At Wunderman, our ideas and client efforts are creatively driven and data inspired. We take great pride in our global cultural intelligence and our ability to leverage our deep understanding of data and analytics to deliver work that inspires action.

This year we’ve tapped into the cultural intelligence of our global community and identified a macro trend and seven cultural themes that reflect a consistent shift in thinking for 2016.

BRANDS DON’T LIVE IN GLASS HOUSES

Consumer behavior, fueled by data-empowered insights, is driving technological change and big companies are scrambling to catch up. It’s a big shift from 20 years ago when these same companies merely introduced new technology and consumers adopted it. Now, consumers can see and imagine the world as it should be — exceptional customer service and spectacular product innovations — yet they are limited by the confines of the world as it actually is today.

Consequently, consumers have greater expectations for marketers to bridge that gap and recognize their desire for real value, transparent access to information, and better, more customized experiences. Enabled by unlimited global choice, consumers will seek products and services that are not just “the best” but the best for them as individuals.

Increasingly skeptical, consumers (and clients) will seek significant accountability not just from marketers but from all institutions, governments and politicians. In 2016, we expect to see a desire for even more “proof” and substantiation — gone will be the days of “brands on fleek. Consumer preferences will continue to shift from having symbolic social media­­–fueled relationships with brands to substantial interactions based on data-substantiated knowledge and mutual respect.

2016 CULTURAL THEMES

  1. THE INTERNET OF THINGS IS THE NEW DIY

To date we’ve seen relatively silly ideas (the hydration-monitoring bottle), some sexier products (the Apple Watch) and various headline grabbers (e.g., the high-tech Hello Barbie and the Nest Thermostat). Now we’re anticipating not only a much wider array of IoT products but also goods that better fulfill the promise of bringing real value to consumers.

Connected health represents a particularly significant example, as legitimate development drives robust growth in this rapidly changing sector. Consumers are already adopting devices and apps such as Samsung’s S Health, which serves as a centralized hub for all the user’s connected health data. For brands, this is a powerful reminder that consumers are focused on their individual needs, not on the relationship or interaction they may have with any single healthcare provider or technology platform.

Consequently, consumers will expect information to fit into the context of their personal use case — and to make sense on mobile, via a smart watch or even on a connected pill bottle. Brands will have a key role to play in helping consumers make sense of the flood of overwhelming information. Marketers must also consider the unexpected ways in which the consumer will receive messaging and the massive new opportunities for communicating and engaging with consumers.

2. DEATH OF AUTHENTICITY

“Be Honest”: Consumers aren’t buying brands’ hollow promises and will reject overused buzzwords in favor of real, demonstrable value. “Authentic” in particular has lost its meaning as brands and consumers alike claim authenticity in increasingly laughable ways. Take clichéd hashtags like #liveauthentic and the carefully crafted images that (ironically) accompany them — the target of a perfect parody that went viral this year on the “@socalitybarbie” Instagram account.

Brands must demonstrate authenticity rather than just proclaim it. A campaign from Wunderman in Peru for local beer brand Cusqueña, for example, enlisted 50 artisans from four Andean communities to create the first handmade billboard using heritage Inca fabric-weaving techniques. Cusqueña is also actively integrating these textiles into merchandising efforts. This initiative successfully associated the brand with quality craftsmanship while also helping traditional artisans to not just survive but to thrive.

Audiences now accustomed to news feeds filled with native advertising that poses as “authentic” content will also appreciate brands for being upfront about advertising. For instance, GE and Mondeléz are sponsoring infomercials on Mikmak, a millennial-targeted mobile shopping app. The platform promotes “fun and useful” products via entertaining “minimercials” featuring young, relevant stars.

With significant and ready access to user reviews and detailed product information, consumers are ever more skeptical of thin brand claims and increasingly adept at identifying products and services that provide true quality and value. The marketers that win in this environment will be those that can demonstrate a deep and timely understanding of consumer needs and issues.

