e4m Creative Zone: 'You can’t underestimate the power of small talk in our industry'

Kawal Shoor & Navin Talreja, Founding Partners of The Womb on remote shoots through Zoom, client budgets and shining on through the storms

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Jul 9, 2020 9:56 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 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 the COVID hurdles.
In today's edition of e4m Creative Zone, we have a duo who are not just iconic ad-makers but creatives who have shown the industry the power of product innovations and providing real business solutions to clients. We speak to Kawal Shoor and Navin Talreja, Founding Partners of The Womb, on shining through the storms, client budgets, remote shooting through Zoom and more. 

Edited excerpts below:

How have you been grappling with shooting and creating amidst remote captivity?
Navin: I don't think the process has changed since the time it started. So we have shot a couple of pieces. One for Cipla which was in an Indian way a jugaad shoot. We worked with Bob who literally found someone who’s dad was a Dop and his mom was an art director. They shot in that house and Bob directed that film over Zoom.
And then we made the other film for Saregama along with the brand’s in-house team. Saregama was about three weeks ago while Cipla was another five weeks ago. But now, we are pretty much normal, in the way shoots are happening. Next we are shooting for a client in Goa. That's a normal shoot, normal in the sense with all the rules being followed with the regards to the 33% crew, so on and so forth. It’s a full-fledged shoot that Amit Sharma from Chrome is shooting for us. We have continued to work. Except for the physical proximity we continue to work as we would have in the office. We continue to do the strategic pieces and creative development in a way so that we'll be ready to shoot when the lockdown opens up.

The lockdown took us all by surprise. What were the initial hiccups and operational challenges working from home?

Kawal: It was the same for all of us. I don’t think anyone worked like this before March 17. From March 18, it was one sexy term because we had never thought that it would become a way of life. Like we are not averse to technology. The thing with technology is that it may be okay for certain businesses like accountants and finance, where you do the work and just come for meetings. Meetings are very transactional and it's easier to do conversations. But our business is slightly different because our business is built on conversations, and it's actually built on small talk where people let down their guards and expose themselves through their expressions, emotions, etc. So we realised that whatever technology we use is the enemy of small talk, because the conversations were way purposive. And it took us a while for everybody to start chatting in the usual sense that we do. I think over a period of time we have become comfortable with it. So much so that we have started working more because the gap between meetings is not available. So in a way, it's productive, we also realize the benefits of not having to travel to cities to have a meeting. Those are great things. In most creative industries which depends on collaboration, not just ours, you can’t underestimate the power of small talk. And that happens best when people are together.

Many creatives I have spoken to have shared that this is not a typical scenario where the client gives you a brief and you go back with an idea. So in terms of your work for Saregama Carvaan created amidst lockdown, did the client come to you with a brief or did you go with the idea? How did it all come together?

Navin: Whether it’s in the Covid times or the non-Covid times, we don’t expect the client to give us a brief. This was an opportunity that came up because with the lockdown, while others were still being allowed to sort of move around and move out with masks and other protection, for senior citizens, it is very clear that the mandate was that they cannot move out of the house. In that sense it was an opportunity that came through the client and we spoke about it. We felt like it's an opportunity for us to alleviate this loneliness and boredom that the older generation is going to struggle with. The brand has always been about that. It has been a loneliness buster. Old songs have that ability to do that. So in a way it all sort of fell together in place. I think it was a conversation basis an opportunity that came up in the environment and we co-created that piece.

You’ll put a great show at Effies and bagged the Independent agency of the year (APAC). What do you think worked in your favour in terms of cracking the Effie’s code?

Kawal: We just randomly got to know about it. There are two aspects here: One thing which is great. And then one thing which we would like to change. One thing that's great is that Saregama Carvaan has contributed a lot to us, because of the work we have been able to put together for the brand.

In terms of what we’d like to change, there are about 13-14 times we've created a first-class product or piece of work. I mean it's natural. Sometimes the budgets are not good enough or some different things. So many of the other pieces of our work haven't gained as much traction that they could have. And that’s what we’d like to change. But it's okay, you know, even if you were to look at the biggest agencies, not just in India but around the world. And if you were to look at brands that contribute to their fame and to their success, you can actually count the number of brands on the fingers of one hand. Overall, winning the title is in a way a reaffirmation of where we started from.

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? Big events are getting cancelled, production of goods and of course production of TV shows, even on OTT platform and television has really stopped. So, where are marketers investing and what is really happening to all those allotted marketing budgets for this year?

Navin: I think it's different across categories. If you look at pharma/essential items then the mood is not so despondent. I would say in general, most marketers at least the ones who are working with us are now sort of raring to get back, in terms of communicating about themselves and getting the business going because in many ways as you pretty much lost one quarter. So you have now nine months to make up for what you otherwise would in twelve months. So there is intent that we can see that from marketers and clients saying, we'd like to now move on and do stuff. I think the challenge is to know what may be stopping them, if at all, is just this gradual opening up of the country.

GECs and television shows are just about getting shot and it would take about a month for new episodes to start coming through for women to sort of go and start watching those stuff. From a male audience perspective there are no sports happening. There’s this conversation about some India-South Africa series happening in August and some conversation about IPL happening.

I think if those events happen you will see advertisers coming back and spending substantially.

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?

Navin: We have always believed that you need to stay close to what your specialization and your core expertise is. Yes, everybody can do everything. But we don't do that and I don't think we would ever want to go into that area because we are not the experts in that particular area. We would partner with the best sort of lead generation companies if our client or campaign requirement demands that, learn from them and will co create with them for the clients. And that's something that we've done through the five years as and when clients come to us with different sorts of needs that they have. We partner with the best that's available in the industry.

But to do everything on your own, I think that's old-world thinking, today is all about collaboration. So I think one agency, having all services and wanting to use all the services, you don't have the best talent for all the services so, in a way, you're actually offering nothing great to clients and that’s not something we would want to do.

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 mere marketing ploy?

Kawal: We are doing some work with consumers on the COVID situation. In fact, we were lucky to have an idea on the day the lockdown was implemented. So from the next morning onwards, we started off conversations with about 60 consumers across different kinds of segments. So from blue collar to factory workers to maids,

homemakers and so on. So what we've done is that we went to them on the first day and then on the 16th day to look at how human minds change over a period of time on the same issues.

Brands need to sell. Consumers can call a bluff from a mile now. The need to connect with consumers in a way that sells their products is even more important now. For some reason, I love the seamingly mindless work done by Amul. I don’t care about the quality of creative or storytelling but it’s great to see such happy faces. There are fluffy things like brand purpose surrounding us these days. The purpose of the brand is to build the client’s business and that’s it. All consumers can do without certain brands that they use on a daily basis, barring some. And only brands that consumers can’t do without have done the right thing and connected with the consumer right.

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