Predictions 2021 - The new creative economy, the rise of the ‘super’ indie and same but different

Paige Murphy
By Paige Murphy | 15 December 2020

Creativity has been put to the test in 2020, forcing a high degree of innovation to survive.

The year has seen a slew of new indies popping up as big names depart holding groups with some predicting this will continue in the new year.

With the pandemic still underway, others believe things may stay the same.

R/GA chief strategy officer Jon Holloway predicts an accelerating shift to the “new creative economy” in 2021.

“We need to be faster, more efficient and work in partnership with growing internal capabilities,” Holloway says.

“We have to do this with a depth of commercial understanding and solutions that we have struggled to be known for; business changing and category creating thinking.

“This means new business models, people and structures that allow us to be creative in the way we do things.”

Read all the predictions here:

Thinkerbell chief thinker Adam Ferrier
Russel Howcroft will take a starring role in a smash hit broadway adaptation of Madmen.

DDB Sydney managing director Priya Patel
I’m an optimist. So optimistically, we will try and tackle some of the brutal societal lessons we learnt in 2020: that systemic racism does still exist and black lives matter; that our planet needs saving with immediate action and that we are all fallible humans – completely globally connected and equally vulnerable.

For our industry, it means treating each other with respect; being more inclusive and diverse within our businesses and in our output; and demonstrating the kickass power of creativity to shape culture and create positive change (which ultimately will drive strong commercial outcomes for brands and businesses – win win).


M&C Saatchi executive creative director Avish Gordhan
After 2020, predicting what 2021 holds is futile, imprudent and possibly dangerous. So here goes. Our industry’s year is linked to a vaccine. Look at the stock market - every time there’s good news about a jab, the market surges. People want to feel hopeful. If we get a vaccine, people will drink, eat and spend. I predict debauchery. At the very least, joy. No more pseudo-patriotic kumbaya work. We will be braver, funnier and less-inhibited - because our audiences will feel those qualities too.

But if there’s no vaccine, I don’t want to predict. Rather, I hope. Hope our industry will find the gumption to make work untainted by self-doubt. Hope we will have the conviction to laugh in the face of adversity. Hope that we rediscover the fortitude to protect the thing that keeps our industry sane - full-blooded creativity. Anything less than this is futile, imprudent and possibly dangerous.

Akcelo CEO Aden Hepburn
Not so long ago, the industry was abuzz with the machinations of the big four global consultancies which were busy making creative acquisitions to build out their end-to-end capabilities. Many speculated this was the beginning of the end for the global holding groups, as the consults ate the lunch of their more traditionally structured competitors. Well, that scenario hasn’t turned out as many predicted, yet.

But a new battleground has been created, one which started in earnest this year and will accelerate in 2021. The rise of the super indie agencies. These entrepreneurial and agile businesses are free from the constrictive shackles of their networked competitors and their global overlords in London, Paris, New York and Tokyo. The emergence of these new, to use an old advertising term, ‘hot shops’, many of which have been founded by the brain drain of talent who have exited the global creative and digital agency groups they now compete against, pose a substantive threat. As the holding groups struggle to restructure their legacy agencies to make them fit for purpose, these super indies will lead the charge and flourish.

BCM partner & managing director Phil McDonald
I predict that in 2021 nothing will change. Everything we know will continue to exist and we will see no new ‘game changing’ trends emerge. We will still hear people using a whole lot of new ‘buzz word’ descriptions for marketing dynamics that we have all seen a thousand times before. That won’t change. I predict that the brands, companies and agencies that move forward with the most confidence and with the least distractions will win. 2021 will be ‘situation - back to normal’.

VCCP managing director Suzie Roberts
Change is uncomfortable, so the most successful changes tend to be the ones that go with the grain of existing belief and behaviour, rather than against it. To this end, 2021 will see digital technologies and digital CX that go beyond ‘frictionless’ and ‘seamless’ to better imitate or build on the emotional benefits of real-world experiences. For example, remote working will become more collaborative, and ecommerce will better mirror the social and emotional benefits of browsing and shopping.


Hardhat co-founder & director of strategy Dan Monheit
Less different than you think. Right now, it’s hard to imagine our near-future selves back on crowded sets, congested train commutes or real life pitch teams. That’s because we’re all influenced by the Projection Bias; our tendency to assume that our future selves will have the exact same set of tastes, preferences and priorities that our current selves do.

