by MarkLives (@marklives) What are the industry expectations for the marketing and advertising industry in 2020? A panel of key agency and marketing execs discusses the macro environment, budgets, changes in messaging, movement in the industry and any consumer and communication trends they’ll be looking out for in the year ahead. Next up is M&C Saatchi Abel‘s Faheem Chaudhry.

Faheem Chaudhry

Faheem ChaudhryFaheem Chaudhry (@faheemchaudhry) is managing partner at M&C Saatchi Abel JHB, Financial Mail’s 2019 Large Agency of the Year. He was previously at M&C Saatchi’s global HQ in London, working with clients across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. He has won over 35 awards locally and internationally, including being named Rising Star by the South African Chamber of Commerce in the UK. His obsession is to work to unleash the power of African creativity on the world (part patriotic, part Machiavellian).

The new year. A time for pause, reflection and projection. Futurists seem to love the first of January; an opportunity to cast their minds ahead to what might be in the next 12 months.

The year of broadcast, the year of mass personalisation, the year of the specialist agency, the year of the integrated agency, the year of the holding company, the year of the independent agency, the year TV dies, the year people watch more video than ever before. The year of the micro-influencer. The year influencers have their bubbles popped. Ramaphoria. Ramageddon. Trump 2020. Bernie 2020. Brexit. No-Brexit. I’m leaving. #ImStaying.

While this sort of intellectual industry jousting is fun, the truth is, things don’t change as quickly, suddenly or as triumphantly as the dong of the new year bell.

We often hear about us living in a time of unprecedented change. But then I thought about the creation of electricity, the Great Depression, two World Wars, moving from horses to cars to jet engines and the founding of the world wide web. Unprecedented change has been the norm for much of the last century. As the marketing industry, we sometimes fall into the trap of chasing the next shiny high. We’re drawn to novelty a lot more than we’re sometimes drawn to reality when predicting what the new year will bring.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos famously reflected that “I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time.”

So, while 2020 will no doubt bring with it some new and novel trends, tweaks and shifts, my gut says that they’ll tend to distract us, rather than guide us towards the light.

What isn’t changing

As we head into the new decade, it might be more useful to take a step back to gain some perspective and notice what isn’t changing, rather than what is.

#1. A brand is the most-powerful commercial tool a business has

There are many definitions of what a brand is. Regardless of which tickles your fancy, the benefits of building a clear, distinctive, preferred brand are empirically clear. My favourite articulation of the commercial power of brand is from BBH Labs:

“A brand increases the chances of customers choosing your product or service over your competitor’s, attracting more customers, at a lower cost per sale, who are happy to pay a little more, and will buy it a little more often. A strong brand will deliver more revenue, profit and growth, more efficiently, year after year, and so generate more shareholder value. It can help attract, motivate and retain your people. And can work as a barrier to entry for future competitors, creating a legal ‘monopoly’.”

Yet, over the last decade, the industry has increasingly preferred to reallocate budget to short-term tactics over brand-building. A tough economy perhaps demands it, as CMOs are under quarterly pressure to prove the business case for marketing. Further, immediacy has proliferated every facet of our lives at all levels of society. Sending money to loved ones? Instant. Ordering food? Instant. Hailing a taxi? Instant. Booking accommodation? Instant. As our expectations of life have become more immediate, so too have our expectations of the marketing activity we put out into the world.

Building powerful brands is without a doubt be the single most powerful orientation advertising agencies and their marketing partners can rally behind.

Regardless of what new challenges 2020 brings, let’s embrace this powerful role we can play in helping businesses achieve distinction and competitive advantage in a tough economic climate.

There’s no more powerful contribution we can make to business than building powerful brands. That isn’t changing in 2020.

#2. Creativity is a superpower, not a commodity

Creativity goes left when convention says go right; it sees something new, flips a conventional truth, surprises, delights, scares, shocks, reinvents and reinvigorates. The danger is that we use metrics such as time and efficiency to continually squeeze it like any other commodity. While many industries continue to chase efficiency, jobs are being replaced by more-efficient software and technology. If we recognise this reality, and embrace our creative potential, we’ll start the new decade with an orientation that is defensible, desirable and limitless. In a world overwhelmed with complexity and choice, creativity is the superpower that can liberate and differentiate.

In parallel, South African creativity is shining on the world stage. Whether it’s late-night satire, the catwalks of the world’s most-desirable fashion shows, the dancefloors of Ibiza, the cover of Time magazine or Miss Universe, there’s a South African creative at the pinnacle. Our global creative capital is shining.

SA creativity is a superpower, not a commodity. That isn’t changing in 2020.

#3. People are an investment, not an expense

Some industries wouldn’t exist without natural resources, others without systems, processes and factories. Ours wouldn’t without people. We’ve got to do more as an industry to grow, nurture and retain our top talent. Talented people leaving the ad industry is an inditement on agency leaders, the cultures they build, and the way they foster and enable brilliant careers. Every other industry invests heavily into its greatest assets; we need to do the same with ours. Our people. It comes down to a simple orientation — your people are a critical investment in your business, not an operating expense.

People have always and will always be an agency’s greatest asset. That isn’t changing in 2020.


2020 brings with it the promise of a new decade.

As we embrace the challenges thrown at us, as an industry, let’s push against getting sucked into short-term gimmick and novelty (which is often the easier path) but rather focus on where we’re most powerful and where we add most value — building brands, unleashing creativity and investing in the people who make the magic happen.

Here’s to focus on the unchanging. Here’s to a brilliant 2020 for all.

See also


MarkLives logoLaunched in 2016, “The Big Q” is a regular column on MarkLives in which we ask key advertising and marketing industry execs for their thoughts on relevant issues facing the industry. If you’d like to be part of our pool of panellists, please contact editor Herman Manson via email (2mark at marklives dot com) or Twitter (@marklives). Suggestions for questions are also welcomed.

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