Full of suprises and the "unprecendented", 2020 is a year that is likely to warrant more than just a solitary chapter in history books.

As always at this time of year, AdNews likes to call on the industry to share their thoughts about what they believe is in store for the new year.

This year, in collaboration with the team at BMF who designed our epic cover for The Annual, we leveraged the surprising return of the QR code to share with you perspectives from this year's Emerging Leaders on what they believe 2021 will bring for adland.

Rebecca Drummond, Strategy Director, Wavemaker, Sydney
2020 has been full of “unprecedented pivots”, but one of the more surreal moments for me was seeing the major resurgence of the QR code. Who would have thought after fading into obscurity, that the humble QR code would become an indispensable part of our new world? Great Scott, they’re everywhere!

Now that code scanning and sharing personal details (or ordering the Steak and Guinness Pie at The Rag) is becoming habitual, the 26-year-old QR code is showing that it’s best days are still to come. In 2021, “Contactless” will continue to offer safety, but we will see a shift in focus towards how it can further offer simplicity in the intersection of digital and physical worlds. We will see marketers and brands respond to this by streamlining more customer experiences with contactless features and by building this tech into marketing activity (…2.0) wherever possible.

Sam Pierson, National Client Director, Studio, Initiative
The past 12 months have fundamentally changed the way we live our lives.

2020 has driven a global collective awareness of our impact on the environment, our responsibility to each other and reinforced the importance of the sources of information that we read and share. My hope is that in 2021, we see these elements reflected in consumer behaviour and consumption and that brands recognise the opportunity to lead.

I believe 2021 will bring big opportunities for talent in our industry.

2020 taught us that remote working is both possible and productive, forcing new norms in business. While I believe nothing will (or can) replace in-person communication, especially for relationships and work that demand quality thinking and unique ideas, remote working definitely works. The businesses that adapt accordingly will attract the best talent. I hope this makes our industry more accessible for all, especially parents and carers.

Nick Thomas, Head of Investment (Marketplace), Mediacom
2021 will bring better applications of practical data powered by automation. It will be the year that linear traded channels see a practical breakthrough in the way agencies and clients plan, buy and report them.

Programmatic OOH will be first off the rank already seeing big leaps in 2021, it will take a traditional medium into the future, allowing better targeting, real time reporting and flexibility in a channel that normally doesn’t allow it.

Programmatic Audio has been around for a while, but a true amalgamation of supply and data hasn’t been available to agencies to harness properly. In 2021 we will see this evolve and a new way of trading live audiences across digital audio platforms will scale.

This will give clients more of the right customer, make their campaigns more effective with more flexibility, something all clients need from 2021.

Rachael Townsley, Head of Marketing, APAC, Quantcast
Digital transformation and the power of data - It’s now more important than ever for companies to understand and quickly adapt to evolving shifts in online consumer behaviour. I expect to see increased investment in the martech stack and partnerships that help marketers understand the mindset and behaviour of their consumers in real time. Those that can use data to deliver relevant, personalised messaging to the right audience at the right time will win.

Diverse and inclusive organisations - A hot topic that I hope to see companies action in 2021. Diversity enhances creativity and drives economic outcomes and organisations should ensure that talent is sourced, evaluated and promoted in a way that’s more inclusive. It’s not just about adding diversity to the workplace but ensuring everyone feels included and empowered to bring their whole selves to work. As the old saying goes: “Diversity is inviting someone to a party; inclusion is asking them to dance.”

Scott Laird, National Director — People and Culture, Initiative
The conversation and awareness around mental health has been gaining traction over recent years but has been accelerated this year due to the intense impact of lockdown on the wellbeing of people.

I expect to see maturity, knowledge and collaboration in this space continue to evolve in 2021. We’ll (hopefully) see an industry of people empowered to speak openly about our challenges, continue to build mental fitness and take control of their ability to build working environments that balance career and life.

Christie Ding, Co-Founder/Client Solutions Director, Brand Catalyser
As live streaming has become a main channel for retail businesses to deliver sales, I anticipate the ecosystem will grow into a stronger, bigger, and a more complex field for brands to participate in. Live streaming ecommerce will continue to evolve with more platforms to be on, more functions available for consumers to engage with, more formats to interact with, and a better shopping experience between brands and consumers.

Live-streaming in 2021 will take the concept of interactive online shopping to the next level, where consumers can virtually interact with brands/products like they used to do at brick-and-mortar stores. As for advertisers and brands, we need to prepare and take a data-led approach for our live streaming ecommerce strategy in 2021.

Over at Brand Catalyser we have an advantage of overseeing the fast growth of live streaming ecommerce in China. We are taking market insights and learnings from China to develop a tailored strategy for our clients who are interested and take part in live streaming ecommerce.

