Hold On!

Hold Up

Please select a minimum of three sectors in the menu above.

Got It

Expert Outlook 2021 - Make Believe

Play Video


Canvas8 talks about the now. But we know – especially in times of uncertainty – that our clients like to look into the future.

Every year, we build them a crystal ball full of authoritative voices, industry expertise, and Canvas8 analysis to uncover the key behaviours to watch out for. In our seventh installment of the Expert Outlook, we’ve pulled together 50 expert interviews, 15 reports, and one overarching theme to help you prepare for 2021.

Make Believe

2020 turned reality on its head. Between COVID-19, global protests, an ongoing climate disaster, and a divisive US election, so much was ‘unprecedented’ that people grew sick of the word. The limits of what we know (and presume) to be true have been tested and broken.

Seeing first-hand that the world can look different, people are ditching established norms and are reshaping how they live in accordance with their personal values. But not everyone’s vision is the same. In 2021, we will rebuild the world and define a new reality – the ‘new normal’. But what’s not clear yet is whose truth will win.

How we got here

From the COVID-19 pandemic forcing people to readjust their lives to defend against the virus to widespread protests raising awareness of systemic injustices, the events of 2020 have made people question previously accepted truths and societal structures.

2021: Make Believe – Seeing first-hand that the world can look different, people are battling to reset ‘normal’

October: South Korea follows China, Japan, and the EU to set new climate targets for the middle of the century

September: Ruth Bader Ginsburg passes away, paving the way for a 6-3 conservative majority on the US Supreme Court

August-September: Wildfires spread across the West Coast of the US

August: An explosion in a warehouse in Beirut causes devastation across the Lebanese capital

June: Beijing passes the controversial Hong Kong national security law

May: Police officers in Minneapolis kill George Floyd, sparking a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement

April: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle quit the British Royal Family

March: The WHO declares the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic

February: Parasite sweeps the Oscars

January-March: Bushfires spread across Australia

2020: Hear Me!/Everyday Rebel

As the need for change became more urgent and more visible, people realised the powerful impact they could have as individuals.

Read the full report

2019: Find Balance

People sought to Find Balance as they wrestled with the limits of their agency.

Read the full report

2018: Break Reality

Growing anxieties saw people seek to take a break from real life.

Read the full report

2017: Take Control

Brands stepped up to help people Take Control of the uncertainty in their lives.

Read the full report

2016: Mobile Moments

People expected speedy and seamless services that fit exactly into their lives as standard.

Read the full report

2015: Joined-up Thinking

As digital innovations changed how people lived, shopped, and worked, they looked for brands to make the glittering possibilities of new technology feel familiar.

Read the full report

Sensemaker Framework

To help brands and businesses prepare for the new realities of 2021, we’ve created the Sensemaker Framework. It introduces four key audience mindsets that are set to shape 2021. Built to be dynamic, it’ll help you generate ideas and strategies that are responsive to evolving audience needs throughout the year.

Key agendas for 2021

To understand the wider context around behaviours that will impact 2021, we’ve created four Agendas exploring the Cultural, Economic, Environment, and Political shifts to look out for next year.

In 2020, COVID-19 brought a momentary sense of unity as the world tried to get to grips with the pandemic. But a year of lockdowns, job losses, global protests, and divisive politics means that a lot of people are going into 2021 with uncertainty and anxieties hanging over them. As social inequality, misinformation, and climate disasters continue to dominate the cultural conversation, people will look to brands to offer more than helpful gestures and entertaining distractions.

Virtual Adaptations

People will continue to embrace the convenience of digital culture

From live-streamed concerts and synced-up Netflix binges to weekly sports, COVID-19 forced cultural experiences online. In 2021, people will continue to experiment with digital channels for everything from escapism to networking to protesting, and cultural forms will further mutate even after ‘normal’ play resumes.

Party Time

People will look to let off steam – whether they’re allowed to or not

After a long year of restrictions, when countries finally turn a corner with the pandemic, there will likely be a prolonged moment of collective indulgence. With big events set to be made COVID-safe in 2021, partying may continue to be spontaneous and centred around emotional moments.

Family Home

Women will reassert their equality in and out of the home

During 2020, as homes became all-in-one offices, schools, and shelters, women disproportionately bore the brunt of facilitating this multi-use home. Gender equality is likely to be high on the agenda in 2021 as women seek to re-establish their roles within the family and the workplace.

Deep Divides

People will look to resolve polarisation as a priority

Rather than providing a common enemy, COVID-19 and the infodemic have deepened rifts within populations. With people feeling more alienated from each other than ever, pressure is growing on technology platforms and media brands to clean up the information their audiences receive and create more unifying spaces.

In the first half of 2020, as countries confronted COVID-19 outbreaks, economies were almost universally uprooted. In 2021, as the promise of viable vaccines looks set to stabilise both the literal and economic health of the globe, there is the hope of positive recovery. As a hesitant confidence returns and people begin to shape their lives in a post-pandemic environment, some will be looking to let off financial steam, while instability will continue for others.

