In the advertising world, “every occasion is a brief,” a creative at a leading advertising agency tells ThePrint, “and Covid seems to be the biggest brief ever.”
So it’s no surprise that while many industries, even related ones such as film, remain closed even as India eases lockdown restrictions, the advertising world has found a way around the obstacles.
Be it remotely shot ads or plot lines that speak to a country plagued with fears, advertisers are refocusing smartly to adapt to this new environment.
Keeping the messaging on point
Given the pandemic and the importance of social distancing, Kia Motors recrafted an earlier commercial in which the protagonist, a wealthy, posh man (played by Jim Sarbh), shows off his house, car and date and just set it to rewind, using the hashtag #RewindKia. The message? To stay home.
Nestle’s KitKat, whose long-standing tag line has been “Have a break, Have a KitKat”, countered its own philosophy by thanking people for not taking a break”. The brand’s way of thanking frontline workers in the battle against Covid wasn’t just lip service. “We extended the initiative on ground and contributed our products as a token of our gratitude for these frontline workers,” a Nestle India spokesperson tells ThePrint.
While topical messaging is a way to stay relevant when people aren’t buying so much, Shivi Verma, client servicing director at Enormous Brands in Mumbai, says many brands are doing it without thinking more deeply. “There is a plethora of ‘stay home stay safe’ messages doing the rounds, and many brands are clueless as to what they should say, but they will think that something is better than nothing.”
He’s not wrong. In the rush to just say something, advertisers have, at best, said something pointless, but at worst, said the worst possible thing. Case in point, Kent RO’s recent classist, casteist and sexist ad, which it apologised for after it got major backlash.
At the other end of the spectrum are ads that have a clear message of togetherness and solidarity, like the campaign for edible oil, executed by ad agency FoxyMoron for Emami Agrotech, called #CookforOurHeroes. And Brooke Bond Red Label’s new ad is a heartwarming appeal to not stigmatise Covid patients, to practise social distancing but still be there for each other.
Shooting an ad in a lockdown
Directed remotely, most ads now use straightforward piece-to-camera narrations, stock images or animations. “We’re with the actors throughout on a video call while they shoot, telling them how to prepare a set, make a distinction, how to adjust light, which angle to take. It takes longer than usual and becomes tiresome,” says a producer at a Mumbai agency.
Supriyo Sen Sharma, executive producer at The Glitch, Mumbai, says, that a shoot that would have typically taken a day now takes up to three.
It’s not just directing remotely, though. In the absence of a thriving set, improvisations and fiery discussions, ad filmmakers find themselves getting restricted. But for the Brooke Bond Red Label ad, for example, the team at Ogilvy & Mather in Mumbai found their way around this challenge.
They knew they didn’t want to go with a piece-to-camera setup. They had a solid script that required proper acting and conversation between two people, and they wanted to do justice to it.
Luckily, they got veteran Marathi actor Mrunal Kulkarni to shoot the ad along with her husband, Ruchir Kulkarni. The best part for the team was the presence of their son Virajas, a budding filmmaker. “Covid has challenged everyone to work differently and we did exactly that,” the team tells ThePrint. And it worked – the film has garnered 27 lakh views within two weeks on YouTube.
The future of advertising
But every ad agency won’t always have the same luck. Sen Sharma believes that we won’t see any elderly people, pregnant women or children in ads for a while, since they’re more vulnerable to contracting Covid-19.
The change will not only be in casting, but in how and what is advertised. He adds, “Brand perspectives and how we advertise will see a major shift because people have understood that they spend money on frivolous things and it will be much more difficult to persuade people to buy anything.”
Verma concurs, and points to how the extended lockdown has also led to a change in consumption of media, which will affect print advertising the most, “Print is the hardest hit. People haven’t been getting newspapers and have become habituated to consuming news online, so print media will have to give us solid reasons for returning heavily to it.” Cyrus Pagdiwala, executive producer at Corcoise Films, says advertising and marketing budget might be cut by as much as 30-50 per cent, and how long agencies take to recover from this is anyone’s guess.
The Association of Advertising Producers has released guidelines for when shoots resume, including necessary sanitation protocol, fewer people on a set live-streaming for core team whenever possible and having an ambulance and doctor on standby at a shoot. All of this will, of course, cause costs to shoot up.
The USP of products will revolve around how hygienic and clean they are, says Kashif Shakeel, a creative at a leading ad agency in Gurgaon. He is of the view that in the near future, ads will be more functional and informative rather than relying on quirk. For example, the latest Hindustan Times ad doesn’t focus on the product as much as the precautions taken while dispatching it.
#HTPaperIsSafe | In this fight against the virus, keeping your home sanitised to stay safe is the need of the hour.
— Hindustan Times (@htTweets) May 27, 2020
And finally, there will be a shift in the work culture of ad agencies.
Agencies will, to a large extent, continue with remote working, which will also pave the way for freelancers, who cost less, to get more work from agencies, notes Ashish Khazanchi, managing partner at Enormous Brands. “Agencies will reach out to talent outside metro cities, too – a boy sitting in Jabalpur with a good command over the language will be offered an opportunity to write”