Advertising & Marketing Trends that will dominate 2021

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2020 is officially over. To many, January is rebirth, repurpose, refocus – a chance to reflect on what didn’t work the year before and build on our successes for a better future. Except this time most of us probably won’t have a lot of achievements to celebrate, and the advertising industry knows that quite well.

It is normal to expect some changes in the creative industry for 2021, and it’s quite easy to imagine which ones they will be, judging by the year that’s just passed. How will advertising and marketing be influenced by all that? What are the top advertising and marketing trends for 2021?

2021’s Advertising & Marketing Trends

Some of you may be quick to say that this will be a hopeful year, imbued with optimism and love and a sense of community. And you would be right. Everything from Graphic Design to Web Design and even the very Colours of the Year seems to point at that. 2021 will be the year in which we rise back on the wave of the vaccine, slowly easing into a new normality – be it from remote or back in the office.

But it won’t be just that. The gritty realism will still be there. All the mental health, domestic violence and employment/work-related issues from the various lockdowns will surface even more, and this will be a chance for us to reflect on all those – to understand where we failed, where we succeeded, and how we are better equipped for the future that is to come.

And brands and advertisers will be there to walk the path with us.



Authenticity & Honesty

2020 was the year of vulnerabilities and humanity. We welcomed the world in our living rooms and showed everybody that we are all exactly alike – the same people wanting the same things, eating the same food, dealing with the same crap and laughing at the same jokes.

It was the same for the brands who knew how to handle this crisis. Tesco and Burger King are some quite notable examples in the UK, and we can expect other brands to follow in their footsteps for a brilliant and more honest new year. The gap between consumers and brands will tighten, and consumers will seek purpose and social justice like never before. The inevitable hope and playfulness will be counterbalanced by some powerful realism and the brands will all play a huge part in that. Marketers are expected to be more transparent than ever, authentic, honest – just plain human. And you can bet this will yield some amazing results, in both the short and longer term.


User-Generated Content & Social Media

People will still be home a lot this year – that’s no secret. Social media have had a huge part in helping us get through our days in 2020, keeping us connected even while apart. Social media ad spend is sure to increase this year, but so is user-generated content – and with it, a renowned strong feeling towards privacy and security.

The cloud that darkened Facebook after Cambridge Analytica hasn’t been gone for long – in fact, some may say it’s still very much looming above dear Mark’s head. People are more conscious about data than ever, and though personalised and programmatic advertising will still be going strong, consumers will be quite fast to point out your flaws should anything go wrong in the process. Don’t be the Mark.

Still, user-generated content can be a strong tool in the hands of the right marketer. People love interacting with the brands they care about, and there will be plenty of room for contests, giveaways and social media initiatives this year too. Make sure you leverage all that!


Image credit: AnalogFolk

Shift in Influencer Marketing

With the rise of TikTok alongside Instagram, Twitch and YouTube, influencers are still a powerful tool for your brand campaigns. Still, this year a significant shift is expected to take place. Sure, huge influencers like Chiara Ferragni are great – but what about Micro & Nano Influencers (<50k followers)? Marketers this year have discovered that these smaller influencer tiers feature stronger and more loyal communities, more likely to follow the person because of their personality rather than their undiscussed success.

You should also consider a multi-channel approach to influencer marketing, meaning you shouldn’t think of single platforms for your initiatives. Your campaign should embrace different platforms and adapt to the audience in each of those, studying the influencer’s success and envisioning a stronger, platform-specific strategy. In other words, Chiara Ferragni is all good and perfect – but make sure to use the occasional make-up enthusiast with ~10k followers too. Depending on your brand, you may see even stronger results.


Chiara Ferragni – Photo credit: Wikimedia

Hybrid Events & Remote Filming

Surely live events and production are a no-no right now and will most likely keep being so for quite a while. But those willing to adapt have found that 2020 still had opportunities in store for them and, in fact, these could be leveraged to generate quite a lot of engagement. We can expect to see Hybrid Events in 2021, blending live attendance with online streaming, which would pair quite well with the shifting viewing habits of consumers.

If you are in production, you can of course rely on a number of remote filming tools that will still let you do your job from remote. It might not be like being exactly on set, but can you imagine how much budget you could save in planes, meetings and dinners for your client on-site? Not to mention Wunderman Thompson has shot a domestic abuse awareness ad entirely from remote, with no director or crew touching the camera, and it came out brilliantly. The solutions are out there, and this is the year to leverage them.

Artificial Intelligence & Automation

One of the biggest advertising trends for 2021 will be the widespread use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine-Learning to automate programmatic ads and ads purchase. You can expect hyper-automation of marketing and advertising tasks, as businesses shift even more to the use of AI to automate IT tasks.

Moreover, as social media channels and touchpoints for your user-base increase, so does the difficulty of managing programmatic ads across all platforms. AI and machine-learning could streamline the process, enabling advertisers to deliver ads through voice assistants with the use of Big Data – not to mention how much more targeted the ads can then become.


Image credit: Dan Kindley

Connected TV

It’s quite obvious that 2020 a perfect year for streaming services. Netflix, Prime Video, Twitch and others have bloomed beyond all predictions last year, leading to a considerable shift in viewing habits as consumers spend less and less time on TV. 

According to video advertising platform SpotX, all of these options for consumers are slowly causing a form of fatigue in consumers, who are starting to look for ad-supported channels or free alternatives in order to save money on subscriptions. And where consumers go… advertisers will follow. Right?


Image credit: Javier Medellin Puyou

In-Game & Mobile Advertising

Lastly, we know the boundaries between virtual and real lives are blurring more and more by the day. AR and VR have introduced incredible opportunities for marketers all around the world, but mobile gaming and navigation still represent a huge opportunity for advertisers. Playable ads are on the rise and the mobile scene isn’t certainly showing signs of a considerable crisis.

And if mobile isn’t the right place for you, take a look at what Hellmann’s did with Animal Crossing on Nintendo Switch. Console gaming can still offer loads of opportunities for your brand. In a partnership with Nintendo, Hellmann conducted an in-game campaign through a special event in New Horizons, approaching a specific segment of consumers and raising brand awareness. In-game events are just an example of what can be done with gamers, but if you’re looking for another example, Monster Hunter World was just as big last year, in terms of partnerships.


Image credit: Ogilvy Toronto

There’s no doubt this year will be a transition year as we all ease back into a semblance of normality, one way or another. With remote working on the rise and not showing many signs of giving in to traditional working methods, 2021 will be the perfect year to seize new opportunities and experiment with your campaigns. Just remember to remain truthful, honest and authentic. That’s what consumers will care about the most – now more than ever.

Header image: Brian Murray


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