"As soon as we went into lockdown, everything that we would have relied on, as tried and tested went out the window. Then everything comes into play when you get that first post-lockdown brief. What is possible? What is achievable? What do we want our punter to think and feel? Good work isn’t just good creative. It’s where creative meets culture, meets context."
Vicki Maguire, chief creative officer of Havas London, was taking part in a virtual round table, hosted by Campaign’s creativity and culture editor, Brittaney Kiefer and dedicated to the topic of creativity in the time of social isolation.
Her words resonated with the other panellists, Laura Jordan Bambach, chief creative officer at Grey London, Jim Piercy the group creative director of The Trust, WSJ, and Chaka Sobhani, chief creative officer at Leo Burnett.
The conversation turned to creativity in its broadest sense. Bambach highlighted the little gestures many brands have made, which show a creative response both to the crisis and to the needs of their audience. "I was chatting with Mitch Oliver [global VP marketing at Mars] about some of the things they have been doing, for example looking at what they can do with Pedigree to help walk dogs of people who might be shielding, for example."
All four participants said that — after an initial lull — the demand for great creative advertising had not diminished. "What I have noticed," said Piercy, "is an increase in pace. And that’s kind of a genie that I wouldn’t want to put back in the bottle. The dynamism I have seen from my team over the last three months has been incredible."
Chaka Sobhani developed that theme. "[The production process] is a lot less, not necessarily siloed, but instead of a baton pass everyone starts on the project collectively. Talking to the right people at the start and co-creating the advert as a bigger crew, gives you the chance not just to get something done but to make it brilliant."
All four speakers were clear that a key component of producing great work in lockdown is to look after your creative teams, something that can also demand considerable creativity and flexibility.
"Sometimes I take my first call at 7:30am," said Maguire, "because one of my people is working before their kids get up. And sometimes I take my last call at eight at night, because someone else is working after their kids are in bed."
Pitch perfect – tone deaf
Another big topic is the often-tricky requirements of creating work that hits the right tone for locked-down audiences. "How are you of help and how are you of service?" said Sobhani. "If you can’t answer that, then frankly shut the f*** up. Because this isn’t the time for any other messaging."
"You need to know when the time is right for your brand to step into a conversation," said Bambach. And there was frustration with the "now, more than ever" ads some brands had used to urge consumers to shop during lockdown.
"If you knew at the start of the lockdown what you know now," came a question from the audience, "what would you have done differently?"
"I’d have robbed more stationery!" said Maguire.
"There’s literally no point of reference for any of us in this," said Piercy. "All you can do is show empathy and understanding."
Inspiration, inspiration, inspiration
Asked what examples of creativity have really moved or excited them during the crisis, speakers cited many of the ways brands and even individual creatives have tried to do their bit. This ranged from agency staff making PPE at home right through to Emmerdale production staff sharing tips with executives on rival soap EastEnders (EastEnders was a few weeks behind the ITV programming in adapting to lockdown).
Is there going to be a renaissance in creativity once lockdown ends?" asked Kiefer. "Grey is never going to go back to working the way it was" said Bambach. "This has opened out our opportunity to work with our people in different ways. We don’t know what that looks like yet, but we’ll see if there is a different way for people to work and create.
"And these new ways of working will give us new stories to tell."
Rewatch the discussion in full below: