Creativity in constraints is catalyzing innovation

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Creativity in advertising has been tested to its limits during the pandemic, as brands and creatives have had to adjust their behaviors and strategies to meet their audiences’ changing needs.

But these uncertain times are designed for creativity, insists Shutterstock creative director, Flo Lau who says: “We’re lucky to live in a digital world with access to a lot of inspiration, content and tools.”

Why creativity is critical to survive and thrive in chaotic times

Speaking on a panel titled ‘Creativity’s impact on shaping a better future’, hosted by The Drum, in partnership with Shutterstock, Lau adds that the onset of the pandemic saw everyone in the creative industries “scramble and find alternative ways to get things done in this new normal. Over time we found that the tools and the infrastructure already exists to allow us to adapt, stay creative and productive.”

COVID-19 is, of course, unlike anything most people have ever experienced. Which means brands and businesses have had to take creative leaps to help them adjust to the entirely different world and disrupt their own thinking for more innovative gain, according Steven Moy, global CEO at creative agency Barbarian.

Moy predicts that the ecommerce industry is set to grow by 20% following the virus, saying, “It will become the primary channel for non-essential retail shopping,” given that people are stuck at home and unable to consume advertising in other ways; therefore, proving store activations as somewhat redundant. “Companies that already have a digitally-centric strategy or a direct to consumer mind-set will be able to pivot fastest. Whereas, if you’re a traditional CPG brand relying on essential and non-essential retail as your channel, that will require a lot of rethinking and re-planning.” He believes marketers should invest in experimental innovation, as it could shape the industry’s future for the better. Examples of this include high tech solutions for home deliveries – which was modelled in New York and which continue to evolve during lockdown to accept cashless payments.

Creativity needs a new playbook to help create considerately

Lau makes the point that no one is working from a script, and we are continually having to reinvent ourselves.  She suggests creatives keep abreast of everything that’s going on worldwide as a way of forecasting trends. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in February, Shutterstock quickly saw a change in marketers’ interests through keyword searches. Initially, searches for the pandemic, hand-washing and COVID-19 vector illustrations were popular, and this shifted in late March. People started settling into their new routine and seeking out visual content that best reflected the new reality using phrases like home cooking, working from home, virtual backgrounds, empty streets and education.

“It's important for creatives to read the room and understand how to move forward,” says Stacy-Ann Ellis, copywriter at Droga5 New York. “We're observing all these trends and cultural and physical changes; it's important to create considerately.”

Referring to the pandemic and Black Lives Matter and how the current constraints are shaping our sense of the world, Ellis says, “There isn’t any room for your creative to be misunderstood or misread. We have to focus on the intention behind the creative.

“It's our responsibility as creatives to work with brands to find out what we should say. There’s no room to disconnect with consumers anymore.”

Finding more than just a slice of creativity during the pandemic

But the question remains, how do you explain to your dispersed creative teams that the crisis is good for innovation. Or what new guidelines do you set up for cross-functional teams on how best to collaborate, while staying creative, working from home? Lau says, working from home has benefitted some companies, like Shutterstock, because it allows the business to work more flexibly and creatively across international offices to complete tasks around the clock, as team members navigate a more fluid home and work schedule. “Rather than stick to the normal 9-5 routine, we can pick up calls early in the morning or late at night and just get things done,” she adds.

This approach may seem more efficient, but Moy highlights that clients are looking for jobs to be completed in as little as two weeks at the moment. Yet he believes that increased time constraints could actually help creatives to think more laterally as they’re having to respond to briefs at pace.

Moy maintains that having the right communication tools in place will allow you to ensure the same high-quality output remains a priority. For instance, magazines have been completing their photoshoots from home with an art director and photographer directing the model through a screen. He gives the example of Robert Pattinson shooting his own GQ cover while in quarantine. Moy says, “I’ve never seen anything like it, but in extreme times, we resort to extreme measures with creativity. We’re experimenting and willing to take a risk. Before the pandemic, everything was delivered within a day, sometimes even within two hours, but even Amazon can’t do that at the moment. What was previously normal has been disrupted so everything is now possible.”

Ellis however admits that the process leaves some creatives feeling frustrated with increased client demands and even tighter turnarounds, but it can also be an interesting challenge: “You’re pulling from different parts of your brain that you never thought you'd have to use. You're sitting there with your partner, at whatever hour of the day thinking how to push it further; How can we better other people’s efforts? It's an exercise in pushing yourself and ultimately, makes us stronger creatives.”

Moy admits that “speed has become a very interesting element in any corporate boardroom right now; how fast teams can move, their agility and the speed at getting an idea to market is crucial.” Also, consumer demands on services mean that businesses are getting smarter with their responses in order to keep up. The constraints and working routines have shifted entirely, but creatives are creating their own forms of creative transformation.

Moy adds, “we are willing to try different things because everything’s so unusual, that it’s now normal. A lot of my clients have been talking about speed and courage and I always urge them to take risks.” He adds, it’s important to experiment because “we’re truly entering a period of digital and creative transformation.” 

“It's really exciting for us as creatives as well,” concludes Lau. “Creatives are going to have to get more creative with the production of digital content, as there's going to be a higher demand to create more content to satisfy the growing customer base and demands.”

To continue the conversation,you can watch the panel on-demand here.

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