With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing location filming to a grinding halt, production has undergone arguably its most drastic transformation in history, forcing producers to throw out any and all existing playbooks, adopt a new type of out-of-the-box thinking as they transition from physical to virtual and try to keep up with the breakneck pace being set by a barrage of ever-changing cultural firsts.
In a timely and engaging discussion entitled 'The New World of Creative Production', part of Campaign’s two-day worldwide virtual Connect event, Oliver McAteer, Associate Editor Campaign US, asked panelists Amy Carvajal, Chief Creative Officer, Code & Theory; John Doris, Head of Integrated Production at TBWA/Chiat/Day/NY; and Flo Lau, Creative Director at Shutterstock, the session’s sponsor, to share a bit about what this unprecedented new landscape is looking like on the other side of the lens.
For Carvajal, the view includes a much smaller creative sandbox, due to limited resources — a factor she says has brought with it new challenges, but also a more level playing field.
"It really has democratized creative, because everyone has the same level of access to each other," she said. "They have the same type of video, using computers and laptops, and we’re all kind of being forced to change the way we operate almost overnight, which makes certain things more difficult, but at the same time kind of forces us to be more innovative and imaginative."
Lau noted that her company’s ability to act fast and be nimble with its creative approach in the face of this rapidly changing climate has allowed the brand to stay current and connected to its users — a concept she attributed to the company’s vast collection of stock imagery.
"Campaigns that would have worked last week might no longer be relevant this week," she said. "Creatives and marketers are learning they need to adopt a new, quicker process in order to create content that’s societally relevant and keeps them connected to their customers. Our contributors are also realizing this, so there’s been a huge uptick in stock photos being uploaded that marketers are then tapping for use in social media posts or other short form content that can be turned around quickly."
But as Doris pointed out, encouraging creatives to use these stock images is not always an easy sell.
"You get a lot of creatives who have always just thought of stock in a negative way, as just kind of these flat, old images," he said. "So we had to take it upon ourselves to educate our creatives on the fact that what companies like Shutterstock and others were providing was a way to capture real moments going on in the world in a genuine way, and encourage them to embrace them and make them their own."
This idea of using stock photos as a means of capturing imagery surrounding humanity is one Carvajal cited as having allowed creatives in her company to stay culturally relevant from a safe distance.
"Currently, there’s a lot of pressure to be bold, while also being sensitive to the climate," she said. "Every hour, every day, there’s something different, and the stock world is definitely a resource that has allowed brands to take something that already exists but make it unique, make it vulnerable. Whether they’re layering or manipulating assets or animating it in order to give it a certain tonality for the brand — it’s all about putting a new spin on existing content and utilizing the assets that are already at your fingertips."
Doris added that while repurposing content may not seem like the most revolutionary production method, it can sometimes make a much more authentic and impactful campaign. He shared an example of a recent spot his company produced for Snuggle fabric softener using footage of the director’s own wife struggling to do laundry while on a Zoom call, the camera capturing the ensuing chaos her four children were creating around her as the shot panned out.
"The message was simple, just some quick commentary on the situation everyone is going through right now, and the payoff was, ‘we all need some comfort right now,’ he said. "It was refreshing for us to be able to bring something like that to the client and say, ‘look, we have a way to make this. You just need to give us the go-ahead fast and be willing to be more hands-off than usual."
Lau shared that the sheer willingness of clients to relinquish certain creative control has been eye-opening for both her and her team.
"Brands are realizing that in most cases it’s more important to get your message out there quickly, rather than waiting for something to be as pixel perfect and polished as you usually would," she said. "We’re learning that it is perfectly acceptable to our audience for a brand to post a video captured simply by a phone rather than shot in the studio, if the message is effective."
Sacrificing perfection in the name of authenticity has been paramount to achieving quality production throughout the pandemic according to all members of the panel, with Carvajal noting that the transition has played a key role in allowing her company to connect to clients in a much more real and effective way.
"We’ve realized that we can't just be turning something on in the moment and then not thinking of what it does for the brand next week and months from now and next year," she said. "We’ve had to think of, ‘How do we build these brands? How do we turn things on or off in an appropriate way that’s right for them?’ We have a major opportunity as a creative industry to make an impact."
Helping brands make an impact that will reverberate throughout society can mean letting go of campaigns you may have worked on — sometimes for months at a time, shared Lau, a reparation she said is necessary for those creatives who want their contributions to truly make a difference.
"These days for brands to have a voice in society that goes beyond simple DNA, they have to be willing to take risks," she said. "The brand itself has to take the lead and make the change in order to urge action, and by doing so, they have a chance to connect to their customers in ways they never did before."