Tech and politics are driving advertising trends

D&AD's first report finds cultural forces are a major influence on recent creative work.

The rapid pace of change in technology, politics, media and how people perceive themselves presents a number of challenges to creatives and agencies, but it has also led to opportunities to “break new ground and invent the future,” according to a recent content and advertising trend report from D&AD.

The organization, which also holds the awards of the same name, compiled its Creative Excellence Report from more than 25,000 pieces of creative work entered into the D&AD Professional Awards last year. It identifies macro trends in the field, how those trends are impacting the field and the opportunities they have created for brands.

Broadly speaking, it points to the political, cultural, technological and environmental instability experienced in 2017 as one of they key influences on recent creative work.

According to the report, humanity is being redefined, as technology continues to augment human abilities and replace some jobs. Brands are using the increased focus on human identity to challenge conventions around age, race, gender and disability and to point towards self-improvement. The report points to fitness brands creating collections for the physically disabled and transgender models appearing in the pages of Playboy magazine. Nike also broke new ground by becoming the first large sports brand to offer a sportswear hijab.

“Digital media continues to develop new ways to connect with users, which is changing the very structure of the advertising industry at an unprecedented pace. Many of these new channels are blurring the lines of what’s advertising and what’s product. Or content. Or service. Or culture,” the report notes. “It can be hard for the industry to keep up.”

This has given brands the opportunity to use their creative work to explore what it means to be human, to help improve people’s overall wellness and to drive greater equality. A Korean agency helped create the first braille smartwatch, for instance.

On another level, current political, economic and social tensions – think Brexit, Donald Trump and the Spanish referendum – have given brands the chance to show that they’re “interested in more than just making profit for their customers.” According to the report, there’s been a surge in brands creating work with a purpose (including a lot of work that ends up winning awards).

Diesel worked with Anomaly on its ‘Make Love Not Walls’ campaign that sought to tear down symbolic and physical walls, while Spotify adapted its data-focused ads  to comment on the Brexit vote without taking an overtly political stance (“Dear 3,749 people who streamed ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know It’ the day of the Brexit vote, hang in there”). Spotify also used International Women’s Day as chance to help expose users to more female artists.

The report notes: “Having an opinion on a subject – or standing firmly behind a political cause or viewpoint – is an effective way to cut through in a noisy media landscape. This is uncharted territory for many brands, but apathy and silence is no longer a safe option.”

Consumers are willing to pay more for a brand they view as espousing positive values, but brands should be careful not to come off as showing “faux-empathy,” with a recent study by WGSN finding that 45% of people are “very skeptical” of any brand that claims to support good causes. Pepsi infamously learned this the hard way after borrowing imagery from activist movements in an ad featuring Kendall Jenner. Dove, which has a reputation for attempting to support women’s self-esteem, similarly misstepped with a digital ad showing a black woman peeling off her shirt and “becoming” white.

Finally, digital channels have changed the way people access information, and the speed at which platforms evolve has made it hard to know how best to engage with audiences. Meanwhile, overall data collection continues at an unprecedented pace. The report cites IBM figures showing that 90% of the available data in the world was created in the last two years.

This has had a two-fold impact on the industry, forcing brands to be more transparent (which in turn can drive loyalty) and to break through the noise by using existing platforms in creative and unexpected ways. On that front, the D&AD recognized J. Walter Thompson Canada for its work on the #20MinutesofActionforChange. The agency turned a phrase used by the father of Brock Turner to describe his son’s sexual assault into a campaign encouraging fathers to speak to their sons about consent. More than 100 brands donated their social channels for 20 minutes to help spread the message.