As we’ll soon see, it takes more than a few months of sweat pants, zoom-fatigue and makeshift home offices to override human drivers that are 300 million years in the making. As long as we’re still driven by producing the best work and cultivating the best relationships we can, we’ll be drawn back to our ‘in person’ ways before you can say "coronavirus".

BMF chief creative officer Alex Derwin
If laughter is the best medicine, then expect the creative industry to bring back the belly shakers in 2021. This year felt like someone threw the sewage works at the windmill then stood back and watched the mayhem. Brands didn’t know which way to turn and so went all over the dial – mostly they went to sincere and earnest. So many brands hit the empathy button so hard that online parodies abounded and then, at some point, I remember feeling like it was hard to pick the parodies from reality. Perhaps the industry was trolling itself and the snake was eating its own tail. Or perhaps the inevitable had happened and I was losing my mind through cabin fever. Either way, with the new year upon us my hope is that we get back to the business of escapism. I hope that brands can stop co-opting someone else’s truth and own theirs, especially when their truths are fun, frivolous and inconsequential, because Lord knows we don’t need another year as consequential as this one.


Host/Havas executive creative director Jon Austin
2020 has been absolutely shit for absolutely everyone. But shit has a funny way of making stuff grow. And I’m predicting the Grade A fertiliser that is 2020 will grow something brilliant. Empathy. And it’ll be about time. After all, we’re an industry that is both dependent on empathy, and all too often devoid of it. We talk about connection being at our heart, but we’re more often at each other’s throats (anonymously, of course).

We demonise those that disagree with us and dehumanise those who don’t ‘get us’. I’m really hoping 2020 changes that. Over the last year, we’ve stared into each other’s living rooms; we’ve seen leaders try and juggle pressos and kids’ dinners; we’ve dealt with bad internet, bad briefs, and bad moods. How can you go through all of that, and not gain a ton of empathy? How can you see clients and agency partners deal with the same stuff that you are, and not realise that they’re just people too, trying to do right by their role? My prediction is that the empathy we’ve gained in this shitty year will lead to more collaborative partnerships, and more trust and respect in each other. And if we can harness empathy like that, I reckon the work that follows will be pretty bloody spectacular.

CHE Proximity senior copywriter Sophie Beard
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t be looking into crystal balls. Because they’re more likely to be thrown out the proverbial window. Then set on fire. So here goes. My key prediction is simply action.

Heading into 2021, Australia finds itself in a very different position to the rest of the world. The Lucky Country can afford to be more optimistic. If 2020 gave us time to reflect. 2021 is the time to act. And advertising will surely mirror those aspirations. Interstate travel, career changes, sea changes, more family time. Being human, there will be some 2020 habits we can’t kick. The 101 streaming platforms. Zoom. TikTok. Meaning we’ll see more video storytelling. My hope is that we don’t forget 2020’s other lessons. Flexibility. Work/life balance. And the raw insight into public housing, nursing homes and domestic violence. Let’s act on that knowledge, as we journey back to ‘normal’.

The Works founder and creative partner Damian Pincus
One thing is for sure. Australians’ ability to see the bigger picture, do what’s right and see the positive out of a very tough year is inspiring and will have a positive and rich impact on our industry and creativity. A greater emphasis will need to be placed on maintaining and nurturing the most important element of our businesses, our people. There is no doubt we’ve all felt the pressure and the adjustment to an even more always on life has been tough. We need to help people set boundaries and take care of their professional development and mental health wellbeing.

With the acceleration and maturity of digital ecosystems and increased budgets being directed toward tech stacks, the disconnect between marketing automation and creative problem solving will become more evident. Agencies need to be better at articulating that while technology will play an increasing role in marketing, it can’t drive the creative solution.

The Hallway CEO and founder Jules Hall
Measurement will be the biggest creative springboard in 2021, further fuelling the industry’s creative renaissance. The 2010s gave us the marketing theory to deliver profitable growth and in the last couple of years, brands have worked out how to apply that theory to generate the empirical evidence of efficacy specific to their business.

