Skip to content
Ideas Research2021-02-16

2030 Revisited: Experts weigh in on the impact of 2020 on the future of advertising

Kate Scott-Dawkins

Download the full report: 'Advertising in 2030: Experts rate the impact of 2020'

In January and early February of 2020, we asked an elite group of marketing practitioners, executives, and academics to speculate on the future of advertising in the year 2030. At the time we conducted our research Covid-19 had not yet been declared a global pandemic or established its now-universal dominance over our lives, businesses, and priorities. Not long after publishing it became clear we would need to revisit our research in light of the scale and transformational consequences of the coronavirus.

So, at the end of 2020, after a year spent in varying levels of lockdown or voluntary sequestration, we re-interviewed our growing panel of experts to understand how they think Covid-19 has impacted the likelihood of the 15 scenarios we originally explored.

Our experts expect eight future scenarios to be even more likely following the events of the previous eleven months, including the use of biometric data (65% more likely), time spent in virtual environments (59% more likely), and trends toward subscription services (59% more likely), personalization (56% more likely), and micropayments (46% more likely). Nearly 60% felt 2020 will accelerate the trend toward consumer prioritization of environmental impact and over 40% saw an increased likelihood that AI and automation lead to job and wage losses. Five scenarios were seen to have been largely unaffected by the year’s upheaval, and our experts rated just two as being less likely than at the start of 2020—the adoption of a global privacy law (50% less likely) and the ability of large tech companies to remain intact (41% less likely) as global consolidated entities.

The biggest overall change in brand/consumer interaction cited by our panelists was the shift to digital. Digital communication, digital events, and digital shopping. Beyond the pandemic, the social justice debates and protests that took place worldwide also had a clear impact with 30% of experts citing the importance of brand values and trust following 2020. 

However, despite the feelings of upheaval, these changes and accelerations have merely cemented trends that were already at play. The shift to digital, with all its positive and negative effects, had been subsuming everything in its path for years, like a lava flow covering existing ground and creating new land where none existed previously. Several panelists predicted a renewed desire for tactile, personal experiences after the uncertainty, atomization, and isolation of the past year. But it’s hard to imagine that the digital platforms that have virtually reconstituted our day-to-day lives will lose ground. Lava doesn’t retreat.

What’s been made clear is the requirement that brands be prepared for the ‘unprecedented’ and the ‘impossible’ as the next unforeseen event may push these pre-existing trends beyond our readiness.

Here then are four dynamics that brands should consider as they build strategies to win in the new economy.

  1. Despite what felt like great shifts in 2020, the next decade will be more business as usual. The big and strong will get bigger and stronger. Companies without a clear mandate and path to the winner’s circle will be swallowed up. 

  2. Owning—or at least partnering with—platforms will be critical. If a brand doesn’t already own the customer end point (and therefore also control the journey), then building a platform or experimenting with different future scenarios are advised. 

  3. Increasing reliance on predictive models that depend on historical data could well leave us exposed to more black swan events like Covid-19. As machine learning teaches us to become more confident about what will happen, we must not forget to also prepare for what could happen.

  4. We are entering a new, more nuanced era of mass marketing where brands will meld into customer experiences, with communications that are more relevant and tailored to the audience and moment. Marketers will need to maintain and project consistent brand values at the same time they meet consumer expectations for increasingly personalized messages and experiences. 

In short, buckle up. The consequences of the trajectories we find ourselves on are real and will become more real in the years ahead. At the same time, paradoxically, shared realities are rapidly fragmenting and our audiences are increasingly disabused that there are objective truths in advertising—or anything—anymore. Everyone is now their own first-person narrator crafting their own unique brand experience. Advertisers must act boldly with plans to put themselves at the center of people’s experiences if they want to make it to 2030.

To read the full report, download the PDF or view the online booklet.