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How 2020 changed the way adland works

From fast-tracking digital transformation to accelerating increased collaboration across teams through virtual working, ad world reflects on how Covid transformed the industry

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Dec 28, 2020 8:55 AM
year ender advertising

Amidst the pandemic and the ensuing humanitarian and economic crisis, it's safe to say that 2020 didn’t get off to the flying start adland had first hoped for. Cannes Lions got cancelled and many multinational campaigns were called off, among other things.

But it changed a lot in the way brands and agencies work as they were forced to wade through the media storm of the coronavirus pandemic (alongside the teething problems of home-working and bog-roll hoarding).

One can say that it has transformed the way the adland -- an industry that, over the years, has thrived on team chemistry, face and face brainstorming sessions and human connections. It may have been a hard year but one that taught the industry a lot of lessons. Ad-landers look back at 2020 and open upon how it actually changed how the industry works. Time for some peace, reflectional and renewal, it seems!

Edited excerpts below: 

Tarun Rai, Chairman and Group CEO, Wunderman Thompson, South Asia

Firstly, for me, the pandemic has acted more as an accelerant. The fires (trends) that were already visible earlier just became bigger and brighter. So, from the opportunity point of view, what has been underlined is that agencies need to develop new revenue streams beyond the traditional sources. Nothing new. I have been saying this for the past few years now.

But, the pandemic has reminded us of the need for diversification of our revenues in areas of digital, e-commerce, data, tech. And the opportunity is bigger since the pandemic has also been a wake-up call for clients. They have also fast-tracked their digital transformation journey and are looking for partners to help support their initiatives. Wunderman Thompson, with its unique capabilities and expertise in these areas, is in pole position to be that partner. Already 35% of group revenues are from non-traditional sources and I see it going up to 50% by the end of next year.

The other opportunity area has been around our way of working. Again, I have been a big advocate of ‘releasing’ our talent from the confines of their geographical locations. I have encouraged our people to work across city offices and be focussed on where their talent is needed and not worry about where they are based.

‘Geography is History’ – a line borrowed from an old satellite phone launch- was a favourite of mine. Well, the pandemic has made geography totally redundant. Working and collaborating remotely has allowed us to deploy our best talent on brands where their skills are required. Clients do not expect to ‘meet’ this talent in their offices either.

This means more efficient use of our talent, more productivity and better output. We have some people designated as ‘National’ (NPD, NCD…) but now all our talent can be ‘National’. This is beneficial to our employees as it gives them more opportunities. It's beneficial to our clients as they have easier access to our best talent and it’s beneficial to our organisation as it leads to better output and more efficient use of our key resource – our people.

Dheeraj Sinha, Managing Director – India & Chief Strategy Officer – South Asia, Leo Burnett

When Covid hit us, one of the biggest and most critical challenges for the ad industry was keeping the workforce energized and resilient. An industry which thrives on collaborative culture had to take a mental step back to realign to the new virtual world.

But working in this geographically agnostic world has also brought with it collaboration at its best. With the virtual workspace teams across cities are working together more cohesively. Also, this has brought a sharper focus on people and in-turn efficiency. With physical space no longer being the barrier, team structures have become leaner and more efficient. 

The pandemic has reoriented the world as we knew it. It put the spotlight on the need for new-age solutions and thinking for brands and definitely activated the push towards digital. Keeping that in mind we launched 3 specialized divisions – Leo Burnett Digital, Leo Burnett Consult and Leo Burnett Design which offer specialised services to our clients which we think are in great demand.  

Anupama Ramaswamy, Managing Partner and National Creative Director, dentsu Impact

I think, overall we Indians are kings and queens of “JUGAAD”. So, from initially using stock footage and editing them to create communication pieces to deciding to shoot on our own to even managing some celebrity shoots with limited crew and no risk, we have done it all.

The great change is being agile, being solution-oriented and cost-conscious. But above all, “being safe”. Clients too have been very careful about the safety of the crew and actors. I do feel we all have become a tad bit more patient. Zoom calls are not always the best as we may or may not see the person and sometimes conversations are not clear. So, everyone understands and are in it together.

Also, it has made us value the whole process a bit more. While we all are trying hard to make this happen peacefully, but there is a lot of delay. The shoots are longer, the delivery time is also not the same. Our clients have adapted very well to this system and we have shot quite a few films now post the unlock with amazingly good results. The only issues are in outdoor shoots. Car shoots too are not easy, but we have managed that too.

While the current remote monitoring system is innovative, practical and is absolutely necessary, it needs to be treated only as a short-term solution. Creative interactions are not that easy. Also, our internet and networks are not really fantastic. And till we get that sorted, I doubt we can make this a permanent way of working.

We are used to free-flowing conversations and communication which is real-time, but it is not as easy now. In future, we use the live feed or remote monitoring sparingly and only PPM (Pre-Production Meetings) instead of a team of people travelling from the Production House to attend these meetings with the agency and client. Since most of the production houses are based out of Mumbai, a whole day or two is spent by the production team travelling to outstation locations and overall productivity becomes low due to more time spent on travel. How these spirals into some opportunity, only time will tell?

Ranjit Raina, CEO Geometry Encompass

The digital disruption isn’t a portent of a new way to do things; it is the beginning of a new age. We will see a lot of innovation in spaces of retail, both online and offline. Experiential commerce is another area where we are seeing a lot of progress with the evolution of virtual experiences. With the roll-out of  5G next year we will see a huge change in how we approach rural marketing. It’s really not about new opportunities, we There has been a paradigm shift in the way we are all working today. I don’t think there has ever been as much collaboration or agility in the way we have worked, we have to reimagine the possibilities everywhere. 

Sonia Khurana, COO – Digitas India 

Our new context has forced us to re-learn empathy in ways we haven’t done before. It’s challenged us to re-think how we engage with our colleagues, clients, and our client’s customers. This has been one of the greatest positives of the pandemic. It’s a green shoot that we must nurture.

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