Dude, hold my cranberry juice. Or how creative agencies are becoming irrelevant.

Just as with the recession of 2008, the COVID-19 pandemic and the following economic downturn massacred the advertising and creative industries. That, I argue – is a good thing. 

A reset of the industry is long overdue and creative power now firmly lies with the audiences and not the smug hipster creative directors and advertising executives. They are more often than not, totally out of touch with the digital experience and more importantly, the internet audience.

Advertising spend is falling in key markets across most channels. Image: eMarketer, Accenture, World Economic Forum

As consumer behaviour shifted towards a prolonged lockdown global brands and their creative agencies, felt the pinch. Brands have been struggling to come to terms with what this means and even more so have their creative agencies. Agencies and marketeers have drifted between mundane and the self-absorbed when it comes to creative output during this plague season. 

There’s been plenty of morose black and white videos telling us how much brands care about us and how they have got our backs. To wash our hands and keep our distance. But who believes this bullshit anymore? Not many people if the video view play counts are anything to go by. We don’t need another PSA from brands. We have our technocratic governments to do that. What we expected from brands and their agencies was to be entertained. To be given some hope. To distract and reflect on what really matters. And they failed.

Then as if by magic, in rolls Nathan Apodaca, 37, of Idaho Falls. He recorded a laid-back video on TikTok while riding a skateboard downhill and drinking Cran-Raspberry juice. The Internet went wild and streamed Fleetwood Mac with Ocean Spray selling out of Cranberry juice in less than a week.

@420doggface208Morning vibe ##420souljahz ##ec ##feelinggood ##h2o ##cloud9 ##happyhippie ##worldpeace ##king ##peaceup ##merch ##tacos ##waterislife ##high ##morning ##710 ##cloud9♬ Dreams (2004 Remaster) – Fleetwood Mac

Nathan Apodaca’s story is something we can all relate to. His truck was tired, having already clocked up some 320,000 miles. On his way to work one morning, the vehicle broke down on the highway in Idaho Falls, about 2 miles from the potato warehouse where Apodaca has worked for nearly two decades.

He always carried his skateboard in the truck, for such a circumstance, it wasn’t the first time his truck had broken down. Grabbing his board and his bottle of Ocean Spray, he hit the tarmac and started to roll the last few miles to work to ensure he wouldn’t be late clocking on.

Without seemingly a care in the world, he pulls out his mobile phone and starts to film his ride on TikTok while lip-syncing to the timeless Fleetwood Mac song Dreams.

Little did he know when he hit the share button that this clip would become the most viewed viral video of the month, if not the year. The impact of this video was not just a viral one; it had a real economic impact. And it paid dividends to Nathan as his clip seemed to capture the moment so perfectly – a moment that creative agencies and brands fail to grasp even considering their huge budgets and creative talents.

A MEME has more power than a CAMPAIGN

When I heard ‘Dreams,’ that’s when I figured, ‘OK, this is it,’ ” said Apodaca, a 37-year-old father of two. After the video took off, that 1977 hit single, “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac, catapulted back on the charts, tripling in sales. The band also reported its best week ever on streaming.

In its first hour on TikTok, the video gathered some 100,000 views. It now has more than 71 million. It has been crowned with meme status. According to figures from TikTok, 250,000+ tribute videos have been made, inspired by Apodaca, totalling almost a billion views.

And then something magical happened as reported by NPR.

Mick Fleetwood, the legendary band’s drummer, was so touched that he recorded his version on a skateboard, juice in hand. “It was spontaneous. It was heartfelt. It was fun, and God knows we need some of that right now,” Fleetwood told NPR from his home in Maui, Hawaii. “To some extent, it was a lovely accident,” Fleetwood said. “It could have been any song, but it was ours. For us bunch in Fleetwood Mac, the inspiring thing was that it was just so off the wall. Did we expect it? No. Are we happy and delighted? Absolutely.”

What was the magic formula for the success of this video? Well, it is quite simple. There is currently so much chaos and uncertainty in the world. This clip managed to capture a moment of calm, of pure simplistic joy. Life goes on no matter what is happening and while brands and agencies are scratching the heads and their balls wondering what to do next, the Internet and its audience are getting on with their lives as best they can. And it’s important to remember this.

