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Awakening Creativity to Combat the Crisis

Updated: Dec 2, 2021

Words by Kirstie Turner

As industries around the world have come together to combat the COVID-19 crisis, marketers have been experiencing an awakening of creativity. Many companies are channelling this influx of creativity for good, from encouraging social distancing to providing much-needed PPE and health products for front-line workers.

We are surviving this, and we are coming up with amazing creative ideas

When the bubonic plague struck 17th century England, Isaac Newton found himself in a year-long quarantine that proved to be rife with inspiration. It was during this time that his theory of gravity spawned, said to have been inspired by an apple tree outside his window.

Amidst the COVID-19 lockdown, creativity is shining through once more, bringing a little light to these devastating times. Marketers are not sitting still, waiting for the apple to drop and yield a stroke of inspiration; they are sowing seeds of creativity and sprouting campaigns with a positive purpose. The fruits of their labours may well change the landscape of healthcare marketing forever.

The influx of creativity we have seen during the pandemic is explored at Cannes Lions Live 2020 where Alina Kessel, Global Client Leader, WPP, says: “We are surviving this, and we are coming up with amazing creative ideas. Creativity flourishes in the hour of need and that always makes me feel optimistic. We will come up with different, better solutions because we have to.” Organisations are considering how they can channel this creativity for good, to help those most in need.

From encouraging people to improve hygiene habits to stop the spread of the coronavirus, to supporting our healthcare workers around the world, creative pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing has taken on a new role – it is now a necessity, not just a tool for success. Daniel Bonner, Global Chief Creative Officer, Wunderman Thompson, outlines: “Rarely have we seen brands, businesses, humans, and communities using creativity not to compete, but applying creativity in a bid to survive.”

Marketers are exploring how their audience’s needs may have altered. “We have to think about how people are feeling emotionally and psychologically; most people are feeling vulnerable and a little uncertain of the future. They are really thinking about their health. Health really matters and it isn’t until you lose it that you realise how precious and valuable it is,” explains Tamara Rogers, Chief Marketing Officer, GSK. Creativity is being channelled into problem-solving and strategy-based campaigns that answer people’s needs.

Pharmaceutical companies are taking this time to revisit their ethos. “At GSK, all of our brands have been guided by their purpose, and having this health crisis made us go back to what our purpose is and what our brands are all about,” continues Rogers, asking: “Are the pieces of work and the creativity that we put out there true to the original purpose that our brand set out to deliver against?” Having an influx of creativity has been instrumental in the pandemic, but it is critical to step back and assess whether it is adding true value.

For many, this has been successful. Examples of this flourishing wave of creativity are everywhere. Mark Read, Chief Executive, WPP, comments: “This pandemic has forced collaboration in a new way… you can see it in the work.” Notably, for many, it has not been about recognition or winning awards for their creativity, but about doing something good.

Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer, P&G, outlines one initiative: “We launched the #DistanceDance, where TikTok star Charlie D’Amelio created an original dance and challenged others to stay home and stay safe. For the first 3 million original videos posted, P&G would donate products to families in need. And it worked: today, #DistanceDance has been viewed >16.9 billion times, inspiring 3.4 million videos posted for product donations.”

P&G noted that this was not about recognition, but about doing the right thing during these difficult times: “Most had no idea that P&G were involved, and that is okay. The mission was to help keep people safe,” adds Pritchard. Many campaigns during the lockdown share this focus on the outcome, rather than on recognition. Pritchard reminds us: “Being a force for good is about action, not headlines.”

Necessity truly is the mother of innovation

Another stand-out example is Dove’s ‘Courage is Beautiful’ campaign, which features images of frontline healthcare workers around the world who have markings on their faces from wearing PPE. Discussing the campaign, Conny Braams, Chief Digital & Marketing Officer, Unilever, says: “I think it truly captures how the world was feeling and continues to feel about frontline heroes. We are measuring engagement and it has been outstandingly positive. The 30-second film was posted organically on Twitter and Facebook, with results beyond anything we have ever seen on those channels before. Across our social channels, we’ve seen almost 100% positive sentiment in comments.”

This unique campaign was not just about words, but about translating them into action, as Braams continues: “All campaigns were backed up with action: we donated products for healthcare workers, schools, and communities, and I think what is truly outstanding is that the work has been developed in a truly agile fashion, by smart marketers who have perfectly understood the mood of the consumer and their needs.” The pandemic has been a life-altering time for many people, so striking the right message and following this up with tangible actions is critical.

Many global organisations have been surprised by their ability to be agile with their marketing efforts and want to ensure that they carry this forward into the future. Lorraine Twohill, Chief Marketing Officer, Google, says: “What I have learnt through all of this is just how fast we can move – the agility and creativity. I want to think ‘how do we not lose this incredibly new, fast, and fluid way of working and this incredible creativity’ as we come out of this and life feels more normal again?”

Cleve Gibbon, Chief Technology Officer, Wunderman Thompson, adds: “We are in a crisis at the moment, but we also need to look to the future and see whether we can pivot to something so that when we come out of this, we have a better place to take ourselves.” As we have seen, during times of crisis, innovation thrives, but how can we take these learnings with us as we move past the pandemic?

For now, Rogers reminds us that: “Necessity truly is the mother of innovation.” We have seen an influx of creativity and inspiration, but we have also seen companies assessing how they can use this creativity for good. The industry’s marketers must continue to nourish the seeds of inspiration and channel creativity to help the patients and healthcare workers we serve, both during these testing times and into a post-COVID world.

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