By Jonathan Kneebone, co-founder of The Glue Society
There’s been so much shit happen this year, it’s gonna take more than a couple of flushes to clear it.
Aside from the catastrophic bushfire season which started it here in Australia – and the Covid threat which preoccupies us still – the past year will be one which we’ll prefer not to look back on.
But if we had to…what will the benefit of 2020 hindsight be?
If we hadn’t already had a deadly global pandemic around one hundred years ago, then it’d be reasonable to say that it’s been a year without precedent.
But I prefer to think of it as a year without President.
This particular golfer-cum-POTUS was a man so unable, self-obsessed and ill-equipped to handle the reality of being associated with the biggest and most fatal challenge of this generation, he decided to pretend it wasn’t a Big Deal, and through inaction and insensitivity, allow thousands of people to die unnecessarily.
If Trump is good at one thing – and like him or not, he is very good at it – it’s marketing and promoting his agendas.
And had he chosen to rise to the coronavirus challenge – as Ardern and Scomo did – there’s a sense that he could have even been re-elected.
But though the virus didn’t kill The Don when he contracted it through ignorance (of science and expert advice, and ignorance plain and simple), it came back to bite him in the end.
Perhaps he is the best living proof we have that when communication is used without any moral, legal or factual legs to stand on, it becomes propaganda. And to really pull that off, you need a military regime behind you.
Still, Trump mastered the art of weaponizing fake news, and the uncontrolled freedoms that social media channels continue to allow, to such an extent he ‘dictated’ that he won an election he lost and claimed he helped the black community more than anyone else in history.
As facts became blurred through sheer repetition or unchecked sharing, it became increasingly hard to know what to believe.
But with over hundreds of thousands of Americans dying on his watch, and a recent decision to accelerate the killing of those on death row before his own time is up, it does seem relatively easy to come to your own conclusions on his legacy.
Trump spent longer in the bunker in his one term than any other president.
And even then, he probably got someone to run ahead and throw the ball out of it without taking a penalty shot. Golf does indeed reveal the character of the player, as P.G Wodehouse pointed out.
But enough about pointless exercise. Let’s talk about advertising.
There were times in 2020 when the idea of having an idea for a living felt as useful as a fart in a colander.
But then along came Clemenger BBDO Wellington to demonstrate – along with the New Zealand government’s Covid19 taskforce – just how potent smart, concise and effective communication can be.
It’s a big claim to say that graphic design can save lives. But I think to some extent the speed of response and the clarity of the NZ pandemic messaging makes their coronavirus communication worthy of global praise and respect. It has to be the best work of the year, no case study required.
You only have to look at the UK’s ‘Stay Alert’ work in comparison to realise that mixed, confused messages can prove disastrous.
While many of us were trying to work out how to handle communicating in this new era – and I don’t just mean, how to change your backdrop on a Zoom call – Droga5 produced two pieces of brilliant advertising.
Their poetic work for Facebook featuring the Kate Tempest poem ‘People’s Faces’ was first out of the gates about life in the pandemic. And it set the precedent. Copied, parodied, but never surpassed.
The agency followed this with another poetic work – for The New York Times – featuring hundreds of pictures and headlines set to the jazz track of Makaya McCraven, brilliantly curated and directed by Kim Gehrig. It hit the nail on the head of how to talk right now. It made us feel involved and encouraged to participate. I think it will come to define the year better than any other project.
Here in Australia, BMF’s ‘Precendented Prices’ work for Aldi – with a woman getting ‘just dinner stuff’ – was superb, and worthy of admiration. Their platform of ‘Good Different’ really came into its own this year. It managed to raise a smile, where there were very few to be had. And made as strong a point about pricing as you could imagine.
It was filmed in a pandemic, with production restrictions abounding. Which makes it all the more remarkable.
Compare these responses with the McDonald’s arches being separated by a Brazilian wannabe creative or that rather lazy and cynical attempt to demonstrate just how repetitive films about living in coronavirus were becoming, and I think we all know which side of the ledger we’d rather be.
