A starry night over China, worthy of Van Gogh.
Friendship, as tight as it was 20 years ago.
Learning to write dialogue, when you’re stuck at home alone.
Such are three brand experiences helping people around the world get through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Viewed together, the MINI, Budweiser and MasterClass campaigns illustrate a global mindset in the making. If not a complete shift, then a partial reset: a more profound appreciation for each other and time itself.
For the brands themselves, the work represents the theme of utility—the desire to give customers, or prospective customers, what they need at this unique point in time.
“Strategically, there are more universal insights because the experiences have been very similar,” says Karina Wilsher, London-based CEO of Anomaly, the creative agency the three brands share. “I can’t remember when the world has experienced the same disruption at pretty much the same time. The psychology of wants, needs and desires has more similarities globally than distinctions.”
Wilsher, accompanied during a Zoom call by three chief strategy officers representing Asia, Europe and the United States, shared highlights of client conversations for a Velocitize exclusive.
As the virus started in China, the interview’s focus did, too.
“People’s mindset is changing, essentially,” Anomaly Shanghai’s Richard Summers says. “Instead of being obsessed with the now, people are thinking about the future and how things will evolve.”
In the last 10 to 15 years, brands have sold Chinese consumers on “ambition” and “progress” amidst their economy’s exponential growth. But forced isolation is reminding the upwardly mobile it’s okay to simply be.
“What we’re seeing in the last months is a shift from ambition to appreciation,” Summers says. “As we come out of this particular crisis, it will be more about that appreciation, whether it’s families, or relationships, or meaningful products. It’s about getting people to use things more instead of using more things.”
Which brings us to the sky full of stars over Yunnan Province in the country’s southwest corner.
It was the first weekend of Spring, two months into quarantine.
As China was slowly recovering from the pandemic, MINI and Anomaly decided to take 1.4 million people on a camping trip.
The promotion for the carmaker’s Countryman model would signify the beginning of a post-pandemic travel trend, not only in Asia but also in the West: domestic trips by car.
In partnership with Sunyata Boutique Hotels, the team created Nomad Hotel in a Cloud on a private mountain range in Shaxi. They outfitted six MINI Countrymans with rooftop tents equipped with amenities such as built-in reading lights and comfortable bedding. The site also featured dining facilities and bathrooms.
The March 21 drive to the mountain was broadcast live on TMALL, the country’s biggest ecommerce site, and on Bilibili.com, the Chinese equivalent of YouTube. Social influencers spoke with viewers as they four-wheeled their way through rugged mountain roads and shared tips on setting up a campsite.
With the help of a camera situated 3,000 meters above sea level, people across China gazed at the same portion of sky as stars gave way to the purples of sunrise.
Netizens and the select group of campers had an equal say via a Chinese custom in-the-making: “barrage commentary,” whereby text is superimposed directly on top of the action being viewed on a screen. Some 58,000 questions and comments kept the conversation going throughout the 24-hour promotion.
MINI was pleased. Earlier this month, the carmaker named Anomaly London its “lead international communications agency” after a competitive pitch. While plans for more mobile hotels have not been revealed, the promotion was prescient.
Studies in China and the U.S. indicate that people are increasingly interested—in the short term, at least—in traveling by car to their next vacation spot. It’s likely to be a scenic park, campsite, or some other low-key place relatively close to home as opposed to a crowded city in another country where infection may be lurking. (Meanwhile, Anomaly and Carnival are exploring ideas for ad campaigns reflecting their loyal cruisers’ eagerness to get back onto open water.)
“One of the common themes in terms of how brands have best responded to the crisis is providing utility, finding ways to be helpful,” says Amsterdam chief strategist Amanda Feve.
Demonstrating practical utility is LVMH, whose perfume factories are turning out hand sanitizer gel while craftspeople sew face masks and hospital gowns instead of luxury fashions.
“The example of MINI from Shanghai or what Diageo is doing with Kitchen Sink Cocktails is providing utility in a different way,” Feve says. “It’s saying, ‘I recognize you can’t travel and that’s hard for you; here is an alternative for these times. I know you don’t have a full bar at your disposal but if you tell me you have turmeric and lemon and Black Label I can help you turn that into something awesome.’”
The evolution of perspective is another major theme the agency is exploring with clients.
Take the connection between materialism and environmental pollution. Throwing away inexpensive clothes after wearing them a couple of times seems even more vulgar when we’re being asked to stay home—there’s almost nowhere to wear the closet’s redundancies.
“This moment in time isn’t creating entirely new wants and needs,” Feve says. “There was an undercurrent in society as people asked questions about fast fashion and it’s bringing things to a head. There is a renewed appreciation for quality, durable items, which is an opportunity for brands.”
Just as the Ad Council is running public service campaigns to encourage people to #stayhome, stay connected, and pay tribute to essential workers with Alicia Keys, so too are American brands using humor and nostalgia to unite the public.
In fact, Anomaly is the agency behind the latest iteration of Budweiser’s “Whassup” commercial, developed in 1999 by DDB.
“It’s a full acknowledgement that the world is scary and has a huge impact on people, but at the same time it recognizes the role brands can play in bringing positivity and enjoyment to people’s lives,” Anomaly New York’s Gareth Goodall says.
“There’s an element of nostalgia in there as well. People enjoyed it at different times and want to enjoy it again. With a simple change, we were able to make it relevant. At this time of quarantine, we need to check in on our friends.”
While the center of gravity may have become the home, the center of every individual is the mind, that pesky entity wondering if everything will ever be right again.
Another Anomaly client is betting that a subset of the world’s English speakers will choose to leave anxious thoughts behind for a cerebral adventure. Earlier this month, online education company MasterClass launched a new ad campaign, its biggest TV investment yet.
While 82% of advertisers say they have paused or adjusted ad spend between March and June, according to a new report from IAB, Business Insider reports that MasterClass is dramatically increasing its broadcast presence as rates have declined.
Although the company says science, lifestyle and culinary topics are the most popular areas of study, spots featuring director Spike Lee appeal to storytellers.
Nostalgia’s persuasive power comes through in the script’s nod to Lee’s Oscar-nominated 1989 film, “Do the Right Thing.” (It marked the debut of Rosie Perez, who urged New Yorkers to wear face masks during New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s May 28 press conference.)
“Say you to want to write, write a book, write a movie, write a letter, do the right thing, big things, small things, anything…” Lee says in a 15-second spot.
“Today’s the day.”
Feature image courtesy of Blackmagic Design