BMB’s Jason Cobbold: it’s time for real collectivism in adland

Former UK Prime Minister Theresa May recently criticised the world response to tackling coronavirus, highlighting the lack of international collaboration and calling for a “collective international view.”

On a more local level, the ad industry has shown itself capable of coming together to support some basic action. For instance, in the shape of the IPA’s recent ad campaign, to push the merits of creativity in times of trouble.

Advertising agencies spend plenty of time talking about common opportunities and challenges. We complain to each other about giving away our IP, we discuss the erosion of our value within client organisations, and we sulk about never-ending pitch processes. And, yes, we generally get on.

Despite this the current crisis highlights that we too often fail to act as a true collective. It’s time to put a stop to this, because one thing is for sure – we can no longer afford to practice “pretend collectivism.”

That’s because this crisis brings real jeopardy. Challenges to our financial model, to our ability to hold on to talent, to our very product. These won’t be marginal issues hitting us. They will live and be present for everyone, and businesses will fail to survive as a result.

Suddenly, the usual squabbles, jokes and rivalries of our fragmented business seem small and inconsequential. Because now is the time to get a bit more serious about what we do, and why it matters. Now is the time to stop being tribal, and to take action together.

A fresh creative perspective

There are some hard realities to face right now. New opportunities may be on the horizon but manufacturing, supply chain and work force issues dominate. You haven’t got much of a business if you can’t make, serve or operate. We need to recognise that, for a period of time, the drum we bang will not be the loudest nor the most urgent.

So what does that mean for us?

Firstly, we need to re-frame our own “creative” output. Creativity may not be a reactive campaign idea, but take instead the shape of distribution or service delivery innovation. Right now, we need to think as broadly and creatively as possible on behalf of our clients. Only by doing this will we get the attention of an embattled CMO and CEO. Taking inspiration from the fashion industry perhaps, which has come together to imagine a future in which protection and comfort are priorities.

Second, when this all settles down, we will find curious new opportunities for creativity. Things we weren’t quite expecting. The “go-to” ambitious marketers of the past – airlines, automotive – will almost certainly look different. And we’ll find creative opportunity in new, closer to home, “less sexy” categories. These sectors will become more interesting as human behaviour and habit changes.

One of our clients is a leader in home “crafts.” They have seen a huge spike in demand as people have started to take an interest in the timeless arts of knitting and embroidery. New needs have emerged, such as relaxation and mental well-being. These provide great opportunities to have an impact as a creative business.

Third, this feels like a moment marketing can use to gain a bit of perspective. In the hunt for ever more lofty statements of purpose, brands have sometimes looked faintly ridiculous. The present crisis may serve as a helpful “level-set” for brands. And keep us grounded in the products and services we’re selling. Creativity has always worked best when allied to simple facts and – well – the truth.

So creativity will not diminish, but it will be re-shaped and re-purposed. We will be much broader in how we apply it. We will be more honest about where we apply it. And we’ll find surprising new places to apply it.

This will be an incredibly tough time, but there’s plenty to be working on while we sit on our couches with laptops. The world we’ll emerge into will have different priorities, but it will be a place we can and will thrive in.

Jason Cobbold is CEO of BMB.

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