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Perspectives: What media shifts will stick in 2021?

Devon McDonald, Sarah Ivey, Richard Fofana, Ishma Alexander-Huet and Alex Panousis on what's to come in areas from D2C to D&I.

By Jennifer Horn
Dec 10, 2020

Uncertainty is the mother of chaos. But it doesn't have to be that way. CARD asked five media industry experts and leaders to help make sense of all that happened in 2020 and forecast what's yet to come in 2021, spanning the biggest issues/topics of the year, from D2C to D&I. Here's what each of them had to say.

Meaningful media 

Devon MacDonald, CEO, Mindshare

Working through the challenges the pandemic has taught us all a lot. We thought we were prepared for working remotely. Systems, emails, laptops, phones, everything was ready to go. So everyone was happy, right?

Devon MacDonald

Not so fast.

This year taught us leaders that we need to be even more connected to people when working remotely. It has shown us that we need to build more empathy, consideration and understanding in the asks of our teams, and even ourselves. We also needed to add more transparency and inclusivity to the state of the business and our work with clients.

We learned the same lessons about media.

The way that we were communicating to consumers and how we were doing it needed to include a new layer of empathy, understanding and inclusivity to groups that had been longed overlooked and audiences messaged to incorrectly.

Now we're challenging all of our assumptions, because this year made us see new media habits, including the adoption of ecommerce. Every plan is now looked at with fresh eyes as we consider the situation each consumer is in on the other side of that message and what media means to them today.

At Mindshare we're taking these insights and using them to build new connections in communities across Canada. It means our hiring practices have changed completely to bring in even more talent with diverse thinking and backgrounds.

We also believe in the importance now, more than ever, in a vibrant media ecosystem for our country. This is what is behind our drive to support Local News, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities with the creation of specific private marketplaces. It is also what's behind our new Inclusivity and Intentional Planning model that we'll be training our agency on, starting now.

This year accelerated the destination we were headed  and it means we will be ready for whatever will come next.

2021 through the lens of wellness

Sarah Ivey, CEO, founder, Agents of Necessity

Stay safe. Take care of yourself. It's in our consciousness every minute of every day. Wellness in 2021 isn't a trend. It's more like a filter, a lens through which we see the world and everything we do.

Sarah IveyWellness as a category has never been more robust. Just a few proof points: vitamin and supplement sales are up 51.2% since March, according to Nielsen data. The relaxation app Calm stands at 60 million downloads since inception and in October 2020, the company doubled its valuation.

It would be easy, hearing stats like these, to breeze past the fundamental point that wellness is very much an emotional double-edged sword. For every positive, there's a very real and powerful negative. How this will continue to affect media planning and buying in 2021 is very simple: you have to manage context extremely carefully in order to get the delivery of your ad just right.

Wellness content will perform and remain attractive – and it's an excellent microcosm for the power of context. It's critical to understand if the audience is seeking advice, or a lift in mood, or a moment of self-care – because that understanding of mindset will ensure your brand is additive to the experience.

Wellness is a perpetual filter through which your audience will approach all media consumption. As we go in and out of lockdowns, come out of workday Zoom fatigue, try to calibrate to a new normal, our feelings of wellness colour whether it's time for nostalgia, celebration, escapism or self care. The ability to read the mood and adjust your plans is the very essence of media craft – and a critical skill for 2021.

Human needs + digital tech

Richard Fofana, VP strategy, UM

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, there are two foundational forces that will collide and collude to shape what's coming in 2021.

_0015_Richard BW.jpgFirst, the acceleration of digital innovation and technology. Second, our deep-rooted human need for connection, security, self-expression and – dare I say it – fun.

They are powerful drivers that have remained largely unchanged over time. However, the ways that brands will meet these needs through media and tech are quickly evolving:

My voice, my platform. Self-expression will generate bold new ways to occupy, entertain and inspire us. We will see new voices expressing themselves in fresh ways, especially in podcast and audio. Look for purpose-led brands and media owners to increase investments to make room and create platforms to support and amplify diverse voices and communities, including BIPOC, LGBTQ and persons with disabilities. We'll also see a rise of new content pioneers: a fresh crop of "mediapreneurs" like fashion designer Sandy Liang and her virtual pop-up store in Animal Crossing; performer Travis Scott on Fortnite; or singer/songwriter Lil Naz X on Roblox.

