The Year in Review - Advertising
In 2020, the word “unprecedented” was thrown around like a bag of lollies to describe a year in which stopping a disease halted so much of everything in life and work. We didn’t know then that COVID-19 wouldn’t be stopped and that it would dominate advertising photography in 2021 as well. Candide McDonald reports.
2021 hasn’t been “unprecedented”; it has been a lot more of the same with a lot less acceptance of, and agreement about, how to manage an increasingly aggressive virus. Australian photographer Hugh Peachey describes it as “a cookie made with highs and lows that I’m desperately trying to eat, but it keeps crumbling.” For Christopher Tovo, it was “brutal”. For Steve Greenaway, “challenging”. For Troy Goodall, “full on”. Isamu Sawa “just rolled with the punches”. Italian photographer, Eolo Perfido’s synopsis is “science and culture will save the world”. “I was hospitalised for COVID in intensive care,” he adds, “so it was a complicated year that allowed me to understand even more how important civic sense and a cohesive community around important values such as science and culture are,” he states.
Australia was luckier than many countries. Lockdowns only crippled one side of the country, and even these were lifted for many months while the rest of the world’s were not. Advertising creation and production was given back its freedom early in the year in Australia and some overseas creative agencies and began to take advantage of this. Remote shooting in Australia became part of how work was made globally.
Integrated becomes everything
For the most part, advertising photography in 2021 continued a process that began a long time ago when digital overtook print and press, but opened new channels. Out-of-home advertising had a chequered year for an obvious reason – lockdowns stopped people moving around. Lockdowns gave television a new lease on life. Subscription TV services surged. Brands and agencies gave television advertising an enthusiastic response when many broadcasters began to launch schemes to subsidise smaller advertisers to allow them to make the jump to TV for the first time. Meanwhile, most major campaigns are now almost always fully integrated, meaning that while they lead with a TVC and/or online video, they will also include digital; social; sometimes radio; print or press; outdoor; in some cases, below the line; and from time to time, activations.
Tovo describes his work this year as an even mix. “I’ve done a lot of integrated campaigns where the media has been evenly spread across all platforms and done a couple where it’s been exclusively outdoor, which I love, purely because there seems to be a singular focus on why you’re there on the day.” A lot of Greenaway’s work has been part of integrated campaigns also. Most of it has been published online and social, with some in out-of-home – mostly bus shelters and billboards. Perfido’s work has been used above and below the line. Several of the campaigns he worked on were developed for traditional media, he says, and some specifically for online. Much of his work, though, was used as part of integrated campaigns. Sawa’s commissions were predominantly for online campaigns and integrated across the brands’ respective social media channels. By August, Melbourne had reached more than 200 days of lockdown since COVID began which, he says, greatly affected his workload. “Thankfully, several of the commissions I did get have been career highlights,” he adds. Goodall has mostly shot for out-of-home, with secondary imagery used in social. “For the most part, this has involved capturing short motion content for social media and pre-roll ads,” he notes. Peachey found that most of his work was used for billboards. For AAMI, he shot billboards, stills, and online content for an integrated campaign.
Real meets surreal
Stylistically, Goodall feels that there has been a shift within the industry back towards a more crafted image. “In previous years the trend has been to convey authenticity and capture ‘real moments’,” he says, “whereas I feel as though 2021 has brought back a more considered approach. I feel that the authenticity sentiment still holds true in the current climate, but the process to get to the end result has become more intentional and deliberate.” Greenaway has also noticed a shift away from the “keep it real” movement in the last few years. “I’d say I’ve seen an increase in heavy retouching, compositing, and 3D elements being used in photography,” he notes.
Peachey has experienced the reverse. “I’ve noticed a shift towards ad campaigns [here] that have more of a realistic, lifestyle feel as opposed to LA and the US, where there is a focus on ‘lit’, orchestrated, and hyperreal.” Tovo feels that while there have been changes in advertising photography, they began with the onset COVID in 2020. “Those changes have been massive and there’s been readjustment throughout the entire industry from the top down,” he explains. “The big one is effectively learning how to communicate remotely.”
Sawa has observed that the proliferation of emotional storytelling over the last several years has continued. “It's interesting to see the lifestyle focus in light of the current situation we find ourselves in – locked in,” he adds. “Perhaps it’s all about hope...?” This kind of imagery, he adds, is not his special genre. “Instead, the campaigns I have worked on have a more visually dynamic, conceptual focus, and are less ‘on-trend’. Frequently, clients still want my minimalist, artistic approach with high-end execution. Many creative directors reference my fine art imagery as a base for their creative advertising campaigns.”
Perfido has noticed agencies being challenged. “This year, creative agencies have had to adapt to a new way of working and communicating. They have not always succeeded in their intent, unfortunately choosing easier ways too often. However, we must understand that we are experiencing a period of unexpected and new difficulties, and that it takes time to know how to communicate in this new landscape.”
Finding your inner coach
That 2021 was professionally and personally challenging for photographers too, will surprise no one. “The greatest challenge this year has been staying motivated,” Peachey confesses. “Literally, you have just been given an amazing campaign to shoot only to discover that it has all been taken away again by another lockdown. You’ve had to dust yourself off and begin the marketing enterprise again, focusing on another test shoot when you have very little fuel left in your tank. Resilience has been essential.”
