For all the well-chronicled disruptions this year has wrought the ad industry, it’s worth asking: has the pandemic had any upsides for creativity?
While working from home has been difficult for some, it’s also given people new freedoms to divert from and reset longstanding limits in the business. The path ahead may be more autonomous, expansive and rewarding.
Here are a few key takeaways from a panel of independent agencies Worldwide Partners conducted in October.
Blow up the brief. As consumers upend the way they live, shop, entertain themselves and engage, marketers are warming up to uncharted opportunities that enable creatives to transcend previously non-negotiable brand boundaries. “We don’t have to follow a brief anymore,” says Antoine David, co-founder of Rosbeef! in Paris. “We just take ‘that brand’ plus ‘that media,’ mix it together and see what happens.”
The freedom came to life this summer when Rosbeef! launched a new collection for French clothing brand GEMO through an Animal Crossing activation. The brand created a store in the game’s simulated village where players can try on the new collection as avatars.
Nobody’s looking over your shoulder. Living at work for more than nine months has taken a mental toll on creatives. As work lost its edge, agency leaders started to recognize mental health was a top priority.
Quebec-based lg2 started giving its teams more autonomy over how work gets done. “We’re approaching it like teams are running their own businesses,” says Luc Du Salt, lg2 VP and ECD. “This has helped to diminish anxiety because they’re doing their own stuff and we’re not looking over their shoulder.”
You have your pick of talent. When entertainment came to a standstill at the start of the pandemic, actors, musicians and celebrities suddenly lost their creative outlets. This has given agencies access to previously unattainable talent.
Odysseus Arms is using this access to source talent for brand campaigns, but also to inspire employees through virtual cooking classes with celebrity chefs.
Purpose doesn’t have to deliver profit. A good-works project can lift the agency’s mood. So, management will more likely greenlight it, if not initiate it, without the customary fight over return on resources.
When Odysseus Arms’ creatives felt helpless during the initial COVID outbreak, the agency decided to collaborate with photographer Laurie Frankel on 1Dollar1Love, a charitable campaign to support families affected by COVID-19.
“This campaign was a way for us to do our part,” says Libby Brockhoff, CEO of Odysseus Arms. “We didn’t think of it this way in the beginning, but it helped us too. It allowed us to work with others globally, something we’d really been missing.”
You can let raw ideas roam. Not everything needs to be a big production. Some of today’s best marketing is spontaneous. Little moments can generate massive impact. Look no further than the Ocean Spray guy on TikTok.
As more users generate great content on their own — and embrace the freedom to run with ideas — opportunities like this aboud. As Ning Li, creative director of Hylink Digital Solutions put it: “We’re not necessarily after the bigger production. We take ourselves less seriously.”
Clients need creative thinking now more than ever. They need great, and they need it now. And they’re finding that creative freedom produces transformative advertising.
Consider the “Living Radars” campaign, in which lg2 put speed radars on children’s backpacks as they walked to school to get drivers to slow down in school zones. The agency extended that with a TV and social media campaign, going beyond the boundaries of a traditional brief.
Clients are finally giving agencies the freedom to question assumptions with less risk of losing the business. There’s no time for the long, linear route to the perfect and precious. The new normal is what agencies have always wanted: clients are letting down walls and letting us go.
John Harris is CEO of independent agency network Worldwide Partners