Traditionally, March and April are hectic months for the big squad of art and creative directors, photographers, fashion stylists, makeup artists, hairstylists, set designers and a platoon of assistants, spending long days on set to create the images and videos that beginning in July support the sales of luxury brands’ fall collections.
But, the coronavirus outbreak, which determined lockdowns across the globe, abruptly put everything on hold this season, causing fashion and luxury companies to drastically reconsider their strategies.
Only a few labels managed to meet their deadlines, including Chanel. “The material for Chanel’s fall 2020 advertising campaign had already been shot. It is due to be published in traditional media as well as on digital platforms, according to the established calendar,” a spokesman for the house said.” Final decisions have still to be made by most of the houses, which appear to be cautiously navigating as things develop and studying different options.
“A lot of our shoots have been canceled. We got a sense of this quite early on as the big luxury groups were immediately alerted to the impact of what was happening in Asia. When the COVID-19 arrived in Italy, we were already being asked to postpone, move or just wait for further information and then by mid-March everything was pulled,” said Olivia Gideon Thomson, founder and director of We Folk, which represents a range of high-profile photographers and artists, including Viviane Sassen, Pieter Hugo and Carlota Guerrero.
“At this stage, most fall shoots are postponed but not canceled. However, with the uncertain timeline of the COVID-19, we do not know if these shoots will take place and are therefore planning for a very different landscape,” said Melissa Kelly, M+A Group chief operations officer. “Our MA+Creative division is working with many clients to evolve their communications in ways that make sense in this new environment. Virtual showrooms, virtual catwalk shows, campaigns starring avatars and CGI models are just some examples.”
According to Mondlane Hottas, managing director at Schierke Artists, 30 percent of the Munich-based agency’s scheduled advertising productions were canceled, while the rest have been postponed to June or July.
“The advertising shoots which were scheduled for April have been canceled and in addition some clients asked to freeze the annual contracts as a preventive measure,” said Riccardo Ruini founder and director of the Riccardo Ruini Studio creative agency, which develops advertising campaigns for a range of luxury brands, including Fendi, Bulgari, Gucci and Valentino. According to Ruini, the coronavirus crisis won’t impact only the fall 2020 campaigns, but also influence the decisions related to the promotion and communication of future collections.
For example, Hottas highlighted that the requests from German brands is to go local. “Clients are not willing to use international talents right now, ‘we have to think local’, they prefer working with local teams and supporting local freelancers for the next months,” he explained.
Among the most affected are stylists and hair and makeup artists, according to M+A Group chief executive officer Massimiliano Di Battista. “Their work is so much about proximity, and this is just not possible at present. While our MA+Creative division of strategists, creative directors and digital artists are busy, traditional photography shoots are on pause,” he explained. “Our photographers are working on still-life shoots and with their partners as models. For example, makeup artist Violette has long collaborated with her partner Steven Pan to produce fantastic content. Clients attend shoots in personal studios via video link.”
Among those continuing to work are photographer and artist Nick Knight. “Absolutely no cancellations, on the contrary, all clients are still asking me to do their campaigns and to find different ways to produce them during this crisis. Rather than canceling or postponing, we’re shifting to different formats, shooting campaigns on Zoom, Skype or using 3-D scanning,” he said. “They ask me for campaigns that can be seen across the Internet, and you can create beautiful images even through tools like Zoom or Skype. The ‘resolution’ of an image shouldn’t define what is acceptable, we need to reevaluate what an acceptable image is. The challenge is to create beautiful, elevated images taken even for instance during video calls with the models.”
Schierke Artists is also experimenting with alternative options for its clients. “Clients seem to be open to new ideas and creative ways to work around the situation, for instance they might be using photographers whose partners are models, or they might go for illustrations and 3-D animations rather than photography,” Hottas said.
“We are looking at a different culture landscape, and while right now makeup artists, hairstylists and so forth can’t work with models, they will always be essential for the industry and maybe this is an opportunity to understand their role in a bigger way,” Knight commented. “Think about the success of makeup tutorials on YouTube, perhaps this can be an opportunity to find new ways of working and sharing their crafts.
But when the machine restarts, how will the coronavirus crisis affect the way brands communicate through their advertising campaigns?
“Talking about communication, we are used to living in a world of continued and fast transformation. The scenarios we are facing now are so radically unknown at different levels, but at the same time challenging in terms of communication. Communication must reflect the moment, that’s why Prada has always been focused on observing society to express its different and unique point of view,” said Lorenzo Bertelli, Prada Group head of marketing and communication. “As for the fall 2020 advertising campaign, this season is not just another season, but a special one which forces us to think differently, within restrictions, with heightened sensitivities. Both production and messages will need not only to acknowledge the moment we are living in, but that with it, come opportunities to express the spirit and intelligence of Prada.”
