Following the first three parts of my 20 Lessons from 2020 – on marketingbusiness and the economy – part four is a slightly longer read, and looks at lessons 15 through 20, what we can learn from society.  The next and final part will summarise what we can all learn from 2020 and where we might go from here.

15. Zoom kept us together

I couldn’t write a Top 20 without reference to Zoom. It’s been so prevalent, I could’ve included it in any of my Twenty Lessons chapters. Like many of the new phrases we learnt last year, ‘shall we Zoom?’ was adopted by all generations at lightning speed. The company quickly addressed early security issues to become the number one video conferencing platform and has been an amazing enabler – hosting everything from business meetings to family parties to yoga classes and every other conceivable get-together.

With many people new to video calling, we’ve all seen a lot of foreheads and chins and even – on one occasion – an elbow (no idea how he managed that). There are lots of “How To” guides out there, so it’s worth checking out the tips on lighting and camera angles next time you’re getting ready to be interviewed by Sky News or join an informal networking meeting. Just one final plea from me – please don’t bring your breakfast or lunch along – this is a horrible hangover from real-life meetings IMHO and, honestly, no one wants to see you eating in close up.

16. Black Lives Matter

On a more serious note, if there was ever something that shouldn’t need saying, it’s this. BLM was clearly one of the zeitgeist movements of the year and can probably claim a lot of the credit for kicking Trump out of the White House. Like the #MeToo movement, it will hopefully be a catalyst for real change in society and industry, where positions of power are still disproportionately held by middle-aged white men. In marketing, we’re definitely seeing more on-screen representation, and it was reassuring to see the sadly predictable racist backlash against Sainsbury’s met with such unity by the other supermarkets. But that’s not enough. Brands must take positive action to ensure BAME voices are heard at the boardroom table, not just seen in the advertising (Nike et al, please take note).

17. Rainbow Washing

I’ve written before about how brands love to jump on a band wagon (or brand wagon, as I call it) and it’s usually easily ignored if it’s not your cup of tea. But the number of brands and institutions that have blindly supported the divisive and dangerous transgender movement is of serious concern. As the old saying goes, if you’re not angry about this, you haven’t been paying attention. For most women, this cultural appropriation of womanhood is as offensive, but far more dangerous, than black face. Its way has been paved by the social acceptance of pervasive and harmful gender stereotyping, which I wrote about 4 years ago.

To be crystal clear, this has nothing to do with LGB rights or genuine transexuals, alongside whom women have happily co-existed without issue for many years. This movement is about the misogynistic erasure of women (and lesbians) – their words, their freedoms, their rights and their safeties. It advocates medical sterilisation of young children, believes male rapists should be able to ‘Self ID’ into women’s prisons and domestic abuse shelters, and lurking at its fringes are paedophiles and extreme sexual fetishists (with quite some evidence that they, and Big Pharma, are the driving force behind the movement).

Unable to ever explain what rights they don’t have, this men’s rights movement is fixated on removing the rights of women, hurling abuse and threats of violence whenever challenged. They attempt to silence and destroy the careers of any woman that dissents (most notably, JK Rowling). Women are not ‘TERFs’ or ‘transphobes’ for demanding the retained protection of the 2010 Equality Act, and never before has a (tiny) minority group lobbied on the basis that improving their ‘rights’ necessitates the removal of the rights of half the population.

So, a plea to all brand owners. Take a proper look into this (genuinely horrifying) world before you spray your logo pink and blue. Or think that making your women’s toilets and changing rooms unisex is ‘inclusive’. Or consider calling women ‘menstruators’ or ‘chest feeders’ in your communications. Or give money to dangerous organisations like Mermaids or Stonewall (now so toxic, even their original founders have left in disgust). Recent court cases and political judgements suggest the tide may be turning, so let’s hope 2021 is a year when more brands get on the right side of history and stand up for women.

Because – should you need reminding – women are 51% of the population and account for over 80% of purchasing decisions. They are not a group you want boycotting your brand.

18. Valuing our key workers

Back to a nicer topic. During the first lockdown, we happily lined up outside our houses to ‘Clap for Carers’*. Most Brits have always felt incredibly fortunate that we have this amazing asset – staffed by incredible, dedicated people – at our disposal.  But it also became abundantly clear that there are a whole lot of essential frontline workers that we used to take for granted – from bus drivers, to bin men, to posties, to supermarket staff – that we simply cannot exist without. For brands looking for a community-based social purpose, there’s one right here. A band wagon that’s actually worth jumping on. (*Apparently it’s just been resurrected,  now called ‘Clap for Heroes’ to include all these critical key workers).

19. Protecting the elderly, the vulnerable & our veterans

When Covid started sweeping through care homes and the staff were forced to lock the residents away for their own protection, we all got a bit of a wake-up call. Captain Sir Tom Moore’s incredible fund-raising walk shone a new light on the need to protect both our elderly and our veterans. Last year, I was fortunate to work on a couple of projects for The Royal Hospital Chelsea (home of the famous Chelsea Pensioners) and The Big Issue – two organisations representing the polar opposites of privilege – helping them think about how they might find new sources of income. For the charities operating in these areas, the silver lining of Covid is an opportunity to reach new supporters who are keen to help – maybe more aware than ever that charity begins at home, and our elderly and vulnerable are too easily forgotten.

20. Communities rekindled

So, finally, here we are at number 20. And I’ve probably saved the best ‘til last. The pandemic has done wonders for local communities. We’ve seen the really good side of Social Media – especially the local Facebook groups which have brought people together who want to help. People volunteering to look out for lonely or vulnerable neighbours, do their shopping, share their food, or walk their dogs. We’ve met new neighbours as we’ve stood outside clapping.  We’ve rediscovered our local shops when lockdown made a trip to the big supermarket feel as big and scary an ordeal as climbing Everest. We’ve been inspired by pubs and restaurants donating surplus food (including entire Christmas dinners) to people in their communities. Some of us even developed a new appreciation for our own countryside when our foreign holidays got cancelled.

One of the biggest hopes for 2021 must be that this community spirit continues. If we’re going to be working at home for the foreseeable future, our small towns and villages need more amenities. If our dormitory towns, villages and suburbs are no longer dormitory, we’ll need places to go for lunch and meet friends and colleagues for coffee that are not our own kitchens. We’ll need places to buy birthday cards and toiletries, places to get our shoes repaired and our clothes dry cleaned. Small business has an opportunity to thrive and big business has an opportunity to introduce *truly* local, ultra small scale formats.

So what did we learn?  Appreciating the value of our own communities got lost as our lives to got fuller and busier. An empty diary and an enforced stop have given us the opportunity to look up and smell the roses, to be kinder and to get to know our neighbours and colleagues as people. Humans are social animals – we need connections – yet one of the early ironies of the internet was it became easier to have a conversation with someone 5000 miles away than with the person next door. Social Media has fuelled so many divisions, but it can also be a force for good. If anything, Covid-19 has shown us that we’re all in the same boat and as no-one knows how long this is going to last, it’s high time we all got along better. We can but hope.