For many, 2020 was one big dumpster fire after another: COVID-19, racial injustice, unemployment, business closures and misinformation campaigns. Despite the challenges, many brands, social platforms and marketing strategies thrived. This article highlights the big winners of 2020 from a digital marketing perspective.

Getting Creative: 2020 Highlights
2020 was such a rough year, I felt obligated to dedicate the masthead image to the “Moldy Whopper” which aptly represents 2020. Burger King launched the Moldy Whopper ad campaign in early 2020 to highlight the lack of preservatives in their burgers, in order to draw a truly unique comparison to their rivals. While the campaign included broadcast and broad media exposure, the ad went viral digitally. It may not have increased Whopper sales, but it did capture tons of free media exposure. In other news, the Superbowl happened as it does every year, involving breaks in between commercials for some football. Check out some of the best ad creative via The Drum’s Superbowl highlights. Shout out to The Drum for being a critical resource for this article. I’m a long-time reader and fan, and they’ve done an exceptional job curating content, including Creative Works: the 10 most viewed ads of 2020. One brand that generated a great deal of buzz from its Superbowl ad was Planters and the killing off of its 104-year-old mascot as outlined in this article: The Mr. Peanut Death Super Bowl Commercial Refuses to Die.

Making Lemonade During The Pandemic
While Asia was rocked by COVID-19 in the Fall of 2019, the US didn’t feel it until March of 2020. Face masks, handwashing, thermometers, quarantine, remote work and Zoom meetings became a part of our daily lives. Marketers had to adjust to the resulting layoffs, hospitalizations, deaths, restrictions and changing behaviors. Smart brands adapted quickly, tweaking logos, messaging, creative and channel strategies to reach those stuck at home. One notable COVID-19 messaging adjustment came from a global fast-food chain: Why KFC isn’t stickin’ with its famous finger lickin’ slogan… for now. For the remaining brands, I outlined a few notable coronavirus communications strategies in the article Ten Marketing Communications Strategies to Navigate the COVID-19 Crisis. I also shared insights into the impact of coronavirus on the mom-and-pop storefronts: How to engage customers and market your retail business during a pandemic. One of the positives to come from pandemic is a renewed focus on authenticity in marketing: Coronavirus is prompting brands and tech players to show the real power of purpose. Regardless of the degree of your marketing or business pivot during 2020, humans have changed for good. I address the impact of the pandemic in the article COVID-19 changed consumer behavior and marketing strategy. In case you were looking for a silver lining in all of this, Facebook (aka Mark Zuckerberg’s) earnings were impacted, earning $3 billion less than pre-pandemic estimates.

Making Social Change
On May 25th, George Floyd was slowly suffocated by police, on a now infamous 8:46 video. While excessive force and deaths are common among minorities in the US, this particularly graphic video became a rally cry to eradicate racial injustice. Protests started Minneapolis and spread quickly across the US and around the globe. Some brands reacted quickly and powerfully, like Ben & Jerry’s, and others followed suit, as covered by The Drum: Brands show solidarity with George Floyd protests, but can they contribute to real change? The ripple effect extended to Facebook and Twitter in the form of advertising boycotts. Despite media attention, this summer’s Facebook ad boycott did not affect the social network’s ad revenues. Many brands elected to reallocate ad budgets back to Facebook moving into 2021, but time will tell whether any meaningful change resulted from the boycott. One lasting impact that snowballed quickly after George Floyd protests was a new cultural awareness filter regarding product names, mascots and packaging that could deemed insensitive. Names changed across the board, ranging from professional sports teams (The Redskins) to household products, as outlined in this article: Eskimo Pie Becomes Edy’s Pie: Here Are All The Brands That Are Changing Racist Names And Packaging. If you’re still unsure what your brand can or should do to honor (or simply minimize blowback) from the racial equality movement, I’ve outlined a few key stopes in this article: How You and Your Brand can make Positive Change in honor of George Floyd.

Maximizing Brand Strategy & Engagement
For the past few years, influencer marketing has been a big buzzword and a growing marketplace. The pandemic further fueled growth, as consumers were relegated to shopping online for most of the year and looked to influencers for ideas. I’ve outlined my perspective in this article: Influencer Marketing Strategy Best Practices, Tips and Trends. The coronavirus ripple effect forced marketers to evaluate new ways to engage consumers and influencers. The best example of opportunistic influencer marketing engagement is outlined in this article: Ocean Spray finally reacts to viral skateboarding TikTok. I’m a big fan of authenticity in influencer marketing, so I felt the Ocean Spray example was a gold standard for what will be a more intentional brand strategy moving into 2021. Another trend I couldn’t help but notice, was a rash of brand collaborations and product licensing deals between CPGs, QSRs (and other brands that lack cool abbreviations). The Drum provided an excellent summary in this article: From Dunkin’ PJs to Doritos’ sweaters: why brands are leaning on licensed products. Last but not least, I have to give a shout out to my idol, both personally and professionally: Yes, Ryan Reynolds Really Writes His Own Stuff, and He’s Got 7 Marketing Lessons for You. Beyond his acting and comedic chops, Reynolds brilliant marketer and a very astute businessman, from whom we can all learn.

Evolving Channels & Platforms
While I kicked off my digital marketing career in the mid 90’s as a search engine marketer, I’ve always preached the virtues of a multi-channel approach. In this article, Omnichannel marketing in the new digital age, I outlined the importance of integrated messaging and tracking across media. The pandemic forced many lagging businesses and marketers to make a digital transformation to deliver products and services online. One of the channels that benefitted from quarantine, was podcasting. While I first co-hosted a podcast over a decade ago, podcasts were relegated to a nerdy subset of the consumer spectrum. Not anymore, as Forbes outlined in its article, Podcasting Is Going Mainstream. I provided an outline for brands looking to join the fray in this Business Journal article: Podcasting strategies for quarantine life and beyond. Finally, virtual meetings and events became the new standard form of communication, as well as marketing. In a two-part series, the Anvil team outlined a game plan for slow adopters looking to ramp up event marketing in 2021: The Power of Virtual Events, Part 1.

For many, 2020 was a year to try to forget. For smart marketers, however, it will be a year to remember. Brands and marketers demonstrated an ability to pivot, be more authentic and create content with a greater sense of purpose. Look for that trend to continue. When it comes to digital marketing strategies and trends in 2021, we have you covered as well. For more insights into the year ahead, check out Anvil’s 2021 Digital Marketing Predictions.

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