Creativity in marketing and comms in 2021

Brands and marketing agencies had to work harder than ever before in 2020. With more pressure to perform, and less resources with which to deliver, teams had to find a message that resonated, and say it in a way no one else had.

Those that succeeded did so thanks to one reason: creativity. Of course, creativity is an over-used buzzword, ubiquitous in the industry, which everyone talks about but rarely achieves. True creativity means breaking away from playing it safe, and we hope to see more of this in marketing campaigns in 2021.

Why brands should focus on creativity this year:

Marketing is an industry which inherently relies on trends. Marketers rely on them, capitalise on them, and even go to great lengths to create them.

In 2021, creativity will be even more important to marketing, as it will help brands stand out, gain new audiences, and capture our attention when the world begins to bounce back.

But we shouldn’t be slaves to trends. Given how much of our time is spent seeing ads and marketing campaigns, we have no patience for bland copies and rip-offs. Creativity is the best way to capture attention, get people talking, and ultimately convert audiences. Here are some of marketing trends we expect to see in marketing this year, and how brands can engage with them creatively to get noticed.

Marketing trends in 2021:

Brands backing culture

Amazon’s Christmas ad kicked off this trend of brands backing culture in earnest. As the future of venues becomes increasingly grim, it’s time for creative solutions that take long term brand sponsorships of the arts and turn them into opportunities for real action to prevent the destruction of our cultural institutions and icons.

And it’s not just that affinity between creative communications and creative arts that makes this a priority for 2021. Our own work with our client Headspace has highlighted to the team the benefits of being present, grounded in the moment and aware of our thoughts on our mental wellbeing: exactly what cultural events allow us to do. And has there ever been a time when we’ve needed the chance to enjoy music, art, theatre, and film in-person more?

With so much of the sector in need of support, and brands already putting briefs to agencies, it’s going to be interesting to see how brand-first partnerships will truly support the arts for when we can all safely venture out and start enjoying them again.

Brands getting stuck in 2020

It’s common to hear about media fatigue when planning for clients. As marketing professionals, we’re all exposed to the same ideas, the same industry standards, and the same modes of thinking that we often take for granted.

That’s why it’s crucial to review our own ideas through a critical lens. We should all take a second to ask how many times a journalist will have had a similar pitch or message from another brand when it comes to securing media coverage. Applying this to consumers is going to be more important than ever in 2021, as it will be all too easy to rest on tired slogans about 2020, as we’re already seeing.

How many of us looked at this recently launched Pepsi ad and thought ‘give us a break’?

Pepsi of course has a poor track record of engaging with news, for most people their infamous Kendall Jenner advert is the first thing that comes to mind when mentioning the brand. Even though that ad came out years ago, it’s still being referenced: there were tweets calling for her to bring a Pepsi to the recent storming of the US Capitol building.

The real danger, moving into 2021, is that campaigns are tired before they’ve been launched. Pedalling the same lines and ideas that seemed witty in the summer of 2020 isn’t going to cut it. This year will demand that brands are agile, ensuring they keep on top of consumer sentiment, and have a clear and interesting take on what’s happening. Hopefully, we’ll see more nuanced campaigns that engage an audience on a less clichéd level.

In a way it’s a matter of bravery for brands. For some, 2020 will have increased anxiety for getting the tone wrong, and lead to generic and tired jokes. For others it’s an opportunity to rock the boat, connect with your audience whist making light of how others might have tackled a weird year. That doesn’t mean being offensive, it’s just having the bravery to insert some humour and reap the benefits. Here’s to a much funnier year ahead.

Brands go bold

Adversity breeds innovation, and so the looming possibility of a poorly distributed vaccine and economic fallout from Brexit shouldn’t scare creatives into hiding. As the recession of 2008 showed, brands that are brave with bold marketing campaigns can grow rapidly.

Not only that, 2021 might see brands harness the true power of 5G, in turn providing creatives with a platform to create new types of work we’ve yet to see. And, fortunately, fewer 5G bodge jobs – looking at you EE and Rita Ora (click at your own peril).

When it comes to the proliferation of 5G beyond the device manufacturers and networks themselves it could be a big year for brands that are, for example, Olympic sponsors. Big brands with big marketing budgets like Coca-Cola, Airbnb, and Samsung could see 5G and creativity really take the next step.

Earned ideas earn their keep

There’s no doubt that if you want earned media in 2021, you’ll have to get creative. Whether you’re trying to try to increase your audience, improve your SEO, or increase your social following, earned media has multiple benefits, but with more brands than ever trying to get it, it’s harder than ever to actually earn. That means you’re going to have to try harder, aiming higher, and think bigger.

With marketing budgets expected to go further, it’s a wider trend that we’re seeing from all brands and agencies. Earned media is also a chance to bring back the sort of light relief so many of the best PR activations can bring. Take the recent PS5 launch, emulating the 2013 campaign that transformed the OXO Tower by applying the same principle to Oxford Circus Underground Station’s emblems seven years on.

After years of earned ideas moving towards a higher purpose, and helping brands show how they care, we’re set for a smattering of classic PR escapism. That’s not to say that campaigns that battle the climate emergency or continue the drive for diversity will drop away from the agenda, both can live side by side.

2021’s poised to be an exciting year to be working in creative communications, a year that, with any luck, will provide more opportunities than restrictions. Good riddance to you 2020.

Kevan Barber, Creative Lead