Marketing 2020 Round-up COVID-19

2020 round-up – the year in digital: transformation, adaptation & an e-commerce boom


By Rebecca Stewart | Trends Editor

December 21, 2020 | 9 min read

As we get ready to shake the dust off 2020, The Drum is rounding up some of the key stories, interviews and work that have shaped the year. Today, trends editor Rebecca Stewart looks back on the shining examples of digital transformation and adaptation that have emerged over the past 12 months.

2020 round-up – the year in digital: transformation, adaptation and an ecommerce boom

Covid-19 has done more to accelerate digital transformation across ad land than any CMO ever could

Two weeks out from the end of the year we can safely say that Covid-19 has done more to accelerate digital transformation across ad land than any chief marketing officer, innovation boss or head of digital ever could have.

When The Drum hosted its 2020 predictions events in the US and UK at the start of 2020 we —like everyone else — could never have anticipated what lay ahead.

The start of the year seen us hold real-life events (remember those?) featuring panels of experts from across the industry to discuss cookies, ethical adtech, the customer of the future, in-housing and even gave a longview what the decade would bring. But if one thing has been proven true in 2020, it's that it's almost impossible to predict anything in the current climate.

Completely unaware audiences would be locked down and glued to their screens in just a few months' time, we kicked off the year by exploring how the programatic TV dream was edging closer to reality. We also shone a spotlight on how L’Oréal was gearing up to become the world’s biggest ‘beauty tech’ business, as well as the weird and wonderful world of virtual influencers.

Little did we know that a post-cookie world would take a while to come to fruition either, with analysis of what Google's crumble would mean for publishers.

By March, many of the stories emerging from the industry were focused purely on digital transformation, and how companies were quickly pivoting from offline to online in a scramble to appeal to consumers in flux. We were quick off the mark with our first virtual event Digital Transformation Festival in early March which featured first-class speakers from digital-first companies discussing how they were flourishing in a pandemic.

Online giants such as Deliveroo told us how they were shaping the future of food, esports brands revealed how they were plugging the sports gap for fans, and Houseparty, Zoom and Instagramming sourdough, Nintendo’s video game Animal Crossing became a digital icon of the coronavirus era.

Since then, the reverberations of Covid-19 have only continued to accelerate digital transformation for marketers.

The increasing use of technology to work, play, and stay connected have shaped new digital trends that will last well beyond this period in history.

A new online boom

The shift to digital platforms and ecommerce is a change that has touched every marketing department over the past 12 months.

Explosive e-commerce sales are on track to top out at £3.9tn before 2020 mercifully ends.

Big brands like Walgreens pivoted online, while Nike hit its online sales target three years early. Supermarkets and FMCG brands also emerged as early winners as customers shifted to buying essentials online.

Over in APAC, Alibaba clocked record sales during one of the largest retail events in China – Singles Day. Purchases made in the 11-day campaign period covering the unofficial holiday topped $74bn, a 26% increase on 2019.

Facebook Shops also launched as social media shopping soared, but the biggest winner of all? Who else but Amazon? In October the Jeff Bezos-owned behemoth revealed it had made a staggering $48.35bn in sales over 12 months, equivalent to a 38% year-on-year rise. In line with this, its ad business jumped 50%.

Brands go virtual

Just as publishers moved events online, brands too got creative about crafting digital experiences for customers.

Out of countless examples, Asics’ VR shoe launch stands out, along with Defected Music's early foray into virtual dancehalls and Pomelo’s gamble on shoppable live streaming.

New (and spruched up) technologies

On the topic of of live streaming and video it would, of course, be remiss not to mention the meteoric rise of Zoom.

In 2019, virtual quizzes, family reunions and 'pub' meet-ups were few and far between. Most video conferencing was consigned to business meetings, and usually conducted under duress. Fast-forward 12 months and these activities now squarely fall into the ‘new normal’ bracket (though admittedly there will be many a Christmas Zoom quiz conducted under duress this week).

Other video players came and went (hello, and farewell Houseparty). One 2020 prediction that did map out as anticipated was the climb of TikTok; which has only continued to add users and tap into the interests of locked down audiences over the past year.

It's not been all about video though. VR, AR and (despite the conspiracy theories) 5G have all proven their use cases for marketers throughout 2020, with more fruit to yield in 2021.

Agencies shift to digital

Agencies have been on their own digital transformation journey this year too. WFH has become the norm, pitches have moved online and client work continues to be produced remotely in big markets.

Later this week we'll be exploring in detail just how transformative 2021 has proved for agencies, so keep your eyes peeled for an in-depth run down on Wednesday (23 December).

If you're already planning to switch your out-of-office on before then, we'll see you on the other side in 2021 for more insight, interviews and analysis from your marketing peers that will help you keep pace with the year ahead on

Marketing 2020 Round-up COVID-19

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