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How has 2020 changed the advertising industry?

Marketing News

A year in review: How has 2020 changed the advertising industry and what can we learn?

2020 has been, in the least possible words, complicated; with every individual, family and business feeling the effects of Covid-19. Navigating a broad range of issues and rules during the year has been stressful and left many people exhausted and fearful. Businesses in particular have felt this impact, trying to keep their employees and customers safe, finding new ways to advertise their products and also trying to stay afloat. These changes have not all been negative however, with the world seeing incredible growth in social media sites and online businesses. Sites such as TikTok and Zoom, and E-commerce sites such as Amazon have seen exponential growth in our world of new normals and unprecedented times. And small businesses have found new ways to thrive by utilising these social media platforms. With the vaccine being rolled out over the globe, there is now some hope that the world can return to normal. But a question remains. What aspects of life will in fact return to normal, and what will have been changed for good?

With 2020 coming to an end, and 2021 on its way, we think it’s important to take a look at how Covid-19 changed the way advertising is used, and how this will affect businesses and customers in the future. Within this blog, I will focus on three main things: the rise of social media in 2020, the decline of ‘influencers’ and what this all means for the future of advertising. So without further ado, let’s take a look at how the advertising industry has changed this year and what we can learn from it.

How social media has changed over 2020

One of the major changes in how advertising has changed throughout 2020 stems from the shift in how people use social media. During the months in which all countries were in lockdown, social media users began to desire two key things: entertainment and connectedness. Individuals wanted apps that would help them pass the time, take their mind off current events, and also stay in touch with family. This desire was reflected in the growth of certain apps. For instance TikTok, a site famous with Gen Z audiences for often silly 1 minute videos, gained 115 million downloads in March 2020 alone. And Zoom, an app that allowed families and businesses to stay in touch via video chat also rose. In the height of the pandemic in March, Zoom was seeing 200 million daily meeting participants. The following month, this figure had risen to 300 million . Compared to 10 million users in December 2019, the difference is shocking. From these stats we can see that social media clearly became a large part of everyone’s lives in the last year, and with this, new opportunities for advertising were realised.

One social media site that changed the way brands promoted their products was Tiktok, as small businesses began to gain virality based on personal and empathetic videos showcasing their products. Although TikTok is known mostly for its entertaining videos, it has also proven to be a great tool for businesses. With users spending an average of 45 minutes per day on the site, there is a large possibility that new customers will see and engage with your brand’s videos. and with a virality algorithm that allows unknown users to be thrust into the spotlight, Tiktok is great for small businesses as well as well known brands. 

An example of this virality algorithm helping brands this year comes from the TikTok user @tonesterpaints. With a staggering 1.2 million followers, it’s surprising to learn what Tony Piloseno became famous for. The American University Senior started creating paint mixing videos after working for Sherwin Williams, a well-known paint shop. Since then, followers have been consistently watching Piloseno mix paint, with many citing it to be exciting and relaxing. This TikTok account prompted Tony to pitch his account to the company’s digital marketing as a way to reach Gen Z viewers and create more customers. 

With so many new users on TikTok this year, it is clear that this social media site is a great tool for businesses. Brands have the opportunity to reach millions of customers by creating videos that Gen Z can relate to. Not only is this a great way to get a large demographic using your products, it’s also a great way to build an audience if you’re just starting out.

Another big change in advertising came from the decline of traditional social media ‘influencers’. Usually, influencers use their social media to portray a lavish lifestyle, advertising products for their followers to purchase whilst being on holiday or at fancy dinners. Many companies in the past few years have utilised internet influencers to promote their brand. For instance, viral hair vitamin brand SugarbearHair rose to fame after promotions from the likes of James Charles and the Kardashians. However, 2020 has seen a large decline in popularity for these influencers and brand deals alike. Favouring empathy and relatability. Customers are no longer interested in seeing lavish lifestyles, especially not whilst being stuck in their homes during lockdown. In fact, the influencer lifestyle has been met with anger and resentment during the pandemic, with usual loving fans telling their idols to stay at home and stop promoting brands when everyone else is suffering. Because of this, customers have been seeking other forms of advertisement that their customers can relate to. 

As customers started to seek empathy in advertisements, brands who thrived in 2020 provided a sense of community. An example of this being performed well is Samsung’s get through this together together campaign. This global campaign ran in New York, London, Italy and Hong Kong on billboards and aimed to communicate with consumers during Covid-19. Following this, Samsung also created video ads out of customer photos and stories to cheer up their customers. Both of these campaigns allowed customers to feel as if their struggles were being shared, and gave consumers hope during a difficult time. These campaigns were also released alongside other ongoing Samsung campaigns for their own products, making them a great advertising initiative altogether.

What can we learn?

When looking at this shift in social media, it’s important to look at how this information can help us advertise in the future. Firstly, understanding customer desire is an important part of any campaign. From the information stated above, it’s clear that customers want two things in 2020: to be entertained and to relate to advertisements. As this shift may continue into 2021, it is thus important to look at how brands can be more empathetic towards their customers, and offer entertaining or heartfelt messages. Secondly, If brands are to utilise influencers, they should seek individuals that their followers relate to rather than those living a lavish lifestyle, at least until life returns to normal. And finally, social media platforms are increasingly more popular which makes them more of an important tool than ever before. 

Social media has always been an indispensable tool for businesses, but the main take away from 2020 is that businesses must adapt and respond to shifts in social media in order to create messages that resonate with potential customers.


Overall, the year 2020 has brought about many problems for businesses. Finding new and innovative ways to reach an audience when everyone is at home has been the main challenge for brands and the shift that has been caused by 2020 needs to be accepted and adapted to. This has already been seen, with innovative, covid-friendly events being organised such as drive-in firework displays to allow people to celebrate things they love safely. This kind of innovation can be applauded and encouraged moving forward. 

Most importantly, a new sense of community and empathy has been created for people during 2020. With everyone in the world living through the same hardships and fears, individuals want to feel connected more than ever. This means that businesses should respond to this need and create new ways to advertise their products that compliment this world shift.

That being said, we wish you all a happy new year!

Posted in Marketing News