According to Kirsten van Rooyen, Head of Digital at Simply Black Media, at the onset of the pandemic, many businesses were not digitally-savvy and were initially unsure how to go about reshaping their communications to meet the needs of an evolving audience.

The events of 2020 reshaped the world in ways we never thought possible. Nowhere was this seismic shift more apparent than in the digital media space, as marketers sought out new and innovative ways to reach consumers all-but-confined to their homes. Nobody could have predicted the impact it would have on the role of advertising. Suddenly consumers were no longer commuting, leaving billboards unseen and radio shows unheard.

Print media fell out of favour fast as buyers gravitated to less tactile forms of consumption. As everyday life migrated rapidly into the digital sphere, the value of online platforms quickly became apparent, opening the floodgates for a period characterised by unprecedented creativity and innovation. Necessity is the mother of invention after all. 

However, as the year progressed, new and exciting opportunities began to emerge. As television and radio stations moved into the online space, digital inventory expanded across the continent, offering advertisers access to new markets and methods of communication, while existing platforms like WhatsApp proved to be incredibly versatile in terms of their capacity to drive both engagement and sales.

Online shopping

One of the inevitable outcomes of the first wave of lockdowns was a boom in online shopping, as customers flocked to the digital space to avoid exposure to public places. Major players in the e-commerce space were quick to capitalise, forcing smaller enterprises to adapt in order to survive.

Where once this sphere was all but owned by the likes of Takealot, it quickly began to diversify, as smaller speciality stores started using platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp to promote their own click and collect offerings, in turn opening up the market and enabling users to recreate the traditional retail experience from the comfort of their homes.

Building brand affinity

Certain sectors like tourism, alcohol and events were especially hard hit by the pandemic, which essentially obliterated their earnings for a significant portion of the year. But while some chose to shut up shop temporarily, others used the unique circumstances to build brand loyalty and engage consumers like never before.

The Comrades Marathon for instance was reimagined in virtual form, with runners taking part in an individual capacity via an online portal. This enabled sponsors to entrench ties with consumers, fostering unity and encouraging interaction that would not have otherwise been possible.

Rough and resonant

2020 was characterised by the emergence of less polished content as brands scrambled to communicate and keep up with the ongoing changes. The result was a compelling narrative fuelled by authenticity, with world-class production value replaced by rougher, more resonant content.

Brands were forced to be brave and experimental, ultimately enabling them to connect with consumers in a far more authentic way. From at-home workouts to live cook-offs to TikTok challenges, brands embraced change like never before, paving the way for a new era of added-value content less adherent to brand guidelines and more attentive to the real needs of consumers. 

Social gets serious

Possibly the biggest paradigm shift of 2020 was the way in which brands finally embraced social channels with newfound seriousness, recognising the true potential and scope of the tools at their fingertips. Seemingly overnight, social media was promoted from ‘nice-to-have’ to ‘must-have’, and as such, brands began to push the envelope – measuring, adapting and ultimately leveraging the potential of each channel.

Gone are the days of social media merely serving as a supplementary messaging house for above-the-line campaigns. Today’s consumer expects more, and it is up to marketers to deliver the goods. 

2021 and beyond

Where do we go from here? Unpredictability continues to be the order of the day, and as more and more brands become digitally-savvy, an increasingly agile and creative approach will be required to cut through the clutter. As prices increase in light of growing competition, real value is likely to be the key to success, and marketers willing to take risks are those most likely to be rewarded.