3. INNOVATION DOES NOT EQUAL USEFULNESS

It’s no longer nearly enough for a product or service to simply be innovative. It has to be useful too — a smartly conceived response to consumer pain points, legitimate needs and evolving behaviors.

Far too many innovations fail on these points. While young consumers bred in a 2.0 and 3.0 world now expect constant innovation, it’s important to recognize that they are seeking meaningful ideas, not just innovation for innovation’s sake.

This is a challenge even for companies that are known for thinking out of the box. 2015 saw the anticlimactic exit of Google Glass, which is reportedly now getting redesigned. Or consider a misguided idea like Amazon’s lack of price tags in its first brick-and-mortar store (customers use a scanner or Amazon’s app to see what items cost).

If nothing else, innovations must ultimately make the consumer’s life easier. Take, for instance, the interactive light plate designed by Wunderman in Argentina. For parents battling to get kids to finish their food, the Yumit digital plate gamifies mealtime by awarding upgrades and bonuses within digital games for each gram that’s eaten. Another smart idea designed to help beleaguered parents comes from DreamWorks and Netflix: “Dinotrux 5 Minute Favorites” are mini episodes that provide a quick solution when kids beg to watch “one more show” before bedtime or need a brief distraction.

Another example of innovation addressing a consumer pain point comes from Wunderman in Belgium, which helped broadcaster SBS create nonintrusive advertising for on-demand audiences, who tend to forward through traditional commercials. Viewers see a commercial message only when they pause for content. The ad, which is tailored based on context and past viewing data, then disappears as soon as the viewer restarts the show.

4. ALL BRANDS ARE GLOBAL AND LOCAL

In an age of growing cross-border tourism, social media sharing, YouTube and global e-commerce, there’s no such thing as a strictly local brand. Today all news and information travels, and the distribution of messaging and products may not follow prescribed media plans.

This means marketers must better understand how their brands and their messaging are traveling outside traditional borders and platforms, and consider how to create messages that resonate with local audiences as well as an emerging, unified global culture.

China’s massive Alibaba points to the rise of globalized e-commerce. The company’s Alipay app lets shoppers pay with their own currency. Alibaba’s Tmall hosts a growing array of foreign brands with retailers including Macy’s and Sainsbury’s testing the interest of Chinese shoppers for the first time during Singles Day 2015. Meanwhile Alipay is securing office space around Europe to help more brands reach Chinese consumers and, perhaps, to lay the groundwork for launching in other countries.

Brands increasingly understand that locally inspired campaigns have potential to resonate globally. In South Africa, Wunderman shop Aqua created recent campaigns for Coca-Cola that have reached global audiences. “100 Years of Contour” a social campaign celebrating the 100th anniversary of the iconic bottle design, rewarded people for spreading happiness online with personalized pieces of content. The campaign was highlighted by global trend reports, media outlets and shared by influencers with wide appeal like Trevor Noah. “Share a Coke 2,” which centered on six-second online films created by some of South Africa’s top creative talent, celebrated South African culture for both domestic and global audiences.

5. MADE FOR THE MEDIUM

In line with our macro theme of a shift to providing real value, 2016 will see fewer gimmicky deployments of tech and a more practical, purposeful and selective application of technological developments.

As virtual reality comes to the consumer, for instance, the challenge for brands will be fulfilling the promise by doing more than releasing “whiz bang” efforts and instead creating useful, unique or otherwise substantive VR products. As a medium that offers an entirely new kind of experience, VR certainly brims with potential for brands. Consumers appear to be intrigued, with the first shipment of Samsung’s Gear VR headset quickly selling out. Early 2016 will bring launches for the much anticipated Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Smart marketers will recognize that for VR and other new advancements to make an impact, brand offerings need to provide value — to be “made for the medium” so that messages are brought to life in ways that would not otherwise be possible.

