Looking Back On the Year Nobody Wanted
When we woke up on January 1st, when we got back to work on January 2nd, we were excited to get started on a promising year. We had big hopes and dreams. You probably did too.
Some of our plans were able to happen. Others, of course, weren’t. Either way, nothing this year has looked like we thought it would. We’ve all sacrificed so much, and even our successes were accompanied by the somberness of the news.
It’s felt strange not to work, and it’s felt strange to engage in business as usual. Doing good work in any form this year feels like a kind of victory, even as our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones to the virus.
What We’ve Learned
As we navigated this year, we were learning on the fly, just like everyone else. The events of 2020 will be etched deep in all of us, and while we’re going to be recovering for a long time, we’ve been forced to grow and we’ve learned some things about ourselves and everyone else.
In an industry that’s all about connecting with people and their deepest-seated desires, we’ve spent this year trying to understand people better, be more compassionate, and advertise more honestly and ethically.
Here are a few of the observations we’ve made so far:
It’s doubtful that brands have ever been called on to do the kind of moral heavy lifting they have in 2020. From leading the way in promoting safe behavior to making statements on racial equality, companies across the country have been confronted with the fact that how they communicate has repercussions, both for their bottom line and for the world around them.
As creatives that help companies build themselves into brands, it’s been a sobering year, full of reflection on what branding is, and how to wield it for a better world. How to resist empty posturing and pursue advertising that actually promotes the things we want to see.
Stories are what change the world. And so many of the stories we see around us are told by brands, in the form of sidebar ads and billboards and, yes, commercial films. Since those are such a large portion of the stories we consume, it’s our job to create them to be beautiful and responsible.
We’ve all had the experience of watching a TV show from before March 2020 and feeling vaguely uncomfortable, finally realizing it’s because the people onscreen aren’t masked and aren’t distancing. We’ve acclimated to the new normal so quickly that we have an instinct for it.
This shows how attuned viewers’ eyes for detail are. We have a sense for stories that don’t fit with the world as we know it, and that means authenticity in advertising is crucial. The unsettled feeling that comes from seeing a maskless crowd in a TV is there when we watch a lot of commercials too; it’s because the kind of lives and attitudes we see there doesn’t feel like the reality we recognize.
People know when a film feels off. They know when it feels honest. Let’s make honest films.
Don’t Discount the Power of Catharsis
There’s been a lot of jokes about “Covid advertising,” and messaging like “in these troubled times….” The jokes have a point – every brand has felt the need to address the state of things, and there have definitely been a lot of inelegant versions of these ads.
But they’re speaking to something we all need: an acknowledgement of what we’re going through. A sort of permission to feel the things we normally push down in order to function. When these ads are done well, they’re a tribute to what we’ve all endured this year, together. They’re odes to those of us who have sacrificed, unabashedly emotional storytelling on the part of brands.
When we see one that’s good enough to rise above the crowd of Covid ads, it gives viewers something they’re hungry for: catharsis. Let’s not get too cynical to appreciate the necessity of that, from time to time.
2021 and Beyond
We’re not out of the woods. We don’t even really know what things look like on the other side of the woods. But our mission is the same as it always was: make the advertising world better and more beautiful.
We’ve learned a lot about how to do that this year. By helping brands tell responsible stories. By pursuing authenticity. And by leaning into the emotions we know our viewers are feeling.
We’re all in this together. Let’s treat each other kindly.
Happy New Year, everybody.