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New Year Honors Technology

Farewill... for helping us deal with death: The Drum editorial team’s best of 2020


By The Drum Reporters, Editorial team

December 28, 2020 | 6 min read

It’s that time again, when we look back at the agencies, the brands, the organizations, movements and trends that have shaped the past year. In 2020 – a year so many of us would like to forget – our industry of problem solvers proved time and again that they have what it takes to muck in, help out, ask questions, shape cultures and change the world. It is them that we celebrate in our New Year Honors.


DTC funeral brand Farewill saw a huge surge this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic

From the outset of the pandemic, ‘tech-led’ will-writing and cremation service Farewill saw a huge surge in bookings, as people were forced to drop traditional funeral procedures in favor of no-frills send-offs as a result of Covid-related restrictions and the need for social distancing.

As the pandemic worsened, the brand faced challenges in toeing the line between morbidity and marketing its services in a time of crisis. Yet it has proven itself up to the task, tackling the difficulties presented by the pandemic with grace and purpose.

Along with being one of life’s only certainties, death is also one of the single biggest financial events most individuals will face with the average cost of a traditional burial coming in at £4,500.

2020 saw the deadliest pandemic in modern human history grip the globe. ‘Death’ became one of the most common words found on newspaper front pages and TV broadcasts this year, as coronavirus mortality rates reach unprecedented rates. At the time of writing, close to 1.6 million globally people have died of issues related to the virus, leaving behind gaps that can never be filled.

For the friends and families of loved ones lost to Covid-19 (or indeed other illness) in these strange times, social distancing has ruled out the option of a more traditional send-off. Flowers, glossy black hearses and hymns have been ditched for low-cost options, such as direct cremations that forgo any ceremony in favor of laying the deceased to rest as quickly as possible. Celebrations of life are being planned post-haste or held on digital platforms such as Zoom.

Though tech has infiltrated almost every aspect of our lives – from finance to food delivery – until now, the death industry has remained largely untouched by the fourth industrial revolution. In recent years, most people have continued to turn to family-run, high street undertakers and bigger insurers, solicitors or organisations such as the Co-op for end of life services.

However, a growing demand for simplified services has led to a boom for design and experience focussed ‘technology-led death brand’ Farewill, which offers easy-to-use online will-writing and cremation services at a fraction of the price they traditionally cost.

Farewill was founded in 2015 by designer Dan Garrett, and is fast becoming one of the UK’s largest will writer and death specialists thanks to a more pocket-friendly, direct-to-consumer (DTC) offering. Powered by an app, the company charges £90 for a will and £980 for a direct cremation – a fraction of the typical cost.

As the coronavirus outbreak continued its spread in the summer, the London-based firm saw uses of its will-writing services soar and demand for direct funerals increased by 300%.

At the start of the year the business had only recently added ex-Babylon marketer Jem Elliot to its 65-strong team as its first head of brand and communications. A month into the job, she was faced with the ultimate challenge of helping the business weather the coronavirus storm.

One of her first actions was to offer free will writing services to NHS staff after the demand for this service from health workers jumped 12-fold in the first few weeks of the crisis. “It just felt like the right thing to do,” she told The Drum at the time.

“Sensitive” SEO, insert ads and CRM are helping the brand raise awareness. Alongside DTC bedfellows like Bloom & Wild, the brand is part of the ‘Thoughtful Marketing Movement’ that lets customers opt-out of communications they may find distressing or triggering.

Post-pandemic, Elliot says Farewill will continue to draw interest from consumers looking to say goodbye in different ways.

Coronavirus, she argues, is only accelerating a broader behavioral change. The marketer points to the advent of virtual or remote funerals, which are prompting people to join services they previously wouldn’t have because of work or other commitments.

“Technology is making them more accessible,” she explains. “I was speaking to a customer recently whose Rabbi had died and her whole community attended the ceremony. She said it was lovely and probably wouldn’t have happened in a traditional situation because people would have been busy elsewhere.”

Another trend the DTC group has spotted is an increased personalization and creativity around orders of service, which are becoming “a real physical memorandum” for some.

“This crisis is forcing people to think more deeply about what would be right for them,” says Elliot. “And we can help them make it happen.”

We’ll be celebrating all our favorite things about 2020 on between now and early January. Keep an eye on our New Year Honors hub to read more.

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