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Lost among the negatives of 2020, were some significant changes among brands, consumers and the world at large. AKQA strategy chief Sam Sterling shares eight things we should be excited about this year.

In a year characterized by racially driven atrocities, economic upheaval, environmental disasters, and a viral pandemic, 2020 made it too easy to become disheartened. But there were some exceptional moments last year that individually and cumulatively have the potential to fundamentally change our trajectory, making us excited for what lies ahead. Here’s why.

  1. We’re beginning to see the start of a renewed era of creativity in distribution. Brands ignored the status quo with regard to distribution and launches. In July, Maserati staged a livestream launch on TikTok, with a reach of 2.36 million and Nike in China filmed a livestream in a closed store to a live audience of almost a million, selling out a new sneaker in less than 10 minutes.

  2. Experiential commerce is getting a long-overdue democratization showing it’s possible for all brands regardless of budget. We’re unashamedly delighted by the reintroduction of something akin to ‘little wine holes’, that were originally introduced in Europe during the Renaissance period. These glass-sized windows distribute drinks to people that walk by. Hinichijou, a Chinese coffee shop recently introduced a similar concept with a Chinese twist. Visitors can order and pay for drinks by scanning a QR hanging below the window. The drinks are served by a seemingly happy, furry hand. This has proven so popular that local police had to introduce crowd and traffic control measures.

  3. Deep fake tech may be shaking off its reputation. As functional e-commerce and comprehensive online/offline integration increasingly becomes the baseline expectation, retailers and brands will have to find new ways to thrill customers. Deep fake technology can potentially function as a tool to bridge the gap between online and offline. For example, by combining style advice based on a customer’s Instagram profile, and creating a real-time rendering of the customer that shows what a new outfit will look like specifically on them. 

  4. In-game experiences are finally getting the attention they deserve. With 2.5 billion gamers you might have thought this day would come earlier. 2020 saw both the epic Travis Scott concert on Fortnite, and the Stevenage challenge. In the latter, Burger King smartly sponsored the lowest performing football team in England’s fourth division, forcing games like FIFA to use the team's branded shirts in their video games, enabling the brand to build a complete campaign on the back of the FIFA video game.

  5. Spaces are getting a mental as well as physical makeover. The definition ‘home-office’ gained new meaning with pandemic prevention measures resulting in work-from-home being implemented the world over. People have been challenged with rethinking their homes to do double and triple duty as places of rest, play, entertainment, learning, and work.

  6. Adoption of many technologies finally caught up (and in some cases exceeded) their potential. Microsoft filed a patent for technology that would prepare a synopsis of meetings, including sentiment scores for various items discussed in online meetings. They do this by analysing voice and facial expressions. Beyond Zoom meetings and Hangout calls, there’s also a wide space for fun, engaging, interactive and interesting virtual events to be created. With Chrome Developer Summit building an amazing game-like virtual event or Space Popular’s venue for Punto de Inflexión, the architecture conference held in Virtual Reality.=

  7. The real potential of decentralized currencies began to be seriously acknowledged. In 2020 China’s central bank created a digital currency (rather than just digital wallets seen both in China and elsewhere). Now, Chinese e-commerce platform JD is the first online platform to accept digital RMB. The possibilities of this becoming a large-scale reality is exciting for the financial industry.

  8. Self-care moved from being seen more as a luxury into a necessity. As the realities of an unpredictable world came to the fore for many, the essential nature of good mental hygiene became apparent to many. Microsoft is adding new features to Teams and Outlook to help people with their mental health with features such as virtual commute and integration with Headspace, and Woebot Health’s chatbot was created specially to help people manage COVID-related challenges.

If you remember just one thing, let it be this: in 2020, Google saw a record number of searches for answers around the question ‘why’. More than 50% of the world now have access to the internet and half a million new people get connected for the first time every day (often via smartphones). The world’s middle class continues to grow and the fewest number of people in history live in poverty. If the virus had arrived even as recently as 2005, we would not have had the technology to even imagine such mRNA vaccines. And in a year when we were more physically separated than ever before, the most downloaded apps were those of connection and communication.

So, as we embark on 2021, we have a planet of humans who are curious and connected, with the tools to communicate, to build communities, and create a future in which we all want to live.

Excited yet?

Sam Sterling is chief strategy officer at AKQA