It is in revolutionary periods that the culmination of previous trends and the beginning of new ones appear.—C. L. R. James
Advertising is all about trends, when to follow and when to start new ones. Get it right and your client loves you. Miss the boat and millions of dollars go down a worthless hole. There is no sure thing. Trends have to be played just right or they can make a brand appear insincere. Declaring trends is easy, but knowing which ones to follow is extremely trepidatious.
We’re here to help. Looking at numerous sources, including Sparks & Honey’s A to Z Culture Glossary and AdWeek’s exhaustive trove of trend research, we’ve compiled what I think are going to be the most important trends for advertisers in 2016. Whether or not we’re correct is, as always, arguable, but these are almost certainly worth considering more than once.
Strong, Powerful, Independent Women
The only way I would put a woman in a kitchen this year is if she happens to be running her own cooking network. Actually, Food Network president Brooke Johnson claims she’s not a good cook, so yeah, totally can that idea. There’s no more “little woman” waiting at the door to greet … anyone. The marketable influence of women has grown exponentially and those who ignore such are risking doom and despair. Yes, they can still be sexy (see Ronda Rousey’s ad for Carl’s Jr.). Yes, they can still be vulnerable while showing tremendous courage (see Ram Truck’s “courage is already inside” ad). What they are not is weak, dependent, desperate, or needy on any level. This includes young girls, by the way, who can play with light sabers just as well as any little boy.
What this trend means for a lot of companies who have yet to catch on, or think they’re somehow immune from the trend, is re-thinking their approach toward women, especially if women are their primary market. There is no tolerance for any level of condescension, even in jest. Women with small children need to be shown as competent and caring in the face of exhaustion. Girls should be shown as not merely cute or sexy but equally as intelligent, witty, and humorous. Oh, and they play video games with a blood-thirty vengeance that is frightening. This is one trend that is only going to grow stronger. Ignore it at your own peril.
Rethink The Concept of Gender
LGBT rights scored some tremendous victories in 2015 but if you think merely placing a same-gender couple somewhere in the back of an ad has you covered, think again. Watch the 16-24-year-old demographic very closely on this one. If you’re not already familiar with the term gender fluid, you might want to ask your intern. Older teens and young adults are leading a rapidly growing trend wherein claiming a specific gender identity just doesn’t work for them. They’re not merely gender neutral, mind you. They are gender fluid, a term and a lifestyle that is just beginning to make its way into mainstream consciousness, even though the practice has been around for centuries. As we build upon the successes of the past year, gender fluidity is the next step toward total acceptance.
We saw the ire Target drew when they removed gender classification from toys in 2015. When moving forward in matters like this, one has to expect backlash and possibly even consider building in an appropriate response as part of the campaign. The issue goes beyond toys, though, and forward-thinking advertisers will find ways to include transgendered and gender fluid people into normal office and social settings without trivializing or being condescending toward anyone. As more young people grow comfortable expressing themselves in this fashion, expect older adults to do so as well, making public lifestyles they’ve kept hidden their entire lives. Smart advertisers will position their brands to stand for inclusion and acceptance in increasingly meaningful ways.
Finding Moral High Ground
A touching, heartfelt ad makes everyone feel good about themselves and the brand. Transference is what psychologist call it; because the ad shows people representing a product or brand doing something good, consumers feel they are also participating in the good thing, whatever it is, by buying that product. This is far from being a new concept, but what we saw especially in the last quarter of 2015 was a rather surprising uptick in just how responsive people were to ads and products that have some participation in the greater good, whether that might be environmental, economic, or health-related. So, a company that addresses iron deficiency in Cambodia sees sales increase in the US and EU. Car maker Volvo records an increase in dealership visits after announcing a spray that keeps pedestrians safe at night.
Let’s be real honest here, finding a moral high ground that someone isn’t already attempting to stake as their own is going to be challenging. What’s more, once one claims such space the company is obligated to make a commitment to that cause beyond the life cycle of the current campaign. This is not a cheap trend to embrace and doing so for the wrong reasons are almost certainly going to backfire. However, as the world grows smaller and awareness of interactions and their consequences becomes more common, people care more about what is going on in places other than their backyard and truly want to help. Find a way to help your target audience help someone else and your brand becomes a champion.
Not Being Perpetually Online is Death
Connectivity issues are going to be huge this year and for all the talk about needing to unplug the reality is that not only are we afraid to be disconnected from the Internet, in some cases being disconnected can be life threatening. This gives advertisers and marketers a giant opening that we’re just now beginning to study and understand. Even more, the biggest opportunity may be for small- to mid-sized companies in markets that have yet to leverage the digital potential in any significant way. Going beyond merely having a website, which is still a big deal for small, entrepreneur-driven business, interacting with customers via third party apps such as Instagram and Periscope represents the new way of communicating directly with a brand’s consumers.
Fashion is already learning that what happens on Instagram impacts the retail market. What happens next is seeing that same interaction in other business models, especially those that historically have not been able to facilitate high levels of customer contact. Think how such interactivity might affect business-to-business models or allow a reluctant tourist to see what actually happens on a cruise before booking their trip. What might be the benefits of a restaurant that allows patrons to live-stream their meal being prepared? People are afraid to put down their mobile devices and that means advertisers have to find creative ways of making sure that is where they interact with customers.
Even Higher Tech
From virtual reality hoods to a Japanese noodle company that provides a digital “companion” for those eating alone to customized fragrance experiences to live-streamed medical assistance, if you’re working with last year’s technology, you’re already behind. With the rapid development and deployment of new tech reaching something close to the speed of light, advertisers can no longer wait two or three years, or even months, for a new technology to prove itself. Yes, this means assuming some higher level of risks as not all new tech is going to survive. However, that is a risk well worth taking as falling behind the tech curve increasingly becomes a death sentence, especially for retail-centric products and businesses.
Think you’re already pretty tech savvy? If you’re not familiar with twitch.tv, typographic neuroscience, ultrasonic sciences, 4D smart paper, or brain-computer imaging (BCI), you have some heavy catching up to do. One of the most important trends for advertising this year is going to be the ability to recognize break-out technologies and being among the first to use them in marketing and advertising situations. For many agencies, especially in smaller markets or those with boutique clients, this likely means making technological innovation a team-wide responsibility. Those with sufficient budgets already have personnel whose sole function is to reach out to new tech companies and find ways to apply science and innovation to the ad experience. Failure to follow this trend may well mean some smaller shops close their doors by year’s end.
Of course, there’s more
I could go on for several more pages, I’m afraid. There are a lot of more niche-oriented trends, such as senior tech for an aging but still mobile (and well-financed) population, family outsourcing, and a lot of really amazing medical innovations. What we do with our leisure time is changing as well and that impacts how consumers respond to certain methods of advertising.
What matters most is that we not rely as much on our past experience and use these trends and innovations to spark our creativity, finding new and exciting, perhaps longer-lasting ways to reach consumers and clients. 2016 belongs to the ambitious. Get up and get moving.