Matt Bennett is co-founder and executive creative director of Ultra Brand Studio.
Adland’s not going to save the world – not that it was ever in doubt, but lockdown hammered the point home. As ECD of an agency that launched in lockdown (yes, I know), we know more keenly than most that the past few months haven’t exactly been optimal for many sales messages.
What advertising in lockdown did highlight was that at their best, ads can remind us of our humanity, can be a means of connection. This was intrinsic when I worked on the Nike ‘RISE’ campaign, back in the day as creative director at AKQA, and the past few months have been a timely reminder that advertising creativity can bring us joy when we most need it. And often, that’s enough.
For me, it’s those brands that have acted, that have empowered people in a hyper-authentic way, that stand out. And I’ll bet that these brands, and their ads, will be more fondly remembered once all this over. Here are some of my favourites.
Desert Island Ads
Nike: Living Room Cup
A digital workout series offering a new space for folk to compete against Nike pro athletes through weekly fitness challenges. Super simple human insight that gets us moving when we’ve been housebound. This humanises our heroes and reminds us ‘we’re all in it together’ – regardless of our waist size.
Minecraft: Block Down Simulator
Taking the role of nurse or observer, players get to see a village that is exposed to highly infectious Zombie Villagers. A really smart way of educating a younger audience around the pandemic to support the United Nations Development Programme and Heart17 for #TomorrowTogether. And it pushes the boundaries by innovating a gaming platform into a tool with endless creative possibilities.
Channel 4: The Great High Street Comeback
We're delighted to join forces with our brand partners @AmexUK, @rightmove, @boughtbymany, @LloydsBankBiz and @ExoticDirect to help our fantastic high street businesses make their comeback! #Back4Business @4SalesUK pic.twitter.com/BCkORhh3Fx
— Channel 4 (@Channel4) July 31, 2020
Channel 4 donated media space to help get small and independent retailers back in action. Running across E4, Film4, More4 and All4 as well as the broadcaster’s social platforms with hashtag #Back4Business. The campaign partnered with RightMove, Lloyds Banking Group, Amex and others. Great human response. Awesome to see the big backing the small.
Camden Town Brewery: Beer Auction
Although beer sales surged during lockdown, the hospitality industry has not fared so well. This campaign raised awareness of the situation in a fun and irreverent way and raised cash for Hospitality Action’s emergency COVID-19 fund for bars and restaurants.
It’s not the only initiative Camden Town Brewery has been behind – it rebranded its signature ‘Hells’ brew as ‘Camden Heroes’ to raise money for healthcare workers and offered 20,000 free beers to London’s frontline staff.
I’ll raise a glass to this type of activation continuing after lockdown.
Musician Grimes’ partnership with WeTransfer to invite the creative community to produce their own versions of her latest single, ‘You’ll miss me when I’m not around’, was a masterstroke. Three quarters of WeTransfer’s users classify themselves as creatives, so a great way to engage your core audience and engage restless creatives during lockdown.
Mint Mobile: Ryan Reynolds
A video campaign based on a PowerPoint Presentation, instead of an ad. When times are a bit crap, you can always rely on Ryan Reynolds to make it slightly less crap.
Nike: It all starts with the ball
Ultra Brand Studio launched in April. Tricky at the best of times. Needless to say, trickier under lockdown. But even with a crew in Lyon, us in London, and clients in Amsterdam, we managed it and this heartfelt piece featuring world class athlete Ada Hegerberg reminds us all, that even though the game had been put on hold, our love for it will never leave.