A lot of element advertising is happening today: Garima Khandelwal, CCO, Mullen Lintas

In today's edition of e4m Creative Zone, we speak to Garima Khandelwal, CCO, Mullen Lintas on creativity in Covid times, executional barriers and more

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Aug 7, 2020 10:45 AM
Creative Zone, Garima Khandelwal, CCO, Mullen Lintas

The COVID-19 global lockdown has not just confined us to our homes but also thrown at us challenges of various dimensions. From the ad industry’s perspective, organising and shooting an advertising campaign in these conditions proved to be the big test. However, despite these challenges, our creative leaders have continued to conceptualise work that inspires. In our new series – e4m Creative Zone, we get to know how Creative heads have been surpassing these COVID hurdles.

In today's edition of e4m Creative Zone, we have Garima Khandelwal, Chief Creative Officer, Mullen Lintas. Khandelwal kicked-off her career in advertising with Ogilvy Delhi approximately 18 years ago. She moved to Mullen Lintas in 2015, and her former role as Executive Creative Director gave her an opportunity to influence the creative direction for some of India’s most celebrated brands. As a founding member of Team Mullen Lintas, she is responsible for the agency’s marquee work such as – Motilal Oswal (Equity experts), Tata Tea (Alarm bajne se pehle Jaago Re), MTV Beats, Bajaj Avenger, PharmEasy and Too Yumm. In conversation with exchange4media, Khandelwal speaks of creating through Covid, overcoming executional barriers while at it and more. She contends that while there is the evident digital acceleration, it's still about the idea that holds it together.  

Edited excerpts below:

How have you been grappling with shooting and creating remotely and how has creative concepting changed post-lockdown?

Whether it's ideation or discussion or presentation or even execution, there's a lot of talking that really goes on. Earlier on, you could rely on a lot of things that you know would get picked up with physical interaction. But now, it's all through the computer screen or phone calls etc, so you do have to be quite specific. Five months down the road of remote working, we have kind of figured that's really how it's going to work. 

The lockdown took us all by surprise. So what were the initial hiccups and operational challenges when you started off and how have you been kind of adapting to it now?

All of a sudden, we were all in different geographies getting together on a screen.  Immediately, it made sense to collaborate with people with whom you had connections in the team. Even when collaborating with filmmakers or other people, I am for sure relying on a lot of my past connections or a lot of that whole compatibility that you have built up. It helps to be able to work now with the same people because you already have travelled, you already know how somebody thinks and how some value adds etc. Now, of course, there are newer people you have to work with whom you've never met in reality. So you also work with them now and that's also happening. But as for me, I was carefully choosing people who I've worked with before to work remotely.

Take us through any campaigns created during the lockdown and how did it all come together despite the barriers to creation?

I'd like to talk about the work we created for Motilal Oswal. We did a TVC for them and then strangely, or interestingly, the idea was approved, before Covid. It was around February that we had this go-head with the idea, and then lockdown happened. We were trying to think “Okay, maybe we need to do a more COVID specific campaign” but the client said that we shouldn’t change anything as it actually still works. So they said let's go ahead and execute it. So, a thought that was thought through in a Pre-Covid time was executed in a Post-Covid time. It’s about things that we would take for granted pre-Covid. It was about restaurants, making sure that there are less people now post Covid, etc. We had to think about whether people should be wearing masks because if people are wearing masks it takes away from the idea. So the execution of an idea which was meant to be of a different time was interesting for me. Then of course remote shooting for something that we would have originally been shooting in a very different fashion. And again you know collaborating with somebody who already knew the brand helped. Overall, it was an experience that was exciting.

So, what are the larger execution challenges in this new way of working, if I were to ask you?

I think too many things that would be seemingly luxury pre-Covid. Like a small change today can really have a domino effect with all the explaining of it. Earlier on, you would just get it done simply. I think that is a challenge because many things have to be left. You have to let go of some things and let things flow because it is impossible to have that kind of check on things that we had earlier. 

This situation has led to far more digital adoption and is largely moving from the conventional 'cracking the TVC' to 'digital.' While there are already agencies that specialise in this situation, how equipped are creative agencies to take on these things?

I think all of us are digitally native and are consuming content digitally. In that sense, I know how I'm consuming content. Yes, there is a lot of target or communication that happens or there's a huge database of how people are consuming content, but it is still about the idea that is holding it.  There is a strategy and a creative that's required for anything that's even going out. Digital is just a medium but I think at the core it's still the idea that holds it together.

How have your clients responded to the situation? Are clients ready to spend now or are still tightening their purse-strings? What is the general mood like and where do you see them investing?

I think actually a lot of clients' priorities may have changed because they have to be spending on stuff now. There’s a lot of element advertising happening today. I mean immunity itself has become a category on its own and many brands that are catering to that new need that consumers have. There are actual communication pieces that need to go out. I mean FMCG brands are doing quite well in the market today. The context is different but I think they pretty much need to advertise and are doing it. 

Covid-19 is a humanitarian crisis. Many award shows globally have spoken about not factoring work created for these times. So what would be your take on how to create a conversation on Covid-19 without being exploitative and using it as a mere marketing ploy?

As we know Covid wasn't a cultural moment. It was more like a pandemic or a catastrophe. And there was work that was being created, but not for the effect of winning an award or anything. But it was more about how do we collectively communicate or how do we talk about winning over the virus etc. I guess that was one phase of communication that a lot of brands did. But now it is time for them to really talk about what is it that if the context is Covid? what are they offering? what are they? what do they want people to buy into? There were many brands that were actually really visible right when ad-spends week less. Amul as one brand was available and visible and therefore on top-of-the-mind. Also, they were selling stuff that people have been actually consuming even across through the phase, which helped, which is a good example.

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