Most Meaningful Trends of 2020
Chase Koeneke | Associate Creative Director

There is no question that 2020 will be a memorable year. It may earn the coveted Earl F. Scribnebski award for “Most Memorably Crappy Year” as presented by the Delaware Muppets Fan Club in conjunction with Tiger Beat magazine.

But in this memorable year, what had meaning? What trends, issues or moments changed the fabric of business, government or human culture?

Certainly 2020 contained unique issues, scandals, campaigns, technological advances and orange-hued politicians that meaningfully moved the needle. And these moments ultimately influenced branding, social media, public relations, overall reputation and marketing communications.

In 2019, we took note of the remaking of a brand, as Wieden + Kennedy did with Old Spice, the impact of the Facebook + Cambridge Analytica scandal on data collection and privacy, the technological impact of Facebook live streaming, addressing health crisis’ through marketing and the list goes on.

So here, in no particular order, is a collection of what our Elasticity team believes to be the Most Meaningful trends of 2020.

  • Zooming Through 2020: Zoom (and to a lesser degree, Slack and Skype) are important reasons COVID didn’t entirely ruin the U.S. economy while driving a work-from-home environment unlike anything ever seen. Indeed, according to Nielsen’s Total Audience Report: Work from Home Edition, 66 percent of U.S. remote workers reported to have started working from home since the coronavirus outbreak — a significant migration of people into an alternate work setting. Platforms like Zoom have been useful in the past — at Elasticity we’ve used them for years — but have now become office necessities as many businesses continue to work from home. We’ve also seen brands attempt to use Zoom for marketing purposes including virtual concerts and sweepstakes where you could have a virtual call with a celebrity. With a COVID vaccine on the way, the question is whether these programs will be able to maintain these numbers.
  • Commercial Real Estate: Speaking of the advent of the Zoom era, the commercial real estate market is preparing for an implosion. Thanks to Zoom and Slack and Google Meet, C-suiters have seen productivity remain strong during the pandemic, and at some point, will look at the real estate line item on their balance sheet and wonder why the hell they are still paying through the nose for so much Class-A office space. What impact this has on marketing is yet to be seen — but it will have an impact.
  • Three-Horse Race: Media shifted its coverage of news to primarily three topics — social justice protests, COVID-19 and President Trump. If you couldn’t tie your story pitch to any of the three topics to some degree, you were unlikely to land a story.
  • Masking a Solution: The globalized use of face masks has created mega to cottage industry profits for many, and the process has played into people’s desire for fashion, customization and ingenuity. Masks are now fashionable safety accessories and the brands run the gamut — from Old Navy and Target packs, to the customized Collina Strada embellished masks and Hermès scarves. Face masks have gone artisanal as well ranging from individual designers, to the Etsy community, to brands repurposing fabrics from the leftovers of garment fabrication. There are also those looking to use this platform for innovation such as reusable masks designed to withstand multiple washes with the planet in mind, to masks designed for the hearing impaired — they have become ubiquitous.

  • Explosion of Twitch: Streaming video of video games has been popular for the past handful of years. But with millions stuck inside their homes, numbers for Twitch have continued to skyrocket. Some 3.8 million streamers broadcasted on Twitch in February 2020, according to Twitch Tracker, compared to 2.2 million two years prior.
    Even US Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar utilized the platform in “Get Out The Vote” campaigns and AOC has continued using the platform since.
  • The Real COVID Cure: Hello, Animal Crossing! No, not Animal Crackers. Animal Crossing! The game has been one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises, with all four of the previous mainline games each selling multiple millions of copies. But the popularity of Nintendo’s Switch console paired with a coronavirus lockdown coinciding with the newest game’s release date led to Animal Crossing: New Horizons to smash previous series numbers completely. The game has sold more than 26 million copies worldwide (compared to previous record holder’s 12.82 million) and shows little signs of slowing down. It became so prolific, that brands got in on the action — even the campaign of 904-year-old Joe Biden’s had an island. It’s Farmville 2020! In a time where we couldn’t go outside or see our friends in real life, Animal Crossing gave people a sense of the great outdoors even while they were indoors and connected us with friends and family over the internet.
  • Continuing Digital Flight: Consumer sentiment has shifted shopping behavior to value brands and essential products. It goes without saying, but out-of-home activities are at an all-time low while screen time is at an all-time high. The outcome: More people than ever expect to make a portion of their purchases online post-COVID-19. For example, food and household categories have seen an average of over 30 percent growth globally, according to McKinsey’s COVID-19 Consumer Pulse Surveys. In short, digital is more important than ever before.
  • Division: We wish we were talking about math here. We love a good long division problem. However, the fragmentation of the country, which seemingly kicked into high gear during the Clinton administration, has taken on a new and even more dramatic shift.  The polarization between the left and right has never been greater in many of our lifetimes — to the point where it feels like two realities.  In regard to targeting, political affiliation could become just as important as age or career.

