Regular columnist and Ebiquity managing director Debbie Morrison discusses the things she hopes will be retained long-term as a result of recent experiences.
As an optimist by nature, I find it hard not to look for the good and opportunities in all situations, however dire and dark they may seem as we pass through them. Britain and many other countries besides are now bumping along out of lockdown, often two steps forward but one step back. So, as we enter the second half of the year, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what I’ll take out of my time under the pandemic.
And although these are very much my personal observations, I know from talking – by Zoom, naturally – with friends and colleagues that I’m not alone. What’s more, I think they also provide important learnings for brands and brand teams, as together we establish the next normal.
Back to basics
If I’d been told at the start of the year that I’d be denied all the things I’d grown used to without a second thought, I’m pretty certain I’d have felt a profound sense of loss and done anything to get them back as soon as I could. For although there were 20th Century pandemics, until this year there was something medieval about the very concept. Surely all our progress and medical tech should mean that we shouldn’t have to suffer material deprivations and an overnight end to freedom of movement and access to goods, products, and services? What a difference six months makes, and how different reality is from theory.
I and many of those I know and talk to have found liberation in our new simplicity. Lockdown has allowed us to reframe our lives, take a deep breath, slow down a little, and refocus on what really matters. And if we 2020’s consumers are actively reframing our lives – rethinking our priorities and abandoning or moderating past consumption and leisure activities by replacing them with simpler, more local, more homespun alternatives – brands need to pay attention and pivot too.
Self-sufficient and local
Until March, I went to the hairdressers every month. Now, by following and watching streams on Tik Tok – my favourite lockdown resource for cheering me up and learning new skills in seconds – I’ve discovered how to cut and colour my own and my family’s hair. Thanks to others’ creativity and generosity in sharing their wisdom, my monthly hairdressing ritual may well be a thing of the past. Just as well given the sky-high demand now salons have been allowed to reopen.
I’ve lived in the country for many years, but it took lockdown for me to start growing my own vegetables at scale. My guide to his comparatively effortless No Dig method was Charles Dowding, and our new patch is blooming. A growing area of my garden has been transformed, with a four-inch layer of compost on top of cardboard on the lawn. In just nine weeks, we’ve grown everything from broad beans to cabbages, tomatoes to pod peas, lettuces to spinach. Fruit, veg, herbs, shallots, courgettes.
My drive to self-sufficiency in fruit and veg has helped to change my view of what’s actually essential. It’s also made me reassess how and where I shop, and though I’ve not stopped going to supermarkets altogether, I have started shopping much more locally. Supporting the local butchers and bakers not only enables us to get what we need fresher and closer to home; shopping local has become a conscious, political act, supporting the local economy.
Good food, home-grown, locally-sourced, made together with family – lockdown has in part been a “slow food” epiphany for me. We plan the menu for the week ahead, and that feels good; it feels better. Enforced new ways of doing things have allowed me to focus on the few things that really matter and also made me much more conscious of consumption. When I do shop online, I’m much more D2C than I was before, and I also routinely question if I really need to buy new clothes, a new handbag, in a way I just didn’t do before – after all I’m WFH now. And beyond a little lipstick before the next Zoom meeting, I’m also using much less make-up.
Growing through others’ wisdom
Learning new skills – from hairdressing to No Dig gardening – is all delivered online, of course. With the glut of produce we’re growing, I’ve turned to established trusted sources as well as the next generation. This includes Jamie Oliver’s eight-year-old son, and YouTube natural, Buddy. His videos were designed to get kids cooking with parents under lockdown. I guess they’ve achieved that in our household too, just with a slightly different generation of parents and children that Buddy and his dad perhaps imagined.
I hadn’t considered myself too tech-savvy before lockdown, but like everyone in the knowledge economy, my business life in Q2 2020 was largely held on Zoom. Q3 and Q4 will likely be very similar. After mastering the fundamentals and gradually adopting more sophisticated features I’ve seen colleagues and clients using, I’ve found the platform really enhances how I work. Managing meetings online requires a different dynamic and range compared with in-the-room, face-to-face contact. To project and get your message across, you need to treat video conference calls like a performance – like a broadcast – and that means you need to plan and prepare differently. Being still and unanimated make your contributions less memorable; getting your hands out and being expressive achieves just the opposite. It’s amazing how the confidence can flow.
So, if this is all happening to me in a corner of Devon – while I’m able to continue to grow my role at Ebiquity, and with increased efficiency – it’s worth considering what this might mean for advertising post-pandemic.
Over the past three years, a fascinating series of reports have been produced by Andrew Tenzer, Director of Group Insight at publisher Reach Solutions, and his research partner, Ian Murray at House 51. 2019’s The Empathy Delusion has just been followed by this year’s The Aspiration Window. The common and uncomfortable thread to this series of provocative pieces of thought leadership is that many people working in advertising and marketing unconsciously interpret and experience the world differently from “modern mainstream” audiences. They conclude: “divergent social and economic experiences and cognitive worlds occupied by people in our industry, translates to a gap in understanding the mainstream’s day-to-day live goals and aspirations”.
In the wake of such a profound event as the coronavirus pandemic – which I’ve seen at first hand can have such a quick and lasting impact on behaviours and attitudes I’ve held dear for decades – their research begs the question as to whether adland has the capacity to adapt to the rapid evolution in mainstream aspirations in 2021 and beyond.
The optimist in me has every confidence that it can. In more than 30 years in the industry, I’ve seen the incredible adaptability and versatility in face of huge change – societal, financial, cultural, technological, and now biomedical. Our inboxes and to-do lists are more complicated than ever, from the Me Too movement to Black Lives Matter, and adland’s response and creative solutions need to be more diverse and inclusive, nuanced yet holistic than ever. Those brands and agencies that emerge strongly from the pandemic – those that recover and can grow again – will be those that look at how their own lives have changed, how their communities have changed, how their countries have changed. And they’ll use these learnings as the basis for a hard reset to better serve their customers and clients.
Some questions for adland emerging from the pandemic:
• What does the office of the future look like?
• How can we help our teams to work and thrive when working from multiple locations – sometimes from home, sometimes in the office?
• What does post-Covid-19 life/work balance look like and how can we achieve it?
• What help and support will our leaders need to lead most effectively from home?
• How will this new simplicity manifest itself and what does the resurgence of the local mean for brands and agencies in the 2020s?
This article was featured in TheDrum.