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Patrick Collister
Oct 1, 2020

Coronavirus – A Word That Spells Change

The soundtrack to this blogpost is the late, great David Bowie’s “Changes”. (Listen below)

Because, thanks to Covid-19, massive changes are taking place to societies, cultures and habits. Advertising too.  

Maybe the word ‘coronavirus’ is already a synonym for upheaval?  

We used to bandy around the word ‘viral’ to mean a video people shared in large-ish numbers. Guess we’re going to need a new word for it now.

My former boss at Google, Matt Brittin, used to say, “Today is the day of least change you’ll experience in the rest of your life.”

There’s an argument that says 2020 will be less about coronavirus and more about radical readjustment.

I mean RADICAL readjustment.

Let’s start with global politics.

The relationship China has with the rest of the world is changing.

Did the Chinese invent Covid-19?

I don’t suppose we’ll ever know but the accusations seem to have riled the People’s Republic to such an extent they don’t care any longer what the world thinks.

So they are suffocating democracy in Hong Kong.

Pushing their warships into the Taiwan Straits.

In late July, killing 20 Indian troops in a Himalayan encounter.

People say the pandemic is “like the war”. Let’s just hope we haven’t got a real war taking shape.

In the UK, the ramifications of this are the greatly increased likelihood that Huawei will be banned from selling us the technology for our 5G networks.

If they pull their kit out of existing 3G and 4G networks, that leaves Vodafone stuffed.

And 19 million customers looking for a new network.

The irony of the pandemic is while entire countries have gone into isolation, the global village has never been more evident.

On May 25th, George Floyd was killed by a policeman in Minneapolis.

The incident was filmed on a mobile phone by a 17-year-old girl, who can have had no idea of what her short video would precipitate.

Demonstrations across America, in London, Paris, Madrid, Berlin and Brussels.

In South Africa and Australia, indigenous peoples are now demanding that old wrongs be righted.

In Minnesota, Columbus has been toppled from his plinth. In Boston he has been beheaded. In the UK at Bristol, a statue of the former slave-owner Edward Colston was thrown into the river.

In Oxford, Cecil Rhodes is coming down.

Where are brands in all this?

Nike looks in the clear, having made a stand with its Colin Kaepernick

campaign of 2018 in the bank, as it were.

Now police officers ‘take the knee’ in deference to the protestors they face. And yet it was Colin Kaepernick himself who objected strongly when Nike issued a show featuring the Betsy Ross flag. This is the flag of the 13 original American colonies. Slave-owning colonies.


Societies, industries and companies are all bleating that they will change how they recruit and how they promote. Well, this time they’re going to have to do more than donate a few bob to BAME charities. They’re being asked by their customers, not by marketing gurus, to acquire meaningful purpose.

In other words, to get political.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in the USA. Has any President ever been more divisive?

When Trump banned Muslim refugees from entering America, Starbucks announced it would find 10,000 jobs in its coffee shops for refugees around the world.  

Maybe they wouldn’t be quite so bold if their core customer wasn’t metropolitan, relatively well-to-do and of centre-left persuasion?

Just sayin’.  

As marketing badboy Mark Ritson has pointed out, brands are in a bind. They can mean plenty to fewer or they can mean less to more.

But it’s a choice they are going to have to make.

As for advertising, there was carnage even before Covid. Now, with shifting patterns of human behaviour, agencies are twisting and turning like speared fish.

Consumption of digital media has soared. Google and Facebook have had better-than-anticipated quarters.

Advertisers have followed their customers online and while digital is down, it isn’t as down as other media. The expectations for 2021 are optimistic.  Sir Martin Sorrell, who has disintermediated advertising once and is at it a second time through S4 Capital, is rubbing his hands.

There’s less glee at Ad-Lib. When you’ve had to take a 20% pay-cut, you aren’t that chuffed, to be honest. But we do sense light at the end of the tunnel.

Firstly, because we’re not an agency. We’re a technology company. (With tech that aids and abets advertising.)

Secondly, the data being collected right now is going to give us the insights to help us help our clients recover faster.

Thirdly, hitting the pause button has given the tecchies the time to poke at the machinery of the Ad-Lib platform. It’s easier, faster and smarter.

Coronavirus, then, is a synonym for change.

It’s made more of us more tech-dependent than we could have imagined.

It’s given us Zoom and Teams.

And they, in turn, have shown our bosses that WFH is not a perk. It’s good business.

We’ve noticed our health workers and emergency support teams and applauded them.

We’ve (temporarily) reduced air pollution, by 60% in some places.

We’re washing our hands more frequently (yes, even us blokes!)

Petty crime is down.

Corporate social responsibility is up.

Yes, 2021 could be amazing.  (Provided there isn’t a war or a civil war to mess things up, that is.)

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