2022 Advertising and Marketing Predictions

2022 Advertising and Marketing Predictions

Advertising

Welcome to a new, adventurous year of advertising and marketing. The traditional tech giants are going to continue to fight each other for dominance – while TikTok will tap into the burgeoning creator economy to challenge them all for a slice of the advertising pie. Retailers everywhere are creating ad networks, but Amazon and Walmart have already established strong leadership early on. For the most part, businesses will be spending more – more on TikTok, more on Amazon, more on Google, and probably more on Apple’s fledgling ad business. But will they spend more on Meta? Read on for our insights into the year ahead.

Retailer Media Networks Proliferate – and Meta Loses Ground

One of the big stories of 2021 was the proliferation of media businesses operated by retailers such as Amazon, Macy’s, Target, and Walmart. In 2022, we’ll see more of them. Retailers are under great pressure to squeeze more margin out of their core businesses as the industry endures uncertainty. The most well established networks – Amazon and Walmart – are thriving because they tap into the data they collect about their customers (first-party data) to sell targeted advertising on their sites. In 2022, more retailers will use first-party data to help businesses create more targeted ads off-site, too, as an antidote to Apple’s privacy controls. In addition, non-retailers with large troves of first-party data, such as TikTok, will expand the same way.

I also believe Meta’s ongoing push into immersive reality will lose momentum. Meta has made an even bigger push into immersive reality (e.g., virtual reality and augmented reality) as part of its attempt to become the builder of the metaverse. Meta also intends for immersive reality to help the company maintain a dominant hold on social media and to squeeze upstarts such as Roblox out of the market. But the horse is already out of the barn: there are just too many players such as Roblox and Snapchat developing immersive reality applications for Meta to play copycat and use its size as an an advantage. And Meta has faced so much public blowback over its size and reach that squeezing out smaller players makes Meta more of a target for anti-trust regulation. Meta will lose ground, and gaming platforms such as Roblox will ascend in power.

— Tim Colucci, vice president, digital marketing

TikTok Dominates

TikTok is the world’s most visited site in the Internet in 2021, toppling Google, according to Cloudfare. TikTok will become the leader in paid social. Videos and fast-breaking cultural trends are becoming more prominent factors across all social media marketing, and TikTok has mastered both. Oh, and TikTok has another big trump card to play: the site is a magnet for Gen Z and Millennials, who together comprise about 42 percent of the U.S. population. As a recent New York Times profile noted, advertisers “are present like never before, their authentic-seeming advertisements dropped in between dances, confessionals, comedy routines and makeovers.” But TikTok is just beginning to monetize all that interest from advertisers. TikTok will follow the example set by Amazon Advertising and roll out more ad units that capitalize on the customer data the company is collecting. And look to TikTok to become a social commerce giant. If you thought 2021 was the year of TikTok, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

— Bella Schneider, digital marketing manager

The Creator Economy Gets Real

The creator economy refers to a class of businesses comprising millions of independent content creators and influencers. We are reading more about them partly because apps such as TikTok have given them more power and influence. The creator economy will become even more powerful. That’s because collaboration networks are proliferating. These networks give creators an all-in-one platform to create communities and build influence. In addition, gaming sites such as Roblox and Twitch offer creators opportunities to monetize their work with potential partnerships with brands, and crypto currency sites such as Rally.io make it possible for creators to mint their own currency. The big social networks such as Meta are responding by making themselves more attractive to creators. More businesses will tap into niche networks to partner with emerging creators who are lesser-known but possess tremendous street cred. Big-name partnerships with stars will still thrive, but the social media icons will need to make room for the new kids in town.

— Mark Smith, co-founder

Tech Titans Roar

We hear a lot about the big technology firms facing increased scrutiny from Congress and legislators around the world. But to me the more intriguing story is how the tech titans keep trying to outmuscle each other for advertising revenue, an example being Apple enacting privacy controls to hurt Facebook’s ad business. 2022 will ratchet up the fight:

  • Apple will start leveraging and monetizing the data they are collecting (and not allowing others to collect) in the form of some type of advertising platform. This is the culmination of Apple’s stricter privacy controls.
  • Google will remove more visibility and targeting options in the name of advances in machine learning and automation, thus protecting its core ad business by taking more control of it.
  • An increasing number of platforms will emerge that use first-party data to target and track and savvy advertisers will take advantage of this and diversify their advertising spend
  • Amazon will grow with even more ad units for Amazon Advertising and marketing offerings such as livestreamed commerce for businesses of all size, especially smaller ones. Google and Meta will lose market share.

