Chris McCrudden, Strategy Director at Edelman, explains why action is key to embracing the new era of optimism in brand communications and marketing.

It feels like most of us made the resolution to be more optimistic when the clock struck midnight on the 31st December. Everyone, from marketers and communicators to politicians in the 50 countries that will hold major elections this year, seems determined to make 2024 the year where we think and act with positivity.

Here at Edelman, we’ve been tracking a chronic optimism gap through our research for several years. This has persisted into our Trust Barometer for 2024, which reveals that people globally are beset by personal worries and existential fears for the future. In a world where 88% of people worry about their jobs and 76% about the effects of climate change, it’s no surprise that people need cheering up.

Yet we shouldn’t confuse this yearning for optimism with a desire for brands and business to deliver escapism. The truth is quite the opposite. Our recent Trust & Climate report showed that 65% of people still think business is not living up to its climate commitments. To earn trust and find growth, brands and business still need to take actions, even as a wider ‘vibe shift’ in society prompts them to rethink the tone, framing and channel mix of how they communicate.

Our full report, Navigating 2024, sets out Edelman’s point of view on how brands and business can embrace this new era for positivity. It offers commentary and recommendations in areas from technology and health to beauty and travel, but here are three key areas where we think business has an opportunity to create optimism through action and communications.

Act now to build a story for AI that that has a happy ending for everyone

2023 was the year when Artificial Intelligence burst into our consciousness as a dystopian science fiction story made real. So, 2024 is the year when smart businesses will show that this story can have a happy ending for more than their shareholders.

Organisations that centre their AI story on reducing costs and shrinking workforces will grapple with waves of scepticism and hostility from their workers, media and the policy makers who will spend much of this year deciding how this technology will be regulated. They may also risk (as already happened with the National Eating Disorders Association and Tesla) endangering their reputations and their operations by rolling out technology that is not quite ready for primetime.

Instead, the businesses who build trust in their use of AI will use 2024 wisely to cut-through the hype surrounding the technology and shape a calmer, more realistic narrative on what it can achieve in the near and medium term.

Put a pause on sadvertising

There is a lot to be sad about in the world today and people do not want brands to add to that. For many, the ‘sadvert’ that has dominated TV schedules and award wins for the last decade is now inextricably linked with over-earnest brand messages they were inundated with during the pandemic. It’s time for something different.

Hence, comedy is back with a bang. Funny, irreverent campaigns such as Brazilian payment card Flash’s efforts to punk Nike over the cost of a football shirt were all over this year’s Cannes. Meanwhile, Apple’s decision to inject humour into its sustainability report video may have got mixed reviews from social media commentators, but it did succeed in getting people talking passionately about a topic that many find dry. It’s a great illustration of how, when deployed intelligently, humour can cut through complexity and make abstract ideas like carbon emissions feel real.

To navigate this shift successfully, many global brands may have to do things differently. Communicating with humour means being open to experimentation and giving more freedom to their markets. While everyone loves a laugh, what they laugh at is often a local matter.  

Hold your nerve through a challenging time for diversity representation

In the past year, new weight management drugs like Ozempic have literally reshaped Hollywood and stoked fevered speculation as to whether they will end the obesity epidemic.

It’s too early to say whether these medications will really have such a profound effect on society. The speed with which many celebrities, the media and opinion formers rediscovered the idea thinness is beautiful suggests, however, that 2024 will be a challenging year for body positivity.

Brands that take this swing of the fashion pendulum as a signal to go back on their commitments risk a backlash from millions of consumers who feel abandoned and angry after a brief period of inclusion. Those that hold their nerve and continue to engage with, celebrate and design for audiences that were chronically underserved even at the height of this movement will earn their trust and keep their custom through 2024 and beyond.

Acting with optimism

We’ve had a tough few years and there are many more challenges ahead. It’s therefore no surprise that everyone from consumers to hardened marketers need a renewed sense of fun and – dare we say it – hope. Consequently, the tone of what brands and business have to say to customers and stakeholders will be crucial to earning their attention in 2024. Yet turning that attention into the trusted relationship that drives growth is still about taking action. And at a time when business is seen as 52 points more competent than government, business can step up to fill this gap. After all, what greater source – or proof – of optimism is there than the knowledge that things can, and will, get better.