Keeping Your Creative Authentic in a Crisis

Anneke Wilder, Creative Planner

“Today, more than ever, we’re family.”

“We have a long way to go.”

“During these difficult times.”

Sound familiar? Most of us have seen the actions of large corporate advertisers telling us how much they care about our well-being and confirming that they will indeed, still be there for us after these unprecedented times – which can often times lack authenticity.

Thankfully, they don’t represent the entirety of advertisers or the shift in brand sentiment as a whole. The force majeure events of the last three months have led to vertical-agnostic changes in creative strategy and innovative methods to connect with customers. So, let’s make sure you’re one of them.

Here are five key learnings we’ve found when conveying how to show empathy and authenticity in creative during a crisis.

#1. Isolation has us speaking “WFH”

Important changes in how brands talk to their customers have risen to the top since isolationism became the norm, but equally important is when brands choose to speak up and when they choose to remain silent. Consumers are facing a flood of content in their email inboxes, social media feeds, and traditional broadcasts hammering home the same topics which risk being bothersome to consumers rather than seeming helpful – and we don’t want that.

Many broad attempts to call attention to the situation and the brand response come off as hollow and tone-deaf (see Every COVID-19 Commercial is Exactly the Same), while the brands that have embraced subtlety rise to the top by simultaneously imparting empathy as well as an underlying nod to normality. This is a focus on authenticity and manifests itself in calculated, witty, and sometimes “punny” wordplay. Lean into this.

#2. Treat yourself

With stress, anxiety, and depression at an all-time high, consumers are clinging to any feeling of normalcy they can latch on to. Ads featuring copy, visuals, and products that fall into the self-care and “treating yourself” strategy are more relevant than ever and provide the consumer with a sort of respite from themselves, their kids, or that dreaded zoom self-view.

This type of self-care is taking the place of things that we’re all deprived of right now: seeing friends, going out to bars and restaurants, opening the door and breathing the warm summer air without a mask. This leads us to find happiness in other ways like trying a new skincare product (thank you very much quarantine breakouts), indulging in take-out more often, or sending a gift to a loved one rather than delivering it yourself.

#3. Influencers are influencing

Recently, I shared my thoughts on how to be strategic with your content production in the midst of COVID-19. We’ve also seen more than a 30% rise in brands utilizing content produced by influencers. Not only are these individual strategists, celebrities, and commentators filling the gap where traditional content production has fallen through, but the emphasis on relatable content is key.

Meeting customers where they are (on the couch, in sweatpants having a glass of wine at 10 a.m.) avoids the stigma surrounding ad campaigns featuring large groups of people or worse, a minute straight of people licking theirs and their friends fingers. Content produced by influencers or outside of a traditional production environment often gives consumers a clearer idea of how the product is used, what its benefit is, and most importantly, instills a greater sense of authenticity from the simplified production value and relatable face on screen.

#4. Lengthen the narrative

Eyeballs are flighty and expensive on social, however, consumers are spending drastically more time on these platforms as the quarantine lockdown extends. While we would previously see top performance in ads that are quick, snappy, and get to the point in a hurry, we’ve seen an increase in more narrative and story-telling executions. This tells us that users are willing to engage for longer and have a higher probability of watching a longer ad as long as it’s engaging and entertaining.

#5. Listen and learn

If the series of events in recent months has provided any indication about what consumers want, it’s that they want be heard and they will speak out against what they believe to be meaningless statements and poor business practices from brands and corporations. Consumers will fight not just with their voices and actions, but with their wallets.

Approaching advertising and creative with empathy and authenticity is more important now than ever. As public sentiment shifts and working logistics change, the power dynamic between brands, corporations, advertising platforms, and customers can use this as an opportunity to transform into a more equitable relationship for everybody.

Consumers demand action on the side of brands and corporations and will call attention to bad actors at the drop of a hat. So to that we say, talk the talk, but lead with change.