“In These Difficult Times”
John Colasanti, CEO of Solve, a Minneapolis-based advertising agency

“In These Difficult Times”

The pandemic has not stopped advertising, but Solve’s CEO says it has altered the business of making it.

If you’ve noticed a sudden flood of advertising that is about the Covid-19 pandemic but never explicitly mentions it, you know why Twin Cities advertising executives have been working nights all month. That includes John Colasanti, CEO of Minneapolis-based Solve, a 50-person marketing firm based in Uptown.

There was a lot of scrambling at first. “We had a couple of client launches, major campaigns,” Colasanti says. “One of them was very optimistic, feel good—it was the wrong message for the times. We had a week to revise all our content.”

That’s not easy when it’s impossible to conduct photo or video shoots. Which explains why you’re seeing a lot of new ads that use only text or stock footage of people in their homes and backyards. “No agency has a reserve of [content] for a virus pandemic.”

Colasanti is telling clients who can afford to stay visible that it’s a great time, but emphasis is key. “Most advertisers are retracting,” he explains. “It’s what gravity wants you to do. So we’re doing a lot of education about post-9/11, other recessions. Talking about tone, the right spending level.”

“The brands that keep spending reap incredible rewards in these times,” Colasanti continues. “It’s often just because other brands go quiet.” His advice to clients is to “act like you’re aware of what’s going on. You can’t take advantage of the situation. So talk about life after, what’s around the corner.”

The pandemic hasn’t convinced Colasanti that the office is obsolete. In fact, the at-home work space is distinctly problematic. “Our approach is the power of the group to solve problems,” explains Colasanti. “There’s no art on the walls, they’re where we put ideas. It’s a lot of informal interaction.” Now all interaction is formalized through Zoom, Slack, email. “You’re never grounded.”