Unfortunately, we can count on CPCs to rise across all platforms as they attract more businesses competing for ad inventory and keywords. It’s going to be a more expensive 2022, but also a more interesting one with more ad units proliferating.

— Kurt Anagnostopoulos, co-founder

Google Ads Become More Powerful

Given the evolution of keyword matching (now AI-powered to serve ads based on the meaning of a search query), and the simplification of the ad product offerings (as Google deprecating Expanded Text Ads next summer), we will see Google Ads become leaner but more powerful. Advertisers will be forced to rely more and more on Google’s algorithm to drive results – all this, at the expense of reduced control advertisers have over campaign settings (ad content, keyword matching, targeting choices, etc.). I believe the biggest changes will continue to happen on Google’s back end as it seeks to make the algorithm (automated bidding strategies used in ad campaigns) smarter. Thus, we will see increased focus on cookie-less conversion tracking and an expansion of first-party data collection capabilities in Google Ads (i.e., scaling up enhanced conversions).

— Héctor Ariza, digital marketing and analytics manager

Social Media Ad Dollars Get Redistributed

Lush Cosmetics recently said it is quitting Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok over concerns that those platforms have a negative impact on teens’ mental health. (The company will remain active on LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube.) Lush said it will happily lose $13 million in sales because of the digital detox. It remains to be seen whether Lush will reactivate the accounts it quit (Lush quit some social sites in 2019 before returning), and of course a big question is whether more businesses will take such a drastic approach. I don’t think we’ll see more businesses take the Lush approach – social media is just too important – but they will shift some of their ad dollars away from Facebook and Instagram. In the past, businesses have remained loyal to Facebook (now known as Meta) because the site is critical to their advertising and marketing strategies. But the whistleblowing activities of ex-Meta employee Frances Haugen have raised the stakes. She asserted that Meta has kept internal research secret for two years that suggests its Instagram app makes body image issues worse for teenage girls. Businesses will monitor what their customers, investors, and employees say about Meta especially in this era of purpose-driven branding. Some will shift their advertising to Snapchat and TikTok while Meta takes the heat for brand safety issues. But this shift may be temporary. Meta will probably mollify brands with some updates to its products to create more brand safety, as it is already doing with its news feed to address concerns over lack of user control over their news feeds. In addition, Meta faces the ongoing threat of regulatory oversight. More accountability will come to Meta in 2022.

— Beth Bauch, director, digital marketing

Contact True Interactive

To succeed in the ever-changing world of online advertising, contact True Interactive. Read about some of our client work here.

Image source: https://pixabay.com/photos/year-2022-track-new-year-calendar-6786741/

 

Why Retailers Are Launching Ad Businesses

Why Retailers Are Launching Ad Businesses

Advertising

Best Buy recently announced the launch of Best Buy Ads, a new in-house media company. Best Buy Ads offer a range of ad units including paid search ads, onsite and offsite display ads, onsite and offsite video ads, social ads, and in-store ads. According to Best Buy, Best Buy Ads capitalizes on the fact that Best Buy interacts with its customers three billion times a year. From those interactions, Best Buy learns about the search and shopping habits of its customers. This makes it possible for the retailer to sell ad units that target a specific demographic: people with a strong interest in consumer technology.

Best Buy is the latest retailer to launch an ad business. Other examples include:

  • Walmart Connect, the leading ad business run by a brick-and-mortar retailer.

As with Best Buy, they offer services ranging from display to media buying. They all have one thing in common: they monetize their customer data.

