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How Covid-19 transformed our 2020 flagship ad

I know most of us reading – marketers, public relations experts, communication managers – started 2020 with major campaign plans that were sidelined by the lockdown.

It was the same for our marketing team at Rivulis (you may not have heard of us, but we’re one of the main irrigation companies in the world) … except for the fact that this year we took a risk on planning our first fully emotive advertisement. A pioneer-of-its kind for the irrigation industry. Instead of simply promoting a product, we wanted to connect with our audience and customers, primarily farmers, in a way we never had before.

Emotive pieces are a risk at the best of times – when borders are open, talent is readily available and crew members can be hand-picked locally. But how do you hit all the same targets during an unprecedented public health pandemic lockdown?

It can be done. It involves crossing oceans, calling on family and previewing the shoot in Australia at midnight from Switzerland via WhatsApp – but it is possible. Here’s what we learned on our Covid-19 campaign journey.

All borders off bets? Get creative.

In any normal year, our marketing campaigns are global productions. I’m based in Switzerland, with our CMO Adi Mannor Kiraly and our extended global marketing team in Israel. Days before a scheduled trip that was to include the hands-on planning of this campaign with Adi, with my flight ticket in hand, Israel completely shut its borders to Switzerland – and we had to make the choice to get even more creative if we wanted to deliver.

The first of these was the development of the script. The decision of scriptwriter was not based on the impact of Covid, but it demonstrates the importance of choosing the team with the best skill, regardless where in the world they are. For our script I crossed the oceans to New Zealand to a creative/scriptwriter who I knew could write the content we wanted, Darryl Parsons.

With a 12-hour time-zone difference and a few very early morning calls, Darryl was on board, but this now meant we had to also play the role of ad agency and call on all parts of the world to contribute different aspects of the campaign to make it happen.

We didn’t know it at the time, but having a dispersed team worked to our favour. It meant we were not tied to one agency in one country, which could have become more problematic as confinement regulations increased.

Need talent at a pinch? Call everyone you know.

We had a script, but with increasing restrictions, we had only two weeks to find talent. But not just any talent for this kind of resonating campaign, extremely specific talent. A male, 50-65 years old, fluent in English, ideally with a US accent, in close proximity to farms, and in a country not yet completely under lockdown.

We did not have time for casting agencies, most of which were shut anyway, so we went with Plan B – to ask everyone we knew. Seeing the news that evening, and that Australia was not yet in complete lockdown, I placed a 10pm call to my father-in-law, Ian Calder – based in Australia with acting and presenting history.

After a quick screen test filmed on an iPhone, and a bit of basic background music cut in (an extremely low-key casting video, let me tell you) we had a sign-off on talent.

Skeleton crews seem scary? The good ones can find spectacular solutions.

I had one week to find a film company, so I did what most marketers based in Switzerland with a limited network in another country would do… used Google and emailed 10+ companies asking if they could shoot and edit our campaign and if they could do so within one week.

The director and film crew were a crucial part of this emotive campaign too, being able to capture storytelling and make one person talking to camera for two minutes interesting. Not easy at all to find.

Cartel Film Production and director Matt Raimondo, up for a challenge to make our ideas come to life with a skeleton crew, were driven to find solutions around the restrictions.

Due to the social distancing requirements, the crew had to remain extremely limited. We couldn’t have a separate director, DOP, sound person, camera operator, etc. In order to still film under the constraints, Raimondo himself directed, acted as DOP, and operated the camera, including the sound. The entire film crew was himself, one assistant and one producer. Not ideal, and definitely not the norm but without this flexibility and such a solutions-focused team, it would not have happened.

Our campaign – a first-of-its-kind for the irrigation industry – and COVID.

We’re pleased to say the campaign ‘Hands are Dangerous’ went live this week. Six weeks, working across New Zealand, Australia, Israel and Switzerland and we have an international emotive advertisement resonating with farmers globally.

From the confines of a home office, respecting time-zones, relying on technology, building a global network and taking a few solid risks meant we could still deliver on one of our most important marketing campaigns for 2020 during COVID-19. It can be done, you just need to get a bit creative and flexible.

Matt Clift is director of global product marketing at Rivulis.

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