Future is Now (24 things for 2024)

Welcome to 2023A, also known as the year that seems to be very much a continuation of 2023, without many silver linings to lighten the dark clouds prevailing in the business zeitgeist.

Many client businesses and agencies I speak to seem worried about 2023A. The two big festival seasons, Chinese New Year and Ramadan-Raya being so close to each other, is making many think that the real work, excitement and new marketing efforts only starts in May 2024.

And yet meanwhile, the war in Ukraine shows no sign of abating, Israel-Gaza has many Malaysians saddened and angered, many brands are being boycotted, and pervasive Malaysian inflation is definitely hurting consumers.

So, in the spirit of being helpful as well as alliterative, here are 24 things for 2024, for marketers to think about and capitalize on. Hug your teddy bears close (though you may choose not to sleep with them) and enjoy the ride.

#1: Predictive models are not very good at predicting

Speaking at the Festival of Media organized by the Media Specialists Association in October 2023, Kiranjit Singh,  Regional Head, APAC of Ipsos Strategy 3, spoke about how stable relationships between variables were breaking down. So, for instance, the relationship between GDP growth per quarter and consumer sentiment, which used to move in parallel, had post Covid started diverging.

It’s becoming harder to predict using precious methods and variables that worked in the past: for instance, while the stock market in Malaysia is 6% down from its 3 year high,  the national growth rate is estimated at 4.4%, which by itself is not unhealthy. Many corporates admit they over-projected for 2023, and have learned their bitter lessons. Projections for 2023A are flat across many companies.

#2: AI is here to stay

2023 was the breakout year for AI: record levels of funding, Chat GPT being used everywhere, including to write appraisal forms and speeches, new jobs like Prompt Engineer making a cameo appearance, and generative AI being used for imagery creation.

This is just the beginning. AI is definitely here to stay, and some industries will find their cost structures completely changed, according to BCG.  It’s up to us to embrace AI: our behaviour and attitude to AI will help define whether it’s an “Aiyoh” or “Awesome” year for our enterprises.

Expect more AI news. And also expect to be underwhelmed: Copilot is not widely available or used yet, the “wah!” will become “meh” unless more easy-to-use tools and softwares emerge.

#3 Inflation hits hard

The price rise is affecting consumers across all categories of expenditure:

#4: Consumers are adapting and cutting back

Consumer spending habits have changed in 2023 itself. Consumers are grappling with inflation and cutting back their spends on “unnecessary” expenses, across genders. Downtrading is on the rise. Expect this to continue in 2024.

#5: Consumer confidence takes a dent

Possibly as a result of inflationary pressures, amongst other factors, consumer confidence in Malaysia, as measured by Ipsos, is at 44.9 and is below the global average of 47.2. Our neighbours Indonesia and Singapore, by contrast, have amongst the highest consumer confidence in the world.

#6: Ad spend is not growing

According to Nielsen data below, total ad spend in the country has declined by 1.1% in 2023 versus 2022. This is based on rate card value: the actual decline will definitely be steeper. On the brighter side, nominally ad spend has exceeded the 2019 value, so we have “recovered” from Covid.

But 2021, 2022 and 2023 are plateauing at RM 12.5 billion. Expect 2024 to be stagnant too, and plan accordingly.

#7 TV is a mixed bag

Pay TV is seeing a sharp fall (-4.3%) compared to traditional Free to Air TV, which actually grew (+3.55%). Astro has work to do to arrest the slide, and it won’t get easier in 2024, as consumers flock to Netflix, Viu and YouTube.

#8: Print is not coming back

Monitored Print advertising is at less than half of its 2019 level. Clearly, many advertisers are not coming back to print or have reduced their spends. This does not bode well for the future of reliable accurate news reporting.

#9: Digital is dominant, perhaps too dominant

When it comes to Digital, the Nielsen number above is not considered accurate, as platforms like Google, Facebook, TikTok don’t report their Malaysia numbers. According to multiple leading media agencies, over 65% of all advertising budgets are being spent on digital platforms today, and over 80% of that spend is on global platforms.

Is this the best allocation?

Personally, I think the pendulum has swung too far towards digital and we need to ensure there is more traditional media in the mix. Econometrics data that Ampersand Advisory runs for its clients demonstrates clearly that multiple mediums deployed in advertising drive more sales compared to putting most of the budget on digital.

#10: Radio signals static

Radio ad spends have declined slightly. The medium is losing ad revenue not necessarily to platforms like Spotify, but perhaps as a category itself compared to digital video. With consumers listening to digital music, podcasts and more, clearly audio is an opportunity for progressive brands to explore in 2024.

#11: Instore advertising in trouble

As multiple retail formats proliferate, and consumers shop online too, retail in store advertising has plummeted. We don’t expect this to recover in 2024. Instore ad budgets have shifted to in-app ads, we expect this to continue.

#12: Cinema goes lux

Cinema chains are seeing a return of crowds, and while ad dollars have  grown, the spends have not hit pre-pandemic high. There is a rise in luxury cinema experiences, including GSC’s Velvet and Aurum theatres.

#13: Outdoor gets more specific

Programmatic Digital OOH, with its better targeting and specific messages, has been waiting in the wings for 2 years, on the periphery of the main action. The technology and the execution has still not matured.

