst for normalizing the digital-first experience. Beyond engaging remote audiences, the online experience has also opened up once-exclusive, city-centric events. For example, this year’s London Fashion Week was free to stream online, giving access to those once confined by cost or location. Via platforms like YouTube or in-game activations, brand experiences will defy borders for global reach.

The future of experience media will be hybrid, blending exclusive live or paid experiences with inclusive accessible digital executions for a completely immersive brand event.

In NA: Redefining Social Responsibility

2020 proved to be a flashpoint for social networks. Advertisers reckoned with social responsibility, leading to boycotts like #stophateforprofit, with major brands like The North Face and Patagonia leading the way. With the massive increase of misinformation around social movements like BLM, the pandemic, and the election, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok all tried unique ways to police their platforms, all of which seemed too much or too little, depending on the audience. It's another proof point for just how powerful social networks can be in forming (and eroding) our daily reality.

2021 will be the reckoning of Big Social. Advertisers may need to actively grapple with media echo chambers by intentionally identifying new signals and audiences to serve messaging that breaks through barriers.

In APAC: Messy Media Consumption

In a post-COVID world, media consumption and customer acquisition have accelerated across channels and industries like e-commerce, streaming, and gaming. Google has called this space of abundant information and unlimited choices the “messy middle,” where consumers switch seamlessly between "exploration" and "evaluation." Most of these developments have been positive, as the extensive reach of digital marketing allows new industries to emerge and grow. But we've also noticed some negatives, like media and consumption fatigue as people sample more services online.

If behaviors have evolved as we believe they have, it’s critical for us to understand how the customer journey has changed so we can continue unlocking growth opportunities.


In EMEA: Home 2.0

The way we inhabit, use, and value our homes was completely reframed in 2020. A shift in priorities has led to a shift in demand for in-home technology. For streaming services, demand for download capabilities has switched to a demand for speed and player capabilities. For data providers, more time indoors has signalled a move away from large data packages and 5G to a demand for stronger broadband connections. Insights into how we use the home have resulted in product updates that reflect changing habits and sentiments, like Google’s range of mood-lifting activities via its Nest smart speakers and many home assistants now incorporating a Zoom feature.

As we bring more activities into the home, the agility of tech companies to align with shifting priorities is key, particularly when the demand for digital is soaring.

In NA: Directed Discovery

Many tech brands famous for disruption will look backwards to find their future. Netflix and Apple Music have recently launched 24/7 streaming channels for both music and content, to help cut through choice fatigue. Amazon, once seen as the death of in-store retail, will push Amazon Go to its Whole Foods division in 2021 to drive in-store traffic. Gaming brands like Panic plan to release devices like the “Playdate,” a retro handheld gaming experience offering a curated selection of retro games on a seasonal basis.

2021 will be the year we defy the algorithm, with human directed discovery taking center stage. We should think about where to provide a nostalgic, human touch to cut through the clutter, even on tech-forward platforms.

In APAC: The Future is Here

We face new challenges everyday that are more disruptive than almost any we’ve ever faced. Digital content innovations like Netflix allowing viewers to make real-time decisions in order to progress with a show in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch are only the tip of the iceberg for us.

We’re seeing collaborations between humans and androids e.g. in the Avatar Robot Café project in Tokyo, where robots are controlled from remote locations by people with disabilities.

Tech-forward thinking will dominate 2021. Technology will be utilized to solve pandemic-related issues—from loneliness to social anxiety—by providing new choices.