Allow me to try to describe the way you’ve felt about advertising and media over the last two months of the Covid-19 shutdown.
We’re all thrust into this new reality. We can’t leave the house. We’re working from home, cooking at home, eating at home, stockpiling and/or searching for toilet paper. When we watch TV, our mind subconsciously categorizes all advertising as okay because it was created before the shutdown. Olive Garden - “When you’re here, you’re family”. (Low-key that’s a great slogan, by the way). But not right now, partner. If you’re at Olive Garden, you’re in breach of the governor’s orders, not to mention a danger to society. But we don’t fault the ad because it’s all new and changing quickly. These ad spots were bought and created months ago.
We’re getting used to new routines. We have good days and bad days, and we enjoy the simple things like going for a walk, or meeting a neighbor through masks. Speaking of masks, maybe you got a fashionable one now to replace your disposable “hobbyist carpenter” mask. Now between episodes of Brooklyn 99, you’re seeing your first batch of commercials and ads created specifically for the lockdown. The ads speak to you. You relate. “Yes, Google!” “Amen, Subaru, We ARE all in this together.” You shed a single tear. You feel seen. Maybe the ad worked.
Jeans? Ha! Joking about wearing sweatpants is still funny and relevant. We’ve got 3 Zoom happy hours, a virtual family meeting, and a drive-by baby shower this week. The local elementary school teachers drove by the house in a parade, and you cried even though your kids aren’t school aged yet. You’re starting to feel funny about advertising. “Doesn’t this feel like the commercial the other company just ran?” Does everyone just need to make sure to say it too? You’re not sure, but it starts to feel weird. Still some ads work: like seeing a montage of people cheering for essential workers. Gets you right in the feels.
You’re pretty much over it. The novelty has worn off. Another Zoom meeting? You’re trying hard to stay positive, but your patience is wearing thin. Now something weird has happened. Those advertisements that worked at first now feel abrasive. You instantly categorize ads into two camps: 1) Commercial with high production value: “How many people did they get together to create this ad?” “That’s illegal, and dangerous!” “You’re trying to inspire me to stay home, but you didn’t stay home yourself.” Filming with a crew endangers someone’s grandma! 2) Commercial with low production value. Sourced cell phone video montaged together: “I’ve seen this one before.” “We get it, we’re all at home - even celebrities.” “I’ve had some good moments too.” You can relate a little bit, but the punch is gone. Low production value shows us why we need high production value.
So what does the future look like? Short answer: we don’t know. A couple weeks before the shutdown, we pitched on a commercial job, and won the project - which has since been put on hold until summer. As a director, to pitch successfully, I need to be able to feel what hasn’t been created yet strongly enough to convince everyone involved to bring that idea to life. I pitched an idea I had complete conviction in - it was emotional but grounded in just the right way. But then the world shut down, and we went through the stages I just described above. And here’s the thing: I think my own perception has shifted enough during this lockdown, that I need to re-enter the process to figure out whether I still have conviction about the idea. That’s a scary proposition.
Aside from themes and motifs that feel exhausted during the quarantine, the challenge we now face is to communicate winsomely to an audience who has experienced a seismic shift in the way they view and experience the world. Those who find success in this new landscape will be the ones who find a balance between creating within the legal boundaries, and understanding their audience, and what it is they need to hear (that they haven’t heard a thousand times already).
And so I need to go back to that idea we pitched and work it through. Re-imagine the idea with a new sense of what feels contrived or overdone. And if it doesn’t fly, I need to go back through the channels and communicate that conviction in a way that builds trust and keeps the belief in our ability to pull it off. We have a limited amount of time and bandwidth to create, and we want to use those resources to make things we are proud to stand beside.
Personally, I’m looking forward to a day soon when a director, production company, or business totally blows me away with an ad that I didn’t see coming. We’re challenging ourselves to think beyond the obvious. We would love to be on the leading edge of the movement toward the future of visual storytelling. How about you? Have you experienced this shift in thinking about advertising or your own creative ideas? Do you feel fatigue? We’d love to hear about your experience and shifting attitudes toward advertising media.