Everyone is talking about the "new normal," but no one knows exactly what it means or how it will evolve in the coming months.
Over the last few weeks, adland has been rife with layoffs, salary cuts, Zoom pitches, remote productions and more, and the industry will likely have to continue to adjust to changes for quite some time. But what adjustments are going to stick?
Campaign US asked industry executives to share what they think is going to change forever in advertising due to COVID-19. Their answers are insightful, unique and some are even uplifting. See what these leaders have to say below.
How will advertising be permanently changed following the coronavirus pandemic?
Mick McCabe, Chief Strategy Officer, Publicis Worldwide
I think what this environment has demonstrated, that I hope will continue, is the remarkable power of genuine intimacy as a lens for the way we work. It's reflected in the closeness and intimacy with our teams, their homes, cats, wallpaper, photos, art tastes, personal vulnerabilities, and problems to solve, that don’t fit into neat boxes and require broader teams.
Have you noticed how open everyone has been? How much active listening is happening? There’s been a profound intimacy with our clients, witness to the pressure they face to respond fast and with purpose, to do the right thing, to say the right thing, to figure out plans in real-time, integrating like a boss, coordinating things that have never coordinated before, simulating our version of the situation room every day.
Lastly, and in an enduring way, intimacy with customers, employees and the culture at large. This has manifested itself in a disproportionate embrace of actions, on what a real service mindset is, on tangibility of new offerings and ideas, on what people really need, not the idealized aspirations we are sometimes prone to creating. I think this intimacy can be a beacon for us all going forward, as we think about agency life together, with clients and the creative value we can bring broadly when we get up close and personal.
Lisa Clunie, Co-Founder and CEO, JOAN
One of biggest changes in advertising I expect to see in the coming months is a shift in how clients perceive our role. In recent years, more and more brands have tended to view their agencies as vendors or mere service providers, with a diminishing emphasis on their ability to provide strategic insight and leadership. I think this crisis has served as a reminder of the need for the true expertise embedded in most agencies.
Brands are rightfully uncertain about how to navigate this landscape. Many are leaning into the experience and expertise of their advertising agencies like never before – or at least nothing like what we’ve seen in the past five years.
The commoditised version of advertising that many brands and agencies have become accustomed to simply won’t cut it right now. Brands need agency partners that are strategic, thoughtful, creative and in-touch with culture at this unique moment in time. Those agencies that reestablish their expertise during this crisis are likely to emerge as stronger leaders on the other on the other side, fundamentally changing how their clients view them.
Michael Kassan, Chairman and CEO, MediaLink
As we look forward and adapt to the ‘new normal,’ we cannot skip a step. First, we’ll have to understand and navigate the ‘transitional normal.’
The marketing and media industry will be permanently altered post COVID-19. To understand these sea changes, one needs to understand how quickly habituation occurs in the human condition. Our near-universal and lightning-fast adoption of Zoom, CiscoWebex, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams and more have finally opened the floodgates on video communication. Long gone is the plight of the traveling sales executive – we’re more likely to share a screen than a martini in the future.
Value propositions need to be reimagined and reestablished. Agencies should use the moment to reassert their value proposition and reclaim their roles as stewards and strategists for their partners. Most marketers are turning to their agencies for their counsel – the opportunity is clear, and the challenges are epic.
For brands, sensitive messaging will carry more weight than ever. Purpose-driven marketing was already a buzzword in 2019; however, purpose will be held to a higher standard post-crisis by both consumers and juries. Countless brands have creatively delivered on their missions in recent weeks, so expect the bar to be high in creative briefs.
We’ll also see a reimagination of events to value intimacy, efficiency and inclusion. We’ve already seen an explosion of large and small virtual meet-ups. Our industry is rooted in creative ingenuity, so it’s no surprise that this group will be some of the earliest adopters of innovative ways of convening in the long-term.
Alison Moser, Head of Business Development and PR, F&B NY
This pandemic has fundamentally changed the way consumers behave: from the way they dress and feed themselves to the way they interact with others. And it’s unlikely that we’ll be returning to our pre-COVID behaviors once we’re allowed out of the house again. Naturally this means advertising, along with every other consumer-reliant line of work, is going to have to adjust to meet new needs and behaviors.
This will manifest in both message and medium, but ultimately will come down to consumer trust. What we’re experiencing right now is both surreal and traumatic, and when we finally are able to leave our apartments and go out to experience the world again, we’ll all have a wildly different perspective on what matters. It will be even more important than it was before that I understand and identify with the values of the brands I’m willing to spend my (likely reduced) income on. I’ll place greater value on knowing that those brands did everything that they could to support their own employees and communities during this time of massive anxiety and uncertainty. And I’ll be more motivated to invest in those brands that I trust to deliver a long-term value within my ‘new normal’ lifestyle.