Chi Lo, Director of Accounts, AU/NZ, The Trade Desk
2021 will be the year of identity. Over the past year we’ve seen Google announce a fundamental change to the internet with cookie deprecation and online privacy thrust into the limelight.

Internet users are becoming identity savvy, with privacy, fake news and congressional hearings becoming part of the mainstream.
Yet people still don’t understand the fundamental truth that advertising funds the internet and that their identity is core to this.

Without identity, advertising doesn’t work as well. As advertising efficacy goes down, so do the funds; everything that people love about the internet will suffer.

In 2021, brands, publishers, governments and the advertising industry will all have their part to play in explaining this.

With the cookie crumbling in 2022 we will be faced with an identity vacuum and it’s up to all of us to come up with a better way of filling that void in 2021.

Mitchell Long, Head of Strategy, PHD Sydney
As people become increasingly aware of their data and the value it holds, 2021 will see brands and service providers innovate to reward people for their data in increasingly transparent and disruptive ways. An early example is one of the world’s fastest growing web browsers, Brave which remunerates users for providing their anonymised data when watching ads on their platform. With the demise of cookies and greater demands for transparency, we will start to see increased innovation from businesses looking to expand their first-party data and to do this they will need to find new ways to provide value in exchange for it. In the same way Frequent Flyer points harvest customer data for airline providers, new incentivised data acquisition programs will emerge across categories as an extension of ongoing customer marketing efforts.

Alec Barr, Head of Experience and Service Design, CHE Proximity
Amongst the many shifts in landscape we're poised to see in 2021, the one I am most excited to see is a greater opportunity for independent creativity. Traditional agencies are built around showcasing 'evidence of industry'. The thrum of the agency hive mind at play is a tangible proxy for 'great work'. But you only need to peek at the course of human history to see that this regularly isn't true. Often, the greatest innovations are borne out of isolation. Newton didn't discover gravity because he workshopped it with a client – it was the sum of countless hours of solitary study and reflection. And with the mass casualisation of the workforce already in full sway, we're poised to start re-finding this brand of solo creativity.

Stephanie Famolaro, Senior Director, Business Development ANZ, The Trade Desk
I believe 2021 will see more women join our industry. As we continue to raise the profile of the exciting career opportunities for women in STEM, I hope this translates into more roles for senior women, more mentors and more opportunity to be seen and heard.

The COVID pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work. People’s remits have changed, there is a lot of ‘new’ talent on the market and I believe businesses have had to reassess some of the qualities and characteristics they hire for. This could be especially impactful for women as new and emerging opportunities open up in our industry.

Diversity in hiring and removing unconscious bias will continue to accelerate in 2021. Businesses will need to implement tools for identifying and fostering female talent, providing opportunities to take risks and embrace change, to ensure we keep that talent engaged well into the future.

Isaac Stefaniw, Data Analytics Lead, Adgile Media
Systemising the value of online user interactions - In the last two years an astonishing 90% of the world’s data has been created, 1.7MB of data is created every second by every person.

Every interaction, every byte of information is valuable. It’s a chance to learn, to predict, to optimise and improve. Tooling up to utilise this information in real-time has enormous potential.

Businesses that can place a value on these data signals from the top down, and build systems around them will solidify their foothold in the future of marketing.

A combination of data storage, machine learning and upskilling with a focus on unlocking the value of user signals will be or should be the biggest trend in 2021.

Amy Weston, Creative Director, CHE Proximity
With 2020 being the year of isolation, I think we’ll all go into 2021 craving a sense of community. Both in the work we produce and how we support each other in our industry. Customers will connect with brands that want to do good, tell local stories, support culturally relevant causes. Those that fail to connect, will lose any sense of compassion and customers will simply switch off. The same goes for our industry, we’ll lose patience for the negatives and invest our energy and efforts into our own community around the parts of our job that bring us closer together. I hope.

Emily Cook, Media Lead, Wavemaker
As we know 2020 has seen a ‘seismic shift’ in our daily lives, particularly in adland. As an extroverted media leader, I loved the energy of a whole agency team being together in one office and in all honesty, at first, the prospect of working from home felt highly daunting.

However instead, the silver lining for me was regional migration. Leaving my small, inner-city Sydney apartment and moving back to my hometown, the Gold Coast. Moving back completely redefined my work-life balance; prioritising getting myself outside and enjoying the sunshine, a new take on outdoor exercise (I now have a killer swimmer tan from the outdoor pools!) and exploring the incredible South East and Far North Queensland with my annual leave. When talking to friends in adland who have also moved to the Central Coast and South Coast in NSW, there is new sense of freedom.

The opportunity, as we continue with flexible working in 2021, to consider the move to those outer-metro, or coastal areas. Areas that would not have even crossed our minds pre-pandemic as somewhere to commute to an office from. With this regional migration it will look to redefine our work life balance but also naturally brings with it a change in regional media consumption behaviour and of course new triggers to purchase (you should see the fishing equipment my partner has stocked up on while we have been in Queensland!).

