In these last days of the year, most of us are focused on the balancing act of the holidays, juggling them with all the wrap-up and next year’s strategies. Looking back is the last thing on our collective mind.

So, we did it for you. 

Hardly an all-inclusive list but we had fun with it—and, as is always the case, we were amazed at all that happened, and all that we podcasted/conferenced/shared these months with you. Here’s just a few 2019 memories. And we wouldn’t be consultants without adding in some 2020 predictions, as well.

2019: A year for purpose-driven branding. Think Nike’s Dream Crazy award-winning campaign, Apple’s hard-hitting Earth Day ad, and Secret Deodorant taking on equal pay in sports for some of the most provocative. Then Gillette took on toxic masculinity and Body Armor defined American values using sports icon Megan Rapinoe as an example of all that is good about us, with accompanying social commentary. 2020: Expect more but with brands putting serious effort into the up-front of figuring out the right way to do it, cracking the code on aligning authentic brand values with a relevant purpose. Many saw Gillette’s approach as a serious misstep and even non-purpose campaigns like the recent Peloton ad ignited a firestorm that will cause more brands to invest in a research-first approach. We’re here for you. 

2019: Brands took emotional experience up a notch, as did those making PSA’s.  Honda wasn’t afraid to go there when advertising its safety features by doing far more than showing us how to avoid accidents; the brand took us into all the value of a human life that is taken away, and left not a dry eye—importantly connecting to the values behind why people care about safety features in the first place. This is just one example of brands who turned up the emotion in order to touch what we really value. Others include the “We All Win” ad from Microsoft showing how adaptive technology allows everyone to play; The Washington Post’s documentary-like campaign “Democracy Dies in Darkness” that took us through the harrowing life of journalists getting at the truth; and Verizon’s “The Team that Wouldn’t be Here” showing how calls to 911 saved the lives of those who went on to play great football.

“PSA’s dialed it up as well, almost to our breaking point.”

For us, the most profound example was from the advocacy group March for Our Lives and agency McCann NY who created a gut-wrenching PSA in which a child named Kayleigh surprises a workplace by arriving to be the group’s active shooter training coach. 2020: As we go into an election year and political ads escalate, expect brands to step away from the darker emotional levers and instead use what they’ve learned about emotion’s power to shine a positive light and even offer some refuge from the divisiveness we will see in the political sphere.

2019: There was a real trend in a particular vein of humor by brands—an insider-take on the ad industry itself. The most recent and deftly done came from Aviation Gin, owned by actor and trickster Ryan Reynolds. Not only has he just in the last few days responded with restrained hilarity to the Peloton ad tweetstorm, but recently he put an ad for his gin within an ad for his movie within an ad for a Samsung, which left advertisers and savvy viewers everywhere doubled over. Then there’s Taco Bell’s use of the horror-movie trailer tropes to sell its nacho fries. Then there’s a New Balance’s athletic shoe ad making fun of athletic shoe ads. Well done for not forgetting they are selling something. 2020: The success of brands who’ve tried it and done it well, especially Reynolds, will embolden more advertisers to this vein of comedy in their ads next year. As we have seen in our extensive research on how humor in advertising works, however, there are some landmines here, and ads cannot cross the line and come out the butt of the joke. 

In January, our Brand Bytes podcast interview with Dr. Scott McDonald, president of the ARF, will go more deeply into a review of 2019 and he will share his own insights for the year ahead. In the meantime, have the best holiday season in whatever way you celebrate. And let all that you accomplished in 2019 give you energy for the year ahead!

Happy Holidays!