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The coronavirus is what they call an RNA virus. Like the flu and measles, RNA viruses are more likely to mutate than DNA viruses.

Just when you think it’s one thing, suddenly it’s another, which makes it hard for life to adapt. And it isn’t going to be any easier for creatives.

But that’s exactly what we all need to do now that we’re looking down the barrel of what we’ve come to think of as the new normal. No one needs to remind us that advertising has been under a gargantuan amount of pressure even before the pandemic came crushing down on us all.

Even in the before time, it was bad for agencies. The rise of in-house. The invasion of the consultants. The stubborn refusal to jettison a business model that had gone unchanged since the big bang.

And while you, as a creative, might not be able to alter the course of an industry seemingly hell-bent on resisting transformation, there are things you need to be doing right now to gird your loins in preparation for what awaits us on the other side of the mountain.

Advertising has always been about understanding the human condition. Why do we feel? What do we feel? Why do we want what we want? But the lessons of the time before are different now. The pandemic has shaken us.”

It comes down to ten things you need to accept and that you need to be working on:

1. Remote isn’t going away. In the early ’90s, Jay Chiat unleashed what he thought was a big idea. Chiat’s virtual office was despised by many. Ex-Chiat/Day people who were there at the time said it was untenable at best. Many said the idea of working remotely would never work. Especially for an ad agency. And yet, here we are. WFH has been deadly for some of us. An eye-opening experience for others. Either way, we’re making it work. I’ve talked with chief creative officers across the country, and nearly all of them are saying that their teams are more focused and motivated than ever. So, if you miss the pool tables and the free bagels and the accidental meet-ups that Silicon Valley is so fond of, you might want to let that go. Remote has caught on. Just ask Jack Dorsey.

2. The return of the idea. There are exceptions of course. The big idea isn’t entirely turned to dust. But if we’re honest with ourselves, ideas the likes of which this business once spat out with alarming regularity are few and far between. For too long, layer upon layer upon superficial layer has taken on an importance that never should have been allowed. Crowdsourcing. Digital. Clicks. Awesome tools to have in the quiver, to be sure. But tools nonetheless. In so many ways, it’s Back to the Future time. The idea will be the currency of the advertising realm once again. Why? Because people want to be moved again. Tickled again. Clicks don’t do that. Ideas do.

3. The Rise of The Comeback Kid. It’s almost impossible to know how many brands out there will still be standing when this is over. Even now, many can see the writing on the wall. The numbers are scary. The Titanic has hit the iceberg. And unless somebody has an idea that can turn things around, and soon, the ship is going down. This is where creativity and advertising can redefine themselves. Look for the pockets of opportunity. Ditch what you’ve been told about advertising. Whatever you grew up thinking it is, start over. It’s something else now. Put your imagination to work on that. Find the brilliance in connecting dots that have never been connected before, that have never even existed before.

4. Find the humanity, or lose everything. Advertising has always been about understanding the human condition. Why do we feel? What do we feel? Why do we want what we want? But the lessons of the time before are different now. The pandemic has shaken us. We can’t hug one another. We can’t touch. We’re forced to smile at our grandparents through a window. As a creative, you’d better feel that pain. You’d better know how our hearts are wired to the world. Ideas that connect with those feelings, that vibrate on that frequency, these will be the currency of the advertising realm. Not everyone is an empath. But the more you can live in someone else’s soul, the better. Study it. Work on it.

5. The great production reset. I hate to say it, but the days of the big-budget TV shoots, the over-the-top photography junkets to Mongolia or Lapland or Costa Rica are, at least for a very long time to come, at an end. This is not a bad thing. It’s forced us to once again put the idea first and the execution second. This is something we need to embrace, just as Lars von Trier did when he created the Dogme 95 Manifesto, which stripped filmmaking down to its core, doing away with anything that wasn’t necessary to the story. We need to become Lars von Trier. And if you want to see what can be accomplished at a time like this, go over to YouTube and check out 72andSunny’s spot for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

it’s the data you’re going to have to sleep with from here on out. I hate this in so many ways. Not because of the numbers themselves, but because of the way we’ve allowed them to become a sad substitute for human understanding. Do not let that happen.”

