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Three Certain Creative Lessons from Uncertain Times

To read the original article, head to Medium for the article published 21st April 2020 by Amplify Australia's Creative Director Tim Baggott.

Due to the current situation, I’ve spent longer than usual reading industry news, trawling my Linkedin feed and talking to friends and colleagues about the present state of work and what it might be like on the other side of COVID-19.

Through all of the noise of uncertainty, certain creative lessons are emerging. Lessons that I intend to be mindful of going forwards.

Lesson 1: Being productive during a crisis is hard

I’m feeling a great deal of guilt that I haven’t yet used my extra time at home to produce something miraculously creative. I haven’t yet recorded a seminal album, launched a game-changing startup, or proactively delivered fame for my agency with a campaign idea that unites the world. I’m genuinely angry about it. Maybe you are too.

What I’m coming to terms with is that the current circumstances are perhaps subtly and subconsciously taking their toll. I already find the idea of being creative on-demand between the hours of 9am and 5.30pm to be at odds with the creative process, so I don’t know why I’m expecting to feel differently during a global health crisis.

There is, of course, some truth to the notion that sometimes incredible acts of creativity and artistry are born from situations of great adversity. But, to quote something I saw on Linkedin, “This is a pandemic, not a brief”. The burden of creative output during this time is already significant, and having to navigate the precarious path between creative ideas that are genuinely helpful and those that are simply opportunistic only adds to the load.

My social feeds have been littered with permanent creatives that have been made redundant, graduates that have lost the placements they worked so hard to attain and freelancers desperately looking for opportunities. I’ve seen a few careless responses to their requests for work suggesting that perhaps this is the perfect time for them to pen that novel, craft that screenplay, do some pro bono work or learn a new skill.

Anxiety and uncertainty are rarely a good facilitator of inspiration or creativity. So, as a creative community, let’s not beat ourselves up if today doesn’t yield the COVID-19 idea the world needs or the plot of an Oscar-winning short film. Perhaps these ideas will come to us whilst in the shower next week. And if they don’t, that’s fine too.

Fortunately, some organisations are putting their efforts into supporting creatives with paid opportunities during this period. The One Club has launched the COV-19 jobs board, an ongoing listing of worldwide openings and for those just starting out, Lecture In Progress is listing a range of entry-level, remote working opportunities.

Lesson 2: There’s more to making the world a better place than placards and reusable coffee cups

In late 2015, the concept of “using creativity for good” really took hold in the advertising industry. During the three or four portfolio reviews I conducted with creative students that year it became clear that they all shared a desire to make a positive difference with their work. The traditional purpose of advertising (making a certain group of consumers aware of and in want of certain products) had lost favour with the students I was speaking to. For them, unless a campaign had a higher environmental, social or political purpose, it was at best invisible and at worst compounding the problem.

Today, if a brand doesn’t have a genuine sustainability position that runs through the entire organisation, it won’t be considered by tomorrow’s consumers. In 2019 Amplify authored a youth culture study, Young Blood: The New Australia, which found that half of all young Australians expect brands to lead the way when it comes to responsible consumerism.

I believe this focus on higher order, global issues like the environment, society and politics is made possible by the relatively good quality of life and the freedoms Western creative professionals enjoy. Most of our daily needs are easily taken care of, so attention can be focused on improving the quality of life for others, including the future generations that will occupy this planet.

But, during this restrictive period we are living through, many of those freedoms have been taken away.

And, for me, it’s been a wonderful reminder of all the smaller, potentially lower order things that make the world a better place; community, laughter, surprises, variety, team sports, passions, shared experiences. The list goes on.

Creativity and advertising that delivers or inspires these things still matters. Connecting with people emotionally around their passions, interests and challenges and helping them find and acquire the things that will enable them to fulfil or solve them shouldn’t be seen as hollow or shameful.

As a creative community, we shouldn’t feel guilty if not everything we produce is a climate change idea or a social activism idea. We are in the privileged position to be able to use our skills to add colour and energy, show new perspectives and start new conversations that make daily life more interesting, entertaining and provide some much-needed respite from some of the higher order troubles the world constantly faces. Even if in small amounts this is, without a doubt, making the world a better place.

If you are hungry to use your creativity for good, but aren’t currently at an agency or working with brands that will facilitate it, you could do so voluntarily, in your own time via an organisation like Glimpse.

Lesson 3: The importance of experiential has never been more obvious

There is currently a huge amount being invested in the development of video conferencing and live broadcast platforms and we’re being offered an abundance of gigs broadcast from bedrooms, virtual festivals and digital exhibitions. Something I’ve been considering is whether these alternative solutions we are turning to for survival do themselves pose a threat to the future of our industry. Are we inadvertently undermining ourselves?

I believe that some of the resulting solutions will absolutely live on beyond the present context, but most of them are, quite simply, a pale imitation of the real thing. For over a year I’ve taken part in a weekly trivia night at a local pub without ever getting bored. I’m five Zoom trivia nights in and it’s becoming very repetitive.

Without the atmosphere of the venue, the nervous energy, the secretive whispers, the smell of beer, the huddling around the answer sheet, the experience becomes very one dimensional. There is also very little differentiation between work and play, with both taking place in the same space (my living room) and both being facilitated by the same virtual conferencing platforms. The best experiences engage a variety of senses simultaneously to immerse people in unique, memorable moments of collective escapism.

At Amplify, we’re exploring solutions for our clients that combine digital services with physical items that can be delivered to people’s homes to fill in the sensory gaps. This not only opens up more opportunity for differentiation, but also paves the way for new kinds of experiences in the future, when restrictions have been lifted.

For example, companies could use this time to experiment with how their brand identities exist in different forms of sensory data. If a brand usually only exists on screen, what could it smell, feel and taste like? Combining a digital offering with the cognitive effects of aromatherapy would open the door to an exciting new world of at-home experiences that I’m very keen to explore.

Surprising people by delivering something tangible, that provides a unique, unexpected brand experience (even if seemingly small), will make today different from yesterday, which is something we’re all desperately in need of right now.

If you work for a brand, and this approach resonates with you, I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me at tim@weareamplify.com.

I’m sure there are many more lessons to be learned during the COVID-19 era and I hope the three I’ve shared will stick with me and inform my approach to creative work now and in the future.

Because being productive during a crisis is hard, I’m trying to relax and use my increased downtime and flexible hours to make the most of any spark of inspiration if and when it does happen to arrive, rather than trying to force it.

Because there’s more to making the world a better place than placards and reusable coffee cups, I’m trying to keep a record of all the things, big and small, that daily life is currently lacking, so I can keep them in mind for future projects.

Finally, because the importance of experiential has never been more obvious, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish every member of the events and experiential community the very best of luck with weathering the storm. I look forward to seeing all the inspiring work that will be created once we’re back on dry land.