The world in 2018: the Economist's Daniel Franklin shares the trends to watch out for

Daniel Franklin

2017 has been a year no one could’ve predicted, and it would take a brave person to guess what’s coming next. So step forward Daniel Franklin, executive editor of the Economist and editor of The World In 2050, who has worked with his editorial team to gather information about the key trends we will see next year. From technology to politics, he gives The Drum a taster of what 2018 holds in store and we explore how the milestones on the horizon could translate into hidden opportunities for brands.

Of course, president Trump is a topic on everyone’s lips – and that won’t be changing any time soon. Whether you’re a hater or a supporter, people can’t help but populate the internet with his policies, tweets and photos. And despite our complaints, a whopping 34.9 million of us follow him on Twitter. “Everybody is obsessed with Trump,” Franklin begins. “There is a kind of repeating narrative for what I might call ‘Trumpism’ and ‘Macronism’. You have the Trump identity politics with a strong view of the world (a protectionist one), playing against a Macron triumph which was very much an open view of the world (pro-European, pro-international, pro-trade), and I think the tension between those two, whatever happens over the coming years, will be actually rather crucial for all of us.”

Franklin states that we still have to decide whether Brexit is closer to the Macron side of things or the Trump side of things, and that there everything is to play for. “If there is going to be a parliamentary ratification of a deal then the agreement needs to happen before 2019 – so next year is going to be a crucial time for Brexit.”

In addition to all the political chaos currently riling the states, there are the US mid-terms next year. Although these are for congress rather than the presidency, they will become a judgement on the Trump White House. Franklin explains that the closer you get to it the more it will dominate the presidency in America: “It has importance beyond just a popularity contest. If the democrats win the house, the potential legal difficulties for Trump become much more serious and become problematic for him with congress.” The chances of impeachment are much higher as a Democratic congress than a Republican one, and there is everything to play for, so marketers will need to have an ear for the political mood as they craft their campaigns.

With the World Cup taking place in Russia, it is also going to be a big year for sports. Franklin says it’s an event worth paying attention to. “[It will be] the most talked about and probably have the most marketing dollars spent on it,” he claims. The World Cup will also be interesting politically because it will come shortly after the presidential election happening in Russia next year, meaning there could be pitfalls for Putin in the crowd’s reaction to him. “There is a risk of his own crowds actually booing him in Russia, so we will see whether that causes embarrassment or not. And there is a risk of extreme embarrassment on the pitch. If you remember last time the Brazilians were thrashed the semi-final against Germany and it was a national disaster for them.

“The alternative case is that Russia demonstrates itself to the world and shows a different, less severe side to them than the receiver of international sanctions.”

The election will certainly be integrated into the football talk, which means that more people than ever will be tweeting, debating and following the results. There is an opportunity to unite political interests with the mainstream topic and sport some engaging online campaigns. If you intend to be a part of consumers’ trending online interests, you have got to keep your eye on the ball, and there are many interesting angles you can take next year.

Another big event on the horizon is the winter Olympics, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which Franklin suggests will cause a lot of tension: “For Korea this is a very big deal. They have a very cute mascot and they’ve been building loads of infrastructure and hotels for people travelling out to the venues. Of course, it’s now in the eye of the storm, and some people might think that by going to Korea they are going to the place that’s going to have World War III, so perhaps the tourists won’t come.

“On the other hand,” he continues, “it’s a fantastic opportunity for Korea to show that it’s not all about the madman next door and geo-political danger. There’s also this fun side of Korea which could be an incredibly good advertisement.” The Korean Winter Olympics will also hold trials on 5G. The service will not be coming out in mass in 2018 but we will start to see it deliver next year. “I guess more and more data is passed over and telecommunications can do more ambitious things like exploring virtual reality, and 5G will become more important,” he concludes.

It is not possible to talk about the year ahead without mentioning the dreaded topic of regulation. There are some big developments coming in the next year, one of them being GDPR, the European data protection law which will make its appearance in May. It’s going to affect people outside of Europe who have European customers, says Franklin. “You’re going to have, I suspect, some very baffled Americans who say ‘why do I have to go along with this GDPR thing?’ But if they hold data about European customers then it’s going to affect them.”

Nobody looks forward to GDPR’s arrival, and this will undoubtedly make marketing more challenging for programmatic advertising, but the positive outcome of this regulation is that you can encourage consumers to opt in more. Marketers should make the most of the change by writing encouraging forms and directly approaching potential customers.

In the world beyond our screens, SpaceX is planning next year to send tourists around the moon. There will be a few other eye-catching space missions, including taking a sample back from Mars and private missions resupplying the international space station. “I think there is a private competition to go up to the space station. There is some really interesting stuff and there will be a lot of talk next year of the change of the role of the private sector, so we have companies that are really doing adventurous things at a much lower cost, and much faster than the state efforts would do,” observes Franklin.

Another event that will soak up a lot of publicity is a new Disney film of Mary Poppins, released next year, with Emily Blunt taking the role of charmed nanny. The controversial themes in the story will be an interesting brief for Disney’s rework; feminism, fed through Mrs Banks’ role as a suffragette, will need to tread carefully on the evolution of women’s rights since the original film. For companies working on products aimed at women or the movements for women which have materialised in the workplace since Trump’s inauguration, the arrival of the film will be a great time to be socially active. The film also narrates the story of banking, so depending on Disney’s approach, it will be a great subject for the banking sector to reference on social media – particularly if they are modernising how they do things. “This will bring up a lot of old themes that could be construed with a fresh eye,” Franklin opines, “so it will be interesting to see how Disney represent these.”

2018 includes some interesting anniversaries, which brands may want to tap into, though how they will touch ‘Workers of the world, unite!’ remains to be seen. Marx has his 200th birthday next year, “and perhaps Britain will celebrate it with Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street,” Franklin jokes. There will be lots of Marxist themed experiences happening, including a colossal exhibition in his birthplace in Germany. Another example of workers of the world uniting comes from LinkedIn, which turns 15 years’ old next year.

And of course, The Armistice which ended the First World War has its 100th Anniversary in 2018. “Starting from 2014 we’ve had a few anniversaries – the start of the war, the battle of the Somme last year, this year the US joining the war and next year is a better anniversary,” Franklin adds. “Although we will look back and think it was rather badly handled because it was supposed to be the war to end all wars.”

Looking back on this year and the startling results it’s produced, it doesn’t seem that we can predict where politics will head in 2018. However, we can start planning for recorded activities. Certain events will continue to dominate the conversation on and off screen, so entering from new angles and playing with the boundaries between entertainment and action well set brands aside from the usual posts. The filming industries have a lot to look forward to, and as always, technology will continue to develop and surprise us. History will be buzzing in Britain’s streets next year; perhaps the atmosphere will see someone build a timeless piece of advertising.

Daniel Franklin divulged this knowledge at 'Talking Franklin', a dinner event organised by communications agency TVC Group, where he prepared 10 companies on the expectation of 2018.

Jessica Davis

Jessica Davis works with Drum Network members to create stimulating online content and grow their agencies.

All by Jessica