Agreeing with Bertelli, Ruini stressed the importance for brands of deeply analyzing the moment in order to create a more profound connection with their audience. “I think that brands when approaching the creativity of the first campaign after the epidemic will have to take in consideration what happened, considering how consumers feel and what they seek for, including human touch and a certain lightness,” he said. “I think that brands should navigate this moment as an opportunity to reconsider their communication strategies, which should become more personal and distinctive, less mainstream and a bit more brave and independent.”
“This crisis is forcing us to reassess, to find new ways to communicate. We won’t revert to what we were before: the idea of shipping models around the world for a shoot doesn’t seem viable anymore. This change was way overdue, the crisis is now pushing us to reassess what are the things that are important in life, to find again the pleasure of living. Fashion is art and it should make you feel great, not guilty because it’s wasteful and bad for the planet,” Knight said.
Photographer and artist Brigitte Niedermair shared with Knight the same idea of reassessment. “The crisis is pushing us all to reassess our priorities, to be more creative, more personal, to stop and think more. Brands need to think more about the image they want to present. I’ve always been fascinated by the craftsmanship, the artisanality and the beauty of some products. Perhaps this could be an opportunity to cut the noise and go back to those values,” she said. “There was a general discomfort in the industry for a long time, related to the endless cycles of consumptions, productions, fashion weeks, events, etc. and the coronavirus crisis is just the push we all needed to take a step back and rethink everything.”
“Less ambitious and more mindful” might be an option for brands, according to Gideon Thomson. “As production in some areas, and for some brands has been so badly affected, we might get some interesting archival projects to consider, or deeper brand advertising concepts rather than just new product ranges the whole time,” she said. “It’s an interesting time to be a brand in many ways. I would say that I am hopeful more than convinced that it will change things for the better. The industry is very conscious of its carbon footprint in theory, perhaps less so in practice. It will be interesting to see how many of the restrictions we are dealing with during this time will become part of a new industry DNA.”
In this perspective, luxury beauty giant Parfums Christian Dior revised its marketing and communication strategies. “Launches have been reorganized in order to occupy what is left after minor shoots cancelations. We are trying to keep main topics afloat and get rid of what are minor launches and communications, focusing on essentials,” said Romain Le Cam, Parfums Christian Dior associate art director. “Purchasing already existing content is also sometimes a possibility to avoid shooting. We also sometimes can look again in the raw materials of what we shot and extend the rights usage agreement with artists. This crisis is affecting us all but we are getting ready for a new start after this.”
The crisis is putting the spotlight on the potential of digital, according to Kelly. “For many years, luxury brands have invested heavily in print campaigns, stores, shows and in-person events to enhance their unique products within a luxury environment. Digital platforms have been used predominantly for the conversion phase of the marketing funnel,” she noticed. “Brands are now forced to change this model. We believe that by applying exceptional aesthetic to the technology of today will result in brands producing superior and inspirational digital campaigns with personalized communications. Many concepts that were experimental before the COVID-19 crisis are being fast-tracked to create new advertising and purchasing solutions. Right now, it is time to share and listen and be open to change. It is time to collectively brainstorm, give ideas freely, and support each other in any way possible. We need to work together to form new ways of thriving.”
“As brands are revising their media investments, we help them adjust their communication strategies accordingly, thinking digital first,” said Paul-Emmanuel Reiffers, ceo of creative consulting firm Mazarine Group. “The COVID-19 crisis will only accelerate the deep transformation the luxury industry was already going through with growing consumer expectations for increased sustainability, traceability and transparence. If they want to come out stronger in the longer term, fashion and luxury brands will more than ever have to bond with consumers around values and purpose, not just product. Communication will be key.”
“If brands keep advertising their products in the same way, there will be fewer and fewer people who will listen. Before the COVID-19 crisis, there was already an awful feeling of waste, of excessive pressure on creatives, and my feeling is that people want a different way of life, they don’t want mass production anymore,” Knight mused. “Gen Z is sensitive and very aware of the problems with endless consumption, so it’s not just this coronavirus crisis, we were already heading there eventually.”
Even if the crisis can be seen as opportunity to refresh and reboot consolidated habits and strategies, potentially bringing a breath of fresh air into the industry, brands’ lack of liquidity is something that everybody should take into account.
“It will be interesting to see if brands will try and drive prices down like they did after the crash of 2008-2009 — maintaining value during a recovery is quite a challenge,” said Gideon Thomson, while Di Battista noticed that “we expect reduced budgets.”
“Definitely budgets have been revised. For instance, they might reduce the number of models involved, number of pictures or days of shooting,” confirmed Niedermair. “Overall, it seems the intention is to work with local talents, to cope with the travel restrictions. In my view, a general slowdown and a shift from quantity to quality can only be good. The system used to be almost obsessive, and I work with silence and method. The feeling before was that it was never enough, as a creative you felt drained.”
In terms of budget cuts, Ruini, who spontaneously reduced his fees to support his clients, said that the COVID-19 emergency further accelerated a process that was already under way. “We were already facing a severe crisis with all the budgets majorly reduced,” said Ruini, adding that this global emergency will help reconsider “certain stellar fees of photographers, for example, which are not really realistic anymore in the world we live.”
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