Local Investments

People will spend their money closer to home

As remote working continues long term, people's wallets could be redirected to more localised centres. New spending moments may see people focus on home comforts and result in a rejuvenation of high streets amid a newfound desire to support local businesses.

Economic Indulgences

People will want to spend on everything they missed in the previous year

As vaccines are developed and people feel confident venturing out, a desire to make up for lost time may lead them to splash out on the things they missed in 2020. For brands, this may create an opportunity to encourage customers to treat themselves.

Imbalanced Recovery

While some will rush to spend once restrictions ease, others will remain cautious

The imbalanced economic impact of COVID-19 means that some people and businesses will be slower to regain financial confidence. For many, 2021 will continue to present hardships, meaning that brands may need to be mindful of the varied experiences of their customers.

Sustainable Structures

People will look to interlink economy and sustainability

2020 created an opportunity to reset, and one consideration is how sustainability commitments are interwoven into economic planning. As people prioritise eco-friendly purchases, they will expect governments to shape meaningful approaches to the climate crisis while considering the long-term economic implications of those changes.

Protests, political misinformation, and the pandemic – 2020 has been defined by urgency, precarity, and anxiety. It saw people stand up for social issues – allyship was recognised as vital to racial equality, brands’ performative gestures became transparent, and in light of the infodemic, people began scrutinising what they read and heard. With people increasingly expecting brands to speak out against injustices, inaction could lead to brand disloyalty in 2021.

Kinder Capitalism

People will want capitalism to better serve them and their communities

In the face of police brutality, political misinformation, and COVID-19, people grew weary of capitalist systems in 2020. Wise to social issues – and how brands must structurally and financially respond – people will cast a critical eye over capitalism and look for more equitable, kinder futures.

Eat the Elite

People will continue to protest inequalities and demand action

Economic inequality has caused mass frustration with the global elite, and when COVID-19 caused the wealth of the 1% to surge, a touchpaper was lit. Tired of nepotism and inequality, people will call out injustices and push for action in 2021, turning to brands for assistance in their endeavours.

Playful Participation

People will want to engage with citizenship in innovative ways

When it comes to political processes, people are feeling discouraged. As traditional systems of governance start feeling out-of-touch and dated, people could start entertaining political innovations in 2021. While governments could reshape participatory structures, brands can play with engaging people politically.

Trusted Leaders

People will want democracy to work better

The polarised discourse and political misinformation that have been omnipresent through 2020 have left people wanting democracy to live up to its definition. Against this backdrop, calls are mounting for Big Tech firms to better protect democracy and strengthen their position against bad actors.

The Australian wildfires may have dominated public attention at the start of 2020, but COVID-19 pushed climate change out of the disaster spotlight for most of the year. Yet having seen just how much progress is possible in a moment of crisis, campaigners and citizens will push for more drastic measures from institutions and businesses going forward, and they will have even less patience for green-washing.

Climate Literacy

People will seek stories that help them understand the climate crisis

Climate change is such a huge issue that, often, only the clearest stories cut through. With people unsure of how to tackle the issue, brands can play a role in telling powerful, educational stories that help to close the climate literacy gap.

Holistic Critics

People will think more broadly about their environmental impact

Brands and businesses are responding to concerns about the climate crisis, but with consumers becoming more informed about the complex nature of their impact on the environment, they’re demanding that companies do the same – green-washing will not fly.

Intersectional Environments

People will consider sustainability issues in the context of social justice

Historic discrimination means that Black and indigenous people and other communities of colour are often the most impacted by environmental issues. In 2021, there will be greater pressure on brands to ensure they consider the social, racial, and economic context and ramifications of their climate initiatives.

Natural Habitats

People will look for ways to amp up their rewilding

In 2020, with the world moving at a slower speed, people had more time to appreciate the natural world. As the desire to engage with green spaces grows, brands have an opportunity to facilitate rewilding experiences.

15 sectors to explore

Dive into our Reports and Expert Themes to uncover the key behaviours that will impact brands in 2021, and understand the nuances in how Make Believe is manifesting in different industries.


  • Article image

    Acid League: sour food with soul

    As people look to food for wellness and as a source of control, they’re getting increasingly experimental in their consumption decisions. Acid League is a connoisseur of acid, offering a collection that caters to a growing taste for sour with fermented vinegars and tasting kits.

  • Article image

    ‘How to Save a Planet’: hope in the climate emergency

    How to Save a Planet is a podcast that covers the climate crisis from a lens of optimism and action, inspiring people to move and shake rather than scaring them static. Because with the COVID-19 pandemic already in full swing, the last thing anyone needs is more anxiety.

  • Article image

    Beyond Thank You: making employees feel cared for

    With more people working from home than ever before, teams are feeling distant and disjointed, which can make employees feel unnoticed and undervalued. Beyond Thank You wants to help companies show their remote workers that they’re just as important at home as they were in the office.

  • Article image

    Biophile: supercharged fermented skincare

    Hygiene is a key beauty concern. Rather than using the synthetic chemicals found in drugstore products to care for skin, Biophile uses a natural biological process and repurposes it for skintellectuals and beauty consumers who want to take a more natural approach to healthy glowing skin.