Here's how adland is staving off boredom amid social distancing

"I think the repetitive work that we're seeing is likely the result of boredom leading to a creativity glut."

Okay... even with TikTok and Zoom and Netflix… we're all officially bored.

This week, Campaign US asked a number of agency creatives and leaders to share how they’re staying sane and motivated as we pass the second month of social distancing and self-quarantining guidelines.

How are you staying inspired and what impact is boredom having on adland's creativity?


Jean Zamprogno, Group Creative Director, DAVID Miami

At DAVID, we think that one of the biggest reasons for our performance is the way we work. The agency is small, so we talk with each other the entire day. Creative teams brainstorm with planners, accounts and producers, and are constantly working together, so we listen to ideas from anyone at the agency. One of the biggest challenges for us has been keeping this creative inspiration alive, to ensure the collaboration process is lively and unique. Because when everyone is at home, the easiest thing to do is to think by yourself and only get together to review ideas. So we've made a point to implement Zoom brainstorm sessions not only between creatives, but with planners as well. And have constant check ins with account and production teams. These sessions allow us to be very productive, but most importantly, to launch some relevant work during this period. To keep the energy high, we often choose specific Zoom themes like "pool party" so everyone can have some fun while doing great work. It’s a way for us to break the ice and feel like we're in a new, but similar place together despite quarantine.

Cathy Butler, CEO, Organic 

We started to worry about what boredom would do to both our productivity and creativity the second a sense of "normalcy" started to set in regarding our current situation. Across the industry, I think the repetitive work that we’re seeing is likely the result of boredom leading to a creativity glut. At Organic, we decided to use our powers for good and leverage our creativity to do some inspiring work for the good of those around us. For International Nurses Day, we tasked the team with creating and launching a series of gifs that people could share across text and social to show appreciation for some of our frontline workers. 

Steve Connelly, President and Copywriter, Connelly Partners

I for one am anything but bored. I don’t think I have ever been busier. Every day is a chance to imagine creative ways to keep our people close and culture intact, to keep our clients ahead of the curve, and use the three and a half hours a day I used to spend in my car at my keyboard or on my weight bench.

Carmen Rodriguez, Chief Client Officer and Partner, GUT

It is really challenging to stay creative and active during isolation, but that is exactly where we can exercise our creativity to find ways to entertain and inspire ourselves. We even used that insight to inspire others on our first campaign for Cerveza Patagonia. Cerveza Patagonia is a beer that inspires you to recharge in the outdoors. Since we can't go outdoors, we decided to show people that you can bring the outdoors indoors for now but still find those moments of recharging. 

In my case, I decided to challenge myself on two things: learn how to play the guitar and meditate. I have a band, I am the lead singer, but I never played an instrument so I am giving it a shot using online videos. I am also trying to be very disciplined on meditating two times a day using Headspace - an amazing meditation app that I have been a fan for more than two years and we are fortunate to be launching their first TV campaign.  

Annie Johnston and Ashley "Mil" Milhollin, ACDs, The Many

The ability to actually keep working as partners even though we aren’t in the same place–being able to bounce ideas and lob open-ended "What if" and "What could this be?" questions back and forth–is keeping us inspired. And sane. 

Thankfully we’re friends on top of being partners, so it’s easy for us to just stay on a video call all day. It’s pretty much like being in the office, except Annie’s dogs make more appearances and there’s a good chance Mil is standing up at the counter to knead dough (or whatever COVID cliché she’s currently embodying) while concepting. 

As for the "adland" boredom question, another question: are we bored? Is this wave of hilarious content on Tik Tok and Twitter a result of bored creatives? Or are we just making more depression memes because we’re all that dog trapped in the room on fire with the "This is fine." speech bubble? Hard to say. We’re both really busy (and very grateful to be so). 

Whatever the reason, hopefully this situation (COVID, boredom and beyond) will give all of us in the biz the incentive to take the world at large into consideration when we’re putting things out into it. There’s a reason brands were harangued on the internet for the same sad piano+VO+stock imagery "We’re here for you" messages. There’s only so many you can see before it drives you nuts. Gotta take context into consideration, always. 

When we do get a free moment? Animal Crossing. Yoga.

Ross Fletcher, Creative Director, FIG

I never thought much about inspiration before now. But inside the unchanging walls of my apartment, I'm finding that I suddenly need to be more intentional in seeking it out. Reading books that were recommended to me, or watching movies that have been on my list for years, or finding new music. I've had to work to make my inside life more interesting now that outside life is on hold. 

