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Be a Lighthouse


April 20, 2020 By Phil Adrien, Managing Director, Creative Group , dentsu X Singapore

In times of crisis, creativity can be a beacon of hope.

Here’s a bold thought: creativity is more important than anything else in times of crisis. Here we are. There’s no rewinding 2020, no turning back the clock. Let’s not rehash the facts, as they change on an hourly basis.

The world is in crisis. And yet, creativity is thriving.

Balconies have become concert stages. Zoom has become the conference room, the pub, the dinner party, the first date and first base. Michelin star meals can now be delivered to your door. Or you can try your hand at Michelin star mush, while recreating that simple leftover pasta recipe from Massimo Bottura’s nightly Instagram cook-a-long.

This is our new normal. And creativity is thriving.

Many brands are in crisis too. An identity crisis. What should we do versus what should we say? Unfortunately, in 2020 this is still a question. Brands who have moved from prose to purpose, are not just winning.

They are helping. And creativity is at the very core.

Giants of fashion have swapped haut couture for scrubs, blue and demure. While perfume houses are trading dahlia’s for disinfectant. Formula one teams have reframed victory, as ventilators. These are lighthouse brands. Purpose led brands.

When faced with something new, an opportunity or a challenge. Even one as big and unprecedented as our current reality, they’ve long stopped asking the question, “what should we say?”. “What should we do?” is also collecting dust, long since retired. Why? Lighthouse brands don’t need to ask these questions because they’ve so clearly defined, the why.

In times of boom or bust, the matrix through which they make decisions is more focused, and directive because of a confidence and comfort with why they exist, and therefore the role they need to play as a brand, in good times or bad is clear.

In the weeks since this crisis has raced across the globe I’ve spoken to many clients about the impact on their business. And excluding those most directly impacted by lockdown measures and travel bans. I can categories these conversations into two camps.

The first camp were slow to respond. Endless war room meetings, committees, councils, convened to craft a plan that’s currently on its 46th round of revisions. That plan often started with a question, “what do we say?”.

These are inert brands. And within them, creativity is struggling.

Cemented in their ways, unable to move or act due to a lack of defined purpose, a lack of the why behind their existence. Focusing on a comms solution as opposed to, what really matters: How can they help their employees, their customers, and the communities in which they operate?

Up until this point in history, the penalty for lacking purpose as a brand was likely felt in declining market share, a revolving door of C-Suites or a floundering stock price.

The penalty for being an inert brand at this juncture could prove to be more fatal. The consumer data we are monitoring, across all markets, points to consumers remembering which brands helped versus which brands sputtered, or worse yet which brands sat in silence.

The other camp took action quickly. They needed our support to understand more about their customers, but also how people in the communities in which they operate were feeling. How were they coping, and what new behaviors had they adopted? How had their priorities changed? What were their biggest fears?

This additional data didn’t sway their brand actions, but helped them to calibrate by market, or priorities certain actions over others. Always through the lens of the credible role they know they must play as a brand, because it’s why they exist.

These are lighthouse brands. And within them, creativity is thriving.

For these lighthouse brands the crisis represents an opportunity to further flex the muscle memory they have been building for years, and often decades, of focus on their why. For inert brand, this is the end of the road, and the race to the cliff’s edge has only been expedited by the crisis.  There is only one alternative: pause and define your why, your purpose. This will set the stage for creativity to thrive.

History will be the arbiter, but when the arbiter looks back on 2020, they will see a crisis being defiantly kept at bay by creativity. To me that creativity in 2020 has been largely defined by one sound.

The sound of thanks and reverence. The sound of clapping. A neighborhood erupting in unison in thunderous applause, now forever etched in my memory, which brought chills and tears.

How did that simple action start? One person, just one, decided to stand on their balcony and clap.

Why? A strong sense of purpose; it was just the right and only thing to do.

A lighthouse. Hope.

Creativity has given us hope.

And while leadership, resiliency, and empathy are all critical in time of crisis. Creativity is what gives us hope, and that’s what the world needs.