Creative solutions in interesting times

By Andy McLane,

Fellow marketing folk! In a time of closed shop doors and ratcheting belt buckles, it would be weird not to stop for a moment and reflect on what we do. To be any kind of ad/person involved in selling creative advertising solutions feels even more challenging than usual.

Just ask your friendly local estate agent – the one who just delivered your supermarket shop from the end of the garden path. 

So what is the role of our industry, and creativity, in these times? I shall attempt to speak from over three decades of experience, and at least three recessions, but it’s obvious to me that I’m as clueless as anyone. We’re walking through a moment of history for which there is no precedent:

But at least we’re walking together.

Now is the time good brands, agencies and many relationships that we have will be tested. A few weeks back someone a good deal smarter than me posted – that this undoubtedly difficult time will reveal to all of us who is really in our corner. And who isn’t.

In the coming weeks that will be proven at a micro and macro level. The quality of the relationships we have with our friends, family, colleagues, clients and business partners, are being  proven by the levels of trust and compassion we give one another.

Brands and organisations will find themselves weighed up in the post-corona reckoning, for the Chinese curse of ‘living in interesting times’ has definitely settled upon the advertising industry. 

I’m puzzling this out, like anyone, but these are my creative hunches for the immediate (1) , medium (2)  and slightly longer term (3).

1) Whatever you do, don’t go dark. Create.

One has to be sensitive to what’s happening and empathetic to the challenge we’re all facing. And certainly this is not the time to go on a hard sales drive.  But don’t go dark.

The human spirit has a will to live that will outstrip this microscopic foe, and creative advertising solutions have adapted so many times that we, as an industry, know we have a part to play. In the last few weeks, how much creativity have you seen generated by your friends and family on WhatsApp groups, home schooling inspiration and social media? If you’re like me you can hardly keep up with it, but it is helpful and inspiring. 

Armed with modern technology and connectedness, popular culture is facing this down.  And often long before brands have got their metaphorical ducks in a row, formulated their tone of voice and launched their aligned response. We’ll get through this too, but we need to up our game. 

Creativity is the major tool we can use to dig for that victory. Use social and SEO to hear what your audience are asking. Try to answer it with content and creative that drops the sales patter and simply tries to help. The buoyancy aids you offer now will be remembered favourably. For now, from a creative point of view, less is more. Just be straight and informative. 

And then, as we settle into uncertainty we’ll need to be more creatively distinct.

2) Steer by the stars of enlighten, inspire and entertain.

The next few months are going to be a marathon. It’ll be good to have a plan. In her book The Idea Writers, Teressa Iezzi’s definition of good creativity in ‘new media’ can be distilled down as three guiding principles. In these times, both Spider-Man’s uncle and Voltaire would recognise that we have a position of great responsibility – enlightening, inspiring and entertaining feel like good stars to steer by. 

How can we enlighten people about the situation they face? Reveal solutions, hacks and tools that can be used to tackle the tough situation? 

There are many amazing and life affirming movements and acts, both great and small, happening out there. How can we inspire and keep people’s chins up? 

And then, when all is said and done, we need distraction, entertainment and a diversion from the marathon? Can your brand offer a breather and relief from the slog?

3) In the recovery we will all want to live a little.

The worst aspect of now is uncertainty. But it will pass, and as Her Maj says ‘we will meet again’.

When we do, it will be with such a release of energy from pent up isolation. We will all want to do something life affirming. It could be a chocolate bar, a holiday with your parents or a car. 

The time to craft the shape those dreams will take is right now. Not when they emerge – but today, when audiences have nothing to do but plot how to celebrate that freedom.

Presenting the way forward – with sensitive and creative advertising solutions for the changed world –  will be what sets strong brands aside.

My totally irrelevant experience of three recessions tells me that when we all gradually emerge blinking into the later summer light of normal, brands that have remained Possiblists and stand ready to talk to people will come out of the traps more favoured, and faster.

 

Image: The Hay Harvest, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1565