Dear brands, here’s our 2019 wish list. Signed, agencies

In 2018, we saw a rise in the experience economy, and many issues coming to the forefront, specifically around gender and environmental impact. We have made a lot of progress, but in 2019, we have a few other “asks” for brands, including an increase in courage, honesty, diversity and sustainability. Can we get there by January 2020? Here’s a plan for how we might do it. Together.

More courage

This year, we want to see brands being braver and taking risks in the rightway by building a clear set of principles, which reflect their audience – and then standing by them.

Yes, there are risks. Two-thirds of consumers will buy or boycott a brand because of social or political position, Edelman revealed last year. But, having courage in your convictions will gain consumer respect and firmly put you on the radar of others who share your beliefs – or admire your courage. In an increasingly vanilla landscape, adding the right kind of flavour to your campaigns will help you cut through the clutter.

Bravery also drives creativity, as Burger King’s Whopper Detour campaign proved in promoting its app’s order-ahead function. Initially seeming to encourage people to go to McDonald’s, it used geo-tracking to offer those within 600 feet of one of its rival’s restaurantsa Whopper for a penny. The result? Top spot on the App Store.

Greater honesty

A demand for more brand authenticity last year meant those that made an impact in the real world reaped the rewards. Whether this was driven by purpose or simply involved giving something back to customers through a great creative experience, it helped brands build closer connections with their audiences. Inevitably, it resulted in some brands peddling faux authenticity, which consumers can usually spot a mile away. This year, brands should take authenticity to the next level and embrace its true foundation: honesty.

We’ve seen a rise in brands positioning themselves towards a societal trend. Under the guise of purpose, brands are getting involved in the same narrow range of conversations. These are noble gestures, but they don’t set brands apart. It’s time for brands to look at themselves in the mirror, and be honest about the role they play in people’s lives, then push the boundaries of creativity to become more valuable, either by improving their product or service, giving something back, or both. Solving a problem can produce exciting, successful marketing – it’s a strength to be different. As the old maxim goes: “When the world zigs…zag.”

Deeper diversity

Big strides were made in 2018 with inclusivity in marketing. Shutterstock found that 74% of marketers make use of more diverse imagery in their campaign material, a significant improvement from the 57% recorded in 2017.

A great example of brands adding to the conversation in a creative way last year was the “Highlighting the Remarkable” campaign by writing instrument company Stablio Boss, which literally ‘highlighted’ women appearing in its ads’ photography.  It featured women overlooked in history such as Edith Wilson —the former First Lady of the United States who ultimately assumed her husband’s presidential duties after his stroke

Brands also need to take direct action, following the trail blazed by Fenty Beauty, one of the first make up brands to outwardly promote their colour range, as well as make up for men, through its ‘Beauty for All’ message. Other good examples include EasyJet’s video campaign, which inspired more girls to become airline pilots, a move designed to combat gender stereotyping.

Smarter sustainability

Finally, it seems that sustainability has hit the mainstream, with the rise of influencers such as Zanna van Dijkand Healthy Chef, not to mention that this month has been designated “Veganuary” by some, while the rented clothing industry is also growing. Meanwhile, last year people really started to take plastic waste seriously with the help of David Attenborough’s now iconic Blue Planet series.

We need to act together as an industry. Let’s push our vendors and clients to be more sustainable. Let’s put the emphasis on recycling and using recycled material, reducing production and collateral and cutting sample wastage. Many of these acts will actually save agencies and their clients’ money!

Sarah Priestman is the president of Sense New York.

This article first appeared in Campaign USA.

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