Nobody in elevators, fewer gag lines: How an agency is remaking its ads to fit the coronavirus era

Recently, creative agency Mustache has retooled ads for clients like Grammarly and Instacart to ensure the ads are relevant for the cultural moment due to coronavirus. That means the agency has gone back to its previously created ads and cut out scenes of people in elevators or ride-sharing together or person-to-person delivery as well as changed the voiceover to be less humorous. 

The updated creative features shots of contactless delivery, social distancing and toned down scripts. As for masks, the agency is currently working to add masks to a spot for another client (the shop declined to share which one) using graphic effects. Doing so has allowed the full-service Brooklyn-based agency to enlist its post-production arm to help its clients adjust ads rather than press pause on advertising due to the ad content. 

“When Covid hit we, like every business, were like ‘Shit, how do we stay in business?’” said Roger Ramirez, head of account management at Mustache. “With a complete post-production team, we saw an opportunity to be making stuff in post-production.” 

As agencies across the country have worked to figure out how to create new ads for clients that address the current moment while working from home they have often relied on user-generated content or stock footage. By retrofitting ads, Mustache has been able to take previously approved ads from clients and reconfigure them. That the agency already had a roughly 15-person post-production team in-house was crucial to being able to do so. 

For example, one ad that Mustache previously created for Instacart ended with person-to-person delivery. The new version that has recently been retrofitted instead shows contact-less delivery and uses voice over to highlight the “safety” of using contact-less delivery. For Grammarly, Mustache removed scenes without proper social distancing that had previously been part of the brand’s ad.

Even before coronavirus, figuring out different cuts of the same ads has become a more common practice for the agency over the last year, especially for its direct-to-consumer clients that look to A/B test ads more frequently than traditional brand advertisers. The process of doing so has helped the agency retool how it thinks about shooting ads to keep in mind shots that clients might want to use in later cuts or to be more cognizant of the footage they have on hand, according to Marissa Perr, account strategy lead at Mustache. 

When the agency began working remotely, the post-production team went home armed with hard drives full of the productions they had worked on. Following conversations with clients about retooling ads, the agency’s creative directors then worked with editors to figure out new cuts for the ads as well as new scripts for voiceover artists to record. 

“We try to be proactive to say, if you’re thinking of pausing for X, Y, Z reason we can make a change to the spot, rebuild the pieces to make something for the moment,” said Ramirez, adding that while the agency has gone back to re-edit ads before this moment is different “At least in my career, we haven’t had these moments like this where there are universal sensitivities right now.”

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t the only change the ad world has dealt with in recent months as Black Lives Matter protests led to a push for more diversity at agencies. While Mustache’s goal is “always to make the content that we produce as diverse as possible” and “pretty much all of the recent content we’ve shot is diverse already” there’s now even more of a focus on diversity now, per Ramirez.

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“We’re continuing to not only make sure talent for shoots are diverse, but that we’re staffing the shoots with diverse crews and hiring decision makers here at Mustache that are diverse as well,” said Ramirez. “We’re continuously assessing all elements of what we do through the diversity and inclusion lens.”

The cost of retrofitting an ad varies but can be as little as “a couple thousand dollars,” according to Ramirez, who added that it’s an “economical approach” as clients are simply paying for an editor, creative director and, if needed, voiceover artists as well as sound mixing rather than standing up a whole new production. The job can entail anything from simply cutting and replacing certain scenes or having to totally rescript an ad with a new voiceover. 

“We’re thinking about how we can change the tone and the pacing with a simple voiceover edit and inserting different shots,” said Perr. “It can completely change the ad.” 

That said, maintaining the essence of what the ad had originally been helps with clients approval the retrofitting. “The previous spots were liked by clients already so we are trying to maintain some sense of consistency,” said Ramirez. “But we’re always looking for the right solution so if it means changing the voiceover or having an actor shoot something to camera themselves that we can edit in, those kinds of things are also things we’re looking to play up when we can.” 

As marketers look to create new ads as they get back into market, using the retrofitting approach could be more attractive than a socially distanced shoot, said Perr. “Now that [some] businesses are starting to open again people are thinking, ‘What does the media flight look like for the next few months?’,” said Perr. “Now everyone is like, ‘We need content to be running’ so we’re thinking about easy solves.”

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