I have never worked on any campaign which was able to generate more than a couple of millions of views over two weeks and which had significant media spend support to do it. Creative directors and Brand managers are trying too hard to be too smart and too cinematic. They miss the true essence of what digital is. It is not TV, and it is not cinema. While they chase outdated trends and try to make content to fluff out their portfolios or to win creative awards, they often miss the wave of what digital offers. The moment. The spontaneous and glorious moment of enjoying the flipside.

Ocean Spray recognised this, and after seeing such a spike in their sales as a direct result one TikTok video, they did the right thing and donated a brand new truck to Nathan. Much respect to that marketing team who understand that one man has done more for their brand this year than any creative agency has in the past decade.

“Businesses are prioritizing survival for now, but in the future will have to find new ways of brand-building. The change in people’s media and consumption habits will force a rethink of how best to do so.” Brian Wieser 

 

UPDATED 18/11/2020 @ 18:42 CET

This post gathered some misunderstood comments and negative feedback on LinkedIn from staffers of some of the big network agencies. To be expected. I wanted to  just add a few of the extra comments I made on LinkedIn to the feedback here as footnotes.

  1. Let me be clear. I am not suggesting all brands, agencies and creatives are “irrelevant”. It’s just that the overall trend suggests that most are becoming that way.
  2. A survery by The Association of National Advertisers in the U.S. found that 78 percent of its members had some kind of in-house agency in 2018, versus 58 percent in 2013. In 2019 to 2020 this trend grew with the likes of Walmart taking their account away from WPP’s agency Triad to develop it in house. There are many other examples. Unilever, for example, has a digital content creative arm called U-Studio which now operates in 18 countries. The company worked with consultancy Oliver, a company that specializes in starting in-house creative agencies within brands, to set it up.
  3. In my article I link to the WEF where it clearly states: “Businesses are prioritizing survival for now, but in the future will have to find new ways of brand-building. The change in people’s media and consumption habits will force a rethink of how best to do so.” Brian Wieser https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/coronavirus-advertising-marketing-covid19-pandemic-business/ Key phrase. New ways. Not the current ways or the old ways. New ways! AKA why I wrote about the coming reset and the shift that will have to be undertaken. This shift will mean being more relevant. And less irrelevant.
  4. You described Nathan and his TikTok as just a “guy on a skateboard”. I think that is disingenuous. Nathan lives in a trailer. He works in a potato factory on minimum wage. Since the pandemic began, Nathan hasn’t had the luxury of “home office”. He had to put his health on the line to pay the bills. He has to get up every day at the crack of dawn and drive the highway in his beaten-up truck to go sling spuds in a warehouse for twelve hours a day, so others can sit at home on their arses eating crisps watching Netflix (aka home office). So even when his truck breaks down. Does Nathan get angry and start venting on Twitter or LinkedIn? No. He gets on his skateboard and smiles all the way to the factory singing his favourite song whilst sipping his juice straight from the bottle. This scene is like something from a Tarantino movie. It offers that moment of joy and freedom we’re all longing for once again after almost a year of lockdown. And that is the genius of it and something creative professionals are envious of and why they’ll dismiss this. Well, let me tell you: 71 million views totalling up to a billion shared views are not insignificant.
  5. What I am saying (overall) is a MEME has more power than a CAMPAIGN. I see successful brands more and more creating in-house with great results. Especially with the gig economy being what it is. Talent is everywhere and not always to be found in the traditional agency setup. Brands IE ‘Clients’ must start to become more fluid and reactive if they wish to be relevant in the digital arena. But so must their advisors. Which is why I say ‘they’ and their ‘agencies’ are becoming irrelevant. Timing is everything and to be timely is one of the essential pillars if you wish to create something that has salience. I mean for example last year in 2019 I was pointing everyone towards DIY as a trend. And not just in the sense of putting up shelves. But in the sense of doing things yourself and for yourself. What happens in 2020? Everyone has to stay at home and do everything for themself. The consequence: DIY and home improvement sales are through the roof and continued to be so in 2021 as we all nest down further. Home office & freelancing. It is possible to preempt such trends using data and this learning how to be timely and relevant ahead of the game only if the data signals are understood and acted upon in a timely fashion.
  6. Google Trends “Brandlift impact and searchability” of Ocean Spray and Cranberry Juice past 12 months USA region.