The only way to stay ahead of the curve is to shape it, not predict it.
Covid-19 is a tragedy, not an opportunity or a brief. But it’s a tragedy that we can learn and grow from, and one that forces us to question how we do business to adapt to people’s needs and make the world a better place.
Not often we get a second chance to re-imagine everything. Now certainly feels like the right time for it.
I could write three pages of cultural trends that have emerged from Covid-19 and life in lockdown. I’m not going to do that, though. I’m also not going to try to come up with prophetic predictions. There have been many, many reports and predictions in the past couple of months, and some assertions about what the future holds. The truth is, no one can really know. The future is out of control and changes exponentially on a daily basis.
However, there is one thing we do have control over. We have control over the actions we take, as individuals and as an industry, and the impact these have on the world. We have all witnessed the power of collective action through social distancing, supporting our community, clapping for carers and staying home. We are capable of remarkable change in a short period of time.
Watching this little poem in Film “The Great Realisation” by Tom Foolery (picture above) got me thinking. Thinking we should stop the trend spotting and trying to predict the impact of Covid-19 and, instead, take the driving seat and be accountable for shaping the curve and re-imagining the future.
But let’s start from the beginning.
The Curve Now:
In March, we’ve all embarked on what seems to be a long emotional journey of ups and downs. We’ve all had very different experiences depending on our circumstances and socio-economic background, but the macro state of emotions has evolved in a synched, collective way characterised by those ups and downs. And we are only in the so called first wave.
First, there were the lows – from stockpiling toilet paper and pasta to anger, denial and defiance when we were asked to put our lives on hold and say goodbye to our beloved pubs and parks.
Then we started embracing our lockdown lives with resilience and by coping together. With PE with Joe at 9am, live bedtime stories read by our favourite authors and Gary Barlow’s Crooner Sessions. Importantly and not to be forgotten, we all binged on Tiger King in the best collective synch fashion.
Then came moments of worry and anxiety, as people lost their jobs and words like furlough became part of the cultural vernacular.
Lockdown has affected what and how we buy. We’ve embraced online shopping. Last March vs March 2019 saw the rise of bread makers, home desks, hair clippers and home fitness equipment. And the decline of luggage, cameras, swimwear, beauty and fashion.
We’re also taking up new hobbies. We are cooking more from scratch more, obsessing over sourdough and ‘fakeaways’ (I nailed a Nando’s fakeaway last week – at last, after 3 failed attempts!), rediscovering the joys of gaming and board games.
Our values are changing too, as our priorities and outlook on the world have evolved. We’re suddenly more cynical about celebrities – the ones that show a lack of empathy and self-awareness, who flaunt their privilege and couldn’t possibly understand what we’re going through. We travel less. We consume less. We question whether all that stuff we bought made us happy (yes, Marie Kondo, we get it!). We turn to experts and scientists, doctors and health authorities for guidance.
But the one big thing this crisis made me see and value were the moments of collective power and hope that kept us going. Clapping for the NHS every Thursday brought us to tears, and closer to our neighbours. Captain Tom Moore warmed our hearts and inspired us to join in. We ran for Heroes. Furloughed creatives came together to offer their time and talent to small businesses with NotFurLong. And we found new ways to connect. From Zoom to Houseparty, virtual pub quizzes, virtual drinks, virtual birthday parties and virtual hugs.
The Curve Next:
Indeed, we could look to the past, but is it comparable to the crisis we find ourselves in today?
We could look at emerging trends, but they could change as the situation evolves. We could try to predict the future, but it’s a gamble, and one we can’t afford to take. And our predictions tend to get mixed up with our hopes and personal biases. We need to remember that even experts get predictions wrong. Some predicted the iPhone was doomed to fail, that Instagram was just a fad. That the Titanic was unsinkable and that the Millennial bug would destroy the world.
So the best way to stay ahead of the curve is to shape it.
Shaping the Curve:
As I’ve mentioned earlier, “The Great Realisation” by Tom Foolery got me thinking. Thinking we should stop the trend spotting and trying to predict the impact of Covid and, instead, take the driving seat and be accountable for shaping the curve and re-imagining the future.
Sounds big, I know. But if I can inspire others to do the same…. Boom! We’ve all seen the unassailable power of collective action.
Now’s the time to re-imagine the future. Now it’s time for the great reset.
We moan about the industry, we moan about everyday life, about the weather – from Storm Dennis to two Beasts from the East. We moan about the things that frustrate us, that get in the way, that should be different but aren’t.
So, let’s do something about it. Because if we don’t come out of this better, if we don’t seize this as a time to change for the better, what was the point?
And there are three important things I believe we should do to shape the curve now more than ever.
1- Sustainable growth, not short-term growth: What we create reaches millions, sometimes billions! What we make matters, influences, make dents in the universe. We need less (ideally no) consumerism and ad pollution. We must stop saying yes to nonsense (just because it pays the bills) and challenge ourselves (and our clients) more. We need less navel-gazing and more ideas with meaning. We need to be responsible and conscious in what we create. We need to focus on sustainable growth and responsible cultural impact.
2- More creative leadership, less creative awards: Sir Hegarty said we are not as creative today as we used to be. He is right in many ways. We are not when you look at the work out in the world. The talent is just as wonderfully creative but the way we operate now makes it difficult for new, brave and big ideas to emerge. We need more creative guts and leadership in ideas that transform and make the world better – from small to big things. Ideas that drive positive change. Ideas with ambition, determination and principles. Ideas that take a stand. Ideas to be proud of, not just within our industry but in the world at large. Awards will come (possibly) but should not be the KPI (in a ‘Field of Dreams’ fashion).
3- From volume business back to value business: Clare Beale said it well some time ago: we are now a volume business. If we don’t value what we create, who will? We need to stop giving our IP for free. We need to stop trying to win by undercutting and undermining each other. Let’s thrive and rise doing what we do best: create and transform. I wish for more camaraderie in our industry, because no one really wins when a pitch is won by undercutting. Strategy has value. Creativity have value. We need to be kinder, more generous and fairer to our fellow agencies. We even need to collaborate and support each other when the occasion arises. The IPA needs to re-think its role. Brands and clients need too to take responsibility over this too – beautifully said by Victoria Fox, CEO of AAR I in her Campaign thought piece on 12.05.2020. Because we’re our own community, and in a world where community matters now more than ever and can have unprecedented impact, we need to act like one.