The show must go on: A creative perspective on COVID challenges

by Susie White
September 3, 2021
Creative during COVID

Reimagined production is the key to creative success in ag marketing

In a year of unrest and confusion, 2020 tested the creativity, experience, and resilience of every ag marketing professional. The creative department at Rhea + Kaiser was no exception. Like everyone, we faced some unique challenges at the start of the pandemic, but in the end, we were able to triumph and even learn a few new tricks along the way.

­­­­Setting the Stage

Toward the end of 2019 we embarked on two new client projects related to herbicide launches. After our campaigns were approved, we began to shift into production mode, planning the original photography each would require – one shoot taking place on a farm, and the other on a ranch. Just when the puzzle pieces were falling into place, we received an invitation to a staff meeting to discuss a mysterious new illness cropping up on the west coast.

At the time, there wasn’t even an official name for COVID, but agency leadership announced we would work from home for several weeks, out of an abundance of caution. A few weeks soon turned into “until further notice,” and we quickly realized things wouldn’t be back to “normal” anytime soon.

A Brief Intermission

As our shoot dates approached, things that seemed like temporary setbacks became critical junctures –obstacles we had to work around if we wanted our campaigns to move forward. At first, we perfected positive spin. No airlines? No problem, we’ll make it a road trip. No crew, no catering, and new mask mandates? We came up with solutions and work-arounds.

However, weighing all the new COVID risks, our producer eventually called a meeting to ask if there was a way to produce the herbicide ads without photography. Our immediate response was concern that the ads would be canceled.

Cancelled ads are more common than you might think. Hurricanes, difficult talent, staffing changes, and emotions all have the power to derail campaigns, so surely the force majeure of a global pandemic could stop a couple of print ads dead in their tracks.

We got lucky; the client reaffirmed their desire to run a new campaign as scheduled. With time running out, our only option was to stretch our creative muscles and figure out how to execute our original concepts without any of the traditional resources of advertising production. There is a school of thought that states that in times of crisis, creativity flourishes. This was one of those times.

The Third Act

We were not alone in overcoming these hurdles. No agency was shooting anything on location, and even indoor tabletop photo shoots were hampered by distancing and masking requirements. In our case, these restrictions inspired us to create our campaigns virtually using a mix of computer-generated imagery and stock photography. We just had to convince our client.

The consumer categories like cars or soft-drinks commonly use computer-generated imagery (CGI) methods, but agriculture clients pride themselves on their authenticity and honesty. A computer-generated farmer standing in a Photoshopped field could be risky. To overcome this bias, we engaged several well-known CGI houses to prepare samples of state-of-the-art modeling and rendering technology.

Their showcase of what could be accomplished with bleeding-edge raytracing convinced our client to take a chance on a digital creation. From there, we scrutinized every detail. Every aspect of our computer-generated farmer was explained and examined in exhaustive detail – facial expressions, fabric textures and drapery, anatomy, hair, denim fade, etc. Once our client saw the level of customization available, their attitude changed from skepticism to all-out enthusiasm. Not to mention, no talent residual fees!

Take a Bow

COVID-19 has been a wake-up call for all of us to remain open to new ways of working and push ourselves to explore unorthodox solutions.  At the time of this writing, the campaigns we kicked off in 2019 are complete, but the world is still grappling with the pandemic.

We don’t know what challenges will shape the future of our industry, or what the “new normal” will eventually be. And while we were able to successfully work around a global shutdown, new challenges are inevitable. So, we’ll keep finding new ways to achieve our objectives, even if they might feel uncomfortable at first or require more effort in the short term.

R+K’s Associate Creative Directors Paul MacNerland and Ryann Flynn contributed insights to this post. If you would like to learn more about how Rhea + Kaiser can bring a fresh perspective to your creative advertising needs, contact our Business Development Director gtomaro@rkconnect.com. 

Susie White
About the Author – Susie White

Director, Planning and Integration. As a day-to-day client contact and strategist, Susie ensures the work is completed on time, by the right individuals, within budget and on strategy.

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