Why an Ad Business Appeals to a Retailer Like Best Buy

An online advertising business is appealing to Best Buy for a number of reasons, including:

  • This is a proven model. The growth of Amazon Advertising (Amazon’s own in-house ad operation) speaks for itself. Amazon Advertising is so successful that Amazon is now challenging Google’s and Facebook’s dominance of online advertising. In light of this, we’ve witnessed a slew of retailers jumping into the ad business. For example, Walmart Connect (Walmart’s ad operation) has enjoyed strong growth.
  • Customer data is a competitive weapon. Retailers such as Best Buy collect a treasure trove of data about their customers, starting with their search and shopping preferences. This data gives each retailer an edge because they can promise advertisers access to a targeted audience with intent to buy. As noted, Best Buy targets consumers in the market for home electronics. By contrast, the recently launched ad platform from retailer Macy’s targets a fashion-conscious consumer. Walmart promises entrée to grocery shoppers and price-conscious consumers. Of course, retailers must know how to mine all this data and then develop attractive ad units. But the data provides a built-in advantage.
  • Retailers’ customer data is getting more attractive to advertisers. Businesses are looking for alternative ways to reach consumers amid the demise of third-party cookies, which are crucial for third-party ad targeting, and the advent of stricter consumer privacy controls on Apple’s iOS, which has also made it harder for businesses to target consumers with ads. With third-party ad targeting across the web threatened, platforms that give advertisers entree to shoppers within retailers’ walled gardens are more appealing. Basically, retailers are using their own customer data to do what Apple and Google won’t do for advertisers anymore.
  • e-Commerce is booming. Online ad businesses in particular are catching fire because of the e-commerce boom. According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, “The e-commerce industry is expected to hold on to pandemic-elevated sales into 2022, with big retailers including Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc set to benefit as consumers stick to new, hybrid shopping patterns.” S&P Global Market Intelligence says U.S. e-commerce sales are on track to exceed $1 trillion for the first time in 2022. Businesses want to reach those shoppers, which creates a demand for online advertising. The surge in online commerce also means more people are using retailers’ sites to search and shop, which creates more valuable customer data that retailers’ ad businesses can monetize. This also means advertising.

What Advertisers Should Do

  • Consider retailer-based ad networks as a complement to your existing digital ad strategy, not as a replacement. If your strategy focuses on Facebook and Google, for instance, don’t move your ad dollars over to a retailer network. Remember that Facebook and Google also already offer proven advertising products that capitalize on their vast user base. For example, location-based digital advertising tools help strengthen Google’s advertising services at the local level.
  • Do, however, monitor the effectiveness of your advertising on Facebook and Google amid the demise of third-party cookies and the onset of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency, which includes more privacy controls that may make Facebook ads less effective (which remains to be seen).
  • Work with an agency partner that knows the terrain. For instance, at True Interactive, we complement our history of helping businesses advertising on Google and social media with expertise across retailer ad networks such as Amazon and Walmart.
  • Learn more about the ad products that might apply to you – and those products are evolving. In 2022, more retailers will use first-party data to help businesses create more targeted ads off-site – meaning advertising across the web, as well as via connected TV.

Contact True Interactive

To succeed with online advertising, contact True Interactive. Read about some of our client work here.

For More Insight

Walgreens Doubles Down on Its Advertising Business,” Tim Colucci, May 19, 2021.

Amazon Unveils New Ad Units Across Its Ecosystem,” Kurt Anagnostopoulos, May 4, 2021.

Why Macy’s Launched an Advertising Platform,” Tim Colucci, March 3, 2021.

Walmart Asserts Its Leadership in Advertising,” Tim Colucci, February 8, 2021.

Why TikTok Is the Most Visited Site in the World

Why TikTok Is the Most Visited Site in the World

TikTok

Cloud-infrastructure company Cloudflare has been tabulating the world’s most-visited sites since 2020, creating its rankings by following global internet traffic patterns like app usage or when a person visits a site on their web browser. While Google held the crown for most-visited site that first year, it was a short reign: in 2021, TikTok took the throne. What does TikTok’s great leap forward mean for your brand?

The News: TikTok Is King

According to Cloudflare, TikTok didn’t waste any time gaining traction: by February 2021, the platform had already started racking up massive views. And from August on, it consistently ranked Number One, every month, for the rest of the year. That alone is a feat, one that gains even more resonance when you consider that back in 2020, TikTok ranked a respectable — if relatively humble — Number 7.

