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The Influencers

"If the Crisis was Tough for Marketing and Advertising, it was Even Tougher on Production"

As the world gradually moves into a 'new normal', BBDO's Steffen Gentis discusses the importance of pausing before rushing back in

"If the Crisis was Tough for Marketing and Advertising, it was Even Tougher on Production"

The Covid pandemic changed the world as we knew it, and had an unprecedented impact on production. As the world gradually returns to 'normal', this seems to be the right moment to pause for thought, before we rush headlong back into what we were doing before.

If the crisis was tough for marketing and advertising, it was even tougher on production. The production industry traditionally works by bringing together distinctive talent, highly specialised crew, and state-of-the-art technology, from all over the world. We set up a small and precise workbench that then crafts one single, extraordinarily unique product – the film. So this industry was forced into rapid transformation, because you can write and create from home, but how do you shoot from home?

Solving this, we saw three important trends:

  • By nature, producers love a challenge, and the independent filmmaking DNA in our industry swam to the top. Significant resourcefulness emerged in the last 18 months, and we saw productions inventing, repurposing, adapting, and ingeniously figuring out how to make films in a global lockdown.

  • Creative and production were forced into a tight scrum of collaboration, which resulted in a far more elastic approach to crafting production; an approach that relied more on horizontal 'partnering' at eye-level than on the legacy 'supplier/client' vertical relationship.

  • Most importantly, brands boldly stepped up to the plate all over the world, and tackled the problem, supporting innovative production strategies with a brave new openness to what is doable.

These are three encouraging developments that have had a very positive effect on the outcomes. The pandemic, for all the havoc and distress it wreaked, had the upside of forcing us out of the legacy production mold. It pushed us to not only change the way we work, but also the way we think. The inventory of learnings is long, and recent months have seen a great deal of excellent observation and brilliant commentary on craft, process, mindset, digitisation, remote working, travel, hybrid and crowdsourcing – the list is endless. As we return to regular production and routine travel, it's going to be valuable to retain some of that fresh thinking.

If we can cultivate and embrace these learnings, we have a unique opportunity right now, to reset the industry with a new value framework that can inform new processes and new outcomes. It's more than just an opportunity – I'm convinced that this fresh thinking is essential. Because as we move forward into a new post-Covid production culture, the biggest challenges are still ahead of us: for brands, agencies, and productions alike.

Creative thinking and production skills will simply not be enough. We also need to dive into and apply new emerging technologies, and understand how they will radically change production. Right now, we’re shifting towards a hybrid data-driven environment, that challenges our current pipeline way of working and thinking. The old axiom that “the only constant is change,” gives the impression that change is constant. It’s not; change is constantly accelerating. Acceleration is hard enough to anticipate – it’s even harder to keep abreast of. Beyond a robust and flexible new production framework, the minimum requirement will be a tech-based mindset. We need this to identify and curate the new production tools and processes to match the MarTechs that are accelerating the change in our industry. Advertising has already shifted from the traditional 'one-to-many' push marketing, to better, data-driven, 'one-to-few' marketing. The next generation of 'one-to-one' marketing may still be a vision today, but it’s not that far off. AI and predictive tools are already incrementally making headway towards a near perfect addressability.

But even before this radically changes production, the incremental growth in bandwidth and speed is happening right now – and already hugely impacting production. It’s enabling new technologies, channels, and touchpoints that all need more content today. Producing all that content to fulfil this need is certainly one of the biggest challenges facing every brand. The legacy pipeline methods still in place are inadequate. I can’t emphasise this enough: we need to rewire our thinking patterns and change our habits to retool the way we produce today. There has never been a better moment than right now.

Brands will always need big brand-building hero productions. The skills and attention to detail that are needed to craft something that stands out, and that can be viewed again and again, need the high degree of specialisation currently available in our industry. But brands will also need to identify and prioritise who and where their customers are, and what they're passionate about, so they can be exactly there, when and where they're needed. This data will inform a content strategy that sees a mix of campaign content, calendar content, and rapid conversational content all along the customer journey. Production budgets will need to be carefully balanced between this continuous content editorial work and the start-stop hero campaign projects. New production strategies and business models will emerge to meet this need for more and more contextual content for the same overall marketing budget. Strategic production alliances have a proven effectivity in creating production value and efficiency, especially downstream. So the further you move from specialised 'hero' copy, towards contextual content, the more automation, in-house and platform productions make sense.

As the democratisation of video tech has opened the production market to popular micro- and nano-production, influence marketing has stepped into platform production quite successfully. Micro- or nano-influencers are particularly effective in telling a brand story, because even though their reach may be small, their audience is completely like-minded, so the engagement rate to their posts is high. Managing influencers is time-consuming, but it does lend itself quite well to automation at scale, and there are several emerging platform models that are successfully growing a scalable programmatic production, as 'recommendation' becomes an increasingly important currency in social.

Platform automation will grow, but I don’t ever see it replacing high-end hero production. The brands will still need to tell their big stories in all the major push channels. There's an opportunity for today’s production companies to invest in their own uniqueness and IP. This could be the most important thing for any advertising film production, defining what makes them special.

Another important growth area for production is the shift from our current 'face-down' looking at smartphone screen habits, to a more 'face-up' behaviour, looking through the screens. I'm sure this is going to affect our social behaviour and our content needs. Our smartphones, enabled by 5G, allow completely new omnichannel experiences by integrating an additional layer of information and entertainment over reality as we see it through the camera. How production companies embrace merging this and other technologies (think: 5G combined with AR filters, VR glasses, biometrics, gamification, AI/ML ), and how they're meeting the need for rapid programmatic content on-demand, will probably define their success.

For right now, though, fifth-generation wireless technology (5G), is the one big game changer that will transform the way we create, produce, and distribute all content. As the broadband latency falls, and network coverage grows, we can expect a leap forward in high quality immersive omnichannel experiences and personalised advertising. We can envisage new creative formats using mobile video capabilities, as video production technology becomes even more democratised and accessible. Strategic platform partnerships will see data and AI harnessed to effectively enable brands to partner up with micro producers with their own media reach, and that at scale. Advertising agencies and brands alike will probably explore new communication models that are more in line with the brand value and purpose.

As we move forward, trying out and adapting new production strategies to navigate post-Covid production, we would do well to consider the learnings from the Covid lockdown:

  • Productions that stay resourceful and tech savvy, keeping that independent filmmaking spirit alive and embracing the new sweeping democratisation of technology, will likely stay relevant and unique.

  • Agencies that continue to build on the trust and new partnerships that came out of lockdown will probably achieve better production of their creative work. Embracing a data-driven mindset, combined with this new agility, will have a significant positive impact on agency process and effectiveness.
  • The production boldness that brands globally demonstrated during lockdown, proved innovative technology and the value of alternative production strategies. Openness to new ways of work and applying new technologies can contribute significantly to adding value without raising the cost of production.

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