Advertising agencies have undergone a monumental shift in the past year. The brands that they work with and the creative that they produce has been fundamentally impacted by rapidly moving cultural changes and a shift in the way we consume media content. Creative minds have had to adapt; not only in the way they collectively generate ideas and ‘aesthetic visions’ but also to changing trends and demands by consumers.
2021 has been a particularly poignant year as we’ve gone through a rapid period of change, transitioning from a feeling of hopelessness to a place of growing hope, revival and restoration, and then back again as we mourn the losses of communities overseas. Adobe observed that at the start of the pandemic, brands were responding to growing restrictions on movement and social interaction with ‘cautious, restrained messaging’: “no one wants to look like they are capitalising on tragedy, yet staying silent is not always an option, either”. Yet following this, emerging themes of connection, comfort and wellbeing arose across visual culture, editorial and search data.
We look at recently published cultural trend reports by three of the biggest; Adobe, Youtube, and Shutterstock to see which growing creative and cultural trends startups need to be mindful of when planning brand activity.
Shutterstock published its annual report of creative trends across design, photography, video and music at the beginning of the year. They mined millions of search terms across their database of images, videos and music tracks to surface key trends (in the UK we’ve been searching for Bengal cats and Scandinavian picture frames, while over in Germany ‘bell pepper eggs’ and ‘buddhist figures’ have been leading the charge) shaping this into trend predictions in digital content for the year to come.
Shutterstock noted that photographically there has been a rise in demand for real people, real situations and real life. Studio-based shots saw a real decline, whilst authentic portraiture of people from diverse and rich backgrounds are on the up. This follows the trend identified by Adobe for a shift towards user-generated content.
As a keyword, ‘biodiversity’ saw a 70% rise in searches. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only driven a longing for a stronger connection with our natural world but also shined a light on the fragility of our ecosystem and the negative impact of human activity.
Linked, ‘Information Overload’ is a search term rapidly growing in popularity. Shutterstock noted that we are reaching our maximum capacity for digital communications. That we are saturated with the digital delivery of information. Startups and brands need to address how we can deliver communications whilst remaining mindful of a growing sense of digital saturation.
Adobe collates its data from consumer signals and the creative team at Adobe Stock to compose their annual trend forecast, and cover growing trends across Photography, Illustration, Motion Graphics, 3D Renders and Immersive Experiences.
This year, across Visual Trends, Adobe grouped its findings into 3 subsections: ‘Mood-boosting colour’, ‘Compassionate Collective’ and ‘Breath of Fresh Air.’ Across Design Trends ‘Austere Romanticism’ ‘Vintage Vaporwave’ and ‘Back to Bauhaus’ lead the charge, and across Video, Media Replacement, Transformative Transitions and Handheld were growing traction. We touch on three which we feel have greatest commercial relevancy and are most important for startups to take note of.
Collective action, the power of direct activism, mutual aid, strength, empathy and support were frequently occurring themes when summarising ‘Compassionate Collective’; “Agencies and brands are answering with campaigns that take a democratised approach to imagery, centring a diverse array of individual expressions.” Consumers want to connect with brands that demonstrate their shared values and portray a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’.
In times of strife, people want to be uplifted and colour has an incredible ability to do this. Adobe noted that ‘Bright, saturated, spectrums of colour’ were high on the agenda: “saturated colours have the happy psychological effect of making us feel more awake and alive, lifting our mood when we are down and giving us a shot of much-needed energy.”
This one was specific to trends in creative video; Adobe has seen a growing rise in user-generated content (UGC), and the aesthetic feeling of video content that is homegrown or has been created by hand. Adobe notes this as likely down to financial constraints as brands found creative ways to adapt to cut media and marketing budgets.
We touched on YouTube’s annual culture and trends report recently as delivered by Head of Culture and Trends, Kevin Allocca. The report was expansive (and can be read here) but the overwhelming themes were a boom in short-form content, growing demand for self-help videos, the rapid adoption of live streaming and a longing for content that harks back to simpler times. Allocca also noted that consumers have been turning more to digital video channels for guidance and tutorials.
The report focused heavily on 3 key trends; the evolution of the archetype of the content creator; (VTuber – or virtual YouTuber if that term is new to you – views grew to over 1.5B views per month by October 2020). Audience participation (again, tied to previous links to a growth in UGC) and the role of digital media in facing adversity.
“The creator archetype is evolving to match an audience more open to diverse stories and storytellers.”