Why TikTok Rules

To what can we attribute TikTok’s ascendance? A few factors play a role. For one thing, TikTok has helped inform a global interest in short-form video. Short-form videos have been around for a while, of course, but it is arguably TikTok that has made it easy for users to create, enrich, and share videos. And the platform’s user base is diverse: while the site attracts would-be creators, it also appeals to everyday people who find the clips both informative and just . . . fun. Video is hot, and TikTok has helped make it that way. TikTok also has a superpower in its hip pocket: it’s insanely viral. Remember Nathan Apodaca, the skateboarder whose TikTok clip incorporating Ocean Spray juice, his deck, and the Fleetwood Mac tune “Dreams” catapulted him to fame? Apodaca and the way his creative efforts went viral underline just how influential TikTok can be. And brands have taken note. Consider Pepsi’s #ThatsWhatILike TikTok campaign, which inspired people to post videos of silly, fun moments that usually featured Pepsi in some fashion. The hashtag challenge encouraged fans to engage with the brand in a likable, playful way—and it placed that likable persona squarely in front of a huge audience. The campaign netted more than 13 billion views. Finally, TikTok is especially favored by the Millennial and Gen Z demographics: a whopping 42 percent of the U.S. population. And that’s just one country! TikTok is grabbing eyeballs—and a youthful demographic—all over the world.

What Brands Should Do

Given these factors, it’s no surprise that brands are embracing TikTok and striving to create their own content there. What does this mean for you? We recommend:

  • If you want to take up with TikTok, make sure you understand the platform. Know how to speak the language. Overt ads? That would be a No. As Pepsi demonstrated, playful content that takes its cues from user-generated content, on the other hand, is a huge Yes.
  • Stay current and informed. Short-form video is not exclusive to TikTok: one need look no further than Instagram’s Reels to see that there are alternatives. Stay on top of how TikTok, and its competitors, are innovating. By understanding what’s out there, you can make an informed choice for your brand.
  • Make sure you formulate a strategy for collaborating with TikTok influencers, who can be especially powerful (and helpful). We discuss this topic here.
  • If appropriate for your brand, understand how to incorporate social commerce on TikTok into both your advertising and marketing strategies. Curious? We blog about that here.

Contact True Interactive

TikTok can play a robust role in a brand’s marketing strategy. And we know the ropes. Contact us. We can help.

Advertising and Marketing in the Metaverse

Advertising and Marketing in the Metaverse

Advertising

The metaverse is hot. One need look no further for proof than the fact that Facebook changed its company name to Meta in October 2021. Consequently, the metaverse is one of the most talked-about topics in business right now. Companies are already figuring out how to make the most of what it has to offer. How might the metaverse help them make money? How might brands embrace advertising and marketing there?

The Metaverse Defined

As was the case with the internet back in the day, new definitions of the metaverse are constantly cropping up, from all quarters. There is a lot of speculation about the metaverse arriving in the future. But the term was actually coined decades ago in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science-fiction novel Snow Crash. Aspects of the metaverse — a shared virtual world where people can work, play, and live through digital twins, or avatars — are here already. Every time someone uses a digital currency, every time someone hangs out on Fortnite or Roblox (gaming is currently a big slice of the metaverse), we’re engaging with parts of metaverse (they’re just not yet connected seamlessly).

As the metaverse takes shape, savvy brands are already planting a flag in this rich terrain. And to do so, they are looking at things a tad differently. Brittan Heller, counsel with the American law firm Foley Hoag, puts it this way: “When you think about advertising in XR [extended reality, one of the building blocks of the metaverse], you should think about it as placement in the product instead of product placement.” Heller may be thinking of luxury brands like Louis Vuitton or Marc Jacobs, which have designed digital products for the game Animal Crossing. Or Balenciaga, which has collaborated with Fortnite to drop exclusive wearable skins for in-game characters. She notes, “An ad in virtual reality may look like buying a designer jacket for your digital avatar [but] that’s an ad for a clothing company that you are wearing on your body.” Coveted digital fashion sometimes bests even real-world counterparts: in Roblox’s virtual world, for example, a digital-only Gucci bag sold for more money than the bag would have netted in the physical world.

