The Home Front: Why the Current Wave of Covid-19 Campaigns Is Coming Straight from Our Living Rooms
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Prasoon Joshi, Glenn Cole and John Norman tell Laura Swinton about a suite of swiftly-produced work that takes authenticity to the next level
‘You can shoot and edit a film on your phones, these days!’ It’s an enthusiastic appeal to DIY production and crowd-sourcing that we’ve heard repeatedly over the past ten years. And while we’ve seen this bear fruit, when it comes to big brand work the industry has largely preferred to stick to glossy productions. That is, until the Covid-19 pandemic struck and big, three-ring-circus live action shoots ceased to be an option.
All of a sudden, self-shot and crowd-sourced material has an unprecedented urgency. “Earlier you did it to push boundaries and get variety but today it’s the need of the hour and such solutions are born out of concern rather than ambition,” says Prasoon Joshi,CEO & CCO of McCann Worldgroup India, and Chairman McCann Asia Pacific.
Agencies and brands were stung on two fronts. First of all, there was the question of whether pre-planned and already-shot campaigns would necessarily strike the right tone and message at a time when half the world suddenly finds itself on lockdown. And then there’s the practical consideration about how, exactly, to create this quick turnaround content.
There have been a few immediate trends – cutting together existing stock footage (read more about that here) and animation and VFX, for example. But perhaps the fastest out of the starting blocks have been the commercials shot from the comfort of our homes. And just as the pandemic is hitting every continent, this home-shot content is coming from all over the world.
And over the in LA, 72andSunny were able to harness a host of football stars – and their smartphones - for the NFL’s message to fans. Says 72andSunny founder and creative chair Glenn Cole, it was important to act quickly. “The NFL has incredible influence across every spectrum. Collectively, we take that responsibility very seriously. We knew the NFL could help the effort to get people to stay at home. We also knew the NFL could be a unique source of inspiration and uplift. Once you see that potential, you can't unsee it. You have to act on it.”
The agency has been working with the NFL for 18 months and so were able to ideate quickly with the marketing team” Also, thanks to the trust we've built with the players, they were willing to be vulnerable in their self-captures,” says Glenn.
Of course, working remotely with talent better known for their plays on the field than behind the camera means a certain DIY cinematography – and Glenn reckons that’s something to lean into. “Prioritize authenticity and honesty over composition and beauty. Allow the authenticity to be the beauty. This is real life, not IG life. The key to making sure it looks home-shot is letting it be home-shot,” he says.
Of course, while personal messages shot selfie-style work for intimate messages, some projects require a more polished appearance. For Dettol’s new Indian campaign, McCann decided to work with a director who could shoot at their own home. And, living life under lockdown, bringing in actors was out of the question, so the director instead cast his wife and son.
Says Prasoon Joshi, this was the best way for the brand to respond to the situation quickly while also staying true to its values. “It’s important for any brand to stay contextual and, with a changing environment, keep finding relevance . Simultaneously, a brand should find a right balance between the brand message and information which empowers the consumer – the same was the attempt here,” he says. “There can be many more solutions but we felt this is the fastest way to achieve what we needed; we were clear that nothing should be done which shows any disrespect to the restriction and yet deliver.”
In some ways, this family affair mirrors what we’ve seen time and again during lockdown, as family life and work life have come crashing together. “People and families these days are bonding in newer ways and this kind of added another dimension to their bonding,” reflects Prasoon.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, when the city’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, needed to urge the people to do their bit by staying at home, she needed to invite them into her own home. Her team reached out to Havas Chicago, who quickly devised a light-hearted and very human script.
In terms of production, a tiny crew comprised of group creative director Marianna Ruiz who directed the film, and a director of photography, visited the mayor in her house. And everyone had to ensure that they stayed six feet apart at all times.
“In terms of the production, Havas Chicago is well poised to shoot and edit content quickly, and turn it around for digital and social; that’s one of our superpowers. We’ve always been extremely agile, and this was no different,” says Havas Chicago CCO John Norman. “From start to finish, the campaign came together over the course of about four days. We spent two days on concepting, writing and production, with all the shooting taking place on the third day. This campaign is a prime example of what Havas Chicago does best—nimble storytelling based in culture and born from simple human truths.”
For now, there’s no way to know for sure when restrictions will end and lockdowns lift in various markets. It might potentially continue for weeks and even months – and so it’s likely that we will see more home-shot footage used in commercials. What’s exciting creatives and directors is the thought of how this will evolve as teams strive to keep visuals creatively fresh and interesting. Beyond the world of commercials, we’re already seeing some creative takes, for example director Ben Berman’s star-studded comedy short film The Follow Up is a mind-bendingly meta exploration of creativity and isolation.
“We're about to see all kinds of creative hacks for shooting in this environment,” enthuses Glenn Cole. “I envision lots of creative work-arounds with virtual shoots, drones, home studios, and other approaches that we can't envision yet. I can't wait to see how storytelling evolves through this.”
For John, social media creators are showing what’s possible. “We’re already seeing actors, comedians and other creatives take projects into their own hands, finding new ways to engage with fans and continue creating. John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” is a great example of crowdsourcing and then sharing stories and content from all over the world. These circumstances won’t stop people from practicing their passions, but rather push them to find fresh ways to share them. Social media has provided a direct line of communication with the public, and now, crowdsourcing and home-shot footage takes it a step further. On platforms like TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, everyone has the opportunity to be an actor, singer, videographer, workout coach, beauty guru, etc. I predict that the content will continue getting more creative, and more interpersonal with the use of technology. At a time like this when many feel isolated, crowdsourcing presents a really fun way to bring people together and create global communities.”
And Prasoon thinks that these unforeseen pressures will be a crucible for even more creative problem solving. “These are unprecedented times and the reality is gradually dawning upon us that out of the box solutions would be required much more than ever before, not only for messaging but even marketing and demand creation. It’s creativity that is required most in difficult and trying times – for it’s the imaginative, innovative thoughts and ideas that lead to new concepts and solutions.”