Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

A love letter to ideas

These articles have been written by the first cohort of the Practice Makes Unperfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices. 

By Lauren Baines, International Creative Partnerships Director at JCDecaux 

Brilliant ideas aren’t narcissism, they are a beacon to a tired population.

In 2008 I was at the beginning of my OOH career, working as a trading manager who knew how to use the fax machine.

I was full of boundless career positivity and that superhero ability to go to bed at 2am and get up at 6am looking fresh. It was just as well, as I was going to need that boundless energy and resilience to counter sleepless nights as the recession loomed.

I had never worked in a ‘recession’, it was a concept referenced in Economic A-level textbooks and in novels like Of Mice and Men.

I would stand at the fax machine and listen to stories of those sager, wiser folk in media, warning of the ‘tough ride ahead’ and ‘bleak financial outlooks’. No one warned me how long the phrase ‘Double Dip Recession’ would continue to be referenced (even back then, we had buzzwords).

It was a business war. As the incoming bookings tailed off and the reality set in that we were not going to hit the quarter, the half year or the annual target, it felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

It didn’t come to an end with surrender, it came with a slow and steady recovery and bursts of optimism.

Ten years on, I find myself trying to express words of wisdom to my colleagues who – like me – are furloughed but fabulous.

I’’ve had less wise words, too. “Innovation isn’t the first thing to be cut, isn’t it” is one helpful trope that I’ve enjoyed from people with opinions.

What those people are saying to me is I do not envy you selling ideas in a marketplace where long term strategy is unknown and perhaps you should have stuck to trading. Those are people that have not seen me add up without a calculator.

Of course innovation is easy to cut if it’s sitting in your comms plan acting like a diva. Taking up money, time and giving you little in return but not if it’s part of the evolution and learning of your brand unpinning your core strategy.

Innovation is scary but we are already in scary times and those brands who will no doubt beat the recession (as they did in 2008) are the ones that get comfortable taking risks and ensuring the big idea is at the heart of the plan.

Unilever have stepped up their Lifebuoy CSR campaign during Covid-19 reintroducing the products to European markets and creative initiatives in established markets where their product is already available. It has included fun handwashing videos to make animals or shapes, asking children to become hand washing ambassadors and just recently they installed in Amsterdam a network of handsanitisers as part of a OOH campaign. It’s timely and uncomplicated messaging in a time when we are being bombarded by information. It makes people be informed and able to take back some control.

14 OOH media owners from the UK and Ireland collaborated with to create the #myheroes campaign which took Gold at the MediaWeek awards and Grand Prix at The Drum International OOH awards this year. It gave consumers the opportunity to nominate their heroes who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic to keep us all safe. Those thank you messages were shown over 1292 digital locations over 8 weeks and submissions and approvals were completed over social media broadening the message. A simple data feed could feel authentic and powerfully moving during lockdown.

The PS5 launch was a global campaign executed well, in key cities with different media owners and locations. Each beautiful activation glowing up their cities working with the infrastructure and spaces and being shared endlessly on social media. Is it really OOH or vanity exercise? Does it matter if it’s a great idea with not one corona message in sight. It felt like a beacon of normality.

We need more beacons. Consumers are tired of 2020. Advertising is not going to save the world, but we can offer a flicker of light and fun. A global survey by Kantar said 74% people think that advertisers should not exploit the situation but only 8% think they should stop advertising. We need to tread carefully but a great idea will always shine on through so that’s why we need more great ideas and not less at times of crisis.