Creative agency predictions 2020: Creativity wins, purpose and the evolution of technology

Paige Murphy
By Paige Murphy | 13 December 2019

As the year and decade draw to a close and we enter the roaring twenties, the power of creativity has never been more important.

2019 was the year of purpose and activism with creativity becoming a driving force for good.

The work which won big at Cannes Lions was overwhelmingly focussed on social good, with brands using their voice to stand for a cause beyond their own business.

Whether it be the climate emergency the world is facing, taking a stand for democracy, feeding starving children or championing diversity, the creative industry has used its talent to create change.

WPP AUNZ interim CEO John Steedman took on the anonymous trolls and PwC’s Nicky Bryson joined forces with Youngbloods to help mentor the industry’s young people with the launch of The Trenches.

This year also saw the industry try to find its feet following the WPP mergers of 2018 – some working out better than others.

We were introduced to WPP AUNZ’s new CEO Jens Monsees who joined the holding company from BMW Group in Germany and saw a string of executives come and go across adland.

The year also saw some more mergers including BMF and Naked Communications, Switched On and AKQA, With Collective and Isobar and redundancies across the networks including one-year old GrowthOps.

It was also a big milestone for many including Saatchi & Saatchi and AWARD who both celebrated 40 years.

Weeks away from the 2020, we asked creative leaders to share what they predict 2020 will hold for the industry.

The Ogilvy Group chief executive of Australia & executive partner David Fox
In a world where common sense seems to have all but disappeared, I believe 2020 will see the marketing and communications industry re-introduce it back into the brand building debate. Common sense that suggests it is not TV versus tech, but TV and tech; it’s not about one-off tactical ads, but long-term sustainable brand building campaigns and short-term tactics; it’s not about pitching or not pitching, it’s about finding the right cultural and capability fit and working hard at it every day like in any relationship. It will be about understanding that building modern brands is a team sport and that sometimes ‘uncomfortable’ collaborations will create the best work. The agencies, clients and consultants who get this will get ahead and win in 2020.


CHE Proximity chief creative officer Ant White
Brands will take responsibility for the impact they are having on the world. If the airline industry were a country, it would be the seventh largest polluter in the world. When you look at a brand’s footprint this way, it makes you realise that they need to start taking responsibility for their contribution to global warming and become part of the solution. With governments in disarray, and not acting fast enough to fix climate change, it really is up to brands to take action. They have deep pockets and mass reach. And it’s already happening. From KLM asking people to fly responsibly to grocery chains removing plastic bags. 2020 will see more brands sticking their neck out and owning the problem. I hope so anyway.

Thinkerbell co-founder Adam Ferrier
Just three predictions.
1. Accenture Interactive buys WPP
2. Mutiny buys S4 Capital
3. Creativity wins

DDB Australia CEO Andrew Little
The more things change the more they stay the same and 2019 has been a testament to that. Bill Bernbach’s insights from the middle of the last century are more relevant today than they were when he uttered them. As an industry, we’ve become obsessed with change, but I see 2020 as the year that we will shift focus on the unchanging. It will also be the year that more brands commit to embracing the long AND the short of it with a handful of smart marketers already leading the way. As always, we’re set for an eventful year.

Wunderman Thompson CEO ANZ John Gutteridge
AI and biometric data will drive brands to personalise customer experiences. 2020 is the tipping point in AI and biometric data. With an exponential amount of biometric data that we’re creating every second, AI will allow us to utilise this information to create an ultra-hyper-personalised experience and begin to predict customer needs. We can already see the beginning of this, as consumers happily trade-in data for better customer experiences. In fact, 75% of consumers use biometric technology already to simplify their life, whether it’s from using their Google Home to turn on the TV to facial recognition to open a banking app (Statista, 2019). It's this biometric data that will allow us to identify customer pain-points, personalise experiences, and with AI predict consumer needs.

