Gemma Charles
Sep 24, 2020

How creatives freed their minds during lockdown

While the world ground to a virtual halt in the grip of the Covid pandemic, creativity remained unfettered. Campaign asked creatives to open up about the craft stories behind the spots.

How creatives freed their minds during lockdown

When many countries went into lockdown earlier this year, months of marketing plans were unceremoniously ditched overnight as brands and agencies adapted to operating in the new Covid world of social distancing and home-working. But while the world might have stopped, creativity didn’t.

Born Free: "Creature discomforts: life in lockdown”

Did you know that a wardrobe is the perfect home voiceover booth? No, me neither. That’s what our volunteers had to use when we interviewed them. There’s been a lot of learning about how to do things differently to how we did them before. Ollie [Agius] and I would normally sit on an agency sofa with a pad and stare blankly at a wall until we had a smidgen of an idea to write down. But this time, we were at our homes chatting on WhatsApp like strange creative pen pals.

“Would be cool if we could make the animals talk somehow. But make it feel genuine.”

“Kinda like Creature Comforts?”

“Creature Discomforts?”


It all relied on getting Aardman involved. Obviously wildlife charity Born Free aren’t rolling in cash but, credit to Aardman, they loved the idea and wanted to help us out. Luckily, animation is fairly lockdown-friendly. But even so, we couldn’t do claymation – the animation technique used in Creature Comforts – as we originally wanted without breaking social distancing rules, so we had to go down a 2D illustrated route. I dread to think how many hours we spent talking about mouth shapes, chain sounds and microphone positioning.

But it’s the voices that are the real charm and heart of this film. We interviewed a range of people across the country and wanted to reflect the nation’s mood at the time. They were all recorded remotely at the peak of lockdown, so their answers felt as raw as possible. Nothing was scripted.

When I look back at this lockdown in years to come, I’ll think about banana bread, loo roll, quizzes, stress, anxiety. But I’ll also look back at a project that proved a small team gunning for the same thing can make something we’re all truly proud of. Even though we were stuck in our kitchens.

Pete Ioulianou, creative, Engine

Dacia: "Dacia Ingenious Productions"

t’s difficult to say exactly when it happened, but at some point around April, the unique combination of halted production, shelved briefs and silent Outlook notifications created a rare and wonderful microclimate for proactivity. Agencies attempting to support clients started writing their own briefs and after a few weeks of surrendering themselves to the algorithmic whims of YouTube (see: Kangaroos giving birth), creatives found themselves with a flurry of homegrown briefs to get their teeth into.

Our “Ingenious Productions” work for Dacia was born out of this moment and came with a unique set of hurdles that required creative engineering to overcome: a car commercial with no cars, no locations, no crew and no Russian arm.

Production was where the real challenges arose.

We were forced to adapt each step to allow for new ways to bake in the “togetherness” that we were all missing – togetherness that makes work better. Unhitching from the usual treatment process, we secured a small amount of creative seed capital to invest in some tests with a couple of directors. Within days a five-second clip arrived from Iconoclast’s Vania & Muggia and it blew the doors off. Holed up in Gal Muggia’s Tel Aviv apartment (main picture, above), they’d managed to engineer a little bit of magic.

With (albeit small) cars secured from Europe’s only manufacturer of scale model Dacias and shipped to Israel, production equipment delivered to the door and some happy accidents – the torch flying off the drill – we delivered a piece of work that not only reflected life in that time but also looked forward a little to the moment we’d all be allowed out again, for a little drive somewhere – be it Barnard Castle or further afield.

Rob Butcher, creative director, Publicis.Poke

Burger King: "Tiny Tinie performs Whoppa on a Whopper”
It was lockdown. The news looked like scenes from a disaster movie but with worse actors. Outside, chaos reigned. And inside, my creative partner and I were staring at screens so much that real people had started to look like weird fleshy apparitions.

Then, out of nowhere, Tinie releases his cheerful summer banger, Whoppa, while we’re working on Burger King.

For any business forced to close due to Covid, it’s been tough – and Burger King was in the same position. And here was Tinie releasing a track that sounded a lot like our client’s hamburger.

It was the perfect opportunity to slide into his DMs and make some kind of collab. But coming up with partnerships during a pandemic was tricky.

Most real-world activations seemed a lot like superspreading.

So from a very Covid-y process of elimination, a pretty weird thought was born – Tiny Tinie performing Whoppa on a Whopper.

The plan was that when people bought a
Whopper burger, they got an exclusive one-on-one performance from Tinie, wherever they were. In a world with no live music, it felt like the right idea.

Now, shrinking a rapper down in AR and having him perform a track on top of a burger sounds pretty straightforward when you sling it into a deck, but it turns out to actually be quite difficult.

Especially considering the lockdown situation. We had to get Tinie to one of only a handful of volumetric studios in the world. The shoot had a skeleton crew. Coffee service was limited.

But thanks to some remote heroics from the team, Tiny Tinie was made in just under three weeks.

Conclusion: Making work is always pretty hard. While global pandemics definitely don’t help the process, they can make you think smaller. And sometimes that’s a good thing.

Guy Hobbs, creative, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

AA: "That feeling”

Creatives need constraints. They force us to find creative solutions. Working remotely was just another constraint to work around. When we collaborated with our directors, The Perlorian Brothers, we landed on the idea of a puppet to bring the concept to life. You can make a puppet do human-like things a real dog never could. It felt like the right approach because the dog was meant to represent drivers. It also gave us more creative control and a high level of craft.

The Perlorians enlisted the Latvian National Puppet Theatre to work on the design. We had soon agreed a size and shape and went on to wind-test different types of hair. This part of the process, a bit like watching casting films online, was no different to how it would have been in normal times.

The PPM was held over Teams and with everything signed off we were ready to shoot.

We joined a Zoom call with a live view of the action at a very civilised 08.30. The Perlorians directed the team on the ground in Latvia from Canada, with the agency and clients watching and feeding back from the UK. It sounds challenging but it really wasn’t. We had a pre-agreed method of feeding in comments via WhatsApp and, despite being in different parts of the world, the process couldn’t have gone any better.

We wrapped 11 hours later and all turned on our cameras for the customary round of applause.

It wasn’t until we came to editing and post-production that the limitations of remote-working were really felt. Normally, we’d sit with the directors and fiddle until we were all happy – but with this not possible, the process took twice as long.

Matt Woolner and Steve Wioland, creative directors,
Adam & Eve/DDB

Barclaycard: "A homemade film”

I think the long and short sum-up is that I was very fed up and sickened and bored by all the gushy sentimental and uninteresting work being made during Covid.

When I saw this idea [for Barclaycard, by Droga5 London], I saw an opportunity to still work within this sort of “Covid sentiment” but, instead, utilise an interesting actor [in Stephen Graham] and, even
more than comment on the Covid reality, just show someone respected and talented struggling to do something with their hands tied – which, to me, is the heart of the idea.

The process was very fun and fluid and, frankly, much less “planned” and much more lo-fi than how I usually work these days. It was fun to adapt to just letting things happen and brought me back to the way I was doing a lot of improvised comedy performance work earlier in my career. Was great to flex those muscles again.

Tom Kuntz, director, MJZ

Campaign US

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