Some metaverse advertising, of course, falls back on real-world models. Consider games like Tiki-Taka Soccer and FIFA Mobile, which are already incorporating billboards as part of the game universe. The billboards are meant to raise awareness —just like the billboards we pass on the highway — and if players wish, they can access more intel about the product.

But there is also a concerted effort to create advertising unique to the metaverse experience. The day when users can interact freely with embodiments of a brand — an avatar for a celebrity or an existing character from, say, Disney — is not far off.

The takeaway: there are already opportunities for brands to flex advertising muscle in the metaverse, and those opportunities are growing exponentially.

What Businesses Should Do

What does this mean for your brand? Does delving into the metaverse make sense for you? As you consider these questions, we recommend that you:

  • Remember your audience first. How attuned are they to immersive worlds such as the metaverse? Is marketing and advertising in the metaverse a good fit for them? Currently, the biggest audience for the metaverse skews young: Gen Zers who have grown up gaming and for whom the intricacies of a virtual world are already familiar. But some brands are addressing this divide by reaching out directly to an older cohort. Roblox, for example, has developed features to appeal to older users. And so, the attendant question to ask yourself is: do you have the energy and resources to think outside the box and woo your audience, no matter what generation they inhabit?
  • Assess your appetite for experimentation. This is a brave new world that’s constantly changing. How comfortable are you with that dynamic?
  • Learn from businesses that have been getting involved in advertising and marketing in immersive gaming worlds, which are, as noted, extremely popular in the metaverse. A really good example consists of brands that have been embracing in-game ads, as we blogged here.

Contact True Interactive

True Interactive knows how to make online advertising deliver measurable results on all platforms and apps. To learn how we can help you, contact us. Learn more about our services here.

The Roku Deal with Google: Advertiser Q&A

The Roku Deal with Google: Advertiser Q&A

Connected TV

The fight is over – for now. Connected TV provider Roku has reached a multiyear agreement with Google to keep YouTube and YouTube TV on its streaming platform. Thus ends a months-long standoff between Roku and Google that had resulted in Roku users losing access to YouTube TV (Google’s livestreaming service) and most likely the YouTube app. The deal will allow the 56.4 million active Roku accounts to continue to watch YouTube and YouTube TV without disruption. So, what does all this mean to advertisers? Let’s answer some questions:

Why does Roku matter to advertisers in the first place?

Roku matters because it’s a gateway to over-the-top (OTT) television viewing, which is gaining in popularity. OTT television refers to watching TV content that is streamed directly through the Internet – such as subscribing to a streaming service or streaming content from apps like YouTube on TV.

Approximately 2.3 billion people worldwide watch OTT content, and the number are growing. The OTT market will grow to $1.039 trillion by 2027, according to Allied Market Research. Of all the revenue made in the OTT market, 52 percent comes from advertising video-on-demand (AVOD). In short, advertisers are following the eyeballs.

You don’t need cable to watch OTT — but you do need a device like Roku.

Roku competes with devices such as Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV to offer audiences access to OTT. These devices collectively are known as connected TV. Roku is the most popular device, with a 37 percent share of TV viewing time in North America.

These devices control access to content on OTT. They need to support apps and streaming services in order for a viewer to get access to OTT. In short, connected TV devices wield considerable power. And Roku is especially popular because it sells smart televisions with built-in streaming technology along with devices that users can plug into TVs.

Roku makes most of its money selling ads on streaming channels and taking a share of the streaming services’ subscription revenue and ad inventory. In addition, Roku offers OneView, an ad-buying platform for TV streaming.

What was the problem between Roku and Google?

Roku had removed YouTube TV from its channel store in April as part of a dispute with Google over how search results were displayed on Roku’s platform. As a result, viewers could still watch the Google app, but access to the app was about to expire when Roku and Google reached a deal.

Roku alleged that Google interfered with Roku’s independent search results, requiring that it favor YouTube over other content providers. The company also claimed that Google discriminated against Roku by requiring search, voice, and data features not required of other connected TV devices.

As a result of Roku removing YouTube TV, an owner of a Roku device could not stream YouTube TV via OTT. The YouTube TV app allows subscribers to watch live TV channels online for a monthly fee. YouTube TV offers live streams of nearly 100 popular channels, including ESPN, CBS, Fox News, and CNN.