2024 is a make or break year for this technology: either it will prosper, or more players will struggle to gain a foothold, and will have to invest for more time to see returns.

My expectation is that pDOOH will make some headway but not become mainstream yet, as a lot of education and trial and error is still required.

#13: Electric vehicles will continue to grow

In May 2022 there were 15 EVs available. By October 2023, that number had jumped to 70. Expect 2024 to see more EV launches, and more such cars on the road, while charging facilities also increase. Range anxiety and difficulty of charging the cars is now perhaps the only factor holding the majority of consumers back.

#14: Consumers seek collective energy

As Professor Julien Cayla said at the MSA Festival of Media in October 2023 in Kuala Lumpur, consumers crave emotional connections and being part of a collective energy. Perhaps this need for connection in vast crowds has become heightened after the isolation of Covid.

Hence you can witness the hunger to be part of socio-cultural experiences like the mega Taylor Swift experience, or Barbenheimer, or Coldplay. Or even the continuing appeal of Malaysian domestic football, which packs out stadiums and represents tribal sub-cultures of fans who all remember the glory days and wish they could somehow just beat Johor Darul Ta’zim, even once.

#15: Long-standing digital platforms may tumble

Lazada sacked top management unceremoniously, and they were not alone. Google, Meta, Carsome have all bitten the bullet and cut staff. Foodpanda is awash with rumours of a sale to Grab. As digital businesses face existential questions, with the days of cheap venture capital long gone, there is a possibility of monopoly. Consumer rights may need to be protected and price gouging must be avoided.

#16: Remote working continues, but will be lesser

Knowledge workers in their twenties and thirties love remote working. Their bosses may be having second thoughts. Slowly we see workers headed back to offices, or switching jobs for the all-important “hybrid” work location.

We expect that trend to continue in 2024. But office space seems less necessary than before the pandemic, and rentals may be slower to rise.

#17: Malaysia is smack in the middle of conflicting forces in 2024

Wondering how to reconcile the various articles and points of view you see in the news? Maybe this model will help.

Two eminent scientists, Inglehart and Welzel (2005) postulate that modernization moves in two phases. The transition from agrarian to industrial society fosters a shift from ‘traditional to secular-rational values’, the transition from industrial to postindustrial society a shift from ‘survival to self-expression values’.

They map various countries every year on these variables. Their latest map shows Malaysia smack in the middle: the forces of tradition are conflicting with the forces of secular-rational values.

Expect more heated arguments and debates, cultural conservatism and opposing forces trying to move towards more Western values.

#18: Sporting events will bring cheer

Two big sporting events, the Paris Olympics and Euro 2024, right next to each other in the calendar, will have TV manufacturers salivating and sports fans hooked. Advertising will be relatively slow to follow the consumer, but it will provide somewhat of an upturn post the festive season.

#19: Women not given their rightful places in senior management

Despite Women’s Day being celebrated vociferously by all and sundry, the ground reality of unequal pay and not enough women in Boards will continue. The Grant Thornton International Business Report: Women in Business 2023 states that only 40% of senior management positions in this country are held by women, the percentage remaining the same as the previous year’s. Change in this crucial aspect will remain slow.

#20: Media rates not increase

As digital dominates, traditional media owners and even local digital media owners will be unable to increase their rates significantly. The bargaining power will shift more towards agencies and clients. More kinds of deals and opportunities will arise, for the innovators and risk-takers.

#21: Local movies will continue to gain traction

The successes of movies like the blockbuster action flick Polis Evo 3 and Malbatt: Misi Bakara, the more indie Imaginur and the critically acclaimed Abang Adik shows  that more diverse storylines are finding audiences.. Expect this to continue with Astro Shaw being a key player. Watch out for Keluang Man and more. There is hunger for local stories locally told.

The success of Amanda Nell Eu at Cannes with her first film augers well for more independent voices.

#22: Expect upstarts to prosper

Downturns or tough times create market variations and opportunities for the brave and bold. U Mobile is advertising heavily and aggressively to gain attention as Celcom and Digi merge. The strategy is apparently winning some share. Similarly, ecommerce brands are growing their shares in categories like baby diapers. The launch of multiple digital banks in 2024 will pose some challenges to the behemoth legacy incumbents.

#23: Mental health issues become even more mainstream

Malaysia’s mental health is at risk: over 84% of Malaysians say they need to take better care of their mental well-being. This is above the global average of 80% (Ipsos 2023). Brands would do well to factor this into their marketing plans, and work schedules. Products and services that entertain, distract or provide creative diversions to improve mental health can all grow their business.

#24: Boycotts are hurting and will not end soon

Never have I heard of Starbucks offering 1 for 1 deals. But that was a recent reality in 2024. Businesses seen by angry and saddened consumers to be on the wrong side of the Israel-Palestine conflict are suffering significantly, and that pain won’t end anytime soon, even if the aggression in the Middle East does.

The moral of the story: businesses need to take a stand and stand for what’s right, in their local markets. Multinationals will suffer unless they adapt to local needs and realities.

Sandeep Joseph is the CEO and co-founder of Ampersand Advisory, a strategic media and data-driven consultancy. The company’s mission is “business results now!” and it has won numerous local and international awards.  The views expressed here are the author’s own: you can debate with him at [email protected]

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