Show your face–Advertising Will Demand a New Level of Authenticity in the Era of COVID-19

In a snap, our daily lives have changed drastically.

Schools are closed, many of us are working from home (if we’re lucky enough to work at all), travel has essentially shut down, everyone’s on edge and we’re all holed up in our homes. 

Things that seemed attention-worthy a few weeks ago (I’m looking at you, Pete Davidson’s love life) feel laughably unimportant now. 

We’re glued to network news right now (ratings are up 50%) in between binge-watching episodes of Love is Blind.

Social distancing has also meant more social media-ing. My feeds are filled with wine and pajamas, the hilarious horrors of home-schooling, cats and dogs (as usual), feelings of fear and glimmers of hope. 

Arts and entertainment are changing, too. 

Since concerts have been cancelled, musicians are giving impromptu live-stream performances from their living rooms without glitzy lights or arena-concert costumes.

Sia is showing her face again. 

Artists and aspiring artists are sharing their work with the world, warts and all.

Gamers are in heaven. Sports fans are in hell. 

It’s crazy. And we’re all in it together.

I’ve been in touch with old friends a lot. Some have been laid off. Others have had to close the businesses they’ve spent their lives building. Luckily, everyone is still healthy so far. On FaceTime (where we are messy and makeup-less) we commiserate, and laugh, and coo at each other’s pets. We express how much we miss and love each other. We have always felt this way, but we haven’t always said it out loud. 

The truth matters now more than ever, because our health and livelihoods are at stake. There’s no room to sugarcoat anything, unless it’s a batch of peanut butter cookies we’re baking.

Authenticity is in, fake is out, and messy is the new beautiful. 

So, how will this whole experience impact advertising? Most of us have more questions than answers. 

First, there will be the practical matters of health and public safety. After things calm down, will it be okay to show groups of people gathering together? How about people shaking hands or embracing? Is “trick or treat” ruined for everyone now? 

These concerns will likely make their way into the “Considerations” section of every creative brief from here on out.

More than ever, we’re awakening to a world where we’re all responsible for one another. Marketers should not only be held accountable in this new landscape, they should lead the charge. 

Beyond these pragmatic considerations, which are huge, how will our messaging shift? I suspect that inspiring storytelling, heart, and much-needed humor (without making light of the situation) will carry the day. 

Most of all, it’s time to get real.

Portrayals of perfect lives, unrealistic beauty and overly aspirational work will go the way of the Dodo bird. We’ll start talking to consumers the way I talk to my friends on FaceTime. Advertising is about to get more honest, and raw, and like the world we live in, a little messy. 

Right now, it feels like we have nothing to lose—and everything to lose—all at once. It’s time to speak with genuine earnest in a world of absolute uncertainty. 

Like Sia, brands will have to start showing their faces.