Creating their future by accident: How lockdown life has put agencies and brands on a new, greener path

Creating their future by accident: How lockdown life has put agencies and brands on a new, greener path

Every year in the UK, consumers and the industry alike wait in anticipation for the first glimpse of Christmas adverts with John Lewis’ often heralded as being a standout. 

Following a year overwhelmed by the pandemic, significant pressure was placed on brands to produce an advert that raised hopes and moved the nation. 

However, it was predicted advertisers would spend almost £725m less than last Christmas. 

With retailers and brands making budget cuts and redundancies due to the economic situation, spending millions of pounds on an advert in the current climate had the potential to cause controversy. 

Things were certain to be different this year.

Brands have made significant steps to innovate and adapt in the face of the pandemic and societal issues. John Lewis announced cuts of 1,500 jobs in early November, leaving many questioning if this year’s Christmas ad would even surface. Despite the brands hesitation, confirming that it “nearly didn't produce an ad this year”, its festive campaign launched in mid-November. Keeping the tone sensitive and authentic to global events, John Lewis focuses its ad on raising awareness for charity and encouraging consumers to ‘Give A Little Love’ this year. Similarly, Sainsbury’s festive campaign played into family values with its three-part home video-esque style production.

What impact has COVID had on production?

Shifting away from extravagant budgets and Hollywood-style production, brand marketers have refocused their creativity this year. 

With the UK in and out of lockdown since March, traditional production techniques for advertising campaigns have been seriously upended. Travelling and shooting on location has been either near impossible or at least not without its major challenges. 

With brands such as Coca Cola pausing marketing spend, the pandemic has demonstrated the power of repurposing content and other resources already at hand.

What have brands done?

It’s fair to say we have seen the use of animation and illustration in this year’s Christmas campaigns become a key trend. 

Whilst there have been limitations on human interaction, brands such as McDonalds and Disney have turned to art forms such as drawing and graphic design to help execute this year’s festive campaigns. 

Working as both a solution to a year of unavoidable obstacles but also maybe even unintentionally offering a nostalgic throwback to childhood and a simpler time. 

Whilst others, such as Homebase, have opted for a more straightforward alternative by simply resurfacing last year’s Christmas campaign. Although this is relatively simple for marketers, using last year’s message in this year’s context might not strike the right tone amongst audiences.

How else can brands be creative within the constraints?

Pre-existing content and green screens have been invaluable resources for many during lockdown, including London-based production company Cut+Run, which adapted its workflow by using readily available content to complete client campaigns. 

This approach to content creation relied on smart thinking, technology, and creativity – what wasn’t required were big budgets and time spent on travel or resources for a single-use shoot.

Pre-existing content is not just a practical resource but also a valuable creative asset, and shouldn’t be seen as something born out of a short-term necessity. High quality, prime, superior are all words used to describe ‘vintage’, a word we associate with something that’s old. 

So why are we so obsessed with the new?

What has this got to do with being green?

As we reflect on the pivotal moments of the year, it’s hard to ignore the rise of attention on movements such as Extinction Rebellion. Battling climate change is no single industry’s responsibility, and the advertising industry needs to address its role too. 

Whilst the focus for this year’s Christmas campaigns has seen a steer towards COVID conscious messaging, we have also almost accidentally, seen a fundamental impact on our global carbon footprint behind the scenes.

With most adverts being produced on home soil or at home through using already available content, fewer people are travelling, eliminating one of the most negative environmental impacts of production. 

In fact, when countries were under maximum lockdown, aviation emissions decreased by 75%. 

As we continue to plan for a world post-pandemic, recycling pre-existing content should be seen as both a source for creative solutions and sustainability.

Although it seems almost impossible to try and imagine what Christmas 2021 will hold, isn’t it best to start the year off as we mean to go on? 

Brands need to practice now for next year’s festive period and carry forward the sentiment of this year to be more conscious, in every sense. 

If we start to look to recycling pre-existing content and resources now, we could be bracing ourselves for a greener and more cost-efficient advertising future. 

Why wait when we already have all the resources at our fingertips to do better?

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