It’s that time of year again. I honestly can’t decide if 2021 was a blip or a crawl – it feels like both. So it’s a weird sensation reflecting on my predictions from what seems like yesterday but was really almost a year ago, and deciding how accurate they were. Let’s take a look…
Inclusion wasn’t just one of the cultural trends of 2021; it drove culture in 2021. Diverse stories and casts featured deaf people, gender non-conforming people, and people with a vast range of body types in more prominent roles than ever in movies and TV. We talked not only about inclusivity but authenticity as we debated In the Heights. Sports Illustrated featured a trans model on the Swimsuit Issue cover, and Victoria’s Secret said goodbye to the Angels. In advertising, the Martin Agency’s approach to inclusion helped them repeat as Adweek’s US agency of the year. It helps that we’re starting to genuinely move away from tokenism-as-inclusion. Cultures aren’t monoliths, and growing awareness of intersectionality is helping marketers move past skin-deep views of who we’re trying to represent.
I also thought Americans were ready for a boom, and so far it looks like the economy delivered. We’ve seen the same record-setting growth numbers over the past six months that we did in the spring – the `20s have indeed started off with a roar. But there are a couple clouds in the sky, the biggest one being inflation. Millennials and Gen Z folks may want to watch a couple movies about the `70s to get an idea of what real inflation will do to American culture and mood, but here’s a spoiler: it’s not pretty. So we’ll call the economy a mixed bag.
I wish I could say the same about the national traumas I thought we’d see the back of. With vaccines on the way, I really believed that we’d see relief on the COVID front. Today, with Omicron raging and vaccines turned into one more partisan football, it seems like we didn’t make much progress at all. And almost a year later we’re still hearing news about January 6, and the role some of our highest political officials played in it – and we probably will be for most of next year as well.
So as I look forward to 2022, it’s with a bit more cautious optimism than I had about 2021. We’re going to see further efforts to be more inclusive, and to keep pushing the boundaries of what inclusion means, but we should expect some pushback and missteps even as more and more people embrace the possibilities inclusivity offers. I still believe what I wrote last year, that we’re still “ready for an explosion of joy and for a celebration of life.” And to a large degree, we made those things happen this year. But we’re worried that it might have all been a mirage. That the good times are as likely to disappear as they are to roll on. That 2020’s demons will come back for a rematch in 2022.
Last year I suggested marketers help bring joy back into people’s lives. This year, I’ll suggest we add a bit of reassurance to the mix. Marketers have an opportunity to play a big role in shaping the national mood, so give your customers a hug to go with the whoops of delight. This year is going to be a rollercoaster for a lot of people. Help remind them that they can have nice things – and that if they demand them, they’re more likely to get them.