3 trends brands rode on in 2018 and what to expect in 2019

Reflecting on a tumultuous and exciting year in the world, it’s safe to say that it was no different in advertising. In an increasingly fragmented and cluttered media environment, marketers are taking new creative approaches to building their brands and communicating corporate values. Looking back at the year that was, three key trends shaped the advertising landscape. 

  1. Brand purpose went mainstream

In 2018 brand purpose moved from the confines of local CSR programmes and corporate marketing initiatives to the world of mass media advertising and brand positioning.

Brands took on issues of domestic violence and environmental damage, tackled hygiene in India, found missing children in China and devised solutions to improve voting turnout. Granted, some of these campaigns were initiated in 2017, however they gained prominence in 2018 as their effectiveness started to be properly understood once the commercial outcomes and evidence of behavioral change were seen.

But purpose isn’t always about tackling a high-profile social issue. It can also be about communicating the value the brand brings to its customers and their wider community. FedEx is a global brand that focused on communicating its purpose – ‘connecting the world’ - through its advertising this year. This was channeled into FedEx’s emotional campaign ‘New Possibilities’ which shows how FedEx brings the world closer together, connecting businesses to customers, helping entrepreneurs, teachers and families realise their dreams every day.


So, did marketers suddenly develop a conscience? Or is this change a reaction to a growing consumer desire for more corporate responsibility? It turns out that it also makes business sense.

Brand purpose is an effective route to create a meaningful difference in the lives of consumers. And our research has shown that brands that have clear meaning are more powerful and successful in the long term, providing the creative and the ‘advertising appeal’ is also strong. It’s time to stop selling product features and start building brands.

  1. Addressing gender

2018 was a year of contrasts for women. On one hand, we saw progress like Saudi Arabia lifting the driving ban on women. On the other, we saw continued accusations of sexual misconduct throughout organisations and politics.

In the world of advertising, it was found that while 80% of ads feature women, less than 5% show women in aspirational roles or ‘notably intelligent’. Research done by Unilever for its Unstereotype initiative shows that progressive ads are 25% more effective and also generate positive engagement among consumers.

This was not new news for prominent marketers like Unilever. In 2018 its Dove brand continued the now iconic Campaign for Real Beauty with ads prompting conversation about society’s female standards of beauty. The 2018 campaign in India focused on how young girls are influenced by notions of beauty.

These campaigns don’t just drive a positive image for the brand while raising the profile of gender equality. They also drive sales. Tecate Beer (owned by Heineken), took a stand against violence against women in Mexico through their advertising, by asking men who are violent towards women to not drink their beer and that they are not welcome as customers, with the message “If you don’t respect women, we don’t want you to drink us”. The result: a 13.4% increase in sales. The ad won a Silver Lion at the Cannes this year and numerous other awards.

  1. Brands turned to Artificial Intelligence

This year, marketing and advertising professionals revealed that AI is the emerging technology that brands expect to be most important to their activities in 2018. Among agencies, it was chatbots – which leverage AI, whilst a number of other AI-dependent technologies also featured such as augmented reality and voice.

The growing importance of AI to advertising is also clear from IBM’s move to bring several major components of The Weather Company’s data capabilities under the Watson umbrella with the launch of Watson Advertising in late 2017. The new division—encompassing data, media and technology services—will offer a suite of AI products for everything from data analysis and media planning to content creation and audience targeting.

Burger King trialed an ad created by AI – Whopper Mansion. Commenting on the ad, Marcelo Pascoa, Burger King's global head of brand marketing said that AI, bots, machine learning, deep learning algorithms and blockchain were topical as they explore the future of marketing, however he wanted to avoid “getting lost in the sea of technology innovation”. He said: "Artificial intelligence is not a substitute for a great creative idea coming from a real person."

And now at the end of 2018, Lexus has taken a serious leap into this space. The&Partnership London and Lexus have released world’s first campaign written by AI and shot by Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald, for the new Lexus ES -  Driven by Intuition. Based on a study of 15 years of car and luxury advertisements and then coached further on human intuition, the AI system wrote the script for this ad. The final product born from the joint efforts of AI and human is impressive for sure and perhaps a pre-cursor of what the future holds in human-AI collaboration.

What will 2019 bring?

Will marketers continue to look to purpose to make their brands meaningful to their consumers? Will we see a more progressive representation of women in advertising? Will AI start to supplant creatives?

The answer lies with the brands themselves and how they choose to measure success. The path to purpose requires companies to connect to a relevant societal tension. Whether it’s looking at sustainability or gender, or even specific local issues, it needs to be authentic and have resonance with the brand. But companies also need to be able to show how investment in these spaces is not only improving the cause at hand, but at the same time deepening the relationship with consumers and driving equity in the brand.

The rise of voice, augmented reality and other technologies will make AI a critical area for marketers and advertisers if they don’t want to be left behind. However, although its supporting role has been established, for the meantime AI has not yet supplanted the creativity of adland.

The writer is Subhashish Dasgupta, executive director/ global account lead/creative domain expert, Kantar Millward Brown Korea.