Need. It. Right. Now. We crave immediacy, more than ever. Consumption of on-demand media has gone through the roof, with broadcast and subscription VOD, podcasting audio and gaming all trending up. On-demand's younger, scrappier sibling – live-demand – has now taken root and will flourish in 2021 with more live branded experiences such as: streaming (LiveNation's Live From Home), online concerts (Budweiser Stage At Home), sports events (Raptor's virtual fan stadium). "Live" will explode into other areas as well, including cooking (Chipits' home baking classes, anyone?), fitness, education and even travel – opening the door to unique brand opportunities.

Entertain me. The rise of virtual events has normalized the shift of offline entertainment to the online world. 2021 will see the development of more sophisticated, persistent virtual spaces where people can explore, socialize, create and interact within their respective environments, which IPG MediaLab calls the "Metaverse of Entertainment." Think Fortnite on steroids. This will raise the bar across branded content, storytelling and immersive experiences, while ushering in exciting brand opportunities for customer engagement and acquisition.

Media consumption in 2021

Ishma Alexander-Huet, VP of client advice and management at Initiative

ishmaLike everything else, media consumption was suddenly impacted by the pandemic, with OOH, cinema and radio seeing a steep decline and TV, news content, social, OLV and streaming options spiking. But, as we began to adjust, habits started to stabilize with new patterns emerging and carrying us into 2021. The question is, which of these will continue post vaccine?

Back to basics: Even with interrupted sports content, live TV saw an increase in consumption in 2020 as people looked for ways to pass the time and get news updates. While reach (18-49) did show some declines mid-COVID, it remains healthy at 83% and the return of sports and fresh content will undoubtably allow TV to remain a strong reach channel. However, time spent will likely take a hit due to streaming/OTT and, of course, the rush back into the world post-vaccine. Digital in all its forms, from print to social to OLV, are all in a similar position.

A comeback is coming: OOH and radio have come back to near pre-COVID reach levels, but with mobility trending down as COVID numbers rise, reach is likely to dip again in early 2021. However, even if working from home becomes more permanent for some and more people move out to the suburbs post vaccine, both of these channels, as well as cinema, are likely to surge once people can safely explore the world again.

New normal: COVID accelerated the growth of subscription services (+40% increase for Netflix, Amazon, Crave, Disney+), audio streaming (+25%) and gaming, in part by welcoming new people to the categories. As more commercial-free, curated and binge-worthy content becomes available, and as people continue to work from home and new gamers discover new passions, we can expect these patterns to maintain their increased penetration in 2021 - even if time spent decreases post vaccine. Brands will have to continue evolving media strategies to reach these growing audiences.

DTC is having a moment

Alex Panousis, CEO, chair, Dentsu Media

Wine on demand. Working out online, and together, with "The Class." A waitlist for the "Always Pan." Thanksgiving dinner meal kits. And, finally, clip-on bangs (don't ask but they looked great on Instagram). DTC is having a moment.


Canada saw an over 110% increase YOY in ecommerce growth (Stats Canada) in the spring of 2020. Ecommerce saw staggering growth with the Peloton generation getting their content, food, and everything else they can dream of any time and in any place. And while experiences in retail and entertainment will always be important, DTC offers consumers immediacy while providing brands a new commercial model.

So much has happened such a short amount of time. Giants like GM introduced Cadillac Live (selling cars on demand) in 2019, which feels like an eternity ago. A year later, Warner Media made a game-changing announcement, with the declaration that their entire 2021 slate of films would be released directly on HBO Max at the same time they hit theatres. Canada Post is pivoting from unprofitable mail delivery to high growth parcel logistics, and tech companies like Instacart (he Uber Eats for grocery delivery) cannot stop hiring.

2020 was also the year for the Canadian grocery category to level up their digital offerings, with Loblaws, Sobeys and many others investing heavily in their DTC services. Lululemon's acquisition of Mirror propelled them in the direct fitness space. Pet food brands entered the subscription space (The Farmers Dog in the U.S., and my personal favourite, Canadian brand Kabo). Luxury brands like Canada Goose are seeing DTC as a way to unlock growth through international expansion. And, of course, there is Shopify, a platform that is helping both the behemoths grow, but also provide an important solution for small business.

We are living through a moment of transition. Change is in the air. Commerce as a media principle must be on every plan, as both a discussion and action item.  New technology is driving what is possible, with companies like Canada's ShopThing Live creating new marketplaces (luxury live discount shopping) that is on point for the times. Social media will continue its evolution into the 24/7 shopping channel experience. Amazon capabilities will now become table stakes. End-to-end capabilities will become a competitive advantage.

Finally, the sector will get more interesting with voice search, AI-enabled shopping assistance, the rise of the CXM program (CDP is the new CRM) and tech for a more frictionless experience in payment, dynamic pricing, and predictive models.

Voila indeed!

Featured image courtesy of Moritz Knöringer on Unsplash