Have you got flex appeal?

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In the ad industry the start of the year is when we talk a lot about “trends”.

No, not the latest TikTok dance.

I mean market trends: the brand and product innovations that will characterise the year ahead. It gives us a snapshot of how consumer behaviours are influencing the marketplace (and vice versa). Every year I eagerly await reports like the Future 100 and then devour their contents. It’s my personal Christmas – full of surprises and delights.

But this year the outlook feels completely different.

The trends are instinctual, rather than cutting-edge. They are reactive, rather than revolutionary.

That in itself is a powerful insight. The coronavirus pandemic triggered a unifying experience around the world. An enforced reset. Painful separation. We’ve all made sacrifices, and we share wants and needs now. 

What struck me most is that, for the first time in my career, all the big insight leaders put forward multiple potential scenarios, rather than having a clear vision. Is ‘re-normalisation’ of life going to happen gradually, or in a big flinging open of the gates by the summer?

Scenarios are made necessary by unknowns.

To state the obvious, we don’t know what the future holds. Just because we’re used to living this way now, doesn’t make it less true.

And so the buzz word for 2021 is flexibility.

‘The future is fluid…’ says Foresight Factory. It comes up again and again. Every executive summary of every report. Ad nauseam. 

So I decided to take the hint, and focus on the big picture. I could have used this piece to set out a few trend highlights, like the continued explosion of gaming as the ‘third space’, the entrenchment of so-called ghost kitchens, or the intertwining of healthcare and wellbeing. Is it interesting? Yes. Is it going to change how you approach this week, this month or this year?


Here’s why the flexibility thing warrants a second thought. As marketers, we’re hardwired towards tendencies that make ‘going with the flow’ feel like anathema. You budget for a specific channel mix. You pre-define the audience. You set a launch date.

Can you, hand-on-heart, say that the way you design and execute your marketing activity has changed in line with this strange world we live in? Or, are you setting pre-coronavirus parameters, and following a ‘business as usual’ process?

My plea to you is to do what you can to embrace flexibility this year. Not just a token gesture. Really embrace it.

In a crowded and challenging marketplace, flexibility is your best weapon to ensure your campaigns are still effective. Because let me tell you, the big and brave brands have spent the last year becoming agile. They’re like marketing ninjas now.

You don’t want to be left behind.

Rather than deciding a launch date, can you set a criteria that aligns with a change to the rules and restrictions, and pull the trigger when the time is right?

Instead of trying to guess what the public mood will be in Autumn, can you finesse your audience segmentation and trust in your creative team’s ability to craft a relevant message for them nearer the time?

The brands that will win this year will be the ones who can hold their nerve, then act fast and adapt.

Because let me tell you, dear reader, things may be looking brighter for the year ahead, but it’s still going to be business as unusual for the foreseeable. Let’s make flexibility more than a buzzword. Let’s make it a reality.

Georgia Bridgwood, Senior Planner.

P.S. If you are interested to discover the trends across key sectors, here are some great places to start:

Wunderman Thomson ‘Future 100’ 

Global Web Index ‘Connecting the dots’ 

Mintel ‘British lifestyles’