David Guy By David Guy
6th December, 2021

I remember 8-10 years ago I worked on client briefs that prophesised 2020 as a nirvana-like milestone of corporate perfection. We were working on corporate brand purpose and vision briefs to signal the high-performing goals that organisations would achieve in this motivating big-ticket year. Well, that changed and escalated quickly. Corporate perfection is now replaced by corporate survival, and we are now working in days rather than years to help plan, research, create and produce brand projects.

Here’s a short story of why our belief in intelligent agility, or pivoting at pace, has become even more profound in these times.

Like other businesses focussed on growth and service excellence, our first quarter in 2020 was a busy belter of a period, doing great work and with exciting new projects on the horizon. On the 6th of March I went for a ski touring holiday to St. Anton in Austria and unfortunately our poor European cousins were ahead of a curve we’ve all become familiar with. And, when we hurriedly got out of the ski town on the 13th of March, we also packed with us flu-like symptoms and a loss of smell and taste. Once we emerged from feeling crap, but thankfully not hit as hard as other poor souls, we got back in touch with colleagues, clients and life. The world was quickly affected and our plans for 2020 were now dangerously off-piste. Which is why, when we pride ourself on agility and telling clients we can deliver “100 days ideation to market” – we better be prepared to walk the walk.

So we got busy; ensuring business continuity by doing financial planning with trusted advisers, and agreeing with our amazing team the sacrifices we’d make to ensure we stayed safe and weathered the storm as a business. But what we are especially proud of is quickly changing tact with clients; pivoting on existing projects and proposing new ones that would sensitively ensure their brands could add a societal value to audiences – consumers who do not need overt selling messages but instead useful information and an emotional lift during this (fingers crossed) once-in-a-lifetime situation.

Here’s some of the things we have proudly built at speed for our clients during lockdown:

Smokehead TV

When the on-trade shut down and bottling stopped for Smokehead whisky, marketing projects halted to help preserve resources for when the world resumes. But the great team at Ian Macleod Distillers agreed with us it was a time we could bring the bold, upbeat and independent attitude to entertain our Smokeheads isolating at home. And within 48 hours, Smokehead TV was born.

We’re scripting and producing Instagram live events to bring a cross between a TV show, podcast and Smokehead bar to isolators’ screens every week. Our brand ambassador is joined by a whole host of special guest collaborators for whisky tastings, bold cocktail masterclasses, and edgy music and film nights, all scarily streamed from home. Post-lockdown we will analyse the potential of this fast pivot to scale for global rollout.

Baxters Super-licious

In March we were in full swing running a trial campaign to target a younger cohort of consumers for new Baxters’ Super-licious soup pots. We were activating at UK travel hubs and stopping commuters in their tracks, using guerrilla tactics such as sampling outside ‘competitors’ like Pret to campaign for better, tastier, fairer and more convenient lunchtimes. And then the world changed. Eateries closed. Commuters were forced indoors. And our plans for the final weeks of activation during prime soup season were redundant.

But our great client saw merit in not going quiet. There was an immediate opportunity to use our sampling stock for good, so we planned and redeployed resource to drop-offs for key workers in the NHS and Fire Service (quietly promoted through internal and stakeholder channels, rather than overtly shouty consumer PR). Our latest pivot is a digital retargeting and ROS campaign with contextual messaging, making sure we keep the brand front of mind and relevant to consumers’ new at-home routines. We can’t now frame a £2 microwaveable soup pot as an alternative to battling queues for overpriced ready-to-eat options… but at 3 minutes in the microwave, it’s a quick and delicious lunch option for juggling the pressures of WFH life.

Do the Albert Bartlett – at Home

In a commodity category like potatoes, brand salience is vital in a time of crisis – Kantar report that brands with strong equity that continued to communicate during the 2008 crash recovered nine times faster than those that didn’t. And, with consumers hungrier than ever for new ideas to feed and entertain the family at home, the nation’s favourite potato brand was perfectly poised to serve up meaningful branded content. Building on our December 2019 ‘Do the Albert Bartlett’ campaign with a simple addition of ‘at home’, we rapidly researched territories with our 4 target consumer segments and ran a virtual creative workshop to create a highly relevant new lockdown-led content platform.

More than just great recipes and cooking tips – it’s about entertaining and inspirational content. After all, who needs another virtual dinner party or pub quiz? Instead, we’ll be challenging the nation to host cook-offs and score their roasties on Zoom; or to follow through on dreams of summer picnics from the comfort of their front room with virtual screensavers, games and recipe ideas. All using influencers and celebrity chefs to help boost viewing and create authentic earned content.

So, what can we learn from this crisis as marketers? Two big things for me. We need to speed up our ability to react to a world that can change faster than we perhaps ever imagined, and work hard on our organisations’ culture to ensure the team can react as one to deliver accelerated agility. Last year when I wrote an article on how great Zoom was for global creativity and connectivity, its impact on positive corporate attitude to flexible and creative working practice has now grown exponentially – in a good way.

Stay safe, think fast, stay home.