Wally Krantz, Chief Creative Officer, FutureBrand

I’m fascinated by anyone that says they’re bored right now. How? Sure, we have a limited periphery. But I think our scale, our speed in many ways has adjusted accordingly. While there is an element of boredom being confined to one space, there are still immense opportunities to create meaningful experiences. Not just that, but these opportunities also open doors to uncover inspiration from, perhaps areas that you may not have been able to explore pre-pandemic. The sudden slow down, for one, allows people to look for inspiration in everyday things. Workouts. Family. Taking a left when you normally take a right.

For example, I've seen that MoMA talks are now via YouTube and I recently watched a live talk between photographer Sally Mann and MoMA photography creator Sarah Meister. THAT was inspiring. And so was this, Sally responding, when asked about inspiration: "Work rather than think. You can’t think your way into a body of work. You have to do the work." And the first cousin of that is: you can’t wait for inspiration to come and find you. There’s that great Picasso quote, "If inspiration ever came, I think she’d find me working." 

David Coomer, Founder and CEO, Coomer 

We’re surrounded by so much inspiration right now. Ideas are becoming a reality so quickly as everyone is working selflessly toward a common goal. The creativity and collaboration to innovate in the non-profit and social sector is mind-blowing. The speed of innovation for creativity and these new forms of collaboration are extremely inspiring, and the impact is real and immediate. While it requires great transparency and an empowered collective to solve big problems in unique ways, it’s showing how powerful creativity can be without bureaucracy and ego. I’ve watched strategists, creatives, influential people and developers step up to make some great things happen - now let’s bring the same creativity and innovation to for-profit business, these are the conversations I’m interested in having.

Now that the serious stuff is out of the way, adland is making use of their boredom in creative ways and I’m here for it. I always feel that people often come back from PTO or a holiday with a new side-hustle, merch brand, or rediscovery of their passion for cooking / making, etc. They usually pack that into a one-week exploration, but we’re seeing this multiplied and live-streamed in real-time. Adland has been bored for some time, but now that we’ve had time to act, I’m excited to see it continue to evolve. Personally, I’m just trying to do bourbon tastings on IG Live, so please HMU.  

Stephen Niedzwiecki, Co-Founder & CCO, YARD NYC

Sometimes boredom can create a sense of calm as well as a sense of freedom. It’s something that we could always use even when not in quarantine. And what you focus on and consider ‘inspiring’ these days can surprise you. Like coming up with amazing stunts to building jump ramps to rings of fire for your Evel Kneivel stunt cycle with your four and eleven year old.

I find my meditations and dreams to be out there more than usual which have been creatively inspiring. Music has always been my go-to therapy and creating a Covid-centric playlist called "Something in the Air" was great to share with the team and possibly stir their creativity as well. 

I think boredom can also bring honest and heartfelt realizations, like deciding to put your skills and energy behind a charitable initiative for Mother’s Day for moms-in-need (Leave Mom The F*ck Alone) and letting your team just go for it. No restraints. (Other than the world doesn’t need another Zoom execution or a lot of piano music.) We had fun being creative and it allowed us to focus on something besides client work or the stress of the pandemic. It also doesn’t hurt that the press gave us a lot of love for it. 

Pieter Konickx, Senior Creative, B-Reel

Being bored scares me, and luckily for me, this is the same for most of my friends. So we’ve started a thing called "Don’t Come Dine With Me" where one person sends a list of ingredients for everyone to purchase. Then in the evening we get together on a video call where we get the instructions on what to do with the ingredients until we have all made the same meal. So you don't know what you are making until it's in front of you. So far we made, Burmese Coconut Noodles, Delicious Chicken Piccata, a Silky Mushroom Risotto, Baja Fish Tacos and Spicy White Bean Stew. It's great, because you are making these recipes you never imagined making.

We’re never bored, and never hungry. 

Scott Harkey, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, OH Partners

Sure, we may be a little bored of living the same day-to-day life inside the walls of our homes, and we are certainly craving that connection we once had within our office spaces. But during the pandemic, we have taken the opportunity to spend more time on creativity. We are striving to stay innovative and are finding unique ways to push ourselves and our clients to think the unthinkable. Whether it’s gaining inspiration from other brands' bite-sized content, brainstorming within our own teams, or taking a walk outside to keep the creativity flowing , we are continuing to find unique solutions and create content that is truly resonating with all generations and demographics.

Carl Stevens, Senior Account Manager, RQ

Quarantine's an interesting thing, as I've let more people into my home (digitally speaking) than ever before, and that experience has transformed my relationship with my colleagues at RQ to something that far surpasses just being "work friends". We communicate on a near constant basis and are extra in each other's lives, but in ways that keep me sane, as we're all charting the same crazy course together. With that level of access comes the need to avoid the feedback loops and echo chambers already prevalent in our industry, being bored hearing myself speak and making sure I'm not just recycling the same ideas or jargon, and actually bringing something new to the table. 

