TRENDING: 2020 summarised in memes

by Louise Burgers. When there are no more words left, memes will do.

by Louise Burgers. When there are no more words left, memes will do. The natural optimist in me always looks for the upside in everything – the opportunity, the lesson. I’ve tried to be upbeat and hopeful in my newsletter editorials throughout the year, while still being honest about the fact that 2020 has been a tough and challenging year. We have done our best to provide thought leadership and articles on the new strategies needed to transform business as consumer behaviour changed radically. With our #21interviews series with retail CEOs and brand marketing leaders, we have brought strategic insight into the future from our industry leadership, alongside key learnings from 2020, to mitigate the uncertainty that follows us into 2021.

But at this juncture I have honestly run out of words, as it has been a marathon to get to the end of this year, with very few rest breaks, in between. So, in wishing you all a safe, healthy and happy festive season – whether under lockdown or not; allowed to visit the beaches or banned; having a festive celebration or keeping it small to keep safe – we decided to revisit the year in memes.


Wow, January. The start of a shiny new decade. I wished everyone a ‘Happy 20-Plenty’ and declared it ‘our decade’ as I prepared to launch Retailing Africa; writing all these lovely trend pieces on what was expected for 2020 and this exciting new decade! My hardcover inspirational diary was colour-coded with key industry events, like trend report releases and Design Indaba. This was the actual reality…



Design Indaba always signals the start of the year in the creative industries. It is a world class event with global trends and changemakers, that starts each year off with just the right amount of inspiration. This year there were a few cancellations and some speakers from Asia had to divert to attend after China closed its borders. But we weren’t really that worried, yet, maybe just a little nervous.







March was when panic set in. I remember standing in shock in retail queues, trolleys piled high, using my scarf to half cover my face if anyone came too close, as the stories from New York and Italy began filtering through and at the horror of what was happening. But it seemed unreal, and we all laughed at the videos of people fighting over toilet paper from the UK to Australia, and wondered why. I still remember the eerie silence of that first morning in lockdown: no cars, no planes, no trains. Just stunned silence. I remember writing this editorial calling for ‘extraordinary leadership’ at this moment in history, with tears in my eyes, as I looked out at the sun rising over deserted streets. It felt like the end of the world. And in many ways, it was.


As mask wearing became mandatory, we tried to do our best to be patriotic in the face of rising stories of hunger and some of the more strange lockdown regulations. We launched our #CoronavirusSA tracker to keep up with the changing regulations and keep business informed – and later, to track the innovation that started appearing. A new word was born: Covidiot, for a person who argued that their rights were being infringed if they were forced to wear a mask – not caring about the frontline healthcare workers who wear a mask all day; nor the retail staff they were exposing, who in the beginning, were also among the first casualties of this pandemic in South Africa.


The tide had turned by May as the cigarette and alcohol bans continued. The mood turned ugly. But, also, in typical South African fashion, ‘n boer make ‘n plan, and the suburbs went from trading banana bread recipes and the best free yoga apps, to pineapple beer recipes. Innovative retailers traded in on the sudden demand for pineapples and yeast. And it is surprising how many party pix of pineapples there are in stock photo libraries.


As we Zoomed into month 55 of lockdown in the Year Whatever, work from home and consumer behavioural changes were the big  trending topics and every global research house held webinars to try make sense of the exponential change happening all around us. Zoom etiquette was a hot topic.



The heavy winter months were hard as we hit peak Covid infection rates in South Africa in July. Our sense of humour and community pulled us through. People needed to be fed; local businesses needed to be supported, and that is what we all did. Ubuntu has been alive and well this year.


Covid fatigue is real and it did set in. Social media has never been such a ghastly place to be, with all the fighting going on between people who believe in science and have enough critical thinking skills to discern fake news from real – and all the over-privileged covidiots out there. But, the acceleration in digital innovation and ecommerce has propelled businesses forward by five to 10 years, according to many retail and brand leaders.



As we headed for lighter lockdown levels and warmer weather, business started to slowly recover; but we have all realised that Covid has fundamentally changed the future – from culture to social to work, to the way we shop. Brands and retailers have to now negotiate a landscape in which Covid, not their business strategies, has been the major disruptor to retail. Of course, it wasn’t all about Covid, as Black Lives Matter protests and our own brand fail from Unilever with the TREsemme ads, dominated the news as well. Systemic racism and unconscious bias in the workplace has to be addressed to prevent a recurrence.


Edgars finally shut up shop at its Edgardale HQ after lockdown hastened the group’s demise; and the focus turned to recovery in the retail sector; while job losses continued across industries and people chaffed against ongoing restrictions as the realisation set in that there was no going back to normal. There wasn’t even a ‘new normal’. The social media universe decided on the actual Pantone colour of 2020. (Who can even remember what it was supposed to be anyway?)



There is no doubt that innovation has been accelerated in the industry, with new retail delivery apps; the rise of dark kitchens; new concept stores from Game, Pep, Builder’s Warehouse and more. Retailers launched and supported many CSI initiatives to feed the hungry and deliver value to cash-strapped consumers in a far from ideal retail environment where all sensory pleasures have disappeared, and basically the only consideration left is price and service. But it is still about how brands behave during this time in the support of customers and communities during this exhausting and heartbreaking year. The future arrived early. Many were unprepared, but we are resilient, and crises breed innovation.





By the time December arrived, everyone wanted a break and of course, 2020 is not done with us yet. We are fully into our second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, many have had to postpone their trips home and limit family gatherings all around the world. The festive season is definitely on mute this year. Brands need to be brave – we all do – to tackle another year of uncertainty and disruption, and deal with the collective trauma it brings. Please stay safe and healthy and find your joy wherever you can. This creative cake from the Duke agency, which arrived this week, certainly made us smile!





And, to conclude the roundup of this year, here’s a rousing ‘tribute’ to the Year 2020 from marketing and social impact agency, Public Work, based in North America, that’s going viral. It perfectly captures the current zeitgeist. All together now…




Louise Burgers is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.


– Receive the Retailing Africa newsletter every Monday and Thursday • Subscribe here