Hindsight – even the 2020 kind – tends to remember the people who move the world forward, not the ones who remind us how bad things are.
As restrictions lifted, and lockdowns ended – only to result in deadlier second waves – other work started to emerge from the gloom of working from the spare bedroom or the garage.
The Apple sequel – the whole working from home thing – went on a bit long (just like the real thing) but it did capture the sensation of trying to remotely work as a team. Again shot under lockdown, it’s a production that set the standard for Zoomvertising™.
But as the year went by, and most creatives’ dreams of creating anything worthy of the entry fee to an award show turned to dust, along came a series of work which proved that nothing inspires or fuels creativity more than a bunch of restrictions.
Covid became something to fight against, to force us to really push, and come up with things that we’d never dreamt of a year ago.
W&K/Nike’s ‘You Can’t Stop Sport / You Can’t Stop Us’ 90 second film was edited from 4000 hours of sports footage, directed by Oscar Hudson, narrated by Megan Rapinoe, and wowed from the off. It proves brands can be worthy and worthwhile, as long as they don’t just reflect, but also contribute. And this gave the viewer something to reflect on, as opposed to exploiting the situation.
ITV’s ‘Britain Get Talking’ was a campaign which reinforced the power of television in a nation’s lives. At its best TV is a meeting point, a connection and a common ground. And Uncommon smartly realised that many millions of individuals may be watching alone, but sharing together. A thread which sparked a community initiative to simply talk to each other. Brave, bold, and actually a defining (or redefining) moment.
Then came some parades of beauty, sheer creativity and collective spirit.
Burberry’s hailstorm – set to ‘Singing in the Rain’ – by Megaforce was one of the most elegant Christmas spots – something that would shine in any year, but this year, it was a remarkable achievement.
Adam & Eve / DDB faced with a miserable backdrop to the season found that love, actually, was the key for John Lewis. And while this is ‘the best brief going’, one could argue – given the likelihood of attention and awards – this year, it was potentially a poisoned chalice. But the mix of animation and live action and a charming Christmas Card vibe really hit the zeitgeist. (Oscar Hudson was in charge of direction again – unifying the various creative voices and approaches in an unselfish, collaborative way.)
Mother’s sublime ‘The Hare’ spot – directed by Sam Pilling and with Roots Manuva supplying the track – was just a brilliant way to re-tell a story giving it a cool, modern twist. The carrot logo on the computer proving that it’s always possible to push ideas when you have a strong direction and vision.
It would be remiss not to mention #Wombstories. An extraordinary exploration into subject matter that brands have deliberately avoided for years. Heartfelt, profound and actually valuable advertising. And a brilliant sequel from Essity/AMVBBDO to last year’s Viva La Vulva.
Experiential advertising was hit for six by the inability for crowds to form or even get close to an installation. I do need to call out the work by W&K Tokyo for working so supportively (with us at Glue Society) to deliver a three-storey exhibition in Korea this year for Netflix. ‘The Massacre of Kingdom’ was possibly one of the best experiential projects this year, because it may well have been the only one.
There were other contenders – some worthy, some less so – Burger King Moldy Whopper was adland talking to itself for me and without a comparison to McDonalds rather insufficient, NRMA Self-Driving (neat as it was) didn’t provide the audience with any sense of how the brand was doing something to help, and the same brand’s First Saturday campaign (real as it was) didn’t do enough to inspire action, leaving both incomplete. Amazon Before Alexa – funny as it was – was classic Superbowl advertising. In a tough year, it was good, but not a game changer.
Which brings us back to America. The Lincoln Project’s political work was smart, savvy, bold and brave. If you believe their data, then their ‘There’s Mourning in America’ film went some way to influencing things.
But the best headline of the year was said by a politician – Kamala Harris – who will be the first woman, and woman of colour at that, to be Vice President. Talk about a pivot.
In accepting her party’s nomination, her words summarised the year in five words. “There’s no vaccine for racism.”
Perhaps the fact that she said that, and that she’s now elected might – more than anything else – give us hope for a happier new year.