COVID has made clients more active than complacent that they were: Anadi Sah, Isobar

In today’s edition of e4m Creative Zone, we speak to Anadi Sah, ECD, Isobar India on work, clients and acceleration in digital adoption post lockdown

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Jul 15, 2020 8:26 AM

The COVID-19 global lockdown has not just confined us to our homes but thrown at us challenges of various dimensions. From the ad industry’s perspective, organising and shooting a campaign in these conditions proved to be the big test. However, despite these challenges, our creative leaders have continued to create work that inspires all. In our series – e4m Creative Zone – we get to know how creative heads have been surpassing the COVID hurdles.
In today’s edition we speak to someone who strongly believes in blending innovation with the use of art, science and technology. We interview Anadi Sah, Executive Creative Director, Isobar India. Sah has about 14+ years of experience. He also leads the innovation wing of Isobar - Now Lab. In conversation with e4m, Sah opens up on acceleration in digital adoption by clients post lockdown, creating work that works and marching ahead with resilience despite the going getting tough.

Edited excerpts below:

How has lockdown changed the life for digital agencies?
If you look at the industry as a whole, all this while, we were convincing our clients to get into this, to be digital and be digital-first. There were very few brands who did foresee the need of having a digital presence. But post the COVID situation, increasingly, all of them have been forced to get into digital. But for us, it’s still more work, because we want to onboard as many clients as possible and help them on their digital transformation. So it's been really hectic for us to catch up with the demands and requirements of the clients in the present times.
With the lockdown, the adoption of digital has become huge with a lot more clutter. Even traditional creative agencies these days are getting into aspects like lead generation, enhancement of social engagement, etc. As the curve moves to digital rather than cracking a TVC, how are digital agencies like Isobar trying to stand out?
I think we shouldn’t be looking at the situation as an opportunity rather than as a competition. All this while digital agencies were the only ones who were having conversations about digital transformation of businesses basis the evolving consumer behaviour, but now various brands have been forced to take the path. Like any change, this is also tough and has challenges. But believe me, this will strengthen a brand’s equity and perception of how they were and what they will be in the times to come. In this process, it is for the first time that mainline agencies are partners which even evolves them to be an agency of digital age which was only a mantra for Isobar. We for our clients and partners are bringing unique solutions that go beyond brand communication and extend to upon contactless delivery systems, virtual product augmentation and commerce and digital transformation of businesses. As it's said we are all in it together hence the digital agencies should be working hand-in-hand and be a support system for traditional agencies who they can lean on to fasten the digital transformation process of their clients and partners.

How have clients approached the situation?
A lot of clients are in a tough situation because the overall market scenario is pretty low. So, they are aware of it, and they will take their own time. But they're all very optimistic about it. So some are finding ways to be more meaningful and caring for the customers while some are looking for ways to diversify their existing offerings. So for example Diageo, one of our brands, in the initial days, ventured out into manufacturing sanitizers. And going forward, they are looking at how can we look at an alternative system, how can we deliver more experiences to customers while we are at home.
Finally, you know, liquor shops are open but that's also not a safe environment. So, there are ways and means that are being looked at for clients. They are also experimenting. So they come up their challenges and we jam together and figure out a way to also tackle that situation. More importantly, the entire situation has made clients more active than complacent that they were as everything was in a set pattern.
Today, the situation has turned everything completely upside down. Today's situation has made a CMO become a CIO or a CSO which is a chief solutions or Innovation Officer for that matter. He is still looking at marketing but in looking at ways to figure out solutions, whether it is about the health and safety of the employees or whether it's about the health and safety of the customers, it’s about how to ensure that the demand and needs can be met. So all of that is happening, everyone is working towards it. We really don't know how things will unravel for us but we have been working as partners for our clients.

Times have certainly been trying. Digital agencies anyway have been accustomed to being on their toes and thrive in this as it’s a constant in the profession. How are you managing to keep going and pulling off through everything going on?
These days there are a lot of challenges out there. So we've been into calls since nine o'clock in the morning to twelve o'clock in the night. A simple task where you could give feedback just passing by someone is exactly not happening now. So it becomes even tougher to communicate a very basic thing of changing a particular design or tweaking a particular copy. So, the entire process takes presently up to 20-minute or 30-minute call, which was earlier merely a 22-second job. So it's really tough for us. Also with regards to being locked down, there are psychological effects to it. But we are holding it strong. It isn't easy, but we are constantly learning as the day passes.
There is something or the other, that's happening. So, there are additional efforts and all that, put out by everyone across different roles because it calls for it. The entire Dentsu group has been very helpful to us, keeping the safety and the health of the employees, as the priority. For example they said that, you know, they've made the decision in such a fashion that people don't have to actually attend or be at offices. Things are slowly opening up and certain offices are functioning but they are saying that let’s be a little slow there and not risk the safety of employees.
There have been some great HR initiatives that have health and wellness experts conducting sessions that help employees and keep the morale high. So we have been very experimentative, and resilient in our approach. Thankfully we have a very self motivated team, who is very understanding and empathetic towards each other. They understand what people and brands are going through. And that really helps us to pull everything together and fight against all odds. And also we are leaning towards technology even more in these times to connect, convince and even celebrate the victories and be there and fill in for each other where needed.

Your message to brands and agencies on cutting through the clutter rather than being it?
Firstly don’t be a me-too because your competitor has done it but be genuine and authentic in what you say and do. If your action is meaningful and adds value to the consumer's life, it will find its voice and will be heard.
Secondly, find a purpose that’s closest to the brand and resonates with your customer. However small it may be but you will find people who will have the same belief.
Thirdly, find and explore newer ways and forms to tell stories as inherently we all love stories. Cinema is the best example to be quoted here who have told us the same stories in so many different ways and perspectives.

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