It's been a learning curve for a lot of brands & for us: Vikram Pandey, Leo Burnett India

Pandey, the National Creative Director of Leo Burnett India, speaks about the evolution of creative concepting and ad production as the industry continues to work from home

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Sep 9, 2020 9:36 AM
Creative Zone with Vikram Pandey, Leo Burnett

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, we speak to creative powerhouse-Vikram Pandey, National Creative Director, Leo Burnett India. Pandey opens up on how creative concepting has changed as the creative industry continues to work from home, how the craft has evolved over time and more. 

Edited excerpts

How has creative concepting changed post lockdown?

So that's been quite a challenge. And it's been quite a revelation as well. All of us believed, very strong, very adamantly and were quite stubborn about the fact that we will never work from home and that the creative process cannot happen when you're working from home. However, we were restricted and we were almost forced to do this. And it's wonderful how things turned out because the fact is we've managed to produce a lot more work in the last few months. And that's been quite a revelation for us. Yes, it is not the same. 

For example, when you are on the set, you can see the actors performing, you can interact with them, you can interact with the director in a very different way. Also, the most difficult part has been editing. Editing is just impossible to be pulled off like this but it's amazing how we have managed it all so well.

What are the larger executional challenges when bringing an idea to life now?

Right from the creative process, coming up with an idea and jamming that itself has kind of shifted into a way where we have all gotten comfortable with video calls and managing through it. Also, clients have been really kind, they understand that this takes a little more time than it would. And they are allowing us that time, which is which has been really nice. From there on to sell the concept to then take it to the Director and then take it to full production has been quite a process. It's a new one and all of us have been learning.

We have been learning that there isn't a book that we can follow.  But this is all on-the-job learning and has been quite some experience. Ram Madhvani is the director of the project that we're talking about. And he is very well experienced and has done so many films. He has been on the sets so many times. But for him also it was new because we were far away. We were in Bombay and were shooting in Delhi, doing this via video call. He had an amazing flawless team who was on the floor making things happen. Still, everything was new and we were experimenting because it has even quite a process. I think we have managed pretty much what we would have otherwise as well. It has been almost 90-99% there.

Take us through your work for Spotify created during the lockdown. How did it all come together despite the barriers to creation?

We started with a very simple insight. And that insight is that you know, across the world, across age groups, people go through certain emotions, and they all lean on music for support. When they go through certain emotions and they lean on music for support, they end up leaning on the same kind of facts or similar kind of tracks. And one of those occasions is a heartbreak. And that was the first film that we got out. The other one was getting ready, getting pumped up, getting the energy to go out and exercise. The first day of exercise. Here music had a very simple role to play. 

And we took those, we made the campaign on that. The larger idea that came in was that music unites everyone because we listen to similar tracks the same kind of music to cope with these things. 

How have your clients responded to the situation in terms of spending? What is the general mood like now as things have opened up?

The clients have been really nice, and they've been very kind and very understanding of the situation that all of us are in. None of the clients that we've been interacting with turned around and said, "Oh, sorry, your problem." they will not like that at any point in time. 

They all understand that we all are in the same boat, and we need to cross this. So be it the amount of time it would take to arrive at a creative concept or to get the production going, they were very, very understanding of all of that. When it comes to budgets and intentions, when things are very, very uncertain and nobody knew what was happening, everyone just took a step back and said, "Hang on, we are not sure what we want to do." Some clients said, "We're not even sure if you want to be part of this whole COVID context conversation that a lot of brands are having. "

And that that was nice because a lot of brands would have just gone out, talking about COVID, when they had nothing to do with COVID in the first 15 days of the crisis. But post that, a lot of brands learnt that unless you have a role to play, you shouldn't comment because the fact is if you're not being true to what the crisis that people are going through, then brands are gonna face the flak as we have seen. 

So all that was a learning curve for a lot of brands and for us as well. But clients overall have been very, very supportive. Recently, in the last 20 days or a month, we've also seen a lot of clients opening up to frank conversations. They have understood that COVID is a reality and the new normal is here to stay. 

So we don't need to be only talking about that, but we can still continue to build the brand, you can still continue to talk, the larger message of what the brand could stand for, right? And that's where we've seen a lot of brief and projects coming in.

What are some of the production hacks that you've learned along the way that you believe agencies should hold on to as we go forward?

As I mentioned earlier, there is no rule book to this. We are all learning and maturing to this new normal. But some of the things that worked out really well is that time is going to be an important asset to have. So always have more time on your hand. Do not rush things. Do not over-commit to things, and that's been a big help. I've seen that time is an issue with the client as creative guys would like to take all the time in the world to finish the work. But the client can leave and have a deadline which is generally pressing. We've seen that in the last four months of real crisis. The clients have been really kind. They've been supportive. Because, the kind of work that we managed to produce for them, doesn't look like it's a lockdown production. So time was a big learning. 

The other learning was processes. One would skip a lot of processes normally. We are not doing that anymore as we're really strictly following the process of our storyboard, exact drawing of the product window, the flawless ppm etcetera. 

The third thing is that we lean on experience that helped us because a lot of people who've done this so many times, they would know what could possibly go wrong. All of those things have been followed and those processes have actually become a guardrail through these very uncertain times.

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