4 Great Ads of the Past We Could Make Today Without Leaving Home

Welcome to the next new normal

Three weeks ago, I met Fernando Machado in Miami for a podcast episode of It's Only Fu--ing Advertising. The coronavirus was on the news a lot (nothing compared to the 24/7 coverage there is now). As we greeted each other, Fernando and I joked about doing a fist bump instead of shaking hands. A very small part of the podcast was even devoted to COVID-19. We talked about Burger King's new internal and external plan briefly, but I really just wanted to hear about the Moldy Whopper, because I thought it was brave and also because just three weeks ago people were still talking about things like great ads.

When the podcast was over, we fist bumped, and talked about having beers in Toronto in the future, and then I headed to Miami Airport with my carry-on. I was the only person on my flight wearing a mask because I'm generally more paranoid than most people.

A few days later, some agencies, including ours, started working from home. Not too long after that, the vast majority of agencies in the world were as well. 

A new normal started to settle in. Zoom meetings, Zoom drinks, Zoom everything. In the first full week of working from home, most agencies were experiencing the same rushed timelines regarding messaging for client's COVID-19 policies, temporary closures, etc. It wasn't a week to do cute creative. It also wasn't a week to have time for lunch. 

Last week, the industry got away from letter writing and some creativity started to come back. Many agencies started reviewing old spots or footage in the can to get creative out in the world without seeming tone deaf. Creative needs to get out there because most marketers know that brand health begins to suffer when companies stop advertising.

With the world staying home and watching the news, TV and video remain important mediums for advertisers. Pretty soon we won't have the word "COVID" in our briefs. We'll get back to doing the kind of fun, brave, funny, powerful, insightful, well-crafted work I had wanted to talk about with Fernando in Miami. Amazing commercials will need to get made. But for a while, we'll have to do it without using amazing directors, casting agents and on-screen talent, and we may even need to do it without leaving our houses.

It can be done. It really can.

Some of my favorite work was done without an actor ever saying a line or a director ever yelling "action." These commercials were smart, the details were sweated, and they fully embraced the genre they were living in. We're going to have to play in zones like this because of the logistical challenges we're all facing now.

I'd like to share some executions from the past that, if done today, could be just as flawlessly pulled off as they were years ago. Each one could've been conceived and executed with everyone involved wearing pajamas, sitting at home.

Let's start with one of the best animation spots ever: 

Honda 'Grrr'

Honda | Grrr

I was in Cannes when this won the Film Grand Prix and a funny thing happened as it played—every person in the Palais whistled along with it. It just made everyone happy. Making people happy right now is a good thing.

Metro Train, 'Dumb Ways to Die'

Dumb Ways to Die

Everyone was jealous of this when it cleaned up at all the award shows. It just seemed so easy. One of those "Why didn't I think of that?" spots. Low budget, simple catchy song, it was dark and it was funny. If the world is in the headspace for Tiger King right now, they'll soon be ready for a tone like this.

Ram Trucks, 'Farmer'

RAM | Farmer

Still shots on TV? Why not. This stops you in your tracks. I was at a Super Bowl party when this spot came on, and people shushed others so they could hear it. After a few seconds, everyone was glued to what was happening on screen. It cut through the noise of the room, the game and the loud, action-packed commercials that preceded it.

Guinness, 'Twins'

Guinness | Twins

This could've been done for $11. And it's great. Like the "Farmer" spot, it relies on still shots. No live action needed. Simple supers pull you in and reveal a story and behavior that ties back to the brand.

The last few weeks have been really hard for everyone. I've spoken to hundreds of people in the business about what's helping them through this time and the answer is always the same: just getting deep into the work. It's going to be a tighter box to work with than before, but this industry has some of the most creative people in the world. And I can't wait to be talking about great ads again like I did with Fernando three weeks ago.

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Aaron Starkman
Aaron Starkman is the national cco of Rethink, AdAge's Creative Agency of the Year and host of the podcast It's Only Fucking Advertising.

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