And, Google lost access to those viewers for its ad-supported YouTube TV service.

Why did Google and Roku reach an agreement?

Google was under pressure to reach a deal. Google would have lost out on millions of dollars in ad revenue in addition to the YouTube TV revenue that would have come from Roku. But Roku had motivation to reach an agreement, too. Competitors such as Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV carry YouTube. Roku could have lost customers to those competitors.

What were the terms of the deal?

Terms were not disclosed. We don’t know what concessions both sides made to restore access to YouTube TV for Roku viewers. Likely Google eased up on some behaviors that Roku deemed anticompetitive, but it’s hard to say exactly what might have happened.

What should advertisers do?

The news underscores why it is important for advertisers to understand the constantly evolving OTT and connected TV landscape. Connected TV makers are rolling out more ad units that increase revenue (for the connected TV devices) and reach (for advertisers). For example, Amazon is expanding advertising opportunities on Amazon Fire TV, which competes with devices such as Apple TV and Roku to stream content on connected TVs for millions of viewers. Amazon Fire TV is more than a connected TV provider. It’s a way for advertisers to reach people as they browse and discover new entertainment. One new ad unit, Sponsored Content Rows, is designed for businesses to promote content such as new shows and movies in the form of a row (or carousel) of sponsored content while people browse for shows on their connected TVs (akin to sponsored search results in a Google search engine results page).

Watch, learn, and capitalize on connected TV and OTT ad opportunities.

Contact True Interactive

Eager to capitalize on the opportunities connected TV can offer your brand? Contact us. We can help. Learn more about our connected TV services here.

For More Insight

Advertiser Q&A: Connected TV,” Tim Colucci

How Video Advertising Delivers Results

How Video Advertising Delivers Results

Video

The digital advertising industry is picking up steam, and one reason is the growth of video advertising, according to a new research report from PQ Media. Anyone who works with video advertising can attest to this growth. Video ads are delivering more benefits because:

  • The formats and placement channels are expanding. Look at how TikTok has exploded in popularity. It didn’t even exist five years ago.
  • In the age of TikTok and YouTube, consumers love video as a content format.

At True Interactive, we’re definitely seeing the results of video’s popularity. Recently, one of our clients experienced a challenge: its share of branded search was dropping. The client, a photo curating and sharing company, naturally wanted to improve. So, we launched a video-based awareness campaign that spanned display, YouTube, Google Display Network, connected TV, Yahoo Online Video, Facebook, and Yahoo Display. Our focus: mobile and connected TV. We also ensured that YouTube ads could target connected TV screens. 

Our ads consisted of continuous promotions with six-to-seven offers consisting of aggressive pricing and deep discounts across multiple products. We ran:

  • 10 different 15-second videos specific to a product (trimmed from a master 30-second video).
  • Four 30-second videos.

The ads also focused on mobile users in order to drive downloads of the client’s app.

As a result, our client enjoyed significant improvements in both awareness and also revenue – showing how powerful video can be as a direct-response format in addition to brand awareness:

Year-over-year sales results

Meanwhile, the client’s search share increased noticeably for three consecutive months. Mobile and TV screens typically accounted for 65 percent-to-70-percent of video views/Impressions.

So, why did this campaign deliver results? A few reasons stand out:

  • We began with a large audience (women aged 25-54) with the purpose of hitting as many eyes as possible. That’s because the brand’s low levels of search volume told us that it lacked brand awareness more broadly. Targeting an audience would have been premature.
  • Incorporating mobile video to drive downloads of the client’s app was well timed with the popularity of in-app usage.


Mobile app usage

  • Our approach allowed us to keep CPMs down. The more targeted you are, the more expensive the ad becomes; your CPMs increase when you narrow your audience.

We recommend that businesses take a closer look at how you are using video advertising. How much are you investing into video ads? If you’re not deploying video ads, what’s holding you back? If it’s a lack of in-house creative and media expertise, then a partner can help you.

Contact True Interactive

We deliver results for clients across all ad formats, including video and mobile. To learn how we can help you, contact us.