I started baking bread (I know, now it sounds like such a cliché) back in January as a way to share something with my dad. But it wasn't until WHF that I really dove into it as a way to get rid of restless energy (have you tried life without a KitchenAid mixer?) and take a step back from the work, as well the luxury of having my kitchen a few steps from my "office". Kneading dough, manipulating heat, and trying recipes from one culture to the next has led me to discover a world of ciabattas, challah, and rustic french breads I can't pronounce, but also produce tangible creative results. I'm moved from the camera on my screen to measure out ingredients, or answer oven timers that pull me from the monotony of emails and decks that I've been staring at for far too long. This brief moment of focus devoted to my new hobby has often led me to return to a problem with a fresh set of eyes, having conjured up an unconventional solution simply by moving 10 ft away to clear my mind. Keeps the work from going stale, and doesn't hurt that freshly baked bread delivered to friends and coworkers' steps scores major carb karma points and always brings a smile.

Kelly Bayett, Co-Founder and Creative Director, Barking Owl

Being bored has created some really great social content. Copywriters and Art Directors I know are making and editing their own videos and they are hilarious.  The production company, Ruffian, has done incredible content making with their directors and I am so intrigued by the short films they are making.  Even without all of the social distancing guidelines and restrictions.  They make a theme and the directors create within that theme.  It’s just phenomenal work and it lets us peek into how everyone’s brains work, which is really one of my favorite past times. 

Evan Slater, Chief Creative, Caveat

You know, I’ve always told creatives working for me that getting bored is important. Allows the subconscious to work, brain to wander, tangential connects to be made - but this is too f-ing much.  So we’ve been using our time to focus on the work that matters, rather than getting swept up in a land of pandemic opportunism. Quite frankly, the entire gang over here was a little nauseated by all of the Covid-copyism going on in the marketplace - so Steve Mapp (one of our directors), Charlie Johnston (of Lost Planet editorial fame) and I channeled some of our boredom to call things like they are. With a stab at a solution. Hence the birth of "Shitty Times." The point isn’t that marketing is a waste right now, it’s that people need another anthem like they need a hole in the head. So stop it. Enough already. 

There are so many ways to help and so many people are in need of it – but getting it right probably requires setting creative egos aside and abandoning desires for notoriety. For now at least. And remember, 3 months from now - you’ll be wishing you were bored again. So while we’re riding this out, let’s channel our boredom for those that need it. Times are already shitty, let’s not make ‘em shittier. Also, a quick shout out to Work+Co - because they crushed it with their Help+Supply. Good boredom.

Ian Watt, Senior Creative and Musical Artist, Stink Studios LA

Sometimes a little restlessness can actually break us out of the box. With 2 kids, and only 2 bedrooms in my apartment, I was struggling to find space to create. With no access to creative space, I realized that my car was sitting there, unused for weeks, so I decided to covert it into a home office/recording studio.

After gutting the interior of a 2005 Ford Escape and outfitting it with studio soundproofing, mixing boards, audio interfaces, computer mounts, and lighting, my "new" space ushered in a fresh flow of creativity. I even recorded and released a song, "Blue," an homage to my car, inspired by the experience. 

Hilary Maloney, Senior Strategist, ARGONAUT

We’re lucky to be working on a lot of projects right now. Distributed creative work needs a whole new level of intention. 

Our physical space anchored our collaborative working style, creative process, and good habits. Now, our team has rebuilt from scratch many of the underlying processes of how we work together. 

We’ve iterated our creative feedback process and reduced meeting loads. We created a cameras-on videoconferencing rule, and then we cancelled that rule. (We're big fans of an old-fashioned phone call.) 

Now that we’re many weeks into this liminal time, I’m sure we've all found good rhythms. Certainly, these new skills, mindsets and habits will serve us in the future. But what’s more important, is that we've learned to consider more deeply how we do creative work. We know how to talk about those insights and use them to choose more effective and satisfying ways of working together. It doesn’t really matter what the new normal is — we can work with it.

Sarah Moffat, Chief Creative Officer, Turner Duckworth

Creativity is essentially problem solving. The level of creativity is directly proportional to the size and scale of the problems. The bigger the problem, the more creative the solution needs to be to overcome it. We have 99 problems right now, and creativity ain’t one… looking for inspiration? Simply pick a problem and solve it. Easy, right? Besides, only boring people get bored, at least that’s what my mum told me.

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