10 creative trends in the time of the coronavirus
It’s been about four weeks that we’ve been sheltering in place. Though agencies, brands and creatives have been deprived of their usual resources, that hasn’t put a damper on their ability to create. Already we’ve seen trends appear and, in the span of days, get tired, as everyone struggles to deliver messages that connect with audiences. Here's a look back at some of the ideas that the pandemic has inspired so far—and which ones should be put to rest.
1. Logo spacing
This was the first real creative trend of COVID-19, and we saw creatives and brands add “social distancing” to famous logos to encourage people to do the same. Jure Tovrljan, a Slovenian-based creative, applied the idea to famous icons from Starbucks, Mastercard and more. McDonald’s was one of the first brands to officially do so with its own mark; in Brazil, it separated the golden arches in a social media post that was later removed after being pilloried by the likes of Bernie Sanders, who questioned how the company was treating its own workers. Coke also jumped in with its Times Square billboard carrying a stretched-out version of its famous italicized mark. Others to hop on the bandwagon included Volkswagen, Audi and the ANA.
Verdict: Initially, it was a fun creative exercise that brought a bit of levity during a dark time. But when brands do it for real it opens them up to more important questions about whether they’re contributing anything substantial to the crisis efforts. Also, we got the point—really quickly—and subsequent efforts look like copycatting. Droga5’s Dave Kolbusz summed it up in this funny tweet.
2. Montages of found footage and user-generated content
With shoots off the agenda, brands have turned to social media for footage to make ads for their brands, reflecting the times we’re living in. Facebook’s poetic “Never Lost” is a good example, with a carefully chosen spoken-word soundtrack adding poignancy to the photojournalism and social media content. The BBC’s effort, narrated by Idris Elba, follows a similar outline, and Barilla echoes it in “Resilient Italy,” adding narration by Sophia Loren and an emotive Vangelis soundtrack, while Virgin Media also mined social media for uplifting scenes of people connecting during lockdown.
Verdict: Perfect for crafting content remotely, and with the right editing, music and selection of footage, it can be suitably uplifting/heartwarming. Yet, there are already too many montages, so brands will find it hard to stand out unless they find a unique way to connect themselves to the content.
3. Repurposing old content
Putting a new spin on content that’s already in your archives can work well during lockdown. The BBC did it to good effect for its coronavirus PSAs, picking classic scenes from comedies like “Alan Partridge” and “The Thick of It” that sum up the current situation. IKEA also repurposed a 2017 spot showing people enjoying their homes for a PSA that encouraged people to reconnect with their indoor spaces during lockdown. McCann Spain remade an original spot by Acne with different text and a whole new message.
Verdict: Cheap to produce, and with some clever copywriting, the possibilities are endless. Brand messages also have the potential to really stand out as consumers may already be familiar with the content. Craft, however, is key to putting a fresh spin on the old stuff, lest you risk looking lazy.
4. Solo shooting
In the past week, new campaigns have started to appear that were filmed under social-distancing rules. An ad for domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, showing empty London streets to highlight that violent partners are at home instead, was filmed by several different creatives, as well as the director going out and shooting solo footage. Audi, meanwhile, used four different cars to create scenes for a four-hour virtual roadtrip through Australia in a campaign designed to keep give viewers on lockdown a glimpse of the great outdoors. And Doner created an ode to Detroit using footage of the city’s ghostly empty roads, filmed solo by the director.
Verdict: An inventive way of complying with the rules. (Although, whether filming an ad constitutes a “essential journey” we’re not sure.) But it's labor intensive, and you'll need the right equipment.
5. Zoom backgrounds
With videoconferencing now entrenched in many people’s daily routines, brands have rushed to create their own Zoom backgrounds. Interiors brands like West Elm, Modsy and Farrow & Ball jumped on the bandwagon quickly with backgrounds designed to smarten up your home office decor. But you can also choose from the likes of Jaguar Land Rover for exciting off-road adventures; Adult Swim, which will give you scenes from "Rick and Morty" to spice up your call; Yorkshire Tea's branded blimp flying over the countryside; or Dunkin's sweet donut-filled backdrops.
Verdict: A fun quick-hit for brands, but it’s a bit like the visual equivalent of ringtones—how many do we really need?
6. Download and print out
When you’re bored and in lockdown, what you really need is creative you can print out and, preferably, color in. Ikea has done this with its catalog in a campaign from Israel, for which a couple of Chicago creatives designed a free, downloadable coloring book for kids based around the A-Z of coronavirus. Adobe tapped a range of artists to create some dazzling designs to download and print. Meanwhile, Wieden+Kennedy made its “stay home” safety campaign for Oregon available to everyone by letting them download it and place it in the windows of their homes.
Verdict: Gives consumers who are bored at home something to do. But there are plenty of non-branded coloring books out there, too, so make sure yours has something special to make it worth the crayons.
7. Making use of wasted space
All those billboards are going to waste, so outdoor media owners are finding ways to fill them, and that can mean an outlet for creativity too. For example, Mother London created a campaign with light-hearted copy, simply thanking key workers, to run across U.K. billboards donated by Outsmart, the U.K. outdoor media association. Meanwhile, in Israel, outdoor media company Edri-8 used one prominent billboard to remind anyone who was outside viewing it that they should be at home instead.
Verdict: Not many will see your outdoor campaign, but with some PR and social amplification, you can still make an impact. Risk: you might go unnoticed.
8. Artworks, remade
Several creative campaigns in the time of coronavirus have turned to famous artworks for inspiration. One campaign by Bay Area creatives Jeff Roy and Drake Paul put famous artworks into quarantine. We’ve also seen “socially distanced album covers” from L.A. shop Activista, and remakes of famous TV and movie posters, while the Getty Museum’s attempt to get people to recreate works of art at home has been a big hit on social media.
Verdict: Huge creative possibilities here, and cultural recognition of these famous images will likely score you some hits. As with the logos, however, the idea can get old really fast and these are starting to look like a mere exercise in creatives’ Photoshopping skills. If you don’t have a way to put an original spin on it, move on.
9. Home is good
Now that we’re well into lockdown, advertisers have started to focus on the benefits of staying home. One spot from German supermarket Penny looks at family life in quarantine through the eyes of a young girl who’s loving it all. An ad for Freshpet reminded us that staying home gives us a chance to reconnect with our furry friends—who are just happy we’re around. And Burger King’s “Stay Home of the Whopper” ad turned couch potatoes into “couch pot-atriots” for lying on the sofa and ordering Whoppers.
Verdict: If brands can give people a lift in these anxiety-ridden times, it could work in their favor, but they need to tread carefully. Images of happy families in close quarters may not sit well with those who are alone and isolated. Also, your ideas could draw attention to the “wrong” things. For example, a fast feeder telling people to eat junk food while stuck to the couch may not be the best idea when obesity is thought to contribute to coronavirus complications.
Brands that would normally shoot at outdoor locations have been staying indoors to create. Nike made a spot showing athletes like Le Bron James and Sara Hughes busy with training regimes in their kitchens, basements and hallways, while in the absence of a real Olympic Games this year, NBC is showcasing Olympians working out at home. Even auto brands can do it: an ad for the Honda Civic from Dubai features a toy car racing around an apartment.
Verdict: There’s plenty of scope here. It’s only a matter of time before directors get more creative in their living rooms. But it might get a little claustrophobic after a while. We’re all looking forward to seeing the great outdoors again before too long.