1 The recession
A dearth of available consumer credit, mass redundancies, plummeting house prices and the looming spectre of higher taxes to pay for the government's bank bail-out made the economy the defining theme of the year. In January 2009, Britain officially entered recession for the first time since 1991, as the economy shrank at its fastest rate in nearly 30 years. Banking emerged as the nation's most loathed profession. Marketers were operating at the sharp end of the down-turn and, as many companies' biggest area of discretionary spend, their budgets were the first for the chop. While the advertising industry lobbied for brands to 'spend through the recovery', the reality for many brands was tightened budgets and unachievable targets.
2 Brands embrace 'you'-centred marketing
While the recession was all about 'them' - whether bankers or MPs - brands jostled to show consumers they were 'one of us'. From T-Mobile's much-imitated flash mob campaign to OXO's more homespun 'OXO Factor' ads, brands sought to position themselves firmly on the side of the consumer.
3 Waitrose launches Essential range
Proof that the downturn is an opportunity to innovate, the Essential Waitrose range is an excellent example of how innovative marketing can drive a business forward. The supermarket faced a clear challenge: namely, that its customers were buying their staples elsewhere as they perceived the supermarket to be too expensive. In response, it launched Essential - a classy alternative to the design-devoid base-level ranges favoured by Britain's biggest supermarkets. Crucially, the range had not even a sniff of budget about it, and therefore did nothing to damage the brand's premium positioning.
4 Virgin Atlantic brings the glamour back to flying
With Ryanair proposing to introduce a £1 toilet charge and the memory of Terminal 5's chaotic opening still looming large in consumers' consciousness, Virgin Atlantic's 25th anniversary campaign was a stand-out marketing moment. The airline celebrated with a confident, glossy TV ad, created by RKCR/Y&R. The spot featured a troop of glamorous cabin crew striding through an airport to the strains of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Relax.
5 Online advertising overtakes TV
Arguably the most important media milestone of the year came as online advertising became the UK's biggest media platform, overtaking TV. The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB)'s biannual online expenditure report, in partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers and the World Advertising Research Centre, found that internet spend had grown to £1.75bn in the first half of 2009, accounting for 23.5% of the total ad market. The vast majority of that figure came from search advertising (a figure later revised by the IAB). TV accounted for 21.9% of the market. As the boundaries between the two media blur, it is clear these figures are not about presenting an either/or argument. However, in just six years the internet has gone from being the smallest ad medium to the biggest, which represents a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour.
6 The closure of London Lite and thelondonpaper
This year the streets of London were not paved with gold but discarded free news-papers, which also found their way onto the capital's public transport. Marketers have long been told that 'the future is free', but publishers, it seems, have other ideas. The astronomically expensive battle of the freesheets came to an abrupt halt when News International axed thelondonpaper in September. The following month the Evening Standard took the free route and Associated News-papers pulled the plug on London Lite. This is not the end of the story, however. News Internat-ional has not withdrawn from the bidding for the London Underground morn-ing distribution contract, currently held by Metro, which is up for renewal next year; and a new free paper, The London Weekly, is poised to launch in February.
7 Pimm's battles with Pitchers
In a world where brand knock-offs have become ubiquitous, Diageo's legal action against Sainsbury's over its Pimm's-a-like alcoholic punch brand, Pitchers, was a bold move. The drinks giant launched its legal proceedings against the supermarket in August. They eventually reached a settlement out of court, with Sainsbury's agreeing to change the Pitchers label.
8 Big Brother gets the chop
It was the year that British viewers finally got tired of watching fame-seekers sit around in their pants all day. Channel 4 announced it was axing Big Brother after ratings plummeted; the 2010 series will be the last to be screened under C4's multi-million-pound deal with production firm Endemol. Researchers have suggested the end of the series, which celebrated fame for fame's sake, reflects consumers' desire for deeper relationships with 'real heroes'. Or it could be that they realised the show had become mind-numbingly boring.
9 Legalisation of product placement
The government's U-turn on TV product placement - a practice that turned James Bond into a Mondeo-man - marks the birth of a compelling new platform for UK marketers. At the time of writing, the consultation process is simply looking at how product placement on TV could work; however, TV bigwigs see it as a done deal. Marketers eying the potential of product placement need look no further than the US for inspiration, where brands such as Lexus have become an integral part of the storyline in shows such as Desperate Housewives as part of placement deals. Good news too for Coca-Cola and UK viewers of American Idol, who will no longer be distracted by pixelated cups.
This was the year of the tweet. If you didn't tweet it, then it didn't happen, and if you couldn't put it in 140 characters, it just wasn't worth saying. N