Creatives from India tell LBB’s Natasha Patel about how the stresses and revelations of the Covid year have changed the industry
The creative industry has been hit hard by the pandemic and while most of the world comes to terms with living in their new normal in 2021, there is hope that brands and the ad industry will bounce back. For India, a country badly plagued with the virus during mid-2020, the signs that a rebound will happen is on the horizon.
As of February 2021, the country’s schools and offices are still closed, however production is back up and running albeit with social distancing and masks galore. In the past month there have been plenty of campaigns celebrating everything from Republic Day to Virat Kohli’s new job as a father – a campaign which was five months in the making and launched shortly after he announced the birth of his daughter on social media. Cheil India’s ECD Aneesh Jaisinghani has decided to channel his energy into looking at the bright side of the pandemic: “I see it as what they call it in the stock market, ‘the correction phase’.”
However, M&C Saatchi February’s creative director Anoop Chugh has a different view on how the year panned out: “2020 was quite a back-bender as far as creative industry was concerned. A lot of brands lost their budget and appetite for creative marketing. Though the uncertainty hasn't lost its mojo, 2021 still seems a little brighter than the last year. Call-to-action may still be dictated by sales nerds and the backroom art guy may find more expressions in brand campaigns going forward.”
This notion of brand campaigns finding ‘more expressions’ and being able to give a new voice to whatever they’re trying to say has been shown through recent campaigns, including Wunderman Thompson and Tata Pravesh’s #AkelaHiKaafiHai which showcased a new sense of humour to the seemingly dull activity of buying doors.
Httpool’s head native for India and Southeast Asia, Pankaj Jain believes that 2021 can be categorised as either indifferent, a way for advertisers to capitalise on AR and VR or close in on consumers without establishing contact. “Impatience has become a virtue and that's where brands have invented new ways, developed apps, and found new ways to interact. Distance is not measured in miles but clicks.”
While finding new methods of connecting with consumers is key, so is taking on new challenges for agencies. In the past few weeks, MullenLowe Lintas have been named as brand partner for Whirlpool and their PR arm Lintas Live will be looking after social media marketing for Tourism Spain.
The agency’s CCO Azazul Haque reflects on how the changes to working life have impacted the way that creativity happens: “Work from home became a norm. In advertising as well it became a way to work and actually it turned out to be quite effective. Even in India. Travel time was saved, and meetings were happening dot on time. However, advertising film production needs physical presence and it took a hit in the early months of 2020 when the world including India was figuring out a way to work around social distancing norms.”
Social distancing in a country of billions is no mean feat but due to a reduction of positive Covid cases in the country, in-person productions have seen a comeback. During the period of unease less populated areas such as Bhopal and Goa became prime hotspots for filming while the cities were full of unrest. However, Azazul’s insight is that this is soon to change: “In time to come, if the cases keep reducing as they are in India, more people will get the courage to travel. As even now, most agency creatives prefer staying at home and supervise the shoots. Film production units on the other are now on a full swing.”
With changes on the horizon and new ways of working here to stay, what do the experts predict the industry will look like in 2021?
Aneesh believes the value of each idea, each rupee and each person on a campaign will be much more considered. “The last ten months have made us realise that, actually, every launch doesn’t require a team of 20 people sitting in one room, approving an idea, doesn’t require a multi crore production, doesn’t require the most expensive celebrities to endorse products, every time, doesn’t require eight people attending a shoot.
“What advertising has learnt in the pandemic is that it is not as difficult as we are making it out to be. It is not the scale of our production that matters but the scale of our communication.”
Httpool’s Pankaj believes that digital advertising is going to drive communications much more this year. “In 2021, the digital world's online consumers are 'well-informed'; they start their day by giving a voice command and sleep, only after their unquenchable thirst of watching content has come to a pause. With people stepping out less than ever, I reckon that self-serve platforms for programmatic advertising will help people manage and optimise ad campaigns independently.”
MullenLowe Lintas’ Azazul echoes Aneesh’s sentiment but has hopes of the changes coming about sooner rather than later. “Few shoots I have attended physically, looks well planned about Covid precautions and yet not letting that affect the shoot. So perhaps it's a matter of a few more months, when advertising film production should get back to normal. As it was before Covid...Though perhaps with a mask on.”
In a country that produces around 2,000 Bollywood films a year and is home to thousands more brands, filming safely is something that will be key to keeping things going in a practical manner.
Anoop sums up the hopes for the future succinctly: “This year is going to be about experimentation - both in communications and spaces we exist at. There will be no more comfort clients you can fall back on. Despite working round-the-clock most of last year, creative professionals are hungrier than ever. We will see innovations in how pitches are conducted, ideas are presented and creative expressions being communicated across categories and brands.”
With new adaptations of flexible working, remote shooting and understanding what consumers are looking for, 2021 is shaping up to be very exciting for the creativity of India.