by Carl Cardinelli (@CarlCardinelli) That is, if you ever want to produce something semi-unique or #firstever<insertradnesshere>.

Setting the scene

An anecdote, if you’d please. You rock up at a friend’s party and, while sipping on your craft gin and coconut tonic, you let your eyes wander around the room. Whom do you notice? The people who all look the same — donning the latest sneaks paired with ripped and rolled jeans and a V deeper than a Dumbledore quote? Nope. You spot, identify and, often reluctantly, admire the ones who stand out.

The ones who attract the most attention are often the most influential and, therefore, inspire the most action. They are the trendsetters. Those who bravely don the unique, the self-inspired and challenging — often met with ridicule or Haterade. That, is until every Tom, Dick and Dickier adopt the previously scoffed-at item.

Now relate that to our industry and, more so, creativity. Do you notice the comms that all look the same, tell the same stories, and use the same tech? Those using the #latest #greatest #dopest #trendiest techniques, styles and buzzwords? Or are you immediately drawn to the one(s) that stand out? The off-the-wall, unexpected? Condescendingly rhetorical? Yep.

So why then do we flock to the hundreds of trend articles that plague our inboxes every January? Simple. The fear of irrelevancy.

Let’s be unique; let’s follow what everyone else is doing.
What someone tells us is ‘on point’

And, yes, the irony — that to dismiss trends is, in fact, a trend in itself — is certainly not lost on me. I might as well be the definition of a keyboard hipster. “But I disliked trends before it was cool. The later stuff is rather commercial — the first bit was the best — you know, when no one knew about them”. My beard, she itches.

Defining trends

The Oxford Dictionary defines trends as “a fashion”, or “a general direction in which something is changing or developing”. I see trends as having a beginning, a middle, an end and, if vinyl is anything to go by, a resurgence.

Ninety percent of 2017 trend articles in a snap: chatbots, AI, and VR (again).

“The Number 1 trend for 2017 — VR”. Seriously? VR is hardly a ‘trend’, let alone a new one. And, again, it’s not going anywhere. Sure, the tech has caught up to the dream — and constant improvements make that intimate relationship with Siri more and more a reality. But, if anything, VR is an evolving medium, one which we will all learn to love and adopt. There’s no imminent end.

Two things:

  1. No, a chatbot is not a trend; it’s new technology (but not that new) and provides us with a new medium.
  2. It’s not some 2017 12-month fountain of ching ching; it’s a retail marketing tool. And, no, it’s not going anywhere.

Five steps to writing an effective “trends” article

  1. Find one of 10 000 trend articles
  2. Copy-paste
  3. Paraphrase (not necessary)
  4. Title it with something like “2017 Trends you must follow to stay in business”
  5. Receive praise from your peers for being so forward-thinking and saving them the embarrassment of irrelevance.

What’s eminent from the above (slight) exaggeration is that one need not even explore so-called trends to have an opinion on them. I wonder how many self-proclaimed trend experts have state-of-the-art VR headsets, or been lucky enough to have ordered a coffee in a cone from INJOZI’s GotBot (do it — it’s f***ing delicious)?

Borderline clickbait

That’s just it. Nine out of 10 of these articles use fear to reel you in. Headed with the likes of ‘6 Trends that will affect your business. 11 Trends that you need to know to stay in business. Share this post or Jesus will cry.’

My personal favourite? “100 Trends to ensure your business’ survival”. ONE HUNDRED TRENDS? Are you kidding? We hardly hold the attention span to get through a 30-second video — let alone trawl through 100 lofty predictions on how we should do business in order to stay relevant.

If I’ve learned one thing in my years of leading an agency, it’s this

“In advertising, we spend our lives trying to forget everything we know.”

The trends. The past. The future. The rules.

To create something truly unique, the nugget needs to come from deep within oneself. So deep that it makes you sweat, yet so innate that it is instantly relatable to whom you are speaking to.

New tech. Medical breakthroughs. Programmatic buying. Startup companies. THESE ARE NOT TRENDS.

Trends should be left as the things clients approach us with as “the next big thing”. That thing that brings even the most senior of execs to hit the mute button on Skype, roll their eyes and let out a sigh even Napoleon Dynamite would be proud of.

Now, I understand that I won’t be receiving any fruit baskets from the forecasters and columnists who took the time to research these wagons-full of bands (kudos to those who wrote from experience). By all means — if you would like to focus your energy on what everyone else is focusing on — be my guest. In my opinion, I’d focus my energy on being aware of what’s cooking and avoid recreating the dish at all costs.

As marketers, are trends not the very things we need to avoid?

To me, trends are merely implementations of the status quo. The execution of something safe. But what do I know? It’s at times like this that I look to the legendary George Lois, as he always finds a way to put things at its simplest. When asked by a reporter during trend season what he thought the trends in advertising would be for the coming year, his response was: “Beats the shit out of me. I’ll know it when I do it.”

When you subscribe to trends as gospel, you’re ultimately executing someone else’s idea. Don’t believe the hype. Follow and adopt new tech and advancements; it impacts your business, why wouldn’t you? Study the competition, and what they’re doing.

Then — do the complete opposite.


Carl CardinelliCarl Cardinelli (@CarlCardinelli) began his career in branding and communications in 2003, spending the better part of six years establishing himself in London. Upon his return to South Africa in 2012, he was selected to lead Utopia, the “screw-the-line” agency based in Cape Town. When not heading up a team of unruly young admen, he can be found brewing his own beer, picking out a new pair of sneakers or travelling the globe in search of live music. Carl contributes the monthly “The Adtagonist” column, in which he challenges perceptions of the advertising industry and its practices for the next generation of marketers, to

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2 replies on “The Adtagonist: Trend to make you blend”

  1. This is truly a great article. Thanks for this, Carl.

    I’ve always struggled with the verification of trends. But you have put it succinctly, that trends are someone else’s ideas force-fed through paranoia and FOMO.

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