Art Direction in the New Normal

By now it’s all very familiar: sorrowful piano and strings, slow pans across empty streets, earnest voice-overs with lines like “In these difficult times” and “Now, more than ever.”
As brands and organizations scrambled to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, much of the advertising produced leaned on obvious sentiments and overused tropes. It wasn’t just the message that felt false and repetitive. Much of the blame lay with the art direction – the creative choices about visuals and audio that gave the spots their particular feel.

As we continue to wrestle with foundational questions about both health and societal values, audiences will demand more than platitudes; they will want authenticity from the brands they seek to engage with. The question is: where do we go from here? Now that we are in a “new normal,” how can brands and organizations make the creative aspect of their communications feel both authentic and of the moment? How do we go from empty sentiment to real emotional engagement?

Embrace the limitations

No question: it’s hard to produce compelling creative without access to crews, talent, locations, etc. But as we move from stock footage and user generated content (and we have to), we can draw inspiration from what’s possible. Rather than fight the limits, we should embrace them – and make them our own. A bicycle, a camera, and empty streets can send a powerful message about domestic violence. Stuck inside? Turn a house into a driving fantasyAdversity is the mother of invention, and, as we see it, this is the time to create new ways to engage your audiences.

Stay true to yourself

The most successful spots of the early COVID-19 “era” came from brands and organizations that brought a clear understanding of who they are, what they do, and why they matter to their creative concepts. Apple was quick to showcase online creativity; Budweiser found new relevance in a classic slogan; Dove used poignant photography to redefine beauty. It’s okay to adapt your tone to the moment, but your art direction needs to be anchored by a strong, truthful core. As you make decisions about look and feel, ask yourself: is this really me?

See your creative through the eyes of your audience

In any campaign, you must consider the lived reality of everyone in your audience. At Argus we apply this equity lens at every stage of a project, from strategy to conceptual development and creative execution. As we see it, it’s not just about fairness: the equity lens is integral to our creative process, leading us past the clichés into unexpected – and often rewarding – places. The pandemic and the ongoing conversation about racial equity call for a similar approach. To be original, you need to go beyond what’s familiar and consider the experience of people whose lives are not like yours. Empathy is the heart of creativity.


As always, great art direction comes from honesty, purpose, and emotional truth. And that’s what drives us at Argus, every day. If you feel the same, reach out: we’re eager to collaborate.