I don’t have to work too hard to convince you that 2015 was an unforgettable year in advertising. A marked dichotomy in the industry can be summed up by a quick look back at Super Bowl XLIX, when viewers experienced a downer Nationwide Insurance ad about dead children, and Katy Perry dancing with sharks, both within a three-hour time frame.
Trends are pivotal in shaping client strategy; much as with history, we need to learn and observe from the past. So, which consumer trends stood out to me the most in 2015?
Texting is what your mom does. Calling people used to be uncool. But in 2015, texting was down by 18.4 percent. "But how is that possible?” you may ask. "My 14-year-old niece texts constantly!” The old-fashioned text message has seen a growing challenge from in-app messengers such as Snapchat, WhatsApp and Google Hangouts – all of which have great appeal for the visually driven millennial. No doubt this new messaging trend led to a boost in mobile Internet usage, which is up 52 percent. Smart brands took note and got in on the action, going to places such as Snapchat where people already play and engage with their products.
Clever is the new commercial. From sassy tweets to funny 404 error pages, brands are stepping outside of curated content to offer much-needed comic relief. The brilliant thing about efforts such as Mint.com’s "Page Unavailable” message is that it speaks directly to its target customers in their own language – humor. And REESE’S sassy #AllTreesAreBeautiful social response even got a nod in Seventeen magazine online – a market well outside its typical age range.
Big is boring. It is considered to be more genuine to bake someone cookies than to buy a dozen from a store, even though both are thoughtful acts. The benefit of buying from smaller brands with a personal feel is that it allows you to provide the same handmade sentiment without actually doing the work yourself. That psychological push is undoubtedly part of why there are now over 1.4 million sellers on Etsy. Nordstrom’s recent acquisition of Chicago-based Trunk Club suggests that some major brands are reacting to the craft phenomenon by customizing the shopping experience.
So, what’s ahead for the industry? Mintel’s North American Consumer 2016 Trends tell us that advertising will continue to push the great divide between helping and selling.
Balance or bust: finding harmony between the extremes. From juice cleanses to bacon on everything, or Netflix marathons to the need to totally unplug, Americans are caught in a constant tug-of-war between minimalism and excess. Brands can find a consistent consumer win-state by achieving the happy medium. Take the Starbucks mini-Frappuccino for example. The company took consumer feedback to heart, and offered a 10-ounce serving size to respond to consumers who want a little indulgence without consuming quite so many calories.
The big brand theory. Artisanal chocolate and handmade jewelry are no longer exclusively gifts for affluent consumers living in a top-10 city. The recent recession put many people out of work, which in turn fueled a start-up mind-set across America. The bigger-isn’t-better economy goes far beyond Etsy – snapping up such brands as Airbnb and Uber, where millions of people are disrupting the "system” and supplementing or generating their sole income from self-started businesses. AdAge acknowledges a key consumer concern in a December 2015 article: When a big business buys out its craft competition, brand loyalists can grow leery. The key to a successful big-brand takeover is to carefully assuage marketing perceptions with existing brand fans. For example, when Anheuser-Busch InBev acquired Goose Island in 2011, the purchaser made sure the craft beer brand kept true to its traditions by avoiding big-business marketing tactics and relying on its usual grassroots marketing campaigns.*
While industry trends are helpful in predicting which way the wind will blow in the year ahead, nothing replaces good old-fashioned insight from someone who observes the industry day in and day out. Below are three trends I believe will shape how we strategize and position our clients in 2016:
The Internet of things (IoT) will boost insight analyst employment. Twenty-six billion devices by 2020. That’s the number of noncomputer data collecting devices that will be connected to the Internet in just four short years. From activity trackers to thermostats, the opportunity for innovation is seemingly endless. But what is to be done with all that data? Tracking and trending take an intensive amount of computing capability, but it’s up to humans to truly interpret the data and make it actionable.
Virtual reality will be the next Pepsi vs. Coke challenge. Christopher Heine predicted the rise of brands such as Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear at the beginning of 2015. And while that technology generated tons of buzz last year, 2016 is when it has finally made its big debut. While consumers may bluster at its $599 price tag, I believe the biggest growth will come from the advertising industry itself. How many of you ad folks dropped cash on a drone last year – be honest! Imagine a pitch in which your prospective client can be virtually placed in the middle of a concert where its brand is featured 360 degrees. Or think of travel marketing – where the industry has relied on pictures and video for years – and the implications of virtually placing a consumer anywhere in the world. The possibilities are as endless as the imagination.
The stoner stereotype will be shattered by marijuana marketing. Experts predict that recreational marijuana will be legal in 18 states by 2020. While regulation will certainly be a sore spot, the alcohol and tobacco industries have paved the way for marijuana marketing expectations. We predict that the largest obstacle for marketing Mary Jane comes from the "Half-Baked” stereotype perpetuated by anti-marijuana campaigns such as Australia’s Stoner Sloth ads. Lucky for the marijuana industry, people actually find this campaign hilarious, not motivational. That’s why Snoop Dogg’s Leafs by Snoop tapped design giant Pentagram to design its packaging. And, wow, what an amazing job it did. Competition is fierce in that space, and Leafs by Snoop stands out by making the brand aspirational – not a joke.
Naturally, these overarching consumer trends don’t serve each client in a one-size-fits-all fashion, but they do emphasize the need for a solid strategy that understands what impacts target audiences. What trends have you seen in 2015, and how will they affect your brand planning in the coming year?
Kristen Kolb is a senior account planner for PriceWeber, a strategically driven, full-service digital agency half a century in the making. Kristen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Want to know more about Mintel’s 2016 North American Consumer Trends? Read the summary here.