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5 Takeaways from NYC Advertising Week 2021

There are a lot of things that can’t happen in a “New York Minute.”

In fact, AdvertisingWeek organizers have spent more than a minute dreaming about their first in-person event since Fall 2019. While this year’s conference moved to a hybrid model for 2021, the attendance and warm buzz at 20 Hudson Yards shocked my brain back into some sort of normalcy. While signs of COVID-19 carried on, the 2021 conference was a true celebration for a resilient industry that persisted through one of the most challenging times to work in advertising. 

Takeaway #1: The Industry’s Tricky Relationship with Data

For almost two decades it felt impossible to attend a conference without hearing “data-driven” as a prefix to every talk. As the tools have become more sophisticated, it’s clear there are two perspectives on “data.”

One approach is led by strong creative voices who resent the obsession to create near-sighted solutions based on momentary data, those who understand that data is only as good as the marketer who understands it. As one panelist put it early in the week, “Put crap in, get crap out.” 

The second perspective is working to systemize every decision and creative swing down to data. QuickFrame shared their contribution to these hyper-specific data decisions with their A/B frame-by-frame analysis on video ads to measure the highest-performing creative. The AdTech stage brought many optimistic data junkies to the conference, encouraging us to think critically about our client’s data strategy. 

Takeaway #2: Cookieless Optimism

The fifth stage of grief is acceptance. For many digital marketers, this started ever since the sundown of third-party cookies with Firefox and Safari. For advertisers and marketers, it finally feels like we’re on the road to actually shift our current strategies to reflect a cookieless (Chrome) future. 

The race to 2023 is on, and companies are not only accepting the challenge, but they are also looking at the sundown as an opportunity to rethink the way we handle consumer data. “We’re going to have to rely on what we always have—a strong, strategic creative,” one speaker noted. 

Takeaway #3: It’s TikTok’s world, We’re Just Living in it 

TikTok wins the award for most engaging activation with their “TikTok Bodega,” an homage to the classic New York markets and illustration of the e-commerce activity that the platform has generated in the last year. “TikTok made me buy it” was stamped on every tote bag carried around the conference as the platform leans into the future of online shopping. Just like Instagram’s shift in 2016 (and then 2020), TikTok has added more and more pathways to purchase with features like QVC-style live shopping (which debuted at the conference) and TikTok Stores, a native e-commerce feature for brands.

Takeaway #4: DEI Starts Internally 

Diversity and inclusion played a meaningful role in the 2021 AdvertisingWeek as a mainstage topic. The greatest pivot made for 2021 was the introspection among major brands and agencies. Talks often shifted to address the internal issues in an industry that has been too white for too long.  DEI roles increased 113% across industries from 2015 to 2020; however, leadership roles and senior-level creatives still lack representation. Moving forward, it’s clear the work must not just represent a clearer picture of our audience, but also, so should the people who make it. 

Takeaway #5: The Big Bet on Audio 

No room on the conference floor attracted a crowd like The Innovation Factory presented by Audacy. According to Business Insider, the number of monthly podcast listeners has increased this year by 15.5%, for a total of 383.7 million listeners. Next year, listenership will surge again, to 424.2 million. 

Advertisers see this opportunity as an affordable way to extend efforts to an underserved audience. Creatives in the room specifically sought to bring the idea of Audio Branding to the table as an opportunity to strengthen any brand’s identity. Ask yourself next time you start a branding project, “What does this brand sound like?” If you neglect an audio strategy for your clients in 2022 (yes, even for B2B brands), you may risk falling behind. 

Best practices and winning approaches change quickly in marketing and advertising, and keeping up with this demand shouldn’t be a one-person job! We think that it takes a whole team of Marketing Nerds keeping their ears to the ground to make a brand win in the marketplace!  

But even if you don’t have a whole team of Nerds, all is not lost! Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on LinkedIn—our content is focused on helping marketing managers in the manufacturing and distribution supply chain rock their roles! Thanks for reading. Stay awesome out there.

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