Clemenger BBDO Sydney CEO Pete Bosilkovski
Make utility, not just a sale. We are in the customer centric era, where brands will increasingly move from extracting value from customers to finding new ways to enhance the experience people have with brands. They will go beyond the products and services they sell to creating a form of “utility” that helps people in their lives. Brands that do this will solve problems for customers in a non-commercial interaction, and over time will only strengthen their engagement and relevance with customers - ultimately translating to future sales.

Saatchi & Saatchi Australia CEO Anthony Gregorio
A dawning realisation that you can’t cost cut your way to success in an increasingly commoditised world and that creativity is the last legal way to create genuine business advantage.

The Brand Agency Perth managing director Nick Bayes
Clients will continue to see through agency hyperbole and simply choose to work with the best talent. The logo above the door will mean less and less. More than ever agencies will need to focus on the wellbeing of their people and create environments where the best brains can prosper. As the world stumbles from one disaster to another, brands will continue to make positive change and replace more traditional institutions as pillars of trust in the minds of consumers. We’ll all start listening to the youth more and realise their long term value as brand advocates even before they are purchasers.

Switched On director, brand, social & content APAC Yash Murthy
At 10am last week, there were hordes of teenagers assembling outside the Enmore Theatre. Harry Styles in town? Some dire American YouTuber? No. Turns out K-Pop act Day6 were playing in 10 hours. As they danced and Tik-Toked their way through the day to pass the time, it struck me that the pop-cultural axes have certainly shifted. The regional influence on our art and food have long been apparent, but finally, from platforms to pop stars, I think 2020 is the year our commercial creativity draws upon the mainstream appeal of our continental neighbours. We’re uniquely placed to seize upon it, and I hope (and believe) we will. Tik Tok, it's Asia o'clock.


I see two overarching and competing trends – the tug of war between technology and humanity – which may be better resolved in 2020. Artificial Intelligence will continue to ramp up to make things more efficient. At the same time, Human Insight will be ever more valued to make things more compelling. Agencies that can balance both effectively and creatively will win. I also believe in Cannes Chairman Phil Thomas’ analysis of three keys from this years’ Lions: Access, Activism, Commerce. Considering those for 2020 - diversity and inclusion will be critical; having a purpose fundamental; and linking to a sale essential.

Apparent CEO Phil Smith
20/20 presents as the year of hindsight? Look back to plan forward. Doing this would help move on from the tired focus of the "Year of insert one of - mobile / digital / programmatic / social / influencer / big data / martech / VR / AR / AI / UX / CX' to the year" to the year of the business of our business. Customer insights driving effective and engaging creative solutions all of which deliver on client business problems. Done with the agility and speed of the market.

DDI managing director Caroline McLaughlin
Bots become flagbearers of positive change. Anyone who hasn’t cottoned on to the fact that bots are here to stay has been living in a dark cave. I foresee 2020 will be the year when the ingenuity of automation really takes flight, and this conversation moves out of the shadows. It’s human nature to be resistant to unseen machines that may take your job so the companies that win big in this space will be those who seamlessly integrate automation but also embrace cultural initiatives that allow their people to reinvent themselves.

The Works managing partner Tom Harber
With the experience economy stronger than ever, 2020 will be the rise of the CXO. Data sophistication will win the day. Brands and agencies included. Conversation and voice will feature in more marketing plans. New pricing models will emerge and value based remuneration will get more air time. We will see an increased demand for ‘outsourced inhousing’. Human Centred Design will play a more prominent role in creativity. Despite best efforts to ditch the pitch, we will continue to get RFPeed on.

The Hallway CEO Jules Hall
The 10s was the decade of understanding advertising effectiveness. We’ve had seminal text after seminal text - from Byron Sharp to Binet & Field, Karen Nelson-Field, Orlando Wood and of course the ever-entertaining, but slightly foul-mouthed Mark Ritson, and all the rest. The researchers have spoken: Creativity is critical. 70% of advertising effectiveness is determined by the content rather than the placement. More importantly we’ve learned what qualifies as effective creativity. 2020 is the year the word will spread. The industry is realising that optimisation is table stakes. Creativity is the differentiator. The smartest marketers will invest in re-learning what has become too much of a forgotten art. Get ready for the fun!


