The Future of Creative Part 1: Change is Our Only Constant

July 9, 2020

Almost overnight, as the pandemic began to take shape, the workflow of the world came to a screeching halt. We quickly learned what “social distancing” means, and the majority of our day-to-day lives became remote. Travel was restricted, in-person meetings turned virtual, and live-action productions were no longer feasible. However, the engine of advertising did not slow down. Creative teams were pushed to do what they do best: think outside the box. 

In lieu of live-action or in-studio productions, advertisers have shifted their approach in order to keep projects moving forward. User-generated content (UGC) and animation have quickly risen to the top as the preferred creative mediums that bode well for remote productions. We believe “Found” footage is taking hold as a viable creative option and production method, and is here to stay well beyond COVID-19. To navigate these uncharted waters, we’re bringing in experts as part of a new discussion series around the Future of Creative.

As part of our inaugural discussion, we had the opportunity to speak with EPs from the Doner Company, a trail-blazer in the industry, and an early adopter of using Found content as a creative medium. The agency recently flexed a new muscle by tapping UGC to produce some of the earlier COVID-19 response ads for Cox Communications and Tylenol, among others. You can watch a recording of the live discussion here or keep reading for the full recap. 

Since our daily lives have become remote, reliable, affordable internet is at a higher demand than ever. Cox Communications, a digital cable and internet provider, announced they are providing free and reduced rate internet for over 25,000 low income families, to help students in particular round out the school year at home. In order to bring this new program to life, Cox Communications approached Doner with two questions: How do we get this message out there without the ability to shoot like we normally do? And how do we get this done in a week and a half? Doner created a concept that exercised a number of creative mediums and production capabilities: ⅓ User-generated content, ⅓ original production via remote casting call, and another ⅓ via remotely directed scenes. The spot emphasizes critical connections for underserved students, for both their at-home education and interpersonal connection with their communities. Passion is the star of the spot, featuring teachers who go above and beyond to educate their students. “My task was: how do I find content of real teachers teaching and interacting with their students,” said Doner Executive Broadcast Producer, Mike Stark. Doner utilized Catch&Release curators to source over 100 UGC shots of real teachers finding creative ways to remotely interact with their students. “It’s a great example of how you can mix a number of capabilities in a seamless way, including how we think about casting in a more agile way,” said Catch&Release CEO Analisa Goodin. 

It remains to be true that change is our most common constant, as evidenced by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Tylenol, in partnership with Doner, reminds us of the activities that are especially important as we stay at home and stay connected through video. A mix of UGC and stock footage were effective in showcasing the very real, raw emotions we are all experiencing during this time: “We needed a combination of footage of people staying home but we also needed healthcare workers looking on the front lines. We didn't want stocky looking stuff here, we wanted real health care workers,” said Stark. It’s clear that brands are taking the extra step to ensure their messages are resonating with the public, by using visuals that not only look and feel real, but are real -- captured by real people in real life situations. 

As restrictions inevitably begin to lift in order to reopen the economy, we’re starting to see glimpses of a “new normal” materialize further, particularly for the creative production industry who is eager to get back to work. However, as stated by Doner’s Jennie Hochthanner, “As the country begins to open up, what it takes to do a shoot is going to be surprising….new regulations and processes will mean 10 hour days will turn into 14 hour days.” As reported by USA Today, The Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee Task Force, made up of top studios and major Hollywood Unions, released a 22-page report with regulations to return to production. Their recommendations include: regular testing, face-coverings worn at all times, staggered meal times, and a COVID-19 Compliance Officer on set at all times. With so many restrictions, shooting won't be as accessible as it once was. Alternatives such as UGC have allowed the advertising engine to continue moving forward and will continue to supplement a live-action production, in order to cut down the time on set.

In the last few months the production process has evolved and will continue to evolve as production regulations are put into place and creative margins are becoming increasingly thin. Join us each month as we speak with creative and production leaders from across the industry and share insights about the immense opportunities of working with UGC, the great work that is being created inside and outside of quarantine, and the process of taking a project from brief to shipped using this medium.

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