Ageism, Social Mobility and Nuance: What We're All Not Going to Be Talking About This Year

There're always lots of stories waiting to be told. But will there be some worthy conversations that will be under-reported in 2022? We asked industry leaders

By Elliot Leavy

We asked industry leaders "What topic do you think will be under-covered, and why does it merit more of our attention?" — the answers were varied, and hint at the wide-set of problems that the industry should be tackling in 2022.

Pete Markey, chief marketing officer, Boots UK

In the rush to make the most of new opportunities with performance marketing and first party data, I worry that the ongoing need to invest behind creating and maintaining strong brands will be lost. Given the easier measurability of performance marketing, I worry that too much focus will be on the “bottom” of the funnel not the “top” and the need to ensure investment remains behind making brands strong and differentiated – without this any brands risk the slide into becoming increasingly commoditised and that’s a real concern

Charlie Rudd, chief executive, Leo Burnett

George Bernard Shaw famously said: “All progress depends on the unreasonable man.” It’s also famously bollocks. Apart from the gender flaw in his thinking, I think it is pretty clear that the last few years have shown that exactly the opposite is the case. Be it politics, business or society at large, it is abundantly obvious that the unreasonable men have stunted progress. 

Meanwhile the reasonable, balanced approach has led to rapid progress. Think of the rapid development of electric cars, renewable energy, Marcus Rashford’s campaign against child hunger or the Covid vaccines, progress has been made by reasonable women and men working collaboratively. Similarly in our industry, until recently we have been plagued by big, yes, unreasonable voices calling the death of this or that medium, decrying what is ‘traditional’ and promoting what is the ‘future.’ 

In the meantime successful marketeers have quietly and collaboratively got on and recognised how progress is actually achieved – through hard work based on incremental learning and gains. So I would love to see more stories in 2022 about collaboration. We are a naturally collaborative industry but too often succumb to the lazy narrative of the singular creative genius. I’d like us to be better at celebrating successful business partnerships and how a reasoned balanced approach to building brands has delivered success. It may not have created headlines in the past but look at where the big headlines have got us…

Kirsten Stagg, head of marketing, Skoda UK

The challenge of upskilling organisations for digital commerce. With the rapid increase in ecommerce share across industries, most companies are having to play catch-up in improving their ability to drive, manage and analyse/report on online sales. The repercussions of this are significant. From a people perspective it affects everything from recruitment to talent development and team structures. The companies that tackle this challenge best will be those who recognise the scale of the challenge that they are facing and take a comprehensive and considered approach, striking the right balance between new, digital-first ways of working while retaining traditional marketing expertise.

Another uncovered topic will be the decline of the mass collective experience. Everything is increasingly personalised, fragmented or served on demand. Within this context it’s harder for brands to create a real sense of scale or to build fame (and the commercial benefits that come with it). One-to-one marketing is growing in effectiveness through innovations in technology but it needs to work hand-in-hand with big brand-building one-to-many marketing. With media inflation and pressure on marketing budgets this is becoming harder and requires a higher standard of creativity and innovation to achieve than ever.

Fiona Gordon, chief executive, Ogilvy UK 

The potential of brand joy merits more industry attention. The pandemic, politicians and economic uncertainty has created a perfect storm of consumer disillusionment. 2022 will herald a new era of joyful activism where brands can inspire positivity and hope in this world of constant disorientating change. Businesses that demonstrate authentic values and that celebrate life’s simple pleasures will become the new establishment brands of 2022. Brand vision and action can and must restore joy in a beleaguered consumer. Optimism, like truth and privacy, must not become an outdated concept. Brands campaigns must proactively address society’s often overwhelming reality across every medium, device and platform. 

Kate Howe, executive director, MSQ

Ageism. Over the past year or two there’s been increased focus and discussion on gender and racial equality in our industry and there are lots of signs of good progress, albeit with much more to be achieved. But ageism is another important form of discrimination, and anecdotally I hear this issue cropping up both client and agency side, without any wider attention really being given to it.

I’m sure the evidence that shows more diverse organisations are also more profitable equally applies to ageism. And maybe the overall talent shortage in our business will mean people are forced to pay more attention to the issue in 2022. While younger people are undoubtably more digitally native, and generally less expensive to hire, agencies still need to be business partners to clients, where the average age of the C-suite is likely to be over 40. We need to be able to bridge that gap and that’s where practitioners with a bit more experience are well worth the additional salary. Certainly, when I was a CMO I didn’t want to meet with an account manager alone. I could see they were talented and passionate about my business, but they didn’t speak my language.

