COVID-19: Keeping the creative spark alive in the ad world

Leaders emphasize the importance of reflection, reframing and resilience to bring out the creative best in such challenging times

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Apr 24, 2020 9:38 AM
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Let's face it, with the world battling a deadly virus, the global economy being in a perilous state and millions of people closeted away in lockdown, it all looks gloomy. Moreover, with a continuous stream of dreadful news affecting our lives these days, maintaining creativity and trying to advertise during such unprecedented times is becoming more challenging than ever.

After all, there’s a very fine line between being helpful and flogging stuff on the back of a crisis. We chalk out a creative check-list, speaking to the industry’s top creatives on what agencies can do to overcome the challenges presented by the coronavirus to address the crisis head-on.

A shift to Humankind

According to Rajdeepak Das, MD and Chief Creative Officer, Leo Burnett, South Asia, it all boils down to turning into the ‘Humankind Agency’ which is the need of the hour. “Gone are the days when we had the liberty of long term planning. Every week, every day and in fact, every news can change things drastically for brands. In the present COVID world, some industries will suffer, and some will emerge to become the new unicorns. As creative partners, it is more important now than ever to navigate our brands through these challenging times. Nothing can be a better time to be a true Humankind agency then now,” Das asserts.

On lines of the current scenario, Leo Burnett created a new service partnering shaadi.com wherein they organised multiple weddings online. “What can be a better example of Humankind than in the time of social distancing, we are getting people together for life. Starting from makeup to pandit to a wedding party to pheras, everything virtually,” he reveals. The agency is also working on #Angels in White, a new platform by Tide to help and support frontline health workers who are fighting COVID-19 to keep everyone safe. “While everyone is online and virtual we did massive on-ground social distancing work for HDFC Bank. We converted the grids of their logo into safety grids which are stuck on the ground to help people maintain social distance in front of shops or ATMs. We have executed the idea in front of 1600 ATMs, grocery stores to chemists in 8 cities,” shares Das.

He believes that as humans we have designed and adapted things very fast, in the time of trouble. Das remarks, “We are seeing new emerging leaders and new kinds of ideas for everyday work too. Sometimes the best freedom you can have is not having any option.”

No talk, no flash, just do!

Venkatagiri Rao, Creative Head, SEA & India, VMLY&R reveals that the crisis has forced the industry to rethink everything, including what’s really, really important to them, at a personal, and at an organisational level. “And isn’t that the key principle of creativity? Question everything,” Rao opines.

He reveals that the constraints have helped the agency in fact bring out their creative best. “As an agency, we’ve had to do a quick pivot, and ask ourselves: how do we relook at our own thinking and ways of working, to be able to help our client partners in such crazy times. We’ve had to become a sort of ‘learning machine’, in that sense. And you see the results of this retooling in some of the interesting work that is already in the works. Whether it is inspiring husbands to step up to the kitchen, because their wives are having to cook twice as much, for Heinz. Or figuring out e-com solutions to help our brands find new ways into customers homes,” Rao shares.

Furthermore, with ‘work from home’ becoming the new normal, brands are having to turn around and reimagine ‘business as usual’. “With customers anxious, bored and stuck, sometimes without even access to your brands, you have to start from scratch. Even here, you’re seeing pretty inspiring examples of creativity, as well as creative storytelling. All of which feels very different precisely because of the constraints,” he argues.

As for creativity in the world of COVID-19, LVMH dashed straight out of the gate by repurposing their perfume factories to manufacture disinfectants. “A simple, yet daring act that required balls and vision. Which is what creativity is all about. With that one act, they showed brands the way. That the best thing to do in these times is to just step up and be a solid corporate citizen,” Rao establishes.

Great ideas come from anywhere

Titus Upputuru, National Creative Director, Dentsu One & Creative Head, Taproot Dentsu observes that while the pandemic has forced people to work from homes, the truth is, for the longest time the creatives are used to working from anywhere. “I am not sure if ideas germinate inside offices. Ideas happen anywhere. You can’t design an idea to occur at some appointed place. Sometimes they come in a shower, sometimes while retiring to bed, at times in the mountains while shooting. Right now, we are restricted within the confines of our homes. But within a home too, who knows when and where the next idea comes from. Sometimes while doing the dishes, while preparing the dinner table or watering the garden. Working from home comes with a bonus of a loved one’s smile, a hug and the comfort of a home lunch, all of which are most certainly conducive to idea creation,” Upputuru explains.

The other part of a Creative’s work is execution where they usually depend on partners like photographers, filmmakers, producers, music directors, actors, models, editors, post-production studios, voice-over artists, food stylists, make-up artists, hairstylists etc. He signals that with the lockdown, this is nearly impossible, but the crisis has helped the industry to step up their game and find a solution to this too. “At the heart of creativity is coming up with a solution that is not rational. So we are finding creative ways to solve these problems. For HarperCollins India, for instance, we are creating daily posts for the entire lockdown period. The day the lockdown was announced in India, we went live with a post that showed a beautiful road with a question, “Who can stop the mind from travelling?” The post asked people to read a book and escape,” Upputuru reveals.

“In the Holy Bible, my go-to book at all times, it is written that ‘tribulation worketh patience’. I think in these tough times, as creatives if we are picking up something, it is patience. Creatives are often said to be impulsive beings. Hopefully, by the end of this pandemic, we will all learn to be that much more patient,” he exclaims.

The promise of a better tomorrow

Tista Sen, Regional Creative Director, Wunderman Thompson, South Asia pronounces that Hope and resilience are great messages that have the potential to keep the industry going. “The creative mind is a wonderful thing. And nothing is more rewarding than bringing ideas to life. People want to look forward to things. And that is precisely why we need to keep inventing, keep creating. That is what drives creativity and with the promise of a better tomorrow, creativity will always thrive and flourish,” Sen states.

The message is loud and clear: Creatives point out the need for reflection, reframing and resilience to bring out the creative best in such challenging times. After all, creativity shines through constraints and challenges.

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