From Kevin Roberts to Bernie Ecclestone: The Drum's New Year Honours for the biggest industry-defining moments of 2016

The best industry moments from 2016

The industry-defining trends and phenomena that have shaped 2016, many of which will continue to resonate next year.

Direct-to-consumer

2016 was the year FMCG giants Unilever and P&G placed big bets on selling direct-to-consumer (D2C). It’s an area that admittedly will only ever return a minority of sales, but the promise of cutting out the retail middle man and forging a direct relationship with customers has proven too tempting to ignore.

Unilever was so enamoured with the idea that it dropped $1bn on the Dollar Shave Club in a bid to extract its secrets to use across its suite of brands. P&G, meanwhile, launched a trial subscription service for its Tide washing powder whereby people can sign up online and have it delivered for free at regular intervals. Or, through an app, members can order their washing to be picked up and delivered by Tide-branded couriers.

It remains to be seen how this will play out in 2017, but based on the investments being made, it’s a trend that shows no sign of slowing.

Brands and diversity

The industry hullabaloo around diversity (just do it, already) continued in 2016, with brands starting to weigh in. General Mills and HP both insisted their agencies should hire more women and people of color, with observers pointing to this being an opportunity for brands and agencies to more closely collaborate. While some welcomed the moves from brands to set the diversity agenda, others remain unconvinced that quotas are the best way to create a truly inclusive culture.

Meanwhile, Unilever put its weight behind the gender diversity issue when it announced in June that it would be scrapping stereotypes in its advertising, addressing three key areas where women are typically misrepresented: role, personality and appearance.

Kevin Roberts and that interview

At a time when the gender debate has never been more prominent, it was more than a surprise when Kevin Roberts, executive chairman of ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi and head coach at parent group Publicis Groupe, stated during an interview that the debate around women’s equality in the workplace was “over”. He attested that women didn’t really want leadership roles and went so far as to call out one of the strongest voices in the industry, Cindy Gallop, for making things up “to get applause”. Roberts was consequently given a leave of absence from Publicis Groupe, before announcing his resignation a few days later. He released a statement at the time apologising for his comments and blaming them on “miscommunication”.

Bringing down the wall

The issue of Facebook and Google’s walled gardens is not new, but revelations that Mark Zuckerberg’s empire has been miscalculating metrics, and that both internet giants have been inadvertently acting as channels for fake news, has caused the industry to stamp its feet much harder.

There’s no easy solution, as neither will completely topple their walled gardens and pulling out of the platforms risks cannibalising revenue. But the industry is no longer accepting that the two are allowed to mark their own homework and is demanding a third-party measurement system, with enough momentum behind it that it’s looking likely to happen. The government is also in talks to implement some degree of regulation in the distribution of fake news, which could see Facebook finally accepting it is a media owner after all.

Google dominance continues

Google’s hold on the adtech ecosystem seems as unshakeable as ever, despite challenges by some of its biggest rivals. Facebook attempted to disrupt Google’s stranglehold on the adtech market by launching Atlas as an ad server in 2016, with the company aiming to use it to take a chink out of Google DoubleClick’s handsome market share.

However, Facebook soon found that even with its mountains of resources and swathes of audience-rich data, publishers and agencies rarely have the time to change their adtech providers. This was evidenced by Facebook confirming it would bring down the shutters on its ad serving offering, repositioning it as an advertising effectiveness measurement tool.

The next billion

Google should be given credit for first discussing the concept of really servicing the ‘next billion’ customers, also known as Asia. What Google actually means by this, however, is that the swelling scale and maturity of markets such as China, India, Indonesia and The Philippines mean that it is becoming essential for companies to not only target those markets, but really build products around them.

It committed to setting up developer talent in Asia for the first time (in Singapore) in 2016, admitting it needed to be closer to people who are using mobile technology in a very different way to those in the US. Apple wants to do the same in China and Mondelez has reorganised its R&D around hubs, two of which are in Asia. With the economic power shifting towards that region, businesses need to work out new ways of organising themselves to grow in a meaningful way, rather than forcing Western strategies into an Eastern shape.

Biggest anti-climax

Twitter buyout

Thanks to stagnant user growth and investor jitters, it seemed all but certain Twitter was racing towards a buyout as 2016 drew to a close, but the little blue bird stayed firmly in its cage, defying analysts, critics and potential buyers.

Google, Salesforce, Disney and even News Corp were touted as interested parties ahead of the social network’s third-quarter update, but one by one they dropped out. Some argued that Twitter’s identity crisis spiked the prospect of a buyout, while Disney and Salesforce hinted that its problem with trolls and online abuse was to blame.

Either way, if sources are to be believed, Twitter chief Jack Dorsey is keen to turn his attention to developing a strategy that will offset subscriber issues with a focus on the site’s real-time element.

Most shambolic industry conference appearance of the year

Bernie Ecclestone

Celebrities at advertising events are nothing new – in the last year we’ve seen Channing Tatum and Gwyneth Paltrow grace the stage at Cannes Lions; Kerry Washington and Tilda Swinton speak at SXSW and Bono impart his wisdom at Web Summit but none of those compare to the shambles that was Bernie Ecclestone at Advertising Week Europe. Joining WPP chief Sir Martin Sorrell on stage, Ecclestone heaped praise on Vladimir Putin and the then-outsider presidential candidate Donald Trump, insulted women and told second generation immigrant Sorrell that “immigrants have not made a contribution”.

You can read more New Year Honours here.

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