Because 70% of advertising effectiveness is determined by the content rather than the placement, and brands now have robust measurement techniques to link this to commercial growth, creativity is getting more attention than ever before. That’s good for creative agencies. And it’s good for our client’s businesses. A lovely win-win, all made possible by measurement.

Clemenger BBDO Sydney CEO Pete Bosilkovski
Energy will beat everything. 2020 has been crazy and a drain of a year. It’s thrown up curve balls, fear, and tonnes of pressure. The pandemic has been an energy vampire. Sucking the life out of bold creativity, innovation and having fun doing it. It’s a chapter that we all wish to be shut closed. 2021 will need to be injected with energy. Energy to be bold, brave and fearless. Energy to push the barriers with the experiences brands create. And most importantly having fun doing it.

Ogilvy group creative director Jenny Mak
After one of the most unpredictable years in history, it’s hard to predict what next year will bring – but amongst all of the chaos and curveballs 2020 threw, a couple of key trends emerged. One of the biggest was social commerce. It’s by no means a new trend, but after the prolific growth of ecommerce in 2020, it’s now more important than ever to make your brands, products and services shoppable on social media – especially as more businesses transition to the online experience in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Social commerce gives brands of all shapes and sizes the opportunity to optimise the online experience across multiple channels and platforms, and with the recent introduction of Facebook Shops and Instagram shops, social commerce is set to become one of the biggest marketing trends in 2021.

Ikon executive creative director Rob Martin Murphy
When looking forward to next year, I think it’s wise we look back - to last year’s AdNews 2020 predictions. Have a read here. Not one mention of the words ‘unprecedented’, ‘pandemic’, and ‘montage’ or the phrases ‘challenging times’, ‘new normal’ or ‘gigantic freaking sh*tstorm’.

That’s the great thing about predictions. You can say whatever you like and then blame it on a ‘well, nobody saw that coming’ event when they don’t materialise. So, just to be safe, I’m going to predict the same thing that I’ve been predicting every year since I’ve been asked to make predictions: Advertising is dead, long live advertising. Check back here next year to see how I went.

VMLY&R chief creative officer AUNZ Paul Nagy
I reckon one day soon we’ll look back on this crazy, ape-shit bonkers year as a moment that taught us some wonderful, valuable lessons. For example, I believe it will have a profound effect on the way we work in 2021 and into the future. I think the smart agencies will embrace elements of remote working and never again force their staff into a rigid, Monday to Friday grind. I’m hoping the focus in 2021 will be on effective creative output and culture, rather than clock-punching – and I think we’ll all be happier for it.

Orchard creative director Tim Condrick
Don’t go outside. Don’t travel. Don’t see your friends. Don’t see your family. Don’t go to the doctor the way you used to. Don’t go to the pub. Don’t go to the football. Don’t go to Victoria. Don’t have a dinner party. Don’t have a party. Don’t get married. Don’t die. Don’t be a Karen* …Don’t, Don’t, Don’t, Don’t, Don’t – all for very good reasons obviously BUT, as surely 2020 was the year of ‘Don’ts’, 2021 will be the year of ‘Dos’. Creativity will burst forward, from a year of challenge and caution, with a colourful loud celebration of impulse and freedom, encouraging people to grab life with both hands and have some god damn fun.
*Still don’t be a Karen

INNOCEAN Australia CEO Jasmin Bedir
2021: Same, same but also different. No matter what we’ve been reading on various leaders feeling confident and having all the answers, let me be real: everyone is scrambling to deal with the craziness of this new decade. Consumer confidence can change any second with the threat of an outbreak, but also developments in Europe in the US will affect us as we’re living in a globalised economy.

While we’re all hoping that the worst is behind us, I’m not sure it actually is. And at the risk of sounding like a humourless German, I see 2021 to be a year of further consolidation of businesses, reduced ad spend, and emotional rollercoasters while we’re all awaiting some positive news on vaccine deployments and out of a certain white house. Oh, and let’s not forget the end of cookies by the end of 2021. If you’re one of those people, that has their first-party data strategies sorted already in 2020, I’ll shout you a socially distanced drink. I may even crack a joke or two.


R/GA chief strategy officer Jon Holloway
An accelerating transition to the New Creative Economy. We need to be faster, more efficient and work in partnership with growing internal capabilities. We have to do this with a depth of commercial understanding and solutions that we have struggled to be known for; business changing and category creating thinking. This means new business models, people and structures that allow us to be creative in the way we do things.