Wunderman in the UK accomplished this for CHECT, the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust, using an innovative technology in a powerful way. Instead of creating awareness posters that simply described an easy way to detect retinoblastoma in young children, CHECT brought this effort to life in a unique and highly impactful way. Caregivers were prompted to take a flash photograph, which reflects back a white pupil if a tumor is growing in a child’s eye, via a series of four posters that directed audiences through the experience and process. Each poster featured the eye of a real cancer survivor. Thanks to an innovative reflective ink, the pupil turned white when a flash hit the paper, providing a point of reference that parents and guardians could take away with them, and prompted immediate action.

6. DIGITAL EMPATHY

We’ve reached a tipping point in the consumer mind-set when it comes to the use of personal data. People are adapting to new considerations around privacy concerns; they understand that marketers have their data and accept that fact — as long as brands actually use their data to deliver enhanced experiences. If not, consumers have easy options to block them from view or eliminate interactions with brands that don’t meet these new standards.

Consumers are highly aware and observant, paying close attention to whether their data is being used to help them or is misused in ways that waste their time and clutter their screens. The rapid adoption of ad blockers signals increasing consumer frustration with the latter. (The number of people globally using ad-blocking software jumped 41% year over year in Q2 2015, according to Adobe.)

Consider this a new type of social contract, one that’s pushing brands to get smarter and more thoughtful about using data to actively serve customer needs. As consumers continually set the bar higher in terms of expectations, brands must find new ways to understand these needs, in real time, to create relevant content and experiences that reflect the context of an individual consumer’s life and behavior. Underlying all of this, of course, is the understanding that brands must be able to safeguard data and practice “Digital Empathy” — a fundamental respect for privacy.

In the UK, Wunderman leveraged this insight while seeking to reach and engage fans of The Sun newspaper’s fantasy football platform, “The Dream Team,” to convince fans to pay for a game that had been free for over 20 years. A humorous campaign was based on the knowledge that die-hard fans often betray their real-life teams by picking star players from hated rivals. The result, the popular campaign “It’s not cheating when it’s your Dream Team.”

Throughout the season, the agency matched live Dream Team data with the on-field action to create reactive social content. The campaign also distributed personalized promotional pieces in team colors. In four weeks, the campaign reached more than four million people on Facebook and 12 million on Twitter — and despite the introduction of a paywall, achieved 630,000 registrations.

The first anniversary of Xbox One is another example of rewarding consumers for sharing their data. Wunderman reviewed the extensive volume of game play statistics and related data, and found that gamers LOVE analyzing their personal gaming data, evaluating their accomplishments and using this information to generate peer acknowledgement — “celebrate the gamer and the gamer will celebrate you.”

Wunderman worked with Xbox and delivered individualized data visualizations of players’ personal gaming histories that included details of time spent and notable individual achievements. Xbox players shared these personal scorecards on gaming blogs and social channels — and gamers who didn’t receive the email complained. Xbox saw a huge surge in email opt-ins, and “how to sign up” became the number two trending topic on Xbox.com.

7. CIO/CMO HARMONY

Technology has sparked a multiplicity of ways to create amazing one-to-one consumer experiences at scale — but to succeed, CIOs and CMOs must work closely to harmonize their efforts. We believe this development will enable consumers to emerge as the winners. In 2016 we anticipate a significant decline in any interdepartmental battles and an increased unification and synchronization of data across teams and business units.

As data gets deeply embedded in marketing, brands will gain a holistic view of their consumers, allowing marketers to immediately understand evolving customer needs and provide more sophisticated, seamless and ultimately more personalized experiences.

Great things can emerge from a cross-disciplinary approach. Adidas provides a case in point: Two years ago the company unified marketing and IT into a “digital experience team” whose leader reports jointly to the CIO and CMO. One result of that partnership is the ZX Flux app, which combines tech and marketing by allowing customers to project a smartphone photo onto an image of a shoe and then have that customized shoe made to order. This required a significant partnership internally, which, while transparent to consumers, resulted in a significantly enhanced brand experience.

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