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There's creative chaos & we can leverage it as creative people: Surbhi Arora, WATConsult

In today’s edition of Creative Zone, we speak to Surbhi Arora, Regional Head – Creative Strategy, WATConsult on trying to find a sense of creative direction, adapting to the new consumer and more

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Aug 27, 2020 9:47 AM
Creative Zone with Surbhi Arora, Regional Head – Creative Strategy, WATConsult

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 create work that inspires all. In our new series – e4m Creative Zone – where we get to know how Creative heads have been surpassing the COVID hurdles.

In today’s edition, we speak to Surbhi Arora, Regional Head – Creative Strategy, WATConsult on trying to find the sense of creative direction that would come naturally from being in office, adapting to the new consumer and how it has opened up windows for a zillion opportunities for brands and agency partners.

Edited excerpts below:

How has lockdown changed life for digital agencies like yours?

The lockdown has changed our lives in more ways than one. I believe that digital agencies are made up of all kinds of people, so when life changes at a personal as well as a mass level, it affects the whole process. Everyone, from the consumers we serve to the brand managers we deal with, is affected. Also, to me personally, the creative culture doesn’t feel the same anymore and I think many people will relate to this. I really miss the whole creative thought process and the brainstorms sessions. But having said that, it’s not bad; it’s just different. I think we are ready for the challenge and we are acing it right now.

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?

You know, it may just sound like I’m ranting, but I greatly miss the energy of the office and it’s so difficult to channelize all the pent up energy when you’re at home, that too alone. Like I said before, it’s slightly different. The energy just isn’t right. But, while it had been slightly hard for me personally to find the sense of creative direction that would come naturally from being in office and by being around like-minded people, I think we, as a team, as an agency and at our own personal level, have pulled it through rather gracefully.

We've delivered on the work that was supposed to be done, all the while seeing through familial responsibilities, household distractions, uninvited chores and such. When it comes to the workflow, I think, there is some form of an automated understanding that has arisen amongst people - understanding each other’s routines, productive hours, lazy hours, etc, which is pretty impressive. In summation, I think, we all are trying really hard to work around all the new difficulties with the same intent – to serve the best possible creative solutions.

How have clients approached the situation?

Clients are a mixed bag, I’d say. I have personally seen clients who want to carry out plans right away because the opportunity presents itself. Then there are certain clients who have held back and decided to wait out the pandemic to see what happens next or what life brings tomorrow. But, I think, overall because brands have allowed some really nice campaigns to happen, so I’d say that they’re pretty active. Another point of interest, here, is that I’m not seeing the usual suspects in the market anymore, putting in the kind of media or advertising effort on digital as before. I think, creatively, we are still trying to address the same questions as brands and as agencies, “What can we do?” or “How can we adapt to the new consumer?”  I think that’s the job and that’s where the brands’ efforts are.

Take us through your campaign for Pigeon India done by the agency during the lockdown and how did it all come together?

There have been a lot of campaigns that we have launched throughout the lockdown. One that happened more recently was for Pigeon India, the baby and mother care brand, wherein we capitalised on the breastfeeding week for the nursing moms. It was actually the second leg of the campaign, something that started in 2019. It’s a very sensitive situation when you’re talking to new and young nursing moms, and to address the psyche of somebody who’s going through that process is very different.

So, with that in the back of our minds and considering the challenges that the lockdown has thrown at us, we put together a whole campaign just to glorify and give a virtual salute to the spirit of motherhood. The idea was to treat it with absolute respect, sensitivity and honesty, and take a tangible stand. The attitude, I would say, to the brief from the get-go, was to reinforce the fact that breastfeeding is emotionally as well as physically challenging task for moms. It can be uneasy, uncomfortable and exhausting. So, it had to be said out loud, but at the same time, we couldn’t take away from the joy that mothers feel in watching their baby grow, knowing that they are responsible for their nutrition and growth.

We put it all together into a social experiment of sorts, which was conducted over a video call. Three different mothers, three different psyches and a very spontaneous video call experiment. To me, this was probably the most intelligent part of the campaign because it was all engineered within the boundaries of the lockdown. We’re talking about shoots, coordination, and so much more, which was all meticulously thought through. It was very realistic, very believable, clean on the aesthetics and highly relatable because everybody had switched to video calls anyway by the time it went live.

So, it was a subtle but a rather powerful campaign in my opinion, where the brand clearly said that it stands by the nursing moms and so should the people around her because that’s all she needs – support. People often tend to forget or pass over the fact that breastfeeding and being a new mom could be taxing and we just need to be there for these nursing mothers. So, to me, it was one of the most pleasant campaigns that happened during one of the topical occasions.

So this entire situation has also brought in a great deal of upheaval in the way we work. So, where do you see the green shoots of opportunity?

So, I think, the whole industry was super positive from the get-go and it’s not like we weren’t hurt or we weren’t hit, making it that much more impressive. While that happened, I think I’ll probably address the question in two ways. From a creative standpoint, I think experimentation is the best opportunity that has come out of all this. It has forced all agencies, all creatives, all brand managers to push themselves beyond the comfort of their brand guidelines and agency protocols and experiment with the kind of output that you want to present to your audience. I think that there is nothing bigger than that as an opportunity.

While these are unprecedented times and I do understand that, but that is how I see it positively. Brands are signing up for things that they wouldn’t otherwise. Also, in a more ambitious mindset, I would say that every possible consumer psyche has changed, which means age-old rules and demographics and psychographics that once engineered campaigns, creatives and even media strategies, are different now. It has opened up windows for a zillion opportunities for us to talk to brands as agency partners.

Secondly, the opportunity exists in the fact that the consumer today is more inward-focused than outward focused. It’s more about “Who I am?”, “What am I doing?” and “Where will I be tomorrow?” than “What I have?” and “What do I need?”. I think that goes beyond the current trend of just giving out PSAs and start being empathetic as brands. There is so much that we can address, so many consumer truths, right from financial insecurities – and this is in the face of the pandemic – solving impulse, shopping behaviour, and more. A lot of people had to press a reset button on life, which would be great if tapped into by relevant brands. So, I feel there's creative chaos and we can really leverage it as creative people, as agencies or as brands.

What would be your message to brands and agencies on cutting through the clutter rather than being it?

I think clutter is a part of what we do. A lot of what we do can be constituted as clutter, but then there’s always something that shines through. I think, that highlight comes only when you experiment, as I said earlier. I think experimentation shouldn’t stop at any level, be it a single post, a major campaign, or even a campaign, say, for an FMCG brand that has been advertising a certain way for the last 10 years. I think that you will miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take. It’s one of the most clichéd sayings, but I totally believe in it. So my simple message would be to experiment, because if you stop doing that then you aren’t doing justice to your creativity. That’s pretty much it.

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