Head of Design at The Brand Agency and award-winning PADC member Dan Agostino has penned some thoughts about creative leadership and inspiration in the time of COVID-19.

 

In the famous words of John ‘Cougar’ Mellencamp, ‘Now more than ever the world needs love, not just a slogan.’ It’s not that often that I look to the ever-wise ‘Cougar’ for worldly advice, but extraordinary times calls for extraordinary measures.

My point is that for a long-time now designers and creative thinkers have been talking about creating for the social good. We are not just designers, but give us your problems and we can use strategic and lateral thought to solve just about anything. Now more than ever, right?

I am not suggesting that if we put our creative minds together, we can rise up out of this awful predicament that we seem to have inadvertently landed in with a fully integrated campaign and a fancy new logo. But more that it is creative leadership that could be one of the many levers that might help pull us through.

People are scared. Economies are failing. Business owners have their backs to the wall and things are changing at a pace faster than we’ve ever experienced before. So, creativity and lateral thinking must be more relevant now than ever before.

In the last few days I’ve seen great examples of how some organisations are leveraging their own brands to help. For these brands, it’s not about standing tall on a pedestal or jumping on that always-tempting bandwagon, but more a case of being relevant. While the situation is rapidly changing around us, this aspect of successful brands being relevant has remained the same.

There are big names like Coke re-channelling its enormous media spend to provide Covid-19 relief in parts of Asia. Or LVMH converting its perfumeries to create and supply much needed hand sanitiser to French health authorities for free. Or even the Ford Motor Company in the US, whose automotive designers are lacking enough work to keep them going and with production lines lying dormant, have redesigned respiratory ventilators to be cheaper and faster to market to help ease congestion in the supply chain. An initiative the Australian government is looking into for our own future needs.

But what has really stuck with me is how some unexpected organisations are starting to realise the importance of staying relevant in the landscape, pulling whatever levers they can access, so that the sky doesn’t completely fall down around them.

It’s not news how many educational institutions have gravitated to online learning and streaming platforms in the Covid-19 world. The School of the Modern Age or Skillshare.com are looking to help people use their time indoors wisely, with a raft of online classes and tutorials aimed specifically at indoor learning so when life goes back to ‘normal’ people have increased skills in what will be a very tough jobs market to step back in to.

Some of the world’s most renowned galleries and museums, who traditionally rely on visitor numbers, are offering virtual tours while they have closed their doors. You can currently tour the many galleries of The Louvre, or tune into nightly performances of classic operas by New York’s Metropolitan Opera, staying relevant by opening their doors to a virtually global audience.

I even walked in on my wife’s Xtend-Barre class (or should I say ‘Bar-ray’ according to our Prime Minister) being streamed live via Zoom. It’s a great example of an organisation pivoting to market conditions, offering those who are not normally confident in stepping foot inside a gymnasium the opportunity to sign up and try within the comfort of their own homes.

I’m also a big fan of how the Australian music community came together recently with Isol-Aid. A live Instagram festival, it featured some of the biggest names in Australian music playing 20-minute sets livestreaming from their bedrooms and living rooms of their inner-city share houses. After each set, the performer would throw to the next with a 5000 strong audience following from one Instagram feed to the next.

On the cheekier side of the spectrum, Lelo – creators of adult pleasure and ‘lifestyle’ products – have launched the campaign, #StayTheFuckHome. It capitalises on the idea of people looking for more ‘exciting’ things to do indoors, using clever language as a way of building the brand’s connection to cause and giving people something more positive to focus on.

It follows along a similar vein as Italian coffee brand Lavazza. Their campaign, #IStayAtHome, has become more of a social movement in the country. With café culture being so heavily steeped in the Italian way of life, it uses coffee as a way of sharing more personal moments indoors and, again, shifting the focus away from the negativity unfolding outside. The brand has become an advocate for connecting people when they otherwise can’t. A genuine account that is highly relevant in Italian culture.

As creatives and designers, we have always been focused on creating effective communication for our clients. However, when it feels the rug has been pulled from underneath so many, now more than ever we need to demonstrate how our creative leadership can come to the fore and make a difference. There’s never been a greater need for marketers to innovate and adapt. As world events continue to evolve, I think now is the time to look beyond what we have always done, be more relevant and focus on the power of creativity to inform and inspire.

 

Illustration credit: Dan Agostino

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