Like 2020, 2021 has been a year of change and transformation. It’s been a year of the ‘new normal’ not only in our personal lives but also in the marketing space – which like every other industry has had to adapt to stay relevant. So, as this eventful year draws to a close and we wind down towards the festive season, let’s look back on some of the biggest marketing successes of the year with examples from brands that are leading the way.

Top 10 Marketing Trends of 2021

10. User-Generated Content

What is it? Also known by its abbreviation UGC, is any content – from videos to photos and reviews – that is created by people rather than brands. Not to be confused with influencer-created content, UGC is not sponsored or paid for in any way.

Why it works: This marketing tactic isn’t new but is gaining popularity as it helps brands connect with their audience and increases their authenticity. According to Hootsuite, over 50% of people are likely to trust recommendations they see online. This statistic illustrates the significance of UGC in driving purchase decisions.

Best Brand: Cotton On AfricaSource: Instagram

Cotton On Africa’s Instagram feed is a mix of their content, combined with outfit pictures from their followers. By using this tactic, Cotton On is achieving high-quality brand engagement and getting free content in the process.

9. Brand Storytelling

What is it? Brand storytelling is using a narrative to share your core values and principles with your customers. It helps companies communicate their brand purpose while making sure the customer takes the leading role.

Why it works: “Stories are scientifically proven to get a person’s attention.” – Michael Brenner from the Marketing Insider Group. In a world full of brands fighting for customers’ attention, a story is what sets companies apart and helps people identify with and remember them.

Best Brand: Bud Light

Source: YouTube

In January, Bud Light premiered its ‘Last Year’s Lemons’ ad, highlighting their latest offering – Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade. Not only does this ad have a killer and very relatable narrative but it also speaks to their brand values.

8. Gamification

What is it? As the name suggests, gamification involves incorporating game elements into the brand experience to drive engagements.

Why it works: Gamification helps brands foster a positive brand identity and increases customer retention rates by playing on users’ desire to play.

Best Brand: Balenciaga


Source: Papermag

To launch their Autumn/Winter 2021 collection, the luxury fashion brand used an interactive online video game, with characters sporting the new looks.

7. Brand Humanisation

What is it? Brand humanisation involves showing customers the human side behind a brand. Brand humanisation can be achieved through humour, storytelling and, sharing what goes on behind the scenes.

Why it works: This tactic helps create genuine relationships with audience members leading to increased brand loyalty.

Best Brand: Starbucks

Top Marketing Trends of 2021Source: Instagram

The iconic coffee brand has its own website to share inspiring stories called, Starbucks Stories & News and shares employee backstories on their social media pages.

6.  Personalisation

What is it? Personalised marketing strategies involve utilising customer data to serve tailored content and shopping suggestions.

Why it works: Everyone likes to feel noticed, and that’s exactly what personalisation plays on. It’s at the core of customer loyalty and retention. Forbes notes that the pandemic has accelerated the need for companies to embrace this strategy.

Best Brand: Spotify

Top Marketing trends of 2021Source: AndroidPolice

Although not technically part of the best marketing campaigns and strategies of 2021, it would be remiss of us not to spotlight Spotify’s year-end Wrapped. Every December the music app reveals a personalised playlist based on the user’s top songs of the year. This function not only nails personalisation, but also encourages users to keep using the app to improve the accuracy of the year-end report. Not to mention that this personalised playlist is extremely shareable.

5. Social Commerce

What is it? The unprecedented growth of e-commerce has paved the way for social commerce and shoppable posts. Social commerce refers to the marriage of e-commerce and social content – resulting in social media posts that include price tags and links to shop.

Why it works: Customers crave convenience and social commerce gives brands that opportunity to meet and convert customers where they are, while also providing engaging social media content.

Best Brand: YuppiechefSource: Instagram

One of South Africa’s biggest homeware and kitchenware e-commerce retailers is setting the example for local brands using social commerce. The brand’s Instagram shop is organised into distinct categories and includes a wide variety of products to choose from.

4. Green Marketing

What is it? Green marketing involves highlighting products/ features of a brand that are sustainable. Sustainability is a big topic right now – not just in marketing, but in general and is a competitive differentiator for brands.

Why it works: This strategy is becoming increasingly popular because more people are looking to support sustainable brands. It appeals to customers’ emotions and the desire to make eco-friendly decisions.

Best Brand: Chipotle

Source: YouTube

Successful sustainability campaigns address environmental issues in a way that inspires customers and fills them with hope – and that’s exactly what this Chipotle ad does. The ‘Can a Burrito Change the World?’ advert educates viewers on the brand’s sustainability journey and by extension shows the audience how they can make a difference by supporting Chipotle.

3. Nostalgia Marketing

What is it? Nostalgia marketing is undoubtedly one of the biggest trends of 2021 with several brands using this tactic – from luxury fashion retailer, Gucci to Coca-Cola. It involves using iconic imagery or messaging from the past in new marketing campaigns.

Why it works: Like all successful marketing strategies, this one appeals to emotions in a big way. It’s been particularly successful in 2021 as customers long for better, pre-pandemic times.

Best Brand: Fisher-Price

Source: YouTube

The renowned toy brand is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its Chatter Telephone with an amazing ad, and technological upgrade. The phone now connects to mobile devices and can be used to make real calls.

2. Video Content

What is it? This wouldn’t be a 2021 marketing campaign round-up without making mention of video content, which includes everything from vlogs, GIFs, live videos to webinars.

Why it works: Video content can hold someone’s attention for much longer than a static image or text and is more enjoyable for users. In fact, according to a survey done by Wyzowl “people are twice as likely to share video content with their friends than any other type of content.”

Best Brand: Oreo

Top Marketing Trends of 2021Source: Instagram

Oreo uses Instagram reels as well as IGTV to communicate its brand identity and engage its audience with fun video content.

1. Diversity and Inclusivity

What is it? Representation is key when it comes to marketing, so it’s only natural that diversity and inclusivity sit at the top of this list. It refers to making sure marketing efforts accurately reflect their target audience and the population.

Why it works: People are more likely to want to buy a product if they can see how a product will fit into their lives.

Best Brand: Disney

Source: YouTube

Disney’s new Christmas short ‘The Stepdad’ is a perfect display of the brand’s ongoing journey to inclusivity. This heartwarming advert not only features multi-racial characters but also beautifully depicts the modern, blended family.

To Wrap Up

That concludes our roundup of 2021’s most successful marketing strategies and campaigns! While all these brands and strategies differ vastly, there is a clear common thread between all of them – they go beyond simply selling products and services, to create content that adds value to the lives of their audiences and customers.

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