We’ve now all seen and made plenty of spots capturing the mood of the year – the empty streets, the face-masked souls seeking social connection.
And we’ve seen some pretty impressive lockdown productions recognising and welcoming the barriers to production this year’s dealt us, like Halal’s spots for Skoda. But with our first COVID-19 Christmas ads out and many countries sinking back into deeper lockdowns, it’s becoming clear we’ll be making ads under varying stages of social distancing and restriction for a while.
So how do we produce great work in a pandemic when lockdown’s no longer the theme, but its restrictions still affect us? As a creative industry, is it possible to achieve the golden trifecta of right tone, effective creativity, and what’s possible in production?
There’s nothing sexy about obvious workarounds
In the weeks after the first lockdown, we saw so many commercials that all had that same ‘unproduced’ look or relied completely on stock footage. I was happy to see it. First, it showed some pretty damn impressive quick thinking. Secondly, it was kind of satisfying to see that proper production is missed. But the fun of it wore off, and we’d soon seen our fifth TV spot shot on Zoom. There’s nothing sexy about obvious workarounds. And there’s definitely nothing sexy about remotely supervising a shoot.
There’s nothing sexy about obvious workarounds. And there’s definitely nothing sexy about remotely supervising a shoot.
Some are calling it a ‘period of innovation’, for others it’s a period of unrest and uncertainty. To me, it can be both. Limitations can be a real driver of creativity. Covid or none, there will always be some limitation. Budget, for example. I’ve always felt executing a good idea with unlimited funds is much harder than executing within limitations of time and money. Just because we can do it doesn’t mean we should... applies to lots of things, really. With limited funds, you don't have to continuously question you and your team why you don’t just shoot a scene in a lagoon in Fiji, and you can think creatively about how to deliver the most impressive work suitable for your client’s objectives.
The limited budget answers limitless production questions. So reasoning mathematically, working with limited budgets is easier, since there are fewer questions to be considered. A fruitful approach is to start off with creative concepts that can more or less be executed within the current limitations, and build from there on what is possible. Rather than starting with ideas that neglect the reality, old or new, money or time, or covid-19 ramifications. Limitations are a driver of creativity in general, but ignoring them to push on ahead with skeleton crews or difficult workarounds isn’t.
Some are calling it a ‘period of innovation’, for others it’s a period of unrest and uncertainty. To me, it can be both. Limitations can be a real driver of creativity. Covid or none, there will always be some limitations.
Think like a ‘creative’
So where does that leave us? The practical truth of it as I see it, is that scripts still need to adapt to what’s possible in production. Doesn’t sound very sexy either. But it can be if we rethink our typical approaches and think creatively at every step of the journey. After 20 odd years in the production business, I’ve seen that just about anything that can be dreamed can be made.
Manipulating the moving image is the bread and butter of Ambassadors, where our creative production studio works across VFX, animation, sound design, grade, and more to make magic happen on screen. Great execution can lift the creative idea and can make the spot do its work beyond expectations. But I do really believe that in these weird times for our industry, we shouldn’t necessarily push ahead with the same creative ideas as if it’s a pre-covid world of production, and ‘fix it in post-production’. Because a good creative idea is one thing, but a great creative idea is one that can be executed without causing nightmares or mercilessly stripping the client’s budget.
And good ideas don’t need to come from someone with the word creative in their title, but from all of us and at every stage of the journey. This point touches the weird dance around the word ‘creative’ in the ad industry. How can you be working in this industry and not be creative? How can you be working in the notary business and not be an ‘honest’ person? Emphasising the word makes you think, no? Maybe if we stopped referring to human beings as ‘creatives’, it would encourage everybody else in the process to be creative.
Creative thinking is part of every stage of the execution of ads. The brand, the strategy, the writing, the plan, production, edit, color grade, sound and music, and media buy. Creative thinking is also what will get us to the answer on how to deal with communication in covid times. To me, this Dutch McDonalds ad by director Ismael ten Heuvel is a great example. We see an older couple in lockdown not accepting their faith, but getting out there just to pick up a treat for their grandkids. It is all about connecting and taking matters into your own hand. Without breaking the covid rules. And by shooting a real-life family, too.
Another is ActieHelden (Action Heroes) for Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn. Integrating animation into live-action helps lift the pressure on the production of live-action shots, without needing the time and budget for an entirely animated universe.
These are just a couple of the solutions we’ve seen, and there’s many more. Lockdown advertising is about the messy middle and we’re going to be here for a little while. But if we can think creatively at every stage of the journey to avoid unfeasible shoots and workarounds that just give everyone involved a massive headache, maybe we can hit that golden goal in 2021.
Better ads, less pain, and with less budget.
Article originally published in Shots.