All of this suggests a glorious return to the days of brand advertising, and I believe that smart marketers will over-index on their brand spend. Rather than focus on trends or product launches, we should pivot to the role of caretaker in a world of uncertain consumers looking for support from a brand they trust.
Katie Miller, CMO, Argonaut
At least at Argonaut, social distance has seemed to create increased closeness and connection with each other. We have been required to literally (albeit virtually) welcome each other into our homes and, with that, has come greater vulnerability, empathy, and true care for the mental well-being of one another. It’s allowed us to really get to know the person behind the ‘employee,’ which I think too often is lost in the hard-working environment of our industry. I think advertising (and likely many other businesses) will be forever changed in people’s expectations of an agency’s culture and essence—like flattening the curve has helped remind us of the importance of flattening the hierarchy.
Barry Lowenthal, CEO, The Media Kitchen
This business has always been driven by really smart people working together to bring big ideas to life. In order to do that, teams must first build trust so they can listen to each other and be open for opportunities. This crisis has shown that we can still come together virtually. We can do our jobs remotely. We can keep relationships alive while sitting far apart.
The one thing that will be permanently changed, however, is our attitude towards physical spaces. As teams are just starting to form, in-person work will likely remain the preference, but once bonds are formed, I think we’ll all be more open to working remotely and coming together periodically to reinforce why we liked each other in the first place.
Before the center of gravity was proximity. Now that center of gravity has shifted to virtual. I can imagine a time when our offices are just conference rooms where teams can form and then work remotely. We’ll need a lot less space and certainly won’t have individual offices, cubes or assigned desks.
In the future I fear pandemics will be more frequent and if that’s the case, working through them will be the new norm, which means having strategies and tools to support our teams and clients while managing ongoing health crises.
Lindsey Seyman, Managing Partner, Fancy
Agencies have always touted the value of a tight brief 'the smaller the box the better the creative outcome.' But today tight briefs are no longer just a reference to a strong target definition or creative shift or specific desired action. We find ourselves now working on briefs that are so tight they specify all of the above plus…specific approval processes that will allow us to actually get work live in the timeline we need, production constraints that are not just about budget levels, but also reference how we can gather assets and desired actions that are so limited in their results we have to make a choice in the upfront. These briefs are (hopefully) leading to work that is impactful just for that specific piece of business, not something that can be easily replicated. We’ve had tight briefs at Fancy before. Some of our clients speak about female sexual pleasure or wellness in the cannabis space and there are limited options for our campaign work--we can’t talk about what our clients sell or media outlets place limitations upon where we can show our logo. We’ve been aware of the value of a tight brief before, but this new reality has adjusted the way we collaborate with our clients, our production teams, our media partners to arrive there. This new reality has placed strict limits on how our work can come to life, and the work is getting better because of that.
Stephen Clements, CCO, YML
We got lucky. We have seen a few clients pull back, pausing work. And we have seen others want more. In essence, for the most part, we’re still on target for our growth goals this year. Why? We focus on creating digital products, and – for better or worse – digital is the great social distancer. For example, people don’t go to the mall anymore, they shop on Amazon. They don’t go to the movies, they watch Netflix. They don’t go to their bank; they use the apps and websites we make for financial institutions. And so on and so on. During this COVID-19 crisis, it’s not just work-from-home, it’s everything-from-home. And companies are seeing the digital imperative more than ever before. Digital is not just a way to send hyper-targeted ads. It’s a means to connect with customers and generate business in ways that work on the customer’s terms. Now, more than ever, businesses need to connect with customers online and run their businesses better, digitally. And in the long-term, we believe we will see an upswing in work as companies start to see the light at the end of their balance book.
Sandy Greenberg, Co-Founder and CEO, Terri&Sandy
Crisis demands urgency, efficiency, and collaboration. Some of the best coronavirus advertising has been approved, created and produced in less than a week. Normally, this is virtually impossible in our industry because there are so many approvers on the client and agency sides. This need to move fast, and with a great gust of heart and inspiration, has led to some brilliant ideas seeing the light of day that never would have before. Interestingly, some of the best Covid19 themed ads are breaking through with attention and likeability scores equal to Super Bowl Commercials (Ace Metrix) for probably 90% less investment. Ironically, these dark times have sparked a new level of creativity in advertising—and society overall. It’s definitely a silver lining. When we get back to normal, I think both clients and agencies will be more open to 'scrappier' production values because we’ve seen they can be more honest and cost efficient. I also hope clients will continue to move urgently when they see a great idea and passionately protect it from the naysayers. But the question is: Will the sunshine dim the creative light?