Of course, the other point to this – and the side of the issue that has perhaps had more attention – is that the majority of the customers we are trying get closer to are over 40 too. The most successful brands reflect the society they exist within. Over 45s have the majority of the disposable income in the UK and there’s not many 20-somethings who intuitively know how to sell to someone twice their age.

Jon Goulding, chief executive, Atomic London

2021 was of course not just dominated by the impact of Covid but all of the fundamental changes in the industry that were long overdue. From D&I to the environment, to tightening of regulations and the pressure to clear up the toxic content residing on social platforms.

But the big topic that seems to be dodged, under-reported or simply fudged any time anyone asks, is what is going to genuinely drive growth again in the creative agency sector? Growth is not just the best possible way to make real and lasting change in the industry but it’s imperative if we are to attract and retain the best talent and offer them an exciting and fulfilling career.

The industry for too long feels like it’s been introspecting whilst standing in an ever-shrinking pond of opportunity. Meanwhile, the brand tech, martech and performance-led parts of the industry are dizzying themselves keeping up with growth and demand. There’s nothing stopping creative agencies being a leading force in that growth narrative, if there was more focus and more reporting on the success stories rather than just the ever-mounting downward pressures it puts on its shoulders.

Matt Holt, chief strategy officer, Digitas UK 

I mentioned about the opportunity for ‘the great reset’. My hope is that we start to have conversations about digital citizenship. I want us to talk about creating a nation of empowered digital citizens, to build a society where people feel truly safe and secure online (though given the current political discourse I hold my breath).  The truth is that people simply don’t know how to behave online. And it’s getting worse. It’s the Wild West quite frankly and I think we should all – as parents, citizens, consumers, politicians, teachers, users and human beings – be shouting from the rooftops in order to affect real, lasting change. We can’t carry on like this.

Theo Izzard-Brown, chief strategy officer, McCann London

Not so much a topic as an indivisible characteristic of all topics, namely nuance. The familiarly misattributed maxim states “everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler”. Too often we overlook the latter part in the misguided belief that the complex and contextual must be rendered straightforward as though ‘simplicity’ were the goal in and of itself rather than ‘understanding’ as Einstein believed. Which is why he actually sought “the adequate representation of a single datum of experience”.

Simplicity is cognitively attractive. It offers a convenient heuristic by which to navigate messy issues often evolving at the speed of culture: Climate change, sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion, systemic racism to name just a few. All are high on consumer agendas across the demographic spectrum but their coverage in the news is sufficiently reductive that the discourse surrounding them becomes polarised. By framing subjects antagonistically we invite them to flare up and just as quickly fade away again only to be replaced by the next topic du jour. The risk is that all topics of enduring importance are destined to be under-covered.

As marketing communication professionals we must cultivate a nuanced understanding of those topics impacting the brands we steward and the customers they serve. Let us show curiosity towards ‘otherness’, enlarge our range of empathy, and actively consider how the world may look from another perspective.

Dan Cullen-Shute, founder, Creature

Social mobility. It's not talked about enough, and it should be - partly for all the reasons I've mentioned before, partly because it's the least immediately visible inequality, but mostly because the opportunity for our industry if we get it right is IMMENSE. It's genuinely intersectional, which means so many of our diversity challenges can be resolved or improved if we get this one right, and agencies will be so much better as a result - better people, better thinking, better work that real people can't help but care about, and so much more fun. It's a drum we'll keep banging, hopefully as part of an ever bigger percussion section.

Dom Dwight, marketing director, Taylors of Harrogate

Our industry isn’t renowned for its restraint when it comes to making predictions about technological change. That’s why it’s with some caution that I suggest Web3 will get insufficient attention in 2022. Obviously, it will actually get loads - but the focus will be on entirely the wrong things.

While we pour scorn on cartoon monkey NFTs and debate whether people will wander around a virtual Walmart to do their shopping, a quiet revolution will be brewing. The latest changes in how the internet operates is set to bring mind-bending change, both good (the creator economy, social capital, collective action) and bad (unprecedented unregulated space for dodgy dealings on steroids).

It will take a while for these things to emerge so we don’t need to rush into action, but it is daft not to at least be exploring where this stuff might lead and what it could do for you and your business. And a quick tip: if you find it as confusing as I do, I’d suggest you look up Zoe Scaman!


LinkedIn iconx

Your Privacy

We use cookies to give you the best online experience. Please let us know if you agree to all of these cookies.