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So here we are. Deep in the throes of a global pandemic, our cities and streets on lockdown, our norms shattered and runs on everything from Wall Street to toilet paper in the local grocery store.
Uncertainty reigns. Yet for all our existential angst, we know we'll get through it. We always do. The world turns, night follows day, life moves on. But for now, the watchword is perseverance.
Marketers are no more immune to crisis anxiety than the waitress who's just been told her restaurant will never reopen. Working remote, keeping family and loved ones close, they too wrestle with priorities in an economy turned upside down.
The first order of business is to stay safe, limit risk, and watch out for the vulnerable. But as the new normal starts to take hold, minds will inevitably drift towards what happens next.
And that begets a whole new set of questions.
For make no mistake, the work that will need to be done tomorrow will not be the same as the work we were tasked with a month ago.
Everything has shifted on its axis, and so has every proposition on every project brief. When the wheels start turning again, don't expect it to be business as usual.
Brand purpose? Forget it. That's as dead as a dodo. The days of blandly hijacking a cause and sticking a logo on the end of a 3-minute video are over.
If this crisis has shown us anything, it's that most brands can offer little in the way of solace in times of extremity. The ones that can do so because an intrinsic benefit is hard-wired into their DNA. We don't need our hand sanitizers or canned food to teach us a lesson in being better people, we need them not to run out.
This is not to discount the actions of brands like Levi's, Old Navy, Apple, and others who have guaranteed workers wages and benefits. Or Tesla and Dyson who have converted operations to make ventilators. But that's not brand purpose. That's doing the right thing. The minimum we should expect from any corporation with an ounce of integrity.
From their sofas, dens, and make-shift home offices, the stewards of our nation's products and services surely realize this. Faced with a mountain to climb when the all-clear sounds, they'll know that much of the weak-minded nonsense that passed for thinking up until a few weeks ago isn't going to cut it.
They'll know that what will be needed are a few big ideas, preferably of the "fuck-me" variety - monstrous pieces of thinking with the capacity to lift a brand up by the lapels and set it back on its feet.
Whole industries are going to need them - automotive, airlines, dining, entertainment, sports, tourism, property, finance, etc. - and so will the millions of newly laid-off workers now looking for work.
Budgets will have been cut to the quick, so the temptation to opt for a short-term fix will be high. It should be avoided. Big ideas build for the long-term. They create equity and trust. They are flexible, hard-working, fun, ingenious, and over time deliver a far greater ROI.
But here's the thing:
Big ideas require big thinkers. Lateral minds with the ability to delve into unexplored places, open a new door and say, "This way, follow me." Ad agencies used to be stacked with these people. Today, not so much. Many were brutally culled when the drive to cut costs at all costs began around 15 years ago. Being slightly older and having the audacity to turn 40 didn't help either.
But they're out there.
Freelancing solo or teamed in networks, they're as good as they ever were. And come the Fall, or whenever this nightmarish shit-show passes, an eye for a fresh angle is going to be very much back in vogue. Let's use them and harness what they have to offer. Given the chance, they'll answer the call.
This crisis has no redeeming features, but it might afford us one small silver lining:
A chance to reset.
To get back to doing things right.
To start afresh and begin again.