Reawakening advertising, the year that was…

Posted by Nancy Johnson-Hunt

Reawakening advertising, the year that was…

In the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp the socio-political currents have had a profound impact on the state of advertising and as we look back at the year that’s been, we’ve seen retailers around the world clamber for relevance. Some do an honourable job, paying dividends to human connection, while others show their strategy a million miles from the actual truth. When this happens, the line between authentic storytelling and the transactional nature of retail is blurred.

But when a retail brand can reconcile a human need with a real story, people become wedded to that experience.And as 2018 comes to a close, the biggest buzzwords of this side of the century: “customer experience” matter more than ever. It’s important to acknowledge that the customer journey begins with a conversation, in the home and often far from the strip mall where the actions

Global retailers, I believe, have registered the importance of grouping customer experience with bold storytelling, although some still orbit around traditional CRM. The UK made their presence known this side of 2018, pulling on heart strings with the likes of John Lewis, Sainsbury’s and Iceland. To that end, any sign of political bias was either carefully woven into the fabric of the storytelling, some disguised among the general narrative and others diffused through emotion.

While brands have addressed simply conforming to the transactional nature of retail consumption, I’ve identified central themes that have been the focal point of this year’s retail campaigns.

  1. Childlike Wonder
  2. Self-Discover
  3. Taking a stand


Theme 1: Childlike Wonder

Outtake: Dream Big

Childlike wonder is front and centre of this year’s advertising, a nod to simpler times, these ads unlock childlike innocence in a nuanced world. At this time of year especially, brands such as Sainsbury’s ‘The Big Night’, Barbour’s ‘The Snowman’ and Microsoft’s ‘Give Wonder’ campaigns help put this sentiment into perspective. The emotional pull of a parents love or desire for their children to dream big is central to us as humans. Not only that but looking further afield to make meaning out of the world around us. Especially given the political climate around the treatment of families at the US border, or the refugee crisis. It’s no wonder that the advertising caps off 2018 with a sense of youthful innocence which simply resonates with the child in all of us.  

What does this mean for brands?New Zealand’s outward world view and our geo-political placement ensures that we make choices which champion difference. As retail brands in New Zealand approach the changing landscape of its consumers, we’ll begin to see how this translates for its youth and first-time parents. Looking to turn dreams into reality a way of advancing into 2019 and beyond.


Theme 2: Creativity as part of self-discovery

Outtake: Freedom

As we wrap up 2018, the likes of Apple’s ‘Share your Gifts’ and John Lewis’ ‘A Boy and His Piano’ campaigns, we follow the story of how self-discovery starts with something simple. At the heart of both adverts, we see the role creativity has to play in the journey of self-discovery.  Both ads have powerfully remixed the pervasive cultural currents around accepting your talents and changing the world around you along the way. Aside that theme, it unlocks freedom to be who you are, no matter the resistance, internal or external. It’s not the animation in the former, or the fact that it’s Elton John in the latter, but there’s an understated simplicity to these ads which means that anyone can identify with the emotion felt when being yourself is enough.  

What does this mean for brands?Taking a long-term approach to earned success, retail brands need to reveal a human side. What makes them who they are and how they got there. A genuine celebration of their customers will unlock more meaningful relationships in the long-run.


Theme 3: Taking a stand

Outtake: Action 

Iceland’s ‘Rang-tan’ may be miles away from festive cheer but unsurprisingly has been voted the most powerful ad of 2018. A call to arms in many ways, the decline of the Orangutan population illuminates the path toward making a real change in the state of our planet. As brands begin to think about their impact on the world, it seems they are also beginning to speak to multi-generational consumers versus the traditional household shopper. With widespread audience appeal, actioning change begins with brands anchoring in something more than the bottom line.

What does this mean for brands?New Zealand’s connection to nature is intrinsically part who we are, however with the stressors of the modern age, our relationship has become strained. As the younger generations come into their own spending power, brands will see this conscious consumption come to the fore. And as people look to disconnect more from technology and begin to think about how we consume, how brands take action will be a prerequisite to spend.  


It’s clear that for retail brands across the board, taking a stand whether it’s for creativity, delight or change, true meaningful connection is born out of the cultural currents we’re experiencing. This year, the lens has been cast far and wide, but one thing is for certain, as consumer behaviour continues to change, we should see brands evolve to further connect with the changing expectations of the audience.

Tags: Thoughts, Christmas

Let's Talk