Photo by CardMapr on Unsplash

2021 Holiday Ads: Hope and Realism

2021 Holiday Ads: Hope and Realism

Advertising

Ready for some memorable holiday ads? In response to widely reported supply chain issues, some brands have teed up their holiday ads to come weeks ahead of traditional schedules. And as was the case last year, the campaigns are tasked with addressing the elephant that hasn’t left the room: Covid-19 and its lingering effects. If striking the right tone somewhere between hope and realism can be tricky, a few reliable themes — from connection to music, humor, and cheer — are helping brands thread that needle. Here are some examples:

Connection

We may live in divided times, but Etsy’s hopeful Give More Than a Gift campaign for 2021, which highlights unexpected connections, reminds us of our best selves. In one spot, a friendship springs up between two people from different walks of life. The tightly edited ad runs a mere 30 seconds, but it packs a wallop. The e-commerce company’s focus on unique, handmade items figures into the story, and the implicit message — that Etsy’s constellation of DIY sellers may help shoppers avoid the headache of larger retailers with supply chain issue delays — doesn’t hurt the brand, either.

Music and Surprise

The right music is key to a successful ad campaign, and brands have long been incorporating modern interpretations of classic hits in hopes of connecting with shoppers on a nostalgic level. In fact, according to Chelsea Gross, director analyst at research firm Gartner, nostalgia is particularly resonant this year as consumers potentially gather with loved ones after a year or more of pandemic-era separation.

For financial reasons, advertisers don’t always use the original song. It’s also worth noting that employing a cover can also add a unique spin, beyond the song’s original interpretation, to a nostalgic favorite. Consider the spot from Dutch e-tailer Bol.com, which is set to a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.” In the ad, a boy who originally asked for a doll turns the soccer ball he got instead into an imaginary friend. Cue all the expected cozy feelings — but Bol.com is mining a different theme here, and an unexpected twist at the end of the spot gives Lauper’s familiar song added resonance. (Spoiler alert: this kitten has claws!) By subverting expectations — of a familiar song, of a storyline that, at least initially, seems familiar — the brand grabs our attention.

For a brand like Amazon, deep pockets can mean the freedom to use a song in its original incarnation. This year, the e-commerce giant debuts “Hold On” from Adele’s new album 30; the song hits a home run on several levels, playing backdrop to a spot that doesn’t shy away from the lingering challenges people face from the pandemic. The storyline isn’t overtly festive: two women share a quiet connection over their love of birds. But the ad, which is aligned with the launch of Amazon’s Christmas gift shop, covers a lot of ground, addressing mental health, loneliness, and the power of connection in a subtle two-and-a-half minutes.

Humor

Like Amazon, Extra gum isn’t afraid to look at the curveballs life can throw, but it takes a different tack, using humor to lean into some inconvenient truths about the holidays. As Extra spins it, while it’s great to be gathering for the holidays in a way 2020 simply didn’t allow, some time-honored traditions — from passive-aggressive presents to long-winded relatives — remain as tricky as they ever were before the pandemic. The solution? “Chew it before you do it.” In other words, chewing a piece of Extra gum can give that extra moment of pause, and transform a potentially awkward moment into a time of grace and connection. And who can argue with that?

Cheer

Of course, holiday ads for time immemorial have succeeded by tugging on the heartstrings, and a few notable campaigns from 2021 take that approach and run with it. Consider the McDonald’s U.K. ad that introduces us to a little girl and her imaginary monster friend, who bond over the Christmas ritual of leaving out bags of McDonald’s carrots as treats for Santa’s reindeer. Time passes (a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” plays in the background – apparently 2021 is Cyndi Lauper’s year), and we think the girl has outgrown her joyful friend. But — spoiler alert! — you might need to pull your hanky out. Some friendships are meant for the long haul.

Finally, consider Apple’s spot, which was filmed with an iPhone 13 Pro by the father-and-son team of Ivan and Jason Reitman. The three-minute short follows the efforts of Olive, a little girl determined to keep her snowman buddy alive all year ‘round. An unexpected finale doesn’t quite cue up as expected, but the overall vibe — and a dedication to the ones we’ve waited all year to be with — goes for the feels in a big way, and succeeds.

Contact True Interactive

Looking to navigate the nuances of a complex world and connect with audiences via digital? Contact us. We can help.