Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

Is the Ad Industry Having its Napster Moment?

Advertising Agency
London, UK
Nick Wright, managing director of JUMP, Havas Media Group's content and partnerships hub, believes that those who adapt to the 'new normal' will thrive

Monday, 11AM. Four video calls down, at least five or six to go. A whole new world.

We’ve gone past the initial ‘shock to the system part one’ – video conferencing, contingency plans, the daily dilemma of PJs vs ‘workwear’. I’ve genuinely seen it all – people still wearing their work pass, people in tuxes, stupid hats – it’s like doing Chat Roulette at a jumble sale. The great British sense of humour has certainly risen to the challenge.

Many of us are now well into ‘shock to the system part two’, with kids added to the mix. Life has become a balancing act of avoiding WiFi black spots and shouts of ‘poo bum’ during our weekly management team call.

We keep telling ourselves (and each other) that this isn’t forever, that ‘things will get back to normal soon’, but they won’t. Things will of course become more normal, but they won’t be the same. The ‘new normal’ is forming, faster than we’d ever expected it to.

The work we do and how we do it will shift dramatically, and we’ll essentially return to a world that we’ve been talking about forever. The restart button has been hit. Overnight, agile working has turned from talk to walk to a marathon at sprint speed and, in parallel, media and marcomms have been democratised even further.

All of a sudden, the headline acts of traditional channels are having to share top billing, with the ‘young upstarts’ of digital and content waiting in the wings. More nimble, and ready and willing to take centre stage.

Lockdown has been a catalyst for the entire nation to become avid mobile filmmakers and consumers. It’s brought to the fore the ever-decreasing distance and ever-increasing speed between production and consumption – those that adopt this formula well are breaking through, with Joe Wicks adding one million subscribers to his own YouTube channel just by offering free PE lessons. We’re seeing a ‘Napster effect’ that has left most brands and broadcasters out of the loop, in the same way that the record labels were 20 years ago. Those that adapt and embrace the change will thrive, while others will struggle.

The coronavirus outbreak has already led to a change in convention by some brands and channels. Smart broadcasters reacted to the audience-led social initiative #ClapForOurCarers’, with Channel 4 engaging nearly 40 brands to create content, using mobile phones, to be broadcast less than 36 hours later. Other brands – from Pret to PornHub - have also used their platforms in a purposeful way and communicated it quickly and effectively.  

What this shows us is that the only thing that’s stood in our way before has been us. We’ve dragged our heels and reverted to type time after time, using tradition as a barrier for progression. We’ve had the ‘tech revolution’ that enables us to change, and this crisis will be the kick-start for a ‘behaviour revolution’ that will take us out of our comfort zones and into a brave new world.

So, is this the death of the industry? No, it should be the rebirth, and as the music industry thrives now more than ever before, so will advertising. We can be bigger, more inclusive. Fewer barriers and more opportunities to be nimble, dynamic and relevant to the people we’re trying to reach.

If the current conditions are war-like, then the aftermath will be energetic and transformational, like the free-spirited cultural booms of the 50s and 60s. We’ll have more freedom in how we work, more adventure in the work we do and, when companies look back in years to come, it won’t be the tech or the CEO that drove the transformation, it’ll be Covid-19.

Nobody wanted this, but when it’s all over, please let’s not go back to how things were before. If this is our Napster moment, then let’s grab it with both hands. Except from video calls - they can stay in quarantine.

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