6. Awards? Did somebody say awards? On the other side, we’ll need to recalibrate our relationship with awards. It’s too bad because, despite what some people want us to think, awards shows have hands down been the biggest career booster around. That’s just a fact. But virtually nobody has a whole lot of stomach for investing in awards shows right now. And once we get accustomed to not being so dependent on them, they might never go back to what they once were. My advice? Stop relying on awards to validate your self-worth. As a creative. And as an agency. Focus on redefining creative success and what it means in the new reality.

7. Becoming Mariano. Mariano Rivera was one of the greatest relievers in the history of baseball. Which means he was one of the most resilient pitchers ever to play the game. That’s the thing about relievers. They’re resilient athletes. They get lit up one night, and it’s like it never happened the next. Creative resilience is going to be more important than ever before in advertising. How quickly you can pivot from one way of thinking to another is going to be increasingly critical. If you’re creatively rigid, you’re going to have a problem surviving, much less thriving. Be open to ideas that fit the time. Stay loose. Get on that creative inner tube and let the river take you.

8. This time, it’s personal. There are no more consumers. Not like we remember them. There are no more demographics or psychographics or anythinggraphics. No more groups that we can neatly tuck into so many folders on a laptop screen. To be sure, we’ll still have B2B and B2C. But if I were betting where all this is going to end up, I’d put my money on B2Me. The great pivot to personalization had already begun before the outbreak. It was inevitable once we had access to all that personal data. And it’s the data you’re going to have to sleep with from here on out. I hate this in so many ways. Not because of the numbers themselves, but because of the way we’ve allowed them to become a sad substitute for human understanding. Do not let that happen. Find a way to embrace the data without it becoming your daddy. Even more than in the before time, there will be those who want you to live and breathe numbers at the expense of human needs and wants. Resist those people. There’s more to reaching human beings, especially human beings who’ve suffered through a pandemic, than getting a 700 on your math boards.

9. You don’t hold the patent on creativity. Some of the most gifted creative minds I’ve ever met work in advertising. But it’s a specific kind of creativity that swims in the same pool day in and day out. It’s different now. We’re going to need to dig deeper, get out of the advertising pool and accept that there’s a big creative universe out there. John Palumbo, founder of the BigHeads Network, describes his company as the curator of a brain trust of more than 1,000 handpicked creative minds, visionaries and problem-solvers who all come from different backgrounds, including a documentary film producer, collegiate coach, jewelry designer, professional firefighter, cardiologist, celebrity chef, ironworker, video game developer, tattoo artist, small-town mayor, yoga instructor, reality show host and a major league baseball umpire. Your mother told you never to talk to strangers. I’m telling you to do it anyway.

10. Flatten the learning curve. How we attack problems is going to be changing a lot faster than what we’ve been used to. The targets are going to be moving. Objectives will shift. How quickly we’re able to adapt on the fly is going to be a very big deal. What you think works this morning might not work this afternoon. The jets are going to have to scramble—and without warning. Ideas don’t have a shelf life anymore. Bob and weave. Punch and pull back. Be nimble or get left behind.

The big pandemic reset is going to turn a lot of what we’ve come to know as advertising upside down. Whether or not you get to be a part of it is up to you. ca

Ernie Schenck (ernieschenckcreative.prosite.com) is a freelance writer, a creative director and a regular contributor to CA’s Advertising column. An Emmy finalist, three-time Kelley nominee and a perennial award winner—the One Show, Clios, D&AD, Emmys and Cannes—Schenck worked on campaigns for some of the most prestigious brands in the world in his roles at Hill Holliday/Boston, Leonard Monahan Saabye and Pagano Schenck & Kay. He lives with his wife and daughter in Jamestown, Rhode Island.
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