Five ways the pandemic is catalyzing a new creative era

Garrick Schmitt
Garrick Schmitt

For marketers and creatives navigating the post-COVID-19 world, there is no going back to “normal.”

I’ve stopped saying, “When things get back to normal…” 

The events of the past several months — a global pandemic, economic fallout, social crises, and environmental disasters — indicate there will be no “normal” to return to.

As creatives and marketers, our job is to read the room and adapt. The shift to digital has been playing out over the last decade, but it’s ramped up considerably during lockdown. New consumer behaviors have emerged, and will require us to fundamentally change how we think about brands, advertising, and scale. 

These behaviors will alter the way we tell stories, and how much those stories rely on algorithms and data. Most importantly, they will create new moments and avenues for brands and creators to connect with their audiences. 

The pandemic-fueled creative revolution is playing out before our eyes in five key ways. 

1. Marketing is getting personal 

Soon enough, all communications will be addressable. That means marketers have to cater to an almost infinite audience with vastly different interests, cultures and contexts.

Brands such as Spotify, Netflix, Peloton, Google and Nike are defining the modern marketing playbook by normalizing personalized digital communications and experiences. 

Using data and technology as a tool to shape brand experiences will be a mandatory skill set for creatives. 

2. YouTube is the New TV

The pandemic has had a profound impact on what “great content” looks like, and how it is created and distributed.

As professional production stalled during lockdowns, celebrities migrated online. We saw a surge in DIY creators on YouTube, TikTok, Snap and Instagram, further blurring the lines between social media and Hollywood stardom. Meanwhile, newly-minted stars like comedian Sarah Cooper rocketed from TikTok, to Twitter to her own Netflix special

This all begs the question: do audiences still care about production value? Winning on YouTube requires fresh talent, diverse POVs, personal candor and plenty of kinetic editing.  Lo-fidelity is the new high-fidelity.  

3. Diversity is critical to brand DNA

At long last, content creation is becoming more inclusive as audiences open up to new perspectives and platforms. 

Pharrell and Jay-Z’s collaboration on Entrepreneur challenged systemic racism while spotlighting black entrepreneurs. Diversity plays a key role in fighting the monotony of homogeneous content while catering to nuanced cultures in interesting, provocative, and challenging ways.

4. Global adaptability is key

While our politics may be growing more fractious, our tastes are anything but. The rise of global platforms, shared online experiences, and a democratized creator community are catapulting brands across physical borders to tap into global audiences. 

Extraction, Netflix’s action film starring Chris Hemsworth was primarily shot in Bangladesh and designed for a global audience. It became the company’s most-watched original ever, indicating that today’s global audience is craving new voices and underrepresented cultures.

Brands today must tap into the global opportunity while adapting to local cultures and viewpoints.  

5. Every Brand is DTC

When it comes to brand building, commerce can no longer be an afterthought. 

Direct-to-consumer models are no longer just the realm of stylish upstarts like Warby Parker. NBCUniversal launched Trolls World Tour direct as theaters were shut down during the pandemic. Disney put Dinsey+ at the core of its new audience strategy as people shift to streaming. And ecommerce now makes up roughly 30% of Nike’s sales as consumers embrace online shopping at scale. 

Direct relationships with consumers will become even more critical as commerce, content and advertising merge. Seamlessness is at the centerpiece of the entire brand experience.

In this new era, creatives who have built their careers on brilliant stories for broadcast media must adapt their narratives for a world where brands are experienced by individuals differently. Cultural tastemakers and media owners must evolve content approaches as the barriers between “premium” and “creators” fall away. And marketers must agilely seize the opportunity as media, creative and brand experiences become one in the same.

Change is painful, but it’s also liberating. Lean into the reality that the old ways of working are no longer effective, and seize the opportunity to create new ones. 

The future is already here. 

Garrick Schmitt, global head of experience at Essence

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