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 Joe Public United‘s Leigh Tayler.

Leigh Tayler

Leigh TaylerLeigh Tayler (@LeighAnneTayler) is the strategy director at Joe Public United. During her career of more than 12 years, she’s worked in just about every imaginable category and has fostered a well-rounded and instinctual approach to strategic thinking that she applies at every level, from big brand concepts to last-mile moments of truth.

The past few years have seen a swing in the seats of power in the marketing and advertising world; brands and marketers are no longer in power — more and more the public are. I know this isn’t new news and this article is meant to be about future predictions, but this is a trend that’s no longer a trend but reality. So where to from here?

Speed to market

As we came to the end of 2019, there were several words buzzing around, one of which was “speed to market”. This is a term that many established and sizeable brands and, I’m sure, their ad agencies wish would drop dead, because it’s a hard one to get right. Complicated internal and external processes, production budgets and standards, corporate identity adherence, legal compliance, and many other barriers stand in the way of producing creative that keeps pace with the speed of culture.

Considering that most clients and their agencies are structured in a way that makes the Titanic look nimble, “speed to market” is at odds, too, with the very ways of working most of us in this industry live by. For brands to act in this manner, they need to be agile, intuitive, confident, responsive, proactive and have their eyes peeled, ears open and fingers ready 24/7.

I suspect that this notion will be the critical business imperative for marketers and ad agencies in 2020, as it’s firmly entrenched as the new normal.

Consumers are fickle and bursting with expectation from brands and how they behave within the consumer’s world. Brands must earn the right to take part in culture; it’s no longer a given as it has been in decades past. In order to earn this right to participate, brands need to authentically show up in the moments where culture is happening, in real time, and not three days or six weeks later. Speed like this requires bravery, gut instinct, and the freedom and confidence to leap into the unknown, because this kind of speed doesn’t allow for multilevel approvals, massive productions and post-productions, nitpicking, countless reverts and revisions, and definitely not box-ticking.

To do this authentically, brands need to be as engrossed in the world of their consumers as their consumer is: always listening, watching and engaging as if they were just any other being surfing culture. Brands must also be careful not to co-opt but to build on the existing wave of culture and, ultimately, to add value to those engaged in any given aspect of culture or sub-cultures.

Cancel culture

This leads me to the second aspect of my prediction and yet another buzzword doing the rounds: “cancel culture”. As if marketers and advertisers weren’t facing a big enough challenge already with having to adapt to be less Titanic and more Millennium Falcon, now they need to be cautiously brave — but at speed.

One wrong step and you are “cancelled”. This is the 2020 version of leprosy, the scarlet letter, or being at the bottom of any high-school hierarchy. In the eyes of society (virtual society), you cease to exist. You are excommunicated, forbidden from participating in culture, your airtime is shut down and your name is worth less than the data used to tweet about it.

As I’ve said, consumers are fickle and powerful and brands need to earn their place in consumer’s lives, earn the right to participate and keep on earning it. A brand’s credit is only as valid as its last interaction. And while for as long as brands have existed, some of them have been tacitly ‘cancelled’. Now consumers are empowered to do it at an accelerated level, the speed of cancel culture is staggering. They will take no prisoners as they become increasingly militant about holding brands accountable to their words and actions.

Who remembers Total Sports and the 2019 World Cup Eben Etzebeth posters saga? No one. That’s because Total Sports was cancelled.

So, just to be clear: Brands must be brave, leap into the unknown, think less, act more and react at the speed of culture. But they must also be cautious, not offend, not cross any lines and take time to consider the implications of their actions and choice of words.

Shift perspective

How does a brand get speed to market right when operating in a cancel culture?

Brands need to shift their perspective. They need to move from being cautious to being conscious, from being careless to being conscious. With greater consciousness (in other words, social awareness and self-awareness), brands can act at the speed of culture, safe in the knowledge that they aren’t going to get cancelled. Probably. Well, most of the time.

There are always risks when engaging consumers in an environment where they have most of the power but at least if you’ve acted authentically and consciously and have built up some credibility, any wrong step may not result in cancelling but just a short timeout, maybe.

If brands enter this arena with a great deal of awareness — of both the rules of the culture they wish to engage and of their own limitations in engaging in this culture — chances are they will be accepted with open arms and treated fairly.

There are already brands getting this very right. Take Budweiser: 15 minutes after some guy took a baseball to the gut to save his Bud Lights, the brand (aka the agency) had commented; a few hours later it had a t-shirt designed with the man’s face on it; and a few days after that it had a TV commercial leveraging the incident on air. Apex Marketing estimated that this earned media stunt garnered media value of US$7.2 million for the brand.

Moral of the story? There are massive gains to be won by participating in culture, and at the speed of culture, as long as the brand in question has developed a keen sense of self-awareness and social awareness.

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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One reply on “#BigQ2020: Speed to market in a cancel culture”

  1. Hi Leigh,

    I’m not defending Totalsports here – they pissed off a lot of rugby fans and Saffas – but aren’t we a bit quick to overstate this matter of them being “cancelled”? As an industry we seem too prone to hype. Agreed that they fall short on authenticity and awareness in their comms and yes they handled that particular decision and communication spectacularly poorly, but not sure they are cancelled. How much is that one mistake at fault – rather than years of no real brand building paired (paired with their pricing strategy) and a lack of clear differentiation in an extremely competitive retail segment?

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