In 2017, a video featuring Professor Robert Kelly of Pusan National University went viral. In this hilarious clip, while the professor is on a video call with the BBC, his two children break into his study – one of them in a walker – followed by his wife trying to get the kids out of the room while the professor does his best to keep a straight face and carry on with the interview.
We all laughed at the clip. It was 2017, after all. Working from home wasn’t as usual then. But boy, can we relate now. Some more than others, such as the recent case of CNN commentator Jeffrey Toobin who allegedly exposed himself on a Zoom call believing he was off-camera. Of all the big changes forced upon the advertising and corporate world this year, perhaps the most significant one would be the question of location. (It seems, for instance, that the Pakistani advertising industry can survive well without shooting commercials in Bangkok.)
Marriott, the world’s largest hospitality brand, is now offering workers a day pass to their hotel rooms if they have become sick of working out of their homes. That is probably the best possible example of the WFH culture crashing into the genius ability of a brand to pivot for survival.
The creative industry is by nature a problem-solving one. This is what we do: find a solution to a puzzle. Usually that puzzle is a brief asking us to sell more of something or bring about a behavioural change. This year was no different, except it had an additional variable. And solve it we did. Choose your favourite overused advertising industry word from 2019: pivot, adapt, manoeuvre, spin, move with agility. Creatives were always going to adjust. Those who were better equipped with digital knowledge managed better than others, but everybody eventually ‘became digital’. This is a one-way door, thankfully. It will lead to better content-making which will not only rely on excessive media buys and bombardments of the same soul-crushing jingle 500 times a day. Brands started asking that one important question: ‘Do people actually care about what I am showing them?’
Brands that were authentic about their concern were appreciated: take Ford, for instance, who used their factories to build ventilators and PPE. Or PepsiCo feeding millions of poor people who couldn’t find food. That is action – not just ad speak. It is the way forward. I feel brands have become more aware than ever (to use another over-used 2019 phrase). Aware of being empathetic. Aware of the power they have to make the world a better place for all. To create win-win solutions that benefit planet and people and not at the expense of profit and how that practice generates goodwill towards the brand itself and builds long-term relationships. One big positive of this year: the planet managed to breathe better. Humans were forced to waste less, and reduced their contribution to pollution. Will this sustain? I hope so, despite the fact that humans have a tendency to not learn such things well.
The impact of this virus on the industry is well-known from a business sense. The devastation it caused will hopefully be reversed when the economy rebounds. And it will rebound. Just look at the travel industry. Homo sapiens are paying up to $2,700 for a flight that goes nowhere and lands back at the same airport or are paying premium to eat in-flight food while the plane is parked at the airport (another excellent example of pivoting). In-flight food! That is enough to tell you that once this all gets resolved with that much-awaited vaccine, we are going to go back to our old spending ways (cues in that meme saying “shut up and take my money”).
So then. More empathy, more responsibility, more creativity and more agility. These will stay. As will probably the evolution of our language which has made phrases like “Can you see my screen?” as common as “Don’t forget to buy milk.”
What will happen to WFH? This will depend on your role. The more you won’t be needed to be physically present in an office building or at a location, the more chances you will get to work at home. Other than that, it’s going to be business as usual. Just make sure you know when your camera is off.
Ali Rez is Regional ECD for Middle East and Pakistan, BBDO Worldwide. He is an 11-time Cannes Lions winner. email@example.com