Although there is a spectrum of potential outcomes that we can predict for life after lockdown, inevitably the two at either end of the spectrum are the ones I have heard debated most often.
They present a black or white alternative for the future.
The first is that being creatures of habit the majority of us will revert, in the main, to the way we used to live our lives.
We'll take the kids to school, travel to and from work every day, get stuck in traffic and save for our two week holiday in Spain.
We'll eat in restaurants that cost the earth, worry again about knife crime and the lawlessness on our streets, feel stressed and tired by the time we reach the weekend when, yet again, we can be astounded by how VAR is wrecking top-flight football.
Let’s label that the black option.
The white option is not only to never return to the pointlessness of many of the habits that drove the way we used to live, but to learn the lessons from the lifestyle imposed on us by lockdown and apply those in such a way as to improve, for the long term, our happiness, our general welfare and to increase our ability to be more effective, professionally.
How about hanging onto the disappearance of traffic from our streets?
We all enjoy the absence of traffic wardens, the reduction of air pollution and the return of the wildlife to our cities.
Again we can hear the beautiful sound of birdsong, and love the time spent with family.
From a work point of view, we're benefitting from the productivity of working from home, the avoidance of the commute on public transport, the discipline that zoom brings to meetings and the freedom to think.
How about that?
In the Sunday Times a couple of weeks ago, Rod Liddle reported on a poll that he had commissioned from findoutnow.co.uk. In answer to the question “Do you prefer life under lockdown to ’normal’ life?” only 38% of people replied ‘no’. The other 62% were doing better than OK.
Some 15% preferred everything or most things about lockdown and 47% preferred many aspects of lockdown to normal life.
Whilst we may not end up completely in the black camp or the white camp, but a shade of grey somewhere in the middle, there are certain behaviours and practices that will struggle to remain as they were.
International business travel is now self-evidently, in the main, unnecessary and as a significant contributor to the pollution - we know we’d all be better off without it.
Not having the time or space to think in the middle of a sea of open-plan babble will no longer be acceptable.
Pointless meetings about nothing in particular will be a thing of the past. Sitting in a traffic jam on the M25, M1 or any other M you care to think about is something that we should no longer put up with.
But what, in particular, have we learnt from the advertising business about changing the way in which we operate?
What can we learn from a new way of collaborating and using technology to free ourselves, as seems to have been the case in the last 7 weeks, rather than all becoming slaves to the ever-increasing power of AI?
I would make a couple of observations about advertising in the lockdown, before discussing life after.
Speed of change
The speed of change we are currently experiencing is unlike anything that any of us have been through in our lifetimes, and the sudden collapse in demand for advertising and the impact on agency revenues is tough to manage, even with speedy and robust government support. What is certain is that it will take a while for advertising spend to recover.
Media space is currently extraordinarily good value
The falling demand for media space combined with the fact that advertisers now have a captive (literally) audience sitting at home means that value has never been better.
Supported brands will be stronger
Although it is a song that the ad industry sings whenever there is a downturn in the economy, it is now more true than ever that brands that continue to be supported will emerge stronger when the economy recovers, particularly if a brand’s share of voice is ahead of its share of market.
Messaging is critical
In such difficult and unprecedented times, getting the messaging right, in such a way that it demonstrates a recognition and understanding of how the population is feeling, is critical.
It seems to me that, in their effort to demonstrate a level of understanding of and sensitivity to our common experience, brands are currently adopting very similar positions, sometimes even identical, to each other.
This is understandable when there are enormous risks attached to getting it wrong and the pressure is to play it safe.
So, there are lots of references to the NHS or to rainbows and the Zoom gallery features heavily in what would previously have necessitated careful art direction.
There is often sombre music, empty streets, references to the lifespan of a business, how ‘We’ve always been there for you’, 'caring for people', 'now more than ever', 'in these difficult troubled times', 'unprecedented and uncertain', 'stay together, 'we’re in this together', 'apart but together', 'you can trust us', 'we’re here to help'.
There have also been generous donations from big global corporations, Apple, Cisco, Facebook, Zoom (and small ones) to support healthcare, frontline workers and charities.
And then there have been practical contributions which provide content for marketing. Ford, GM and Fiat combined their expertise to manufacture respirators and ventilators. Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Boss and Chanel collaborated to make face masks and gowns. Starbucks gave free coffee to NHS workers, the police and firefighters. These seem so much more powerful than wishing your audience well and assuring them that you are on their side.
But perhaps the biggest change in the advertising industry’s collective behaviour is in the way we are now approaching production.
Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association, observed last week that “Production has been hit very hard, because most work has stopped and the new work that is being produced will be produced using post-production techniques and avoiding shoots because you can’t take a crew on location. People are incredibly ingenious and inventive in these things and I think we are seeing and will see more imaginative responses to this so that business can plough on.”
Looking to the future, which is where this whole piece started, we can do a lot better than simply ‘plough on’.
We can use our expertise, backed up by technology, to produce new content in a way that is more effective and less wasteful, by not only shooting and managing production in a smart and ingenious way, but also re-purposing existing assets, so as to minimise wastage and maximise the return on production investment.
Brand owners also need a production strategy in the current (and future) circumstances to protect themselves against most, if not all, eventualities.
Firstly, it is essential to set up an asset library.
This is by no means a new concept, but the way to fully utilise and exploit it requires a comprehensive approach. The mantra should be to keep everything, whether it’s been used or not. That means all the live action, every piece of animation (2D, 3D, typography, motion graphics, stop motion) every frame of every film, and every still. Then, of course, there’s photography and in particular pack shots and product shots.
Secondly, stay light on your feet when setting up productions and projects.
We are in circumstances, now and in the future, where it is likely that assets will need to be delivered at speed and scale. So, it is essential to have a tight process and the right team. The right team goes without saying. No matter how powerful Jurgen Klopp’s management skills, he still needs Mo Salah, Roberto Firminho and Sadio Mane to put the ball in the net.
Thirdly, embrace technology so as to ensure that it fits with your culture and process and in such a way that it streamlines rather than obstructs.
When you are re-deploying a campaign, consisting of a multitude of existing assets that need to be adapted for use simultaneously across numerous channels, in 20 or more markets, requiring substantial transcreation, you need collaborative technology to brief, track, review and approve work. Trying to do this on a spreadsheet and via emails is a recipe for disaster.
And finally, and above all else, make sure the messaging is right and is true to the brand.
Brands need to have a conscience, a sense of responsibility and a belief about their role in the lives of the customers they rely on, which is based in truth, is part of the brand DNA and never opportunistically bolted on.
Moreover, platitudes will not work.
The new paradigm is to be practical as well as to be true to yourself.
Only in so doing can brands retain their raison d’etre.
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