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‘Whenever there is a challenge, creativity has come up with solutions’

Manish Bhatt, Founder-Director, Scarecrow M&C Saatchi, says challenges of the lockdown period have thrown up new aspects of marketing and communication, which is an opportunity for brands

e4m by Srabana Lahiri
Updated: Jun 11, 2020 8:48 AM
Manish Bhatt

Manish Bhatt, Founder-Director, Scarecrow M&C Saatchi, is spending the lockdown period deeply exploring his own creativity – not necessarily limited to his work. One outcome is ‘Lockdown’ – an experimental film he created without taking anyone’s help, teaching himself the technical aspects as he went along.

“I have experimented to create a fusion of many art forms – poetry, Indian classical music in psychedelic genre and motion graphics in Devnagri script combined with still images to come up with this film,” he says, adding that had things been normal and had he been in office, he would have delegated a lot of the work to his team, but has done it all by himself now. Bhatt’s latest lockdown thought is that the coronavirus has already invaded three out of five human senses and “the only senses left for us to explore are sight and sound, and we can develop the sixth sense of touching hearts”.

Bhatt has also gone back in time to revisit his own earlier work. For instance, he sent out to industry associates a 14-year-old ad – ‘The story of Kamta Prasad’ – that he had created with Raghu Bhat while at McCann. It depicts isolation, which is a relevant thought today.

Meanwhile, Scarecrow M&C Saatchi has put out a series of digital films for Wagh Bakri Tea, using innovative approaches that work around the production crunch. These include a film for Mother’s Day, another for Wagh Bakri’s frontline sales team, that makes sure tea reaches stores across the nation despite transport challenges, and a third one for International Tea Day - #PositiviTea, that celebrates a future where life, work, school, shopping, socialising and even hugging will be back. The film uses multiple visual techniques like double exposure, illustration, kinetic typography along with an inspiring narration to drive home the message, no doubt inspired by Bhatt’s experiment. The latest one in the series is a digital film embracing the spirit of Eid in the times of social distancing, reminding us to be thankful for what we have rather than what we don’t.  

Here are excerpts from a conversation with Manish Bhatt:

You have been doing a lot of experimental creative work in this lockdown period, following your mind and honing your own skills… can you tell us about them?

While the usual Zoom reviews or presentations to clients continue, the entire pandemic effect has thrown up new aspects of marketing and communication, which is an opportunity for brands. Personally, I have been virtually exploring a lot of things. I had written something for one of my brands which for some reason was not used. So I used the poetic part of it and experienced with the fusion of poetry, Indian classical music and psychedelic genres. I added motion graphics in Devnagri script and put a lot of art forms together to create a 5-minute video film called ‘Lockdown’. It’s on my YouTube channel which has around 20,000 subscribers. 

Another thing I do is a knowledge-sharing initiative called Method of Madness or MOM. Under it, since 2011, we have done reverse internships. We go to colleges such as NID, MICA or Sophia and spend three days with the students. I am doing a part of it virtually now. I am also doing a small exercise of digging out award-winning or critically acclaimed campaigns from our own portfolio and also those of friends like Aggie (Agnello Dias) and Prashant Godbole. We share one ad and ask people to reconstruct fundamental elements of the ad. They have to come up with their own version and after four days, I play the full ad. That is the MOM challenge. 

I spent a few days of the lockdown in conducting interviews and have finally shortlisted candidates to hire from art colleges for the agency. Now, I train those freshers for two hours each morning. I start my day bird-watching - our family is lucky to have an inclination towards nature and we have been able to nurture that in the last few weeks. I have a personal interest in watching documentaries and have a fairly big collection of these. I also help in household chores.

Has the lockdown given you the opportunity to do more meaningful work… would you put it that way?

You can introspect on what you're good at. I found time to look at a lot of our old campaigns and share them with people. In 2008, I had done a project to create a State anthem for Gujarat with the financial support of Tata Indicom. We had got 25 celebrity Gujarati singers and that was very well received; the Gujarat anthem literally put me on a pedestal. This year, I recreated that anthem on Gujarat Day, which was May 1, adding the current coronavirus context. I added a stanza and got in touch with 13 prominent Gujarati artistes who improvised that stanza with a new rendition in their own way and I shared it with some people including TV9 Gujarati and they aired it. It was more about boosting Gujarati people's morale during this pandemic as it is one of the highly affected States. Initiatives like these, which are actually very personal, were what I wanted to revive. 

What is the difference that you experience as a person, working from home and being at home all the time…

You have to be more disciplined when you go to office every day. Your time is very clearly bifurcated. Mostly the family or personal work doesn't intrude in your work routine though work often extends into personal time, and everybody respects that including my family and loved ones who have supported me for 25 years. This is an opportunity - like a vacation in life. At home, you have a routine and you have to keep in mind the time for doing household chores, talk and spend family time. That way, now you have to be more disciplined than you were earlier, which is a good thing. It has put us on track – most people in advertising actually suffered from bad routines and long hours. This lockdown has put us back to a systematic schedule of life. That is going to show, because we will be healthier and enriched because of the time we get to consume and browse through work. We get more time to think. It's a productive time which increases our ‘we time’ and ‘me time’.

One would be really tempted to stretch this routine in some manner. As for me, I spend time with myself, then with my family, and am going into my various collections and books for which I didn't have time earlier. This is the time to refill our creative archives, which have been consumed all these years. 

With consumers geared to spend less, do you think advertising will have to work doubly hard to get results for marketers? What do you expect the new normal to be? 

My observation of creativity is that whenever there is a challenge, we have been fortunate to be like scientists and have constantly come up with solutions. We have so many problems thrown at us by the brand marketers - I think those problems stimulate creativity and give us more food for thought. The other way of looking at the problems arising because of this lockdown - be it economical or brands speaking a new language - all these new things will throw up new challenges that will need new solutions. It will stimulate creative agencies to come up with newer solutions. Over time, the best of writing has happened during wartime or in our history, during Partition time. When I went to Prague, I saw the work of a number of writers and other creative people who had made stuff at the concentration camps, which is brilliant. Drawing from these historical evidences, the solutions we'll get will be much sharper. Good and passive times are not very good for people like us; we have to be stimulated by something. 

You have spoken of the guerrilla way of finding solutions for brands that was required in the industry… are you set to go back to it?

Definitely the guerrilla way, because during lockdown, the one challenge is that brands cannot do a live shoot. In this case, I would be inventing a guerilla or innovative solution. Restrictions also let you express in a newer way, when people are very sceptical and are not spending enough money. Long back, we had thought of an idea for Domino’s - that they should deliver pizzas on trains, whenever they stop at stations. People could call in advance. Such thoughts only happen when you have challenges and restrictions. In a normal scenario, we would have thought of a TVC for Domino’s, but in a challenged scenario, we thought more about how to increase the brand’s business in reality and directly impact their sales. As a creative person, I am not only using my capability to think but I get into the business to come up with innovative solutions. Necessity is the mother of invention.

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