It’s been a year. A decade? Maybe even an entire millennium. What we’re trying to say is, 2020 has been a slog—but that didn’t stop the creativity of marketers, despite ever-shrinking staffs and budgets.
The year began with boundary-breaking work from Burger King and a Super Bowl that gave us Bill Murray’s first national advertising role. When everything changed in March, we brought you stories about triumphing over new challenges and business pivots. Then, the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests touched off a reckoning within the marketing world, both among agency ranks and brands confronting their problematic roots.
As 2020 finally comes to an end, here’s a look back at Adweek’s most popular online stories of the year, a chronicle of an industry having to relearn how to reach out to consumers and, in many ways, build entirely new ways of doing business.
Finally, Pepsi found a use for 1992’s inglorious novelty product of the year.
We’re not saying we’re responsible for several big-name products pledging to rebrand this summer after senior retail reporter Lisa Lacy reported on their nostalgic connections to slavery-era stereotypes. But we’re not saying it didn’t help to nudge brands including Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s and Eskimo Pie off the shelves.
In February, one of fast food’s longest-lasting power couples was retired in favor of real customers talking about their experiences with Sonic. It was a pre-pandemic advertising shift that now seems eerily prescient of the kind of consumer-focused (and, often, consumer-generated) content that many brands have come to rely on.
Before many of us stopped going outside because of Covid-19, the out-of-home advertising world had a bloody good moment using the sun and shadows to promote the BBC’s Dracula miniseries. But just because we weren’t commuting, doesn’t mean OOH marketers took 2020 off.
In a year of crisis, brands felt the pressure of consumers demanding more than platitudes. And, if they needed an extra push, public companies also took heat in their boardrooms as activist investors weighed the hit to their bottom lines. Whatever the motivation, this was the year purpose-driven marketing began to transform from niche projects into corporate philosophy.
The marketing world kicked off 2020 in a panic with Google signing the death warrant of the third-party cookie. In September, advertisers got another shock when the ad-targeting apocalypse came for mobile, with Apple making its IDFA system opt-in as of iOS 14. How to identify users to serve relevant ads will be the biggest marketing quest of 2021.
The beginning of the pandemic was a time of shortages, from hand sanitizer and toilet paper to pasta sauce. That presented an opportunity for CPG brands to get people to try their products if they couldn’t find their usual brands, while scoring some good PR for giving things away during a time of genuine need.