Spinach CEO Craig Flanders
2020 will be a very tough year for anyone trying to get your average Aussie to part with money. They want to pay less for the same stuff they bought a year or two ago, and want to spend less time figuring it out – “you should know, I bought from you before!”. So we all need to give them the stuff they intuitively want, in an easier to find/acquire (or delivered) package faster than they could get it last year. And at the same time, making more margin to keep our shareholders at bay. Easy right? Well, yes it is if you’ve been planting the seeds to provide you marketing strategy with the ability to “mass personalise”.

Bastion Collective CEO Jack Watts
Realising they can no longer shrink their way to greatness through cost cutting, brands will be forced to invest in growing the top line and communications/marketing will have greater priority as a result. Consumers will continue to gravitate towards brands that talk to them in their language, in their time and in their place. Brands will demand fully integrated communications solutions from agencies that can deliver the breadth of services. Traditional agencies and media outlets will continue to be challenged and make more drastic changes, creating opportunities for nimble agencies built for the modern communications world.

Town Square chief strategy officer Neville Doyle
Change will be most notable in its absence. VR and AR are not suddenly going to transform our industry. Consumers are not suddenly going to want an in-depth relationship with their given brand of toothpaste on social media. TikTok, whilst infinitely entertaining, is not going to ‘change everything’ (after all, it’s just Vine with better CX). And ‘behaviour change’ will be something that we all strive for but rarely achieve (ask yourself, when was the last time you truly changed your own behaviour). Instead, those who continue to embrace creativity as a competitive advantage will thrive whilst those who don’t will struggle.

Digitas CEO Adrian Farouk
According to Gartner in 2016, next year we will all be having more conversations with bots than with our partners… while I wouldn’t go quite as far as this, we have certainly evolved our thoughts of chatbots as being more than just crap interfaces for FAQs. People are now booking dinner reservations, plane tickets, receiving boarding passes, sharing feedback and more, all through messaging interfaces. At Digitas, our clients are already experimenting with highly sophisticated conversational interfaces. This 2-way dialogue can be the best way to establish individual audience needs to deliver truly personalised experiences. These programs will span into next year and we expect them to be just the beginning.

McCann Queensland executive creative director Ben Davis 
‘Truth Well Told’. It’s as timeless as ever, and never more relevant than today. Next year brands will continue to redefine their identities as they navigate their way through the next phase of what has been a global ‘purpose revolution’. This year we’ve seen many brands criticized for rushing towards purpose-led work, launching campaigns that haven’t fit the truth of the brand or the relationship it enjoys with its customers. In a climate of mistrust and fake news, there has never been a better time for brands to stand for something. It won’t be long however, before consumers reach a saturation point. This is the point where the stakes are raised, the point in which only some genuinely great work will hit home. Clever agencies will understand that sometimes it’s OK to just be fun, or funny, or undeniably cool, because that may be at the heart of a brands truth. When meaning works it’s genuinely wonderful! But it can only be successfully navigated by Truth.

Loyal co-founders Paulie Fenton and Joshua Hunt


DAYLIGHT Agency executive creative director Chris Mitchell
If data could predict the future, we’d all know the winner of the last race at Randwick tomorrow. But data can’t predict the future. Yet. So, at the risk of sounding analogue, I’ll have a go at my prediction based on what I’m seeing in the marketplace. Prediction One: Companies who lose sight of their purpose will continue to fall into obscurity. Prediction Two: The global supermarket trend will continue with expanding private label ranges forcing remaining brands to survive on reduced margins. Prediction Three: Short term sales targets will reduce the ability for CMO’s to invest in building long term brand purpose and trust. Prediction Four: Lapsed brands will make a comeback. Prediction Five: Agencies will need to ensure they talk ‘value’ not price.

Common Ventures co-founder James Crawley
I’ve read the last few years of these and there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said. So I put it to you: 2020 will rock. We will all be nicer to each other. Agencies that churn less staff will win more work. Storytelling will continue to be the most effective part of what we do, although I’m sure we’ll call it something else.

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