Despite the advertising industry’s love of embracing technology, there’s one thing that really hasn’t changed in decades: how ads get shot.
Oh sure, the process of filming a spot became more digital and higher-definition over the years, but if you time-traveled from a shoot in 1989 to a shoot in 2019, you’d probably be able to jump right in without much disorientation.
Then came 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic brought global ad production to a grinding halt and forced the marketing triumvirate of agencies, clients and production to rewrite all the rules for how work can be produced.
Now, as the ad industry looks ahead to a post-pandemic future, the question is not whether anything has changed. The question is if everything has changed.
Some changes definitely won’t be popular among those who’ve seen shoots as a much-needed escape from the monotony of marketing life. Leaner teams. Less travel. More Zooms.
But other shifts are being met with optimism: broader networks of diverse talent, closer partnerships with directors and fewer questionably necessary visitors hovering about.
To understand where the industry is headed, though, we must first get our heads around just how complicated, difficult and unforgiving 2020 was for those working in the industry.
“Production during a pandemic is like running a marathon in bondage gear while chain smoking,” says Jason Kreher, a creative director at Wieden+Kennedy Portland. “You’re proud of yourself once it’s over, but the conditions are not ideal and your husband says if you do it again, he’ll divorce you.”
An industry that had subsisted for decades on team dynamics and in-person production suddenly became a sprawling constellation of separate parts all scrambling to come together as a unified whole.
Kreher’s team had no less than seven video projects in production concurrently for mobile game Brawl Stars. The secret to making it happen remotely? Letting go of the rigid roles of centralized creativity: “Designers writing copy, planning and account pitching ideas, clients punching up jokes,” he remembers. “This way of working let people show up in places they hadn’t before.”
Good producers have always been the beloved sorcerers who turn impossible concepts into actual ads, but even their broad job descriptions proved far too narrow for the needs of 2020.
“As chief production officer,” DDB Chicago’s Diane Jackson says, “my role now includes risk analysis and insurance expert, state and federal health and safety policy implementation officer, and production capabilities and feasibility clairvoyant.”
That’s … not sustainable. But now that we’ve escaped 2020, there’s reason to believe production will normalize in a way that’s streamlined and manageable—but also substantially different from what came before the pandemic.
Fully remote production forced ad agencies to rethink how they sourced everything from their content to their directors. And what they found, other than new logistical headaches, is that there’s a phenomenal range of talent out there beyond the usual pantheon of commercial directors and studios.
When the first lockdowns hit in March 2020, agency WorkInProgress turned to LinkedIn to see who might be available to produce content due to stalled projects. “The response was overwhelming and introduced us to so much new talent with an arsenal of equipment and capabilities across the country,” says director of video production Molly Schaaf. They called the initiative “Homemade Content,” and she credits it with helping uncover a wider, deeper pool of talent.