We should be cognizant as communicators: Pallavi Chakravarti, Taproot Dentsu

In today's e4m Creative Zone, Chakravarti, Executive Creative Director, Taproot Dentsu, shares ad production hacks during the lockdown and how remote shooting has made casting more diverse

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Jul 27, 2020 9:05 AM
e4m Creative Zone with Pallavi Chakravarty, ECD, Taproot Dentsu

The COVID-19 global lockdown has not only confined us to our homes but also 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 someone who has just been unstoppable in her spirits of creating work that inspires. We chat with Pallavi Chakravarti, executive creative director, Taproot Dentsu. Chakravarti speaks of production hacks that the ad-world has learned along the way during the lockdown, how remote shooting has made casting more diverse, the Airtel ad film created by Taproot Dentsu during the phase and more.

Edited excerpts below:

How has your experience been creating amidst remote captivity?

The real boardroom of the creative process is in your head. It does not matter whether you're sitting in the office or at home. But of course, theory and practical are different. So when it comes down to actually working, there are things that are sorely missed. The creative process is one of the functions that can be carried out no matter where you are. So to that end, we have an advantage, because there's no reason for people to actually be together and hold hands when creating and thinking. There's no denying that being together and in the spirit, an agency atmosphere, dealing with your clients actually face to face, sort of catalyzes the process. So I will say that ours is a line of work which hasn't come to a standstill.

But definitely we're getting better, and we're adapting. It’s a new way of doing the same thing. So things that would take two or three hours to do, today take a lot more time. You will go and think, somebody’s baby will be crying, somebody has to prepare something, somebody has to do the dishes. This lockdown has taught us that "I need to log off now because I have not washed dishes in three days." So the flow may have been interrupted but at the end, I'd like to think that we have managed to still create. Through technology, we still managed to be in touch and still brainstorm. It may be longer, or it may be a slightly more tedious process, but it is still doable.

Has the turnaround time reduced while working from home?

I will say it's about the same. I don't think clients, turnaround times or execution, brainstorming and presenting have been affected, what has been affected is the ultimate output, shooting, or actually going on and creating something. But things are far better now than they were four months ago. I think the backend work and the processes may have gotten more tedious, but in terms of presenting to clients, I don't think we really suffered much of a backlog.

Tell us about your film created for Airtel amidst lockdown. Since it was your first film created amidst lockdown, how did it all come together? 

The film we did for Airtel --  on the way they have revamped recharging for their prepaid customers -- could not have been done at any other time but the lockdown because it was the lockdown that prompted it. So, yes, it was not a brief generated because it's Corona time and one must do something. It was something that had actually been done. And we wanted to talk about what had actually been done. So that if by chance, there are millions of prepaid customers out there, whose ability to recharge was seriously hit, because every store is shot overnight due to lockdown.

Since it was the first film that we did during the lockdown, we knew nothing. We, the production house, the client, were thinking, "How do we navigate this?" The brief was very real and was tangible. They are changed the way recharging could be done for people. So take adversity and turn it into opportunity. The only things that were open were medical stores, ATMs, or the post office.

Then they turned those into recharge points or even empowered anybody with a connection to recharge for somebody else. So they ran these one-on-one programs. I think all of us have discovered that no matter what kind of customer we are, connectivity is of the essence when you're cooped up in your house. How do you put it out there what you have actually done to enable recharge? Of course, like, as you know, this was the first piece we had done, so it was learning for all of us. What is possible? What are the glitches that will come up? We learned all this along the way. Happy to say that it worked out in the end. 

When it started, we saw so much UGC content and films shot using the phone. But as time has passed, have you now noticed the craft evolving or seen a saturation?

What I’ve seen over time are production hacks.  So for instance, when we started off, it was people who had iPhones. So while creating the Airtel film, the one thing that happened, which would not have happened if we were shooting, let's say in Bombay or in Delhi or Bangalore, we could not perhaps go to four to five cities to look for your cast members, with a budget and everything is what it is. So our Airtel casting came from Jharkhand, Noida, UP, it was very diverse. Actually, very often for regular projects, you don't do that.

At best, you fly one or two people from Bangalore, Delhi or something. Your entire cast spread around the country, locations being around the country is not something that you would have done. So that's something that remote shooting allows you to do. So that's I would say it was interesting because for us we learned that casting can literally cast a very very wide net. That was good to see. 

Coming back to your question, overall saturation will be reached beyond a particular point or this certain kind of ads. And like I said, the industry will find a way and people will find a way. As things started easing out, we started going halfway. So you know earlier, when we started out, it was all remote. Your DOP is sitting in one Zoom frame, the client is there, the agency is there, the producer is there. Your cast is somewhere else, holding an iPhone. 

So it's like the evolution process. Then we came to a point where you started looking for entire families who could act. This makes it even tougher. If you plot a graph of the work that happened, in let's say in April, vis-a-vis the end of May, you will find it. Because people discovered what they could do differently. 

I think beyond a point, even the industry realizes that phone quality is phone quality. And at the end of the day, there are no complaints because communication is still important and you make do with what you have. So I would say it's been steadily picking up.

Covid-19 is a humanitarian crisis. Many awards 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 a mere marketing ploy?

That's totally what we need to do as an industry. I think enough has been said by people. Just because we happen to be in the middle of a pandemic. I don't think that's necessary. I genuinely do feel if you're doing something, if you're making a point, saying something that is actually going to help, then put it out there by all means.

But there is such a thing I think as too much hope because what tends to happen is that everybody then jumps onto the bandwagon and says we are here for you. Let’s not wear marketing hats and agency hats. Would I like to wake up in the morning, wanting to switch on a television or look at our phone and have everybody from my chewing gum to my car to my water purifier telling me "We are here for you?" No, I don't. 

We should be cognizant as communicators about what we are saying. There's no harm in being optimistic, there's no harm in looking forward. But generally just saying something because it’s the right thing to do is quite meaningless. I think that's important. So whatever message we put out there, there must be some kind of brand truth or product truth and only then it will resonate. 

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