  • Erosion of Trust: In line with the aforementioned political polarization of Americans and driven by advocacy journalism and political opportunism, consumer confidence in news media has become more fractured than ever before. This is where we are: The right only wants to hear from the likes of FOX News, Breitbart, The Blaze or OAN but believes anything coming from the likes of The New York Times, NBC and others are fake. And essentially the opposite exists for those on the left. Ultimately, this will impact advertising. But at this point it’s hard to garner exactly how so. More to come but this trend will more than likely continue to grow and trickle down into marketing segmentation.
  • The Rise of Parler: With Twitter and Facebook censoring posts they deem misleading — going as far as to delete some posts and marking others with warnings — conservatives have embraced the Parler app which pledges to allow a space for free speech with far fewer limits. Conservatives have rejoiced — from politicians to consumers — and the app’s popularity should only grow in line with conservative news media.
  • Decency: If you’re not familiar, let us introduce you to section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. It protects platforms like Facebook from liability for the content other people put on the site.  Without this, if someone puts something libelous on Facebook, the damaged party could potentially sue Facebook directly. Soon-to-be-former President Trump has tweeted extensively about repealing this section of the act. More recently, he threatened to veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual defense funding bill, if it does not revoke Section 230. If 230 is repealed every piece of user generated content on the Internet would be the legal responsibility of the platform.
  • The Rise of Social Justice Activism: The death of George Floyd was the tipping point in the rise of social justice activism in 2020, sparking nationwide protests in the streets and online. Driven largely by the philosophies of Critical Race Theory, activists have called for a wide range of remedies to address what they view as systemic injustices. This call to arms has echoed throughout the country, leading to major changes in education, technology companies, government initiatives and more.
  • Erosion of Free Speech: Increasingly, the classically American values of tolerance and free speech have fallen under attack as the politicalization of everything continues at full speed. The political divide has led to an across the board drop in support for free speech. Just 56 percent of Americans in 2020 believe in the right to freely express views, compared to 65 percent in 2019 according to Gallup. For Americans advocating for more restrictions on speech, survey data suggests that they feel that people have a right to feel safe and that offensive opinions are unacceptable. Whatsmore, an increasing number of Americans report self-censoring their own opinions online and in other forms.
  • The Greatness of Spongebob on Instagram: It’s always refreshing to find an incredibly well managed social media account, and our yellow friend has turned out to be a shining example. The pop culture icon popped out of his pineapple in the summer of 1999 and has been soaking up the love ever since. Over 2 decades later, the world looks very different, but the spirit of the sponge is still as strong as ever. To keep up with how much the world has changed, Mr. Squarepants has a gold standard social media team on retainer. Yes, the account hits all the right nostalgia buttons for a child of the new millennium, but the effectiveness goes far beyond that. Excelling in the practice of incorporating Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion seamlessly into their content, the page has found a relatable way to impart the morals of a children’s show into a culture that seems to be increasingly lacking in the human decency department. Combine that with their whip-smart way of incorporating current events into their content and knowing what their audiences of past and present actually want to see, it has quickly become my favorite corner of Instagram to escape into. Aye, Aye Captain!

  • Virtual Fans & No Home Advantage: From the NBA to the NFL, MLB, NHL, MLS and European soccer (futbol) where we’ve seen all leagues go to a fan-less continuation of sport globally.  Interestingly, leagues have tried a myriad of different ways to have fans feel connected including the NBA’s surreal fan wall, European soccer stadiums covering their empty stands with gigantic canvases printed with images of fans, and even piping in faux crowd noises in arenas. Overall, the experience has been surreal for all involved, including the athletes themselves, admitting that gone is the home team advantage given fan interaction and the energy level they bring as an added element to games.

  • Flying High Again: Can you smeeeeeeellllll what the Rock is cooking? KaKaaaw! Hell yeah the Battlehawks will fly again!
  • Consign This: Online and brick + mortar thrifting and consignment sales have skyrocketed. Much of this is attributed to COVID-19 and pinching our pocketbooks. However, this is also significant shift in the fashion industry overall. Throwback to vintage is popular not only among Millennials and Gen Y, but it has also seen a large increase among the much younger Gen Z and iGen. Who would have ever thought that 15-years-olds these days would pine for their grandfathers’ cardigans?

  • Coronavirus Birth Rate Decline: Many expected the COVID-19 quarantine to lead to a baby boom similar to what this country saw after World War II, but surprisingly, there were different results throughout the year. Many couples postponed pregnancy plans due to a scarcity of job opportunities, cancellations of both schools and parenting classes, a fear of catching the virus in the delivery room, and a general sense of apprehension and uncertainty. Many experts expect this trend to continue, according to USA Today.
  • 2020 Spin: Whoever branded a calendar year with all the mishaps that have taken place is a genius — an evil one at that. It is exceptionally remarkable that people are willing to scapegoat 2020 for the issues that have befallen us as a global society. There are a dozen different ways responsibility could be divided, yet it is common across social media and general conversation that we shake our fists at the sky yelling “Damn You 2020!” What a spin!

Here’s to 2021 being the new 2020…..or rather…..being nothing like it.

Chase Koeneke
Chase is the resident writer at Elasticity, playing with language and polishing messages to a mirror sheen. A graduate of the University of Missouri’s journalism program, he’s well-versed in everything from AP style to social media marketing, always looking at ways to use fewer words to forge deeper connections with consumers and businesses. But putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys, as the case may be) isn’t the whole story. His skill set also includes concepting, strategy, editing and even the occasional directing of video when called upon, and he’s worked with clients as varied as Brown-Forman, the St. Louis Blues and Bass Pro Shops.
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