Marika Wiggan, Strategy Director, Preacher
I hesitate to say advertising will be permanently changed because of the pandemic, nothing is permanent in advertising because it shapeshifts with culture. But, if we commit to holding onto the lessons learned in this moment, we have a chance to reimagine the way brands behave and the speed at which they mobilize. What we’re bearing witness to is a moment of forced evolution and adaptation at every level -- from individual citizens, to governments, to corporations. This crisis has asked much of us and required that brands (both big and small) take leaps of faith previously unseen.
In terms of new ways of working, we’re seeing that productivity and respect for the craft don’t require being tethered to a desk or singular location. While nothing will replace the creative energy that comes from a buzzing office, having the freedom to roam while working will be a thing most aren’t willing to give up.
As for client briefs, I think we’ll continue to see more "brand action" briefs coming out of this. The immediacy of impact that can be felt when brands actually show up for people is undeniable and addictive. And it has long-term ramifications -- whether we’re conscious of it or not, our emotional IQ keeps the score.
Many agencies will unequivocally rethink the notion of 'creativity.' Deep, high-empathy problem-solving and proactive, high-urgency ideating are what many independent agencies like ours are built on. Others have realized that 'creativity' is so much more resilient and agile than the tender thing they've once treated it as.
Jeremy Cesarec, Strategy Director, Planet Propaganda
I expect more hedging against future unseen disruptions as well as diversification of client portfolios and services. It’s always been dangerous to overload your favorite egg basket, but the risks of acute specialization are now impossible to ignore. Counter-cyclical clients like DIY products or pharma that thrive because or in spite of uncertainty and economic disruption may become more attractive.
We’re also likely to see a renewed appreciation for the power of 'brand.' Think about it in the context of people panicking when they see empty Clorox shelves next to fully-stocked natural or private label cleaning products. It’s not a knock on eco-friendly options, but when the shit hit the fan, people turned to what they knew best. Trust and familiarity are invaluable in times of distress, and lots of companies wish they had more of them. Clients may turn to their branding and creative agencies to help assemble stronger armor for the next battle.
There’s also a huge natural experiment happening right now: what happens when production as we knew it is no longer possible? Small-budget brands and the world’s biggest advertisers alike are turning to type-on-screen and old footage to deliver their message right now. It’s a great equalizer, and scrappier brands that didn’t have that luxury before the crisis are doing a better job than some of the behemoths. Some brands will be eager to move back into Hollywood production territory, while others will second-guess whether it was ever necessary. Creative agencies may need to re-prove the value of big budget productions (and find ways to survive without them).
Lots of big thinkers predict we’re looking at an extended era of remote work. But I also think we’re recognizing that we may have undervalued the importance of hashing out big ideas in a room together. Actuaries can do their best work alone in their rec room, but great creative work often needs proximity and intimacy to thrive.
Matt Kandela, CEO, Dear Future
Amidst all this talk of change, I predict the biggest outcome of this pandemic will be that we crave exactly what we had before. Offices full of people, collaboration face to face, Wi-Fi that works and the chance to not wear sweatpants every single day. Having been stuck indoors for over a month, even the idea of a daily commute seems like a glorious luxury right now. As an industry, we are often fixated by what’s new and what’s next, but my hope is that we become grounded once again in delivering work that people actually want in their lives and that the superfluous and the superficial are kept at bay by the conscious and the useful.
Expect, though, to see a rise of WFH on Fridays. Some things will never change.
Richard Yao, Manager, Strategy and Content, IPG Media Lab, UM’s innovation division
The pandemic is set to accelerate some of the existing trends in media consumption while suppressing others, forcing advertisers to reconfigure their media mix to keep up with the changes in consumer behavior.
COVID-19 will push more people to try free and ad-supported OTT services as they look to expand their entertainment options at home. Already, we are seeing spikes across all TV channels, especially in streaming, with viewership nearly doubling last year's level, according to MAGNA data. The lack of live sports content is further reducing the value of pay-TV packages, pushing some consumers to consider cord-cutting. This will leave a lasting impact on how advertisers allocate their TV budgets as audiences increasingly shift from linear to OTT channels.
In lieu of live sports, some networks like ESPN have turned to esports content featuring professional athletes to fill airtime, accelerating esports’ entry into mainstream media spotlight. Playing online video games for socialization was an emerging trend before COVID-19, but now in times of social distancing, games are quickly becoming a "virtual third place" with new brand opportunities for advertisers to explore.
As the pandemic shuts down all non-essential businesses, some people in professions that provide in-person services, such as barbers, chefs, pastors, fitness instructors, are now turning to social platforms to showcase their expertise, often on live video, and make money through donations or plugging products. They form a new wave of influencers that brands in respective fields can learn to tap into.