Looking ahead: 9 trends that will steer marketing in 2022

Linda J. Dodson

The first weeks of 2022 have carried an unwelcome sense of deja vu. Major events are getting canceled, imperiling ad dollars. Overwhelmed hospitals and patchwork pandemic protocols have cast a pall over the national mood. Amid the chaos, brand leaders need to lock in their agendas for a year that will put emerging technologies to the test while navigating talent shortages, supply chain disarray and the final hours for key identifiers.

Marketers must be cognizant that consumers are feeling as ground down as they are. Despite 2021’s unfulfilled promises, including a reopening that never took shape, many brands will continue to pin their hopes on something better coming around the bend.

“Pandemic-weary consumers are looking for brands that relate to them within the current world we are living in. They have gone through an incredible couple years full of constant uncertainty and doing less of what they love,” Matt Kleinschmit, founder and CEO of Reach3 Insights, said in an email. “Marketers who empathize with this condition while not pandering will build trust, and those that craft inclusive, inspiring and distinctive experiences will remind consumers of the world they aspire to have back.”

Bumpy transitions will rock the industry in 2022. Social media heavyweights will reckon with the performance hit delivered by Apple’s tracking changes, while digital marketers will wrestle with anxieties tied to the unknown cookieless future. Looking elsewhere for revenue, platforms will champion shopping capabilities that Accenture now estimates could create a $1.2 trillion social commerce market by 2025. These experiments will be marked by trial and error, as will continued gambles on tactics like nonfungible tokens (NFTs).

Below, Marketing Dive breaks down the nine trends that will stay top of mind for marketers even as other factors remain in flux. This piece can serve as a guide for what’s setting the pace in marketing and media in the hectic months ahead.

Temperature check on the consumer

Nearing two years living under COVID-19, consumers are still mired in exhaustion and confusion. The roller coaster between hope and pandemic setbacks like the omicron variant has generated a weary sense of independence marketers should note as more people take risks in the chase for normalcy.

“Consumers are more likely to be open to change and will have shifting expectations, and they will also go into [this] year with a self-reliant mindset, knowing that they need to always be prepared for anything,” Rachel Dalton, director of e-commerce and omnichannel insights at Kantar Consulting, said in an email.

Gone are the days of solely addressing pandemic realities, but building a message around practical solutions could resonate. A recent report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) found four times as many consumers prefer efficiency in ads versus those who value campaigns that are “fun.” In turn, brands that are able to emphasize tangible value may win out versus those that can’t make a connection between their products and creative. Campaigns at the same time must be adaptive to swings in the public mood, including through a more diverse media playbook.

“Consumers are more likely to be open to change and will have shifting expectations, and they will also go into [this] year with a self-reliant mindset, knowing that they need to always be prepared for anything.”

Rachel Dalton

Director of e-commerce and omnichannel insights, Kantar Consulting

“There’s an expectation, and more importantly, an opportunity for brands to be able to respond in real time to consumers right now,” said Mark Figliulo, founder and creative chairman of the agency Fig. “It’s a little bit more utilitarian.”

Reality crashes down on the metaverse

The metaverse became inescapable in 2021, with lofty promises and platform reinventions around wedding the real world with the virtual. In 2022, brand applications will be clunky, but could produce learnings for if and when the tech frontier realizes its potential.

Some companies, following Nike’s lead, will make acquisitions that lean into existing strengths that easily translate to digital realms. More won’t have their priorities in order during a messy land grab on a space few have a technological grasp on, let alone a distinctive pitch.

“Lots of brands will go into web3 to try and capture some value from a first mover advantage, but many of these experiences will miss the mark when it comes to the new value exchange of the metaverse,” Mark Lainas, president of Canvas United, wrote over email.

Recent metaverse activations have seen paltry viewership, while economic components like NFTs are sparking thorny discussions around brand safety. Given that marketers are still grappling with the internet 2.0, the concept of an all-purpose virtual utopia remains just that — a concept, and one with substantial unanswered questions regarding governance.

“The more you think about it, the more it seems like we have a long way to go before we’re out of the Wild West phase,” said Andrew Frank, vice president analyst at Gartner. “There’s a lot of future shock developments that feel like they’re coming down the pike faster than we can think through all the implications.”

The cookieless future is coming, but don’t expect a magic bullet

With Google delaying the phaseout of third-party cookies to 2023, the next 12 months are expected to be crucial for the industry as advertisers, ad tech providers and publishers implement new tactics that allow for tracking consumers and targeting ads. But even if Google sticks with its current timeline, the shape of a cookieless future is likely to crystallize gradually and incrementally.

“People only change when they’re forced to,” said Greg Sterling, vice president of market insight at location marketing platform Uberall. “They’ll ride the cookie bus as long as they can, even as they test out these alternatives.”

Many questions remain, including whether or not Google’s Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) proposal will take off and where the tech giant will come down on solutions like identity resolution and fingerprinting as workable solutions. Plus, advertisers and regulators will continue to work to satisfy consumers who demand both increased personalization but are wary of intrusive data-mining and targeting.

As players in the ecosystem seek to drive value for both brands and publishers, the result could be a mix of identity resolution, first-party data, contextual targeting and the use of data clean rooms — but not one perfect solution, according to Alicia Arnold, managing director at You & Mr Jones data company Fifty-five.

“There is a big sense of urgency: everybody wants to move forward and do something,” she said. “As far as how quickly people are moving forward, that varies.”

Consumer appetite drives wave of short-form video

Social media has captured consumer eyeballs for years, underpinning marketers’ push to invest in platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This year is no different, with social media ad spending forecast to reach $177 billion — blowing past TV — while digital channels overall are set to exceed 60% of global ad spend for the first time, per Zenith.

Although Facebook continues to dominate as the world’s No. 1 social network with 2.9 billion monthly active users, marketers are shifting away from the big blue app to focus on buzzy short-form platforms like TikTok and Instagram Reels.

“TikTok will take Facebook’s place as the proverbial social media punching bag as [it] struggles to scale and successfully moderate the unending surfeit of new content,” said Matt Maher, founder of M7 Innovations.

“TikTok will take Facebook’s place as the proverbial social media punching bag as [it] struggles to scale and successfully moderate the unending surfeit of new content.”

Matt Maher

Founder, M7 Innovations

The explosion of TikTok, wider adoption of Reels and debut of YouTube Shorts marked 2021 as the year of short-form video and even shorter attention spans. Consumer appetite is pushing snappy, entertaining video as an increasingly core component of brands’ social strategy. But the flood of fresh content on newer sites won’t come without challenges.

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