4 Emerging Trends Marketers Are Leaning Into Right Now

Brand marketers are striving less for perfection and more for value

Key insights:

In recent weeks, the brand marketing community has rallied together over many virtual conversations and Slack chats to hash out the challenges, opportunities and perspectives we’re all facing today.

During these conversations, four core themes have emerged. These ideas are not only imperative for marketing in this current moment, but will become even more important as we move from crisis to recovery and beyond.

Embracing raw and less polished production

We’re living in a new reality of production challenges, but it’s becoming clear that consumers are open to (and sometimes, even prefer) raw, unpolished content from brands. Companies and agencies have been innovative with content, exploring new, less glamorous creative tactics such as animating on their phones and digging through their archives.

While this isn’t an excuse to cut corners, one of the things Covid-19 has made clear is that consumers prefer timeliness and cultural relevance over production value. Recent examples include John Krasinski’s online series Some Good News (which he recently sold to ViacomCBS), filmed from his home office; Walmart’s touching spot featuring its associates singing “Lean on Me” through their smartphones; and Google’s salute to health care workers. State Farm, Visa and even the NFL have put out ads using more mobile, webcam and found footage. And leave it to Apple to make the point that, amid the challenges, “Creativity Goes On.”

This may help explain why TikTok’s messy and raw yet quick and culturally relevant content is thriving, while Quibi’s highly produced bite-sized content is struggling to catch on.

Recognizing UGC as your biggest ally and opportunity

User-generated content (UGC) has historically been one of the most underused tools in a marketer’s box. But with the recent pushback on influencer and celebrity-led messages coupled with Covid-related creative challenges, it’s easy to see why UGC is having its moment in the sun right now. And with consumers craving real, relatable human stories, this trend will likely earn a permanent spot on the marketing roster.

Take Buffalo Wild Wings. With live sports on hold, the brand partnered with The Martin Agency to create a spot completely made up of people playing made-up sports in their homes. Going beyond UGC in ads, home goods brand Kirkland’s turned to UGC platform Pixlee to help fill a content void while retail locations have been temporarily closed.

When it comes to finding those UGC gems, Adrian Molina, senior brand manager of Aviation Gin, said, “the key is to listen, listen, listen.” It’s how his team came across the “quarantini” tweet that quickly went viral. “People are getting creative with your products, so find and embrace them and their content.”

Finding levity and optimism

Six weeks ago, empathy was the desired tone in advertising, according to a survey of U.S. consumers. Since then, it’s evident that a tonal shift has happened (again), and some brands are zeroing in on humor and a more hopeful approach to break through the “sea of sadness.”

A few have held strong on their fun and irreverent tone, especially on Twitter. Others have been using our new normal as fodder, such as Coors offering free beer, Ice Breakers gum solving a problem that’s become known as “mask breath,” and Progressive shining a light on the tension of endless work Zoom calls.

Arguably one of the most positive and refreshing ads created early on during quarantine came from YouTube. The video, which has garnered more than 75 million views, highlights how people are using the platform in fun and inspiring ways. And more recently, Nescafé took an optimistic approach to getting back to normal.

Creating genuine and unique digital experiences

While the challenges of the pressure to put out work and the risks tied with being first are real, the brand bandwagon effect can shift the conversation. There’s been a rise in virtual concerts and happy hours, as well as online tours and livestreams. Just open your Instagram and try to count how many brands and personalities are live on any given day.

The new reality is that consumers have a large list of digital experiences to tune into every night, so why should they tune into yours? Instead of trying to just recreate in-person events or simply bringing physical activities into the digital world, crafty brand marketers have been creating uniquely digital experiences that can stand on their own.

A few examples of those that have risen above the noise include DJ nice creating the first Club Quarantine and Fortnite following up its first in-game concert experience with Marshmello with a record-breaking show by Travis Scott. Previous examples include Tesla launching its roadster into space in 2018, and Nike setting attempting to set a new world record marathon time with Breaking2 in 2017.

Brands have also found a way to ease the consumer pain points of today. TikTok, Facebook, YouTube, Chase and Doritos all helped graduates who can’t attend their ceremonies, while Teen Vogue, Chipotle and Jack in the Box gave teens virtual proms. For those looking to relax, Yeti brought the serenity many of us are seeking, “livestreaming” from the world’s most calming streams.

Live digital experiences offer brands the potential to engage with their consumers as deeply as they could at an in-person activation, with the added reach of social media. But only if marketers truly leverage digital’s capabilities (and possibilities) to their fullest.

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@heidefaith heide.palermo@adweek.com Heide is the senior director of brand community at Adweek and Editor of the Inside the Brand series, including the CMO Moves and Gen ZEOs podcasts, Innovators, Challengers, and Women Trailblazers. She also leads Adweek's Innovators Council.
@JeremySchumann With an unconventional background working in addiction recovery in South America, Jeremy Schumann is a brand marketer and strategist who has led marketing campaigns for top global brands ranging from Make-A-Wish, Nike and Uber Eats to Airbnb, Facebook and Google.