Ethical behaviour, virtual reality and the demise of the website among Hotwire’s 2016 trends

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 4.19.30 PMVirtual reality, the death of the website and brands looking to put a stake in the ground over political and social issues will be some of the hot areas of next year according to PR agency Hotwire’s Communications latest Trends Report.

But while brands will start to put a line in the sand on important issues holding group Enero, which owns Hotwire, hasn’t made any plans to make agency pledges like Edelman’s commitment to no longer work with coal producers and climate change deniers.

Asked whether the group was looking at an ethical commitment Matthew Melhuish, CEO of Enero, who was speaking on a panel to launch the report said: “This is a trends report. I didn’t come here expecting to make a commitment on something we would or would not do in the future.

“We always try and do the right thing wherever we can and that’s always guided the way we behave. We look at anything on a case by case basis.”

Hotwire Australia managing director Alexis Wilson said she would be prepared to make a “values-based decision” in the future.

“We ethically review briefs we receive. On the technology end I can’t say we come across ethical ones. I would be prepared to make a values-based decision,” she said.

“If a client isn’t doing good, then they’re probably not going to be doing good business for a long time. It’s good to address that upfront.”

The trend for brands to start debating issues was one of ten trends identified in Hotwire’s seventh annual Communications Trends Report.

The report, which is crowdsourced from 400 communications professionals in 22 countries, suggested VR will be a key trend in the year ahead as it “lends itself perfectly to brands looking to bridge emotion and fact”.

Alexis Wilson“The second trend I wanted to talk to you about is experiential communications. What really is driving this and making it really exciting in 2016 is virtual reality. We’ve seen Samsung and Facebook put major investments into this so not only is gaming and entertainment going to make virtual reality a lot more pervasive then we could ever have imagined, the hardware will become a lot more accessible in 2016,” Wilson said.

“But why it’s exciting as a communications trend and not necessarily a technology trend is that virtual reality will make communications more experiential than we have ever seen before.”

Wilson cited Marriott Hotels use of VR in the US with its “VRoom Service” which allows guests to order VR experiences to their rooms and Amnesty International’s use of VR to bring home the horrors and reality of barrel bombing in Syria to Londoners.

‘That’s an extremely powerful way to get a communications message across,” she said.

Other trends the report identified included platform wars, or the death of the website, with publishers able to use external platforms, such as Facebook Instant Articles, to distribute their content and the death of the millennial.

“This trend is more about the idea that ranking people by age and the year you were born is quite arbitary and archaic,” said Wilson.

“What I mean by this is I know plenty of 21 year olds who are on Facebook and plenty who aren’t. I know plenty of 60 year olds who are on Facebook and plenty who aren’t.

“The idea is we’re seeing brands, particularly in America focus on stage not age. If you’re focused on what stage a consumer is at you can look at the communications journey that they need to go on to get them where you want them to be.”

Wilson concluded by saying 2016 will be a “fascinating year in communications” but the industry is going to “have to work a lot harder”.

“We’ll probably see a lot less results but the value that we will see from communications will be a lot more then we’ve ever seen before,” she said.

Hotwire’s communications trends for 2016:

  1. Platform wars – embracing third-party mediums

Websites will become a channel rather than an end-point. While they will still be a place for us to publish, we’ll increasingly see information spread across the web as publishing channels like Medium and LinkedIn pulse, which have built in distribution services, become a staple of marketing campaigns.

  1. Funnel reversal: marketing in the Age of Amazon

The traditional funnel model for purchases has been flipped. Consumers now go straight to the source for purchases. But where Amazon goes for breadth, brands can go for depth, targeting content and campaigns which create a brand experience will keep customers coming back for more – building a stronger connection with the customer and reversing the funnel at the same time.

  1. Our audience is killing advertising

iOS9 has enabled ad blocking – but the industry isn’t ready to respond. In 2016, marketers will absolutely need to get better at native advertising as well as explore new ways of generating top of the funnel awareness – from sponsored podcasts and influencer partnerships with bloggers, vloggers and Instagrammers through to a renewed commitment to experiential activity.

  1. Death of the millennials

2016 will be the year we finally stop targeting ‘millennials’ as one whole demographic. Instead brands will look to target audiences based on a specific mind-set and certain values. We’ll see increasingly sophisticated content, targeting different groups of this younger audience and that targeting will be age agnostic. We may even forget about age in general – it’s just a number – and focus marketing on what really motivates our audience: their passions and the life they choose to live.

  1. Living in the moment

2016 will be about living in the moment. Marketers will rely less on content calendars and more on gut instincts and guidelines. Those that can free up their teams to create content in the moment and embrace the lack of perfection this moment implies, will help their brand communications feel a lot more natural.

  1. Go big. Go hyperlocal.

In 2016, marketers need to go granular – creating individual messages for every section of our target audience and tying these to their distinguishing feature. In this new hyper granular world, four or five pieces of copy are no longer enough – we’ll need to create 10, 15 or even 20 messages, each of which targets a specific sub section of our audience.

  1. Be relevant. Be useful. Be heard.

The great marketing campaigns of 2016 won’t be about making noise, they’ll be about providing a service. We’ll learn from the big boys who have cottoned on to this already. Where it’s IBM providing shelter from the rain with their outdoor adverts or Samsung mounting giant screens on the tailgate of their lorries – streaming live traffic from a camera on the front of the vehicle, to show drivers when it was safe to overtake. Marketing campaigns will increasingly become an active, not passive part of daily life.

  1. Virtual Reality as your channel of choice

As consumers demand more experiences and less linear communication, VR will become a key trend for 2016. The hardware will become pervasive as a result of the gaming and entertainment community, but it will be the content creators and communicators who ensure the platform bleeds into all walks of life, not just gamers. Marketers need to not just understand the impact the technology can make on our strategy, but know when it can be used and who to call upon to make it work.

  1. Brands as the new activists

Values hold communities together, but they must be lived and seen in action. With consumers increasingly forming judgements based on a brand’s social and economic policies, we will continue to see brands putting further weight behind social and political issues that people care about – placing values at the core of their communication strategy.

  1. Cutting the cord

2016 is the year the industry gets its act together on online video – combining experts in video production, planners and account teams with a deep understanding of the channels video works best on.


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