VMLY&R - EMEA
3 months ago
Not long ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a conference at SXSW. From the few sessions that drew my attention, I especially remember one called 'Wombats and Wood Ducks: CIA’s Secrets to Creative Problem Solving'. At the time, it was interesting and odd - how could these very serious people chasing bad guys know more about creativity than us advertising folk?
As it turned out, they could teach us a lot about non-standard ways of thinking - for example, how watching birds migrate could be a helpful way to catch mob members. This just confirmed and reminded me that creativity isn’t only limited to the art and/or creative sectors. (Note to everyone: we should break out of our bubble more often and restructure our thoughts to stop thinking about ourselves as 'The Special Ones' in terms of being creative or idea makers.)
And being creative isn’t just reserved for the good times, when global capitalism is rising, everyone is optimistic, earning a lot of money and spending even more. My attitude towards celebrating creativity in advertising is quite ambivalent (and it will become quite clear that I’m a planner by heart). I’m quite sick of treating commercials as an art and cheering on these clever and fun ads that really don’t work and have no effect on the business. However, we all know that truly creative and award-winning campaigns are quite effective and we must pursue extraordinary ideas.
But now, everything is different. There will be no Cannes Lions this year and we are facing a recession with unprecedented magnitude. Flashy ideas seem to be irrelevant at the moment as millions of people are struggling big time. Most of the marketers are stalling and holding their marketing activities, which seems pretty reasonable for most of us, as currently it’s not the best time for the same consumption and lifestyle as before.
And that’s right.
However, I find myself agreeing with Mark Ritson - now is not the time to stop all advertising activities just as Coca-Cola announced (which, by the way, was an advertising activity itself).
But we shouldn't be using Covid-19 as a new context to show these clever and fun ads. We’ve already seen such ideas, and the backlash it has provoked. There is no point of mentioning particular ones, but please remember that normally most of the ads are crap, that’s the universal truth. Those cheeky ads resulted in an initiative to stop judges from taking 'corona' ads into account while browsing industry festivals entries. And just to make it clear, we all need to stop making stupid stunts famous, doesn’t matter if it’s pre-Codiv-19, during or after. But I see no evil appreciating good moves. But what are the good moves now, and what will they be in the near future?
The folks from the CIA listed out four main barriers that are holding us back from generating useful and unique ideas:
1. Framing Bias - we stick to the already established rules.
2. Comfort Zone - we stick to the things we already know.
3. Logical Thinking - we look for logic wherever we can.
4. Patterns - we look for clear and fair schemes.
I can see all of these barriers now. We are in a completely new reality where most of the previous rules, things, schemes and even logic are gone or gravely changed, there is no stability. We need to adjust and reframe what we do and can do. What is important right now is to be aware that it’s not just a new context for brands and their communication which has changed. What's fundamental is that it has affected people’s reality, people are losing their jobs, savings and are living in uncertainty.
The new normal will be different; with more 'us' than 'I', with new behaviours that will precede preferences, with new rules and habits. We might ask, what can a brand of potato chips or shoemaker do to be helpful or useful to people in such tough times. But this is exactly the moment when we have to be open to extraordinary and creative solutions that are exceeding the field of communication. I would say this is exactly the time when we have to be creative more than ever, exploring new territories, approaches and finding solutions. Not just another 30-second TVC demo. We’ve already seen ideas of changing the production from shoes to protective masks, supporting local partners and communities, introducing new products, changing the way of selling and delivering products/services. That moment should accelerate us moving from communication only to more holistic consumer experience attitude.
But think about the people first and brand second. We are not going to change the world, but we can make it a little bit more bearable in those unique conditions.
We better not overlook this revolution. It wouldn’t be good for anyone, not just the creative industry.
Pawel Loedl is chief strategy officer at VMLY&R Poland