COVID has shown past digital transformation for what it was, failed experiments, small thinking and in most cases, nothing at all. We haven’t taken a big step forward in the types of problems we solve, we just have to look at our own industry and our failure to solve our own problems. We have to step up and be commercially creative at the heart of brands, not on the edges where budgets are being cut and our impact is diminishing.

Town Square chief strategy officer Neville Doyle
Manfredi Ricca, global CSO of Interbrand, recently said: “The most enduring legacy of these anxious times will not be face masks and political graffiti, but the end of continuity as the default assumption.” Put this alongside research by Richard Shotton (author of The Choice Factory) showing that consumers are most likely to change their product buying habits after major life events (by up to 75%), and you realise that this creates a unique situation because, let’s face it, 2020 has been a major life event for literally ALL of us.

So, we head into 2021 with an entire population primed to be more receptive to our messages, more willing to try new things. For an industry that exists to drive behaviour change, this means an unprecedented opportunity to create truly effective work. This will be a year when the cream rises to the top.

Archibald Williams head of client & strategic services Kiranpreet Kaur
Greater respect. This year, for the first time in a long time, people were forced to acknowledge that they didn’t have the answer. There were no magic beans to offer our clients. So, we opened up to possibilities – different insights, different opinions, different ways of working – and we shed a layer of that ego that is so innately associated with our industry too often (this is huge and something I’ve been personally thrilled by).

I believe our industry will march into 2021 with a greater respect for different experiences and skill sets, which will drive stronger creative solutions. The coming together (thanks John Lennon) of old and new school mindsets will deliver ingenuity and vigour, and our clients (and the customer) will benefit. Now, this willingness to experiment might mean business losses in some cases, but I trust this will certainly mean greater wins for our clients and the Australian consumer.

The Idea Shed head of strategy Eryl Thomas
Do what is right, not what is easy has always been my personal and perennial kick up the bum and I think we are going to have to double down on this in 2021. We will be forced to find clever (and commercially viable) ways to make genuine connections with consumers. Marketers will need to retrain everyone against discounting as COVID compensation and so ramp up the attractiveness of their brand experience with value adds. I’m looking forward to pulling some tech initiatives out of the 2020 too hard basket; AR, AI and voice. It’s also not easy to find a way to genuinely activate your purpose. I believe that finding a less cringe way to show you care will be on ‘the right side’ of the 2021 to do list.

Connecting Plots managing partner David Jansen
Heading into 2021, adland will flourish as it breaks through the creative restrictions that we saw in 2020. As these boundaries loosen, talented people who have been in limbo for the last year will wash out of the larger network agencies and look to set up their own consultancies, collectives and collaborations. These creatives will flourish when freed from some of the restrictions larger agencies put on them, and we will hopefully see more indie agencies snag a lot of the top talent looking to hone their local focus.

This year has shown many clients that a full-suite offering can be the best option in times of crisis, and no doubt as brands look to future-proof they will head towards the agencies that can meet their evolving needs, as they continue to chase more efficiencies with less commitment than ever before.

Now We Collide Creative Agency CEO Keir Maher
In 2021 creative planning for platforms rather than channels alone will become more universal. You’ve got to give your great idea the best possible chance to connect with people, while keeping the integrity of the creative consistent. Simplicity and distinctiveness will also be key. Understand how people are engaging and reacting on individual platforms and then tailor the creative to make it more impactful. Great ideas are still the most important thing, BUT almost as important is how those ideas are backed by quality insights and data. Creatives that get this balance right in 2021 will end up on top.


Digitas head of creative Simon Brock
The Cookiepocalypse is coming. That means brands are going to have to start finding new ways to convince consumers to hand over their data. Failure to do so will leave many brands struggling to connect via digital media in the future, so the stakes are high. That might sound like it has nothing to do with creativity, but the reality is that this new conundrum facing brands is the single biggest opportunity for transformative creative thinking our industry has seen in a decade. Next year we’re going to have to dream up new value propositions, new interactive experiences, and new ways to build trust between brands and consumers – the kinds of briefs that ought to have modern creatives salivating.

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