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The marketing megatrends helping to define recovery

We can’t rewind to 2019, so we need to be agile and continue to adapt to new habits and behaviours

Many consumer-facing brands now have a more human tone of voice. 2020’s twin shocks of Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests helped companies refocus what they stand for, and increasingly become involved in causes. Photograph: Getty Images

Many consumer-facing brands now have a more human tone of voice. 2020’s twin shocks of Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests helped companies refocus what they stand for, and increasingly become involved in causes. Photograph: Getty Images


The world is recovering from the pandemic and adapting to new ways of life, both in changed habits and behaviours, but there are also new rules for businesses to navigate in order to continue to prosper.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Times of crisis and recession have been, in retrospect, times of enormous opportunity and innovation, as well as times of growth for those who make the right decisions. 

Technologies and ways of working that might have seemed an interesting experiment in other times have become essential.

In previous decades these moments have given rise to new media such as radio, digital and social media, and been instrumental in the formation and growth of companies such as Revlon, Uber and Airbnb. Again, the opportunity is out there.

In our annual media trends report we look at three megatrends that are helping to define the recovery, each with smaller manifestations or subtrends, which have major implications for brands.

The prolonged pandemic

Dan Calladine is head of media futures at Carat Global
Dan Calladine is head of media futures at Carat Global

The pandemic is having far more impact, and is lasting longer, than almost anyone initially thought.

The world has changed. The past 18 months have brought about a greater change in the way many people live, work, shop and socialise than any time in the past 70 years.

As societies open up again, there are many promising signs of recovery everywhere we look, from economic indicators to proxy measures such as hire car usage and the number of weddings.

However, the world will not simply rewind to 2019.

We are already living in the new world, and need to be agile enough to continue to adapt to new habits and behaviours.

The pandemic accelerated trends that had already been rising, for example in digital usage, cashless payment, streaming subscriptions, time spent on gaming platforms, and, of course, the percentage of commerce transacted online. We have seen greater adoption and use of digital hardware as people reacted to more time spent at home and upgraded their homes as a result.

Many leading brands are betting these changes are here to stay and are resolved to making the most of these opportunities by rolling out ambitious media strategies and transformation plans, supported by massive investments.

Three of the interesting trends within this bigger trend are: 

  • Omnichannel everything: Omnichannel commerce, with options such as click and collect, has been popular for many years. We now see this extending into many other areas, as companies develop hybrid models to provide online and offline options for entertainment, events, festivals and more. For example, Disney now has a policy of releasing films to cinemas and on its streaming service, Disney+, at the same time, giving consumers the option to watch in whatever way is the most convenient.
  • New ways to buy: The pandemic has also accelerated the development of new shopping services and technology, building on the rapid growth in online commerce. For example, many large cities now have services that will deliver groceries within 10 minutes (Q Commerce), and YouTube has developed a new ad format – currently available only in the US – that makes it easy for viewers to send themselves details of brands they see in ads if they are watching on connected TV.
  • Secure scarcity: Technological advances making it possible to create unique copies of digital assets, known as NFTs (non-fungible tokens), and how this is generating millions in revenues. Total revenue from NFT sales was less than $15 million in 2020, but rose into the billions last year, and big brands are now getting involved. A really exciting trend to watch!

Brand citizenship

Brands are increasingly showing their human side.

The rise of social media has meant that many consumer-facing brands now have a more human tone of voice, used to share news and to reply to consumer queries, and now many are acting in a more human way, showing a more empathetic and caring side.

The twin shocks of Covid-19 and the BLM protests in 2020 have helped companies to refocus on what they stand for, and increasingly become involved in causes, including climate and equality.

There are many examples of companies trying to do good and set an example to their customers, their peers and governments.

Facebook’s offices and data centres use renewable energy and reached net zero emissions in 2020.

Ikea has announced plans to start offering clean energy to households in Sweden that pay the membership fee and get certified solar- or wind-generated electricity with usage tracked through a mobile app. 

Lego has developed a way of making its standard bricks using recycled plastic, producing a prototype this year, with a goal to make all core products out of sustainable materials by 2030. 

One interesting trend within this is the rise of sustainable marketing. Some brands have always tried to use their budgets to do good, but this is now becoming much more mainstream, with big players such as Unilever, GSK and others producing principles to help govern their campaigns, beyond traditional media and business goals. 


It has never been easier to prove your own identity.

Many of us can do it via apps on our phones, particularly since the vaccine rollout, when airlines, venues and even offices started insisting on seeing vaccine documentation. At the same time, it is getting much harder for marketers to know who they are advertising to, with greater restrictions being placed by governments and technology companies. 

For the past 25 years passwords have been the default proof of identity online, but there are signs that they may soon be replaced by more biometric means such as fingerprints on phones, and even selfies analysed by AI and moderators, tools currently being used by companies including Stripe and Tinder.

Passwords themselves are problematic because they can easily be shared. Netflix is estimated to lose as much as ¤250 million a year in the Nordics alone due to password sharing (assuming everyone took out a subscription instead of borrowing one), and is reportedly testing ways to authenticate users more rigorously.

Two interesting trends in this area are:

  • Beyond the cookie: 2022 is the last chance for marketers to plan how to rework their activity in the absence of technology such as cookies to target the right audiences. Google’s Chrome browser is expected to stop allowing third-party cookies from 2023. The focus is on alternative means of getting the right messages to the right audiences, including contextual advertising, and the greater use of influencers (who speak to very focused audiences on topics like fashion, travel and so on).
  • Value exchanges: With less third-party data available, brands need to collect their own first-party data, and the best way to do this is to create and host content and tools that consumers will be willing to visit brand sites to find, giving their permission to be tracked in the process. This value exchange – accepting tracking in order to access valuable content - is going to be ever more important as brands seek to understand their audiences better. 

Dan Calladine is head of media futures at Carat Global

Inside Marketing is a series brought to you by dentsu and Irish Times Media Solutions, exploring the issues and opportunities facing the world of media and marketing. For more information, visit