Staying afloat and motivated have been dual challenges for Greenaway too. Goodall adds, “Aside from the obvious, I have found that clients are increasingly motivated to capitalise on the resources and time available and make the most out of each shoot. Given the uncertainty, disruptions, and challenges of the past 18 months, I can totally understand that. It just means making more content within tighter time-frames.” For him, shortened pre- and post-production times and jam-packed shoot days have been the obstacles to overcome.
The stop-start nature of the lockdowns in Australia has been challenging for both Sawa and Tovo. “I think for most people it’s that change of momentum that lockdown brings, and how hard we do or don’t hit the ground running when it lifts,” Tovo says. “I remember after the first lockdown lifted everyone on set kind of felt a little less match fit. There was a great feeling that we were all back at work, but it was also very surreal, as though we’d all just walked through a bad dream together.” Sawa adds, “The constant rescheduling has been particularly strenuous for my agent and producers. The uncertainty of the world is creating undue anxiety. But, while it’s our livelihood, right now, we must remind ourselves that we are working in a ‘privileged’ industry, and not an ‘essential’ one. Of course, this notion is hard to swallow, but one we can fully appreciate again when we get to the other side of this pandemic.”
2021 made Perfido appreciate the decision he made several years ago to completely convert his studio to digital processes. He still found it tricky to make the business sustainable and meet the new challenges of a COVID-controlled era, but was already geared to face the change of paradigm that came with it. “Our archives, design, quality control, and communication all travel on the web. This choice has made us more flexible by cutting costs a lot. We have also invested heavily in creating synthetic images in 3D graphics, making us independent in this field,” he explains.
Sawa moved his studio, into his garage, to deal with the strict lockdowns that were imposed. “I set up a ‘home studio’ in my garage so that I could still serve my clients to a degree. I also began shooting solo more often, without my usual crew unfortunately, and taking on more post-production work instead of outsourcing it,” he notes. He also became more active on social media to keep up his presence there. “My content wasn’t work-related for obvious reasons. Instead, I often posted on Instagram album covers of vinyl music I was listening to. Music is my other passion. This kept me connected to my audience, including my client base. Music has always had a way of connecting like-minded people. Some DM me from across the world. It’s genuine human bonding, which we can all do with right now,” he says. Moving forward, he says he has vowed to remain adaptable, flexible, and not plan too stringently ahead. “I’ll keep rolling with the punches because there is too much uncertainty,” he adds.
Remote shooting has been a boon for Peachey. “Livestreaming has become a necessity. Being able to shoot a campaign while the clients or creatives view it from the living room has definitely been an invaluable asset.” That Goodall has been shooting remotely has tweaked his future plans. “Shooting remotely for my international clients has been a big thing this year, so having good systems in place for lines of communication and sharing work in a streamlined way that won’t negatively affect the shoot have been big learning curves,” he explains. “In light of the ongoing COVID situation, this is going to become more and more common I think, so making the experience a success, irrespective of the conditions, is a top priority for me. I also think these times have given me the opportunity to recognise the value and importance of secondary social content to the overall success of a campaign. As a result, I feel I’ve been able to build a greater sense of satisfaction and enjoyment towards shooting this type of content.”
Greenaway has also reconsidered the focus of his work this year. “My marketing has become aimed towards integrated campaigns – stills and motion shoots – and shooting stills of the back of TVCs. Stand-alone stills shoots seem to have reduced dramatically.”
No bad is all bad
No crisis is without its gifts, even if they are small. This year brought some pleasant surprises, although for Greenaway it was only compensatory – the Australian government’s financial assistance schemes. Goodall’s workloads were less affected. “With everything going on there has been plenty of work around, so it’s been pretty nice to have the calendar booked up amid the chaos. It definitely brings a sense of ‘groundedness’ which is quite comforting and relatively hard to come by these days,” he says.
For Perfido, understanding that he could work remotely, that it was a viable way to work, was 2021’s pleasant surprise. “Furthermore, a large part of the population has begun to discover that digital media are not only for entertainment, but are an excellent opportunity for professional and cultural growth,” he adds. “A more aware population is also beneficial for those who live from photography because it makes everyone more mindful of the importance of images in our society, making our work more valuable.”
Sawa found new ways to connect. “2020/21, despite its trials and tribulations, has given me time to reflect,” he says. “Through numerous webinars, podcasts, and interviews, I've had the opportunity to showcase my 25-year career and remain front-of-mind and relevant. Reflecting on my career has also reignited my passion for documentary photography and storytelling. So l’ve used my spare time due to lockdowns to work on a personal project. Connecting with people who have a life-long purpose, I've launched a website, Reason for Being (reasonforbeing.com.au), featuring photo essays and stories behind people’s passions.”
2021 has been tough. But it has brought personal gifts. For Tovo, “I felt as though there was a deepening of friendships. People were calling one another to simply check in and make sure they were alright. As a father and a husband, it really shone a light on how much my family as a whole crave each other’s time and affection – to be truly present in each other’s company and not distracted by the dark cloud of COVID and the vulnerability of the industry. There were some really tender moments that I’ll cherish forever.” And for Peachey, “Those clichés have become too true. I really do appreciate the little things in life. Those moments which I might otherwise have missed, like playing in the garden with my young children; the opportunity to teach my children how to paint, draw, and unearth their blossoming creativity.” Next year could be remarkable.
Troy Goodall – www.troygoodall.com
Steve Greenaway – www.stevegreenaway.com
Hugh Peachey – hughpeachey.com
Eolo Perfido – www.eoloperfido.com
Isamu Sawa – www.isamusawa.com.au
Christopher Tovo – www.christophertovo.com
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