Lara Brownlow, Head of Agency and Channel Sales, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, ANZ, LinkedIn
Brand Safety, no longer a ‘nice to have’, now ‘imperative’ to your brand’s growth.

We understand more than ever that what a brand stands for, ultimately impacts what customers think and affects bottom-line sales.
The latest Edelman trust report states that consumers in APAC are buying on belief; 69% choose to switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues. The industry has been talking about the benefits of brand safe environments for a long time and in 2021, this will peak. Brand safe environments will shift from a nice to have, to an absolute necessity.

The ad industries growing conversation around social consciousness and responsibility will also come to the forefront. We have an obligation across the media, marketing and technology industry to champion and drive discussion for not only the future of our ad industry, but humanity.

Josh Slighting, Head of Data & Digital Audience, 10 ViacomCBS
After the year that has been 2020, it’s hard to place any big bets on potential trends. But one thing I am certain we will see is continued changes to privacy and consent. It’s the single biggest challenge our industry has seen for some time, and a challenge that affects every business in every market around the world.

The media industry will have to rethink its digital marketing and advertising supply chain as the importance of privacy is elevated and it loses inputs it so heavily relies on such as cookies and Apple’s advertising IDs. At 10, we are leaning into these changes and we have invested in innovative technologies and a durable data strategy that reduces the impacts of current and future changes.

Luke Burr, Head of Sales — Victoria, Verizon Media
In Afdel Aziz's 'Good is the New Cool' he talks about the 5th P being for Purpose. In 2021, I truly believe that authentic purpose driven marketing will be what gives brands the edge over their competitors. The pandemic perspective has made us more socially minded than we have ever been and consumers no longer value celebrity endorsements or pretty ads with a great soundtrack but moreover they want honesty, integrity and they want their brands to stand for something. Consumers are demanding more of their brands and marketers must follow suit.

Today, Aussie marketers have an unrivalled opportunity to connect with people by using their voice, but more importantly their actions for good all year round.

Danielle St George, General Manager, Media, Hyland
As we say farewell and in many ways, good riddance, to a very tumultuous 2020 – it is far from farewell to some of the major shifts we have seen in both consumer behaviour and expectations. Fragmented offline and online encounters with brands are no longer acceptable; a more considered, individualised and meaningful experience across the entire journey is not only critical, it is now the baseline expectation.

Accelerating the need to connect with humans vs eyeballs, the focus on first-party data as the lynchpin for any business, will continue to proliferate across our industry in 2021 as we work to close the gap in delivering a single customer view across the end-to-end customer experience.

Kate Prowse, Group Account Director, The Taboo Group
2021: The triple bottom line.

“Unprecedented”. 2020 has provided bucketloads of perspective. We’ve been forced to stop and consider what’s important, be kinder to each other and ourselves, take a hard look at our impact on our planet, and band together as a community for the greater good.

Into 2021, brands and agencies will have the opportunity (and responsibility) to propel meaningful change. We’ll be forced to do more with less, but those who rise to the top will give relevance to social and environmental impacts.

Consumers will vote with their wallets to support brands that drive purposeful change. At Taboo, we believe that “what a brand does is more important than what a brand says”. More than ever, this rings true. Bullshit radars are at an all-time high, forcing brands to act with integrity.

Agencies that succeed will authentically live the triple bottom line of people, planet and profits.

Kirby McDonald, Client Director — Government, Wavemaker, Adelaide
2021 will be the year of “do what makes you happy” – to know what makes people happy, marketers will have to watch and listen to their consumers closely.

Due to COVID-19 and a tough 2020, we’ll see much wiser, smarter and more discerning consumers - people won’t put major decisions off. Growing families, travelling more (within our bubbles), backyard exploration and new hobbies. People leaving jobs they weren’t happy in and starting new ones, potentially in different locations. Upskilling, making sustainable choices and supporting local and Australian businesses. Our personal time will be more valuable, spent with those we love, and we’ll see a continued focus on health and wellbeing.

So, what does that mean for brands?

Brands that are real, honest, transparent and support Australians will succeed – but they’ll need to go beyond standard demographic traits and really understand their consumers and potentially the major lifestyle choices they’re making earlier, sporadically or frequently. Just be human, observe and importantly listen.

Hayley Smith, Head of Campaign Management, Verizon Media
We are in the midst of one of the biggest people experiments and social shifts of our time. There are definitely a lot of unknowns, but my hope for our industry in 2021 is that we take all of the learnings from this batshit crazy 2020 and implement them to create a new and improved way of working. Creating real flexibility, better work-life balance and diverse employment opportunities. So I believe people, how we operate, how we communicate and how we consume media is going to be the ongoing trend for next year, and I for one am really excited for it.