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The industry is primed for change but its change that demands we question everything and challenge complacency.
If the last two years have taught us anything it’s the need to adapt. Scratch that, that’s a massive understatement: we’ve been forced to completely revisit so many things we took as given, permanent, stable.
Willingly or not, we’ve become primed for change. And that means we can’t help but look at everything we did, everything we’re doing now and will do a little differently. Where we work, how we work, how we travel, shop, where we live. Household convenience versus doing our bit for the environment. Mental health, inclusivity, responsibility. Everything is up for grabs, an opportunity to rethink and rebuild.
Gradual, positive change had been coming for a few years – in 2018, A Quiet Place director John Krasinski made everyone learn sign language on set to communicate with deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, and last year Bridgerton of course opened doors for diversity with what would classically once have been an all-white cast. We all stopped to talk about how thoroughly modern advances like this were, unpicking our unconscious biases, thinking how they had been at play and celebrating society’s newfound expansiveness. The point being, we were still analysing, stepping back to ensure a considered view, thinking about behavioural change.
And then recently, I cycled past an Ann Summers window and saw a plus-sized lingerie-clad black model on giant posters in the store window and it was Just Normal.
That’s the kind of new normal we need. The idea that we’re maybe starting to get there fills me with immense optimism.
But as an industry, we do need to be careful how we embrace, and reflect the new normal. Remember the early stages of the pandemic when brands were coming to terms with how to do advertising? We couldn’t go anywhere; we couldn’t really make anything. And so, the worthy ad of togetherness emerged, brands opening their hearts to the public. Generic advertising, designed by an algorithm. Soft piano music, drop shots of cities, endless images of family and the words ‘uncertain times’, ‘togetherness' and ‘unprecedented' on repeat. Disingenuous advertising that when you look back, makes you understand why the industry sits side by side with estate agents in public opinion polls.
The astute public was quick to react. One YouTuber’s comment, which sat under one of these ‘we’re here for you through difficult times’ commercials said it all, “I asked my very well-known insurance company to lower my premiums because I’ve not been driving since early March. My request was denied. I’m so glad that as part of their family, even now, especially now, through thick and thin, they were there for me.”
It’s this consumer savviness that is another reason the industry should be optimistic - it’s a stark reminder that if you’re lazy or disconnected from the realities around you, you’re gonna get called out. We need to be far smarter, less slack, and we have to ensure we never underestimate our audiences again.
When the dust has settled hopefully some time in 2022, let’s get on and use this new fluid era to question everything we do. How we make work, where we shoot, how we shoot, who we castDave Day, Executive Creative Director at CPB London
The bottom line is that after the experience of the last two years, there was never a better opportunity for the creative industry to dig deep and finally get to grips with what ‘authentic’ advertising should look like. While yes, enchanting ads have been found to be more effective than slice-of-real-life ads, there are simple decisions we can take to better reflect people’s lived experiences in the ads we make, and still be creative.
Just as we muddled our way through advertising ‘in uncertain times, I’m sure we will now have a series of dubious post-pandemic advertising ‘welcoming us all back’. There will be learnings for us. But after that, when the dust has settled hopefully some time in 2022, let’s get on and use this new fluid era to question everything we do. How we make work, where we shoot, how we shoot, who we cast.
There’s no denying the past couple of years have been incredibly difficult for just about everyone. Priorities have moved sharply into a new reality; family, friends, and toilet paper - with advertising falling, quite rightly, to the bottom of that list. As long as our industry remembers that the masses are far smarter than we might think, and if we remain a little more open about new ways of doing things, and new ideas of what ‘normal’ means, there are so very many positives to look forward to in 2022.
87% of global consumers think it’s more important for companies to be authentic than to innovate (72%) or deliver unique products (17%).
Nine out of ten adults worldwide would prefer to see the world change significantly – and become more sustainable and equitable – versus reverting to a pre COVID ‘normal’.
More than three quarters of Gen Zers say they trust a company more if it uses images of real customers in its advertising.
Dave Day is the executive creative director at CPB London. Previously in the same role at Pablo, he has also held senior creative roles at Wieden & Kennedy, Mother and WCRS. A passionate voice on the issue of social mobility in the industry, the original plan laid out for Day's life was for him to become a farmer. He didn’t, and whilst juggling the day job in advertising, has since gone on to complete a part time Masters in Fine Art at Goldsmiths.
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