Headshot of Max Lenderman

Goldman Sachs just released its much-anticipated forecast report and painted a rosy picture for consumer-led capitalism. We’ll see the easing of trade wars and monetary policy, an accelerated growth of 2.5% and unemployment dropping to 3.25% by the end of 2020, which the bank says would be the lowest rate since the Korean War. Wage growth should also rise by about 3.5%, with those on lower incomes set to gain the most.

For those working in marketing and advertising, this kind of prognosis is manna from heaven.

Consumer confidence is up, spending is up and more people are going to be time-starved, mentally-drained, consumption-driven and spiritually unfulfilled, perfect conditions for those of us in the persuasion industry. If Karl Marx thought that religion is the opiate of the people, consumerism is its Oxy-cousin.

Work-obsessed society is easily prone to persuasion. So, in 2020, persuading people with messaging would be like shooting fish in a barrel. We’ll have a growing audience that is captured in commutes for even more ads, a larger inventory of programmatic ads for those seeking solutions through consumption and even more brand experiences that take people out of their existential rat races, one Museum of Ice Cream visit at a time.

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Our industry can certainly choose to take the year to extract from people and transact to people with impunity, or it can choose another way. It can choose to start helping people and inspiring them instead.

If integrity is doing the right thing when nobody is watching, then integrity in marketing is doing the right thing when everybody is watching. And this is the opportunity that 2020 presents: the ability for brands and companies to present and establish their integrity credentials to their customers.

According to a July 2019 Gartner report, there has been “a dramatic collapse in consumer trust between 2016 and 2019.” It said that U.S. consumers put their trust in entities closest to the individual like friends and family, locally owned businesses, small brands and not much else.

Trust has collapsed even more for large and influential U.S. consumer subsegments, including millennials and multicultural consumers. And trust correlations between low-trust entities like big brands and corporate America and high-trust entities mean that big brands face a big trust challenge.

So, here’s the conundrum for big brands and businesses: You have an audience that is primed for your message, but what will you say?

[The opportunity 2020 presents is] the ability for brands and companies to present and establish their integrity credentials to their customers.

My suggestion is to stay away from trying to sell anything. Instead, let the world know what you are made of, what your core values are and why you want to earn your business and not just shove it in people’s faces. Work to build trust in social institutions, and people will begin to trust you.

Families will be strained; ease their lives. People will be stressed; help them seek help. Cultural discourse will be heated; provide relief and assurance. Institutions will continue to break; step in and carry your fair share. Or just look the other way and flog another buy-one-get-one deal.

I hope the majority of brands and business don’t choose the latter next year. I know that the advertising students I meet every day don’t want to step into an industry that chooses to exploit rather than enhance peoples’ lives. They are looking at the next year as a bellwether occasion, a year full of opportunity to do the right thing and full of peril in pursuing the wrong way.

My prediction for 2020 is that this is the year where the deep divide in culture permeates the brand world where more purpose-driven and conscious capitalists pull away from the old guard, Boomer-minded behemoths. The new decade will decide the future of brand trust and growth quite quickly. But it’s too early to tell whether that future is as rosy for brands as it is for the economy.

Max Lenderman teaches at Denver Ad School (DAD), University of Colorado Boulder and is a member of the Adweek Academic Council.