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Creative learnings from lockdown

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As we consider working lives away from the kitchen table or off the sofa, what learnings will we take from the covid lockdown?

Restrictions were foisted upon us with short notice. Some made last minute dashes back to the office to grab computer displays. The brave even wheeling their favourite chairs across the city. From the comfort and discomfort of our homes we adapted.

But then that’s what we do.

As designers for, and marketers to society, we claim to have our fingers on the pulse. The campaigns and experiences we create tap into the zeitgeist of the moment. We traditionally achieved this by hiring those who had their noses to the ground, the hip young things in tune with the fads and fashions of the day.

The pulse is not enough. Recent decades have seen the fragmentation of audiences. Interest clusters and socio-economic groups with increased connectivity and heightened purchase power has had to be matched by superior intelligence and more flexible methodologies from agencies. We have moved from reactionary to predictive. What we produce is more attuned to the target audience.

So why did all lockdown advertising look the same?

A video doing the rounds illustrates what appears to be a modern day take on the emergency broadcast script. It was shared amongst brands and they all ran with it.

Smartphone footage of people at home, lone workers, clapping neighbourhoods, set to sombre music and reassuring voice overs, with the message “we’re still there for you”. All delivered in identikit form.

Truth is, the agencies’ research was all saying the same things. For this moment in history we aligned as one. We were all at home. We were fearful of an uncertain future. We were adhering to the same rules. We all had the same heroes.

Oh yes, and those who made the ads were somewhat hampered by restrictions.

Consequently, many clients put projects on ice. Not just for fear of the future, but because audience research at a time of such coordinated conscience would skew the insights that inform our future campaigns and experiences.

So, some of us set to work devising research plans that would account for or circumnavigate skewed mindsets and behaviours. We convinced our clients to proceed where possible.

The process has brought agency and client closer together. Collaborative problem solving has become the norm. Whether it’s due to the confines of home or not, we have experienced a desire by clients to join design sprints, to jump on calls to crack problems and to actively seek to understand methodologies that would previously have been kept at arm’s length.

There is a resulting synergy that benefits both parties. We can move faster with communication being tighter and trust heightened through increased transparency.

This relationship should be nurtured. When we are no longer using Teams to see into each other’s houses let’s not resurrect barriers.

Cover of a WPP guide to shooting creative during the pandemic
WPP produced guidelines for teams with planned shoots during this pandemic

Investing in intelligence

Many agencies and brands have used the period of relative inactivity to look inwards and assess how they can do things smarter. Intelligent use of data should be high on the check list. Brands have amassed data lakes, yet struggle to realise its value. By understanding how to interrogate and interpret what they have, the potential to improve the targeting of advertising, creation of content and delivery of relevant experiences is realised.

After the original lockdown shock, the ad world is regaining its mojo. Look at the campaigns that have appeared in recent weeks. We are seeing creative obviously driven by insights derived from fine tuned data sources. Messages are more nuanced and the creative is braver.

Eva Longoria demonstrates how to use a L’Oréal product at home to hide lockdown grey.
Burger King champions the ‘couch potatriots’ and rewards them with home delivery.
ITV highlighted stay-at-home creativity by challenging people to remake the UK’s favourite TV ads. This winning submission recreated Honda’s iconic ‘Cogs’ commercial.

And reacting faster is what it’s all about, because as the world regains its pre-covid mindsets and dissipates into myriad audiences, we will have a lot more on our plates. Plus, we may be working from the sofa for a while yet.

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