We’ve nailed the lockdown ad. Now it’s time to move on.
At the time of writing, it seems like the lockdown is finally lifting. The pubs are pouring, the shops are open, and businesses all over the UK are beginning to think about what their next steps are. Furloughed staff are trickling back, and we’re beginning to think about the idea of buying things from somewhere other than Amazon.
Lockdown’s been, to say the least, a right mood. We’ll all find our own ways to remember the feeling of shutting the front door, sticking the kettle on, and hastily constructing a home office from an old Ikea lamp and an ironing board. We’ll all remember the Zoom calls. And the Google Hangouts. And the Microsoft Teams. We’ll remember the single glorious week of workplace group chats, the pictionary and the gallows humour, before we all just shut up and cracked on. We’ll remember the songs that hit the radio playlist, because the radio has been on every minute of the damned day. We’ll remember the yoga (hi adriene!), the jogging, the childcare and the booze.
You know what else we’ll remember? The iconic lockdown ad.
But what an ad it is. It’s glorious. Fulfilling. Hopeful. Life affirming. Communal and lonely at the same time. It features real people. All sorts of people. People trying their best. Smiling, playing, laughing and crying. Old people doing that sort of low effort OAP dancing that plucks the heartstrings. Babies giggling and being mildly gross. Kids scrawling rainbows on every surface imaginable. Parents multitasking in the background, feverishly trying to work out the correct facial expression to convey to the world that yes, they are handling it, but yes, it is an absolute nightmare. People in uniform. Heroes. Clapping. Whooping. Horns beeping. Little inspiring flurries of string-based soundtrack. Cut to someone doing a joke. Back to the main message. We’re doing this. It’s hard. We’re doing this.
The problem is, that’s been pretty much every lockdown ad out there. You’ll find all those plucky guys at NatWest fluffing their lines, resplendent in purple ties whilst we’re all at home in trackies.
You’ll find the quite frankly lovely Co-op #LocalHeroes campaign doing almost the same thing, with a bemused Marcus Rashford providing the comedy turn. ‘You’re on mute Rashy!’ was definitely a contender for early-period lockdown catchphrase.
Uber did one to thank everyone for not taking Ubers anywhere. Which wasn’t quite the heroic achievement it seems, given there hasn’t been anywhere to go. It’s all there. Camera phones. Crinkly-eyed, grey haired gents. Various dogs.
A well known big blue social media behemoth provided perhaps the best example, stepping outside the bounds of the Zoom call and the camera phone to capture some actually quite stunning footage of empty streets, collaged with impactful stills, soundtracked by a very moving slice of UK rapper Kate Tempest. It seems an ultimately empty endeavour, because after the emotion we’re all still cringing at our aunties sharing borderline racist Daily Mail snippets. But still. Good effort.
Even HM Government has got in on the act, attempting an explanation for the confusing shift from ‘Stay Home’ to ‘Stay Alert’ by using just about every type of footage going. Something the Facebook ad just mentioned does infinitely better.
And… bingo. That’s the problem. We’ve seen the ad. It’s the same ad. It’s all the things we mentioned earlier, with a little bit of brand tacked on the end. But for Boris and co that’s a problem. Because the message they’re putting out is a really really vital one. Something we need to take seriously. To learn, and to act upon. Not to get confused with supermarkets and taxi firms.
It’s the same for brands, too. We want the creative work we produce for them to connect with people. But just connecting with people doesn’t do anything. People will remember when Marcus Rashford did that bit in the ad for that bank that we can’t remember, with the cute dog ripping up the toilet paper. Which is useless.
It’s certainly not been the time for direct, salesy messaging. But that doesn’t mean the story brands want to tell needs to blend in to the crowd. As creatives, we’re working within some pretty serious limitations. We’re not going to be crowding into greenscreen-decked studios, or capturing footage of busy city life for a while. But that doesn’t mean we can’t think outside the camera phone.
Let’s end on what looks like something of a transition between the ‘lockdown ad’, and a new way of talking about the pressures of the period we’re only just emerging from. The LGBT Foundation released Locked Down and Out in time for (a very quiet) pride week, moving quite literally from the webcam to a more polished view of the abuse LGBTQ people have seen more than double during lockdown. It’s a brilliant ad, and one that rips us right away from the emotional Keep Calm and Carry On we’ve been subjected to recently. It proves that the Zoom call isn’t a shortcut for ‘real’. You can show authenticity in all kinds of ways. So let’s start doing that again, shall we?