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The Rise of Lo-Fi

It’s no secret that I hate the term “the new normal.” It’s overly simplistic and it sounds (to me at least) as incredibly defeatist. Another COVID-inspired phrase that rubs me the wrong way is “everything is going to change.” This one is beyond silly. Not everything is going to change. But a lot of things will, especially when it comes to how brands market themselves. The big question is: will those changes stick?

The Rise of Lo-Fi Video During the Pandemic

Take video production. After 25+ years in the ad business, I’ve seen plenty of trends in video production come and go. But one trend that the current state of strangeness has unleashed is the rise of lo-fi production. Big brands that are used to spending big bucks on production are facing a time when there’s simply no one to roll the camera, hold the mics, and adjust the lights, so they’re being forced to pivot to lo-fi production techniques – Zoom-style video conferencing, simple type animations, DIY backyard shooting – to tell their stories. So far, plenty of brands are doing a great job using creative smarts to tell compelling stories without the big production budget muscle.

Limited Budgets Can Mean Smarter Storytelling

During the “old normal,” production budgets could often be devices of restraint. Creative teams were warned that “we don’t have a lot of budget here…so think small.” But in these strange days, that “think small” mantra is forcing brands and content creators to “think smart” and shed some of the deeply ingrained fears that perfect polish is a necessary evil for big-time brand work. Lo-fi production isn’t new (remember the infamously insane/awesome singing rats for Quizno’s?), but it’s enjoying a moment in the sun as a matter of necessity—and our best creators are making it work.

A few great examples:

  • Domino’s is running what is essentially a franchisee Zoom meeting as a national ad, which gives the corporate pizza titan a nice hometown feel and a genuine message of dedication.
  • Moe’s Southwest Grill is taking a page from Nick Offerman’s 45-minute Lagavulin Scotch drinking loop with 8 hours of chip & queso relaxation.
  • Honda and ProBalance are both embracing a “well, we’re cooped up at home, what can we do in the house” DIY shooting approach, enlisting kids, kids’ toys, and family dogs to create new spots.
  • McDonald’s has been promoting its free Thank You Meals for healthcare workers by posting clapping hand emojis on Twitter to coincide with the impromptu ovations happening every night in cities across the country.
  • Jack Daniel’s is using simple animation to capitalize on the Shelter In Place acronym and making it their own with #SIP Responsibly (which many of us are cooperating wholeheartedly).

Lo-Fi Is Taking Hold in Long-Form Content – Not Just Ads

Lo-fi isn’t only taking hold in brand communications. One of the lo-fi heroes of outbreak entertainment is undoubtedly John Krasinski and his SGN (Some Good News) broadcasts. From the comfort of his home, Krasinski has, among other things, celebrated prom and graduation for 2020 seniors while delivering a weekly dose of (you guessed it) Some Good News. It doesn’t hurt to have guests like Oprah, Billie Eilish, Jon Stewart, Malala, and the Jonas Brothers, but the lo-finess is, in and of itself, fantastic.

Trends Come and Go – Will Lo-Fi Be a Lasting Lesson?

Will this lo-fi trend last? Or will we see the pendulum swing back to slick-as-the-standard?

I’m personally rooting for the next normal to embrace the full spectrum in production value from DIY to CGI to give us some much-needed variety in how we tell stories. In the meantime, I’m going to revisit a Tailfin lo-fi classic series we did for Super8 during the holidays a few years ago, with our own Liz Nobles doing the doodling and our own Liz Jernigan providing some stellar V/O.


You can get your hands on a ton of other mostly-lo-fi examples thanks to the good people at Ads of the World.

Originally written May 5, 2020. Last updated May 14, 2020

About Greg Abel

Greg Abel | Founder of Tailfin Marketing
Greg has been disrupting the ad industry for decades. After graduating from UGA’s Grady College of Journalism, Greg found his path at big ad agencies as a Media Planner and Account Executive. From there, Greg jumped on the digital wave at a consultancy where he helped to develop digital strategy and online user experiences for a range of consumer brands. In 1999, Greg co-founded Tailfin, an ad agency that specializes in branding, traditional and digital advertising, engaging content development, and social media.

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