LONDON — Sport-washing – or the practice of nations using sporting events to improve their image and even to conceal human rights violations – is set to be a major global communications trend for 2020, according to a new report from Red Havas.

The third annual Red Sky Predictions report from the global PR agency brings together qualitative and quantitative research and data from across the Havas network to identify 10 trends that are likely to impact on communications this year.

On the “sport-washing” trend, the report says we should expect to see sporting bodies, athletes and sponsors stand up for change in 2020, the year of the Olympics and the Euro 2020 football championship, among other major events.

Referencing instances involving Russia, Saudi Arabia and China, among others, the report states: “Sponsors are more cognizant of their affiliations than ever before. Particularly damaging scandals and issues now lead to the immediate removal of sponsorship dollars with athletes, teams and leagues. As a result, sports teams are fighting back with stricter rules and swifter action around fraud, drugs and unseemly behavior.”

Another key trend is “vanity metrics” such as numbers of likes and followers vanishing from influencers’ social media profiles, and the growing popularity of apps such as Tik Tok that don’t rely on friends or followers.

One of the report’s authors, UK managing director Rachael Sansom, told PRovoke: “In terms of influencer credibility, over the next 18 months ‘likes’ will become redundant to brand marketers and they will be looking for deeper metrics. We’ll see a return to measuring old-school sentiment, message penetration and attention retention, but also, as facial recognition becomes more widespread, marketers will be using this to gauge how people are reacting to content. We can see it coming really quickly.”

Another predicted technology trend is advances in cognitive computing, which will help communicators understand more quickly what news is about to break, and which headlines, conversations and influences are likely to resonate most with audiences.

Other technology-led trends mentioned in the report include new apps for parents as children continue to consume more online and social media; a new era of direct marketing as is evolves into direct messaging; and the evolution of wearables and the rise of “insertables” and “ingestibles.”

How brands navigate post-truth politics and the rise of populism will also continue to evolve alongside the purpose conversation, putting brands in the uncomfortable position of having to take sides, according to the report.

Sansom said: I’m not sure the status quo of being able to not speak up will be able to continue. Handling that will be a minefield and brands will need good advice.”

As well as Sansom, this year’s report was authored by James Wright, global CEO of Red Havas and global chairman of the Havas PR Global Collective; Davitha Ghiassi, executive vice president, social and integration; Mark Campbell, global head of content, and senior consultant Jackie Crossman.