The hitchhiker's guide to moving from mainline to digital advertising

Guest Column: Aalap Desai, National Creative Director, Isobar India, shares a compilation of FAQs on making the shift to digital & highlights one needs to unlearn a lot of ATL to learn digital

e4m by Aalap Desai
Published: Feb 16, 2022 8:36 AM  | 7 min read
Aalap Desai

When Douglas Adams wrote the book ‘The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy’ in 1979, I am sure he did not know that it will help shape my advertising career almost 36 years later. I vividly remember the time when I had just finished reading the book and was so starry-eyed by the leap of imagination in those pages. For weeks, I was constantly looking to answer one of the most important questions asked in the book- "What is my purpose in the universe?".  

During that period, I had completed a decade in mainline and was asking myself existential questions (like everyone else). Almost at the same time, I spotted an integrated deck at one of my previous agencies and realized that the digital presentation could be better. That was when the gap in the market dawned on me and I finally found the answer to the question Mr. Adams had asked me. My purpose (for now) in the universe would be to make digital decks and ideas better. 

I shifted to digital advertising and five years later, it is still one of the most wonderful decisions I have made in my life. It has not been easy, but I have seen a lot of change happening very rapidly. Conversations have changed from “Tu wahan banner banata hain?” to “Tu wahan campaign kaise banata hain?”. In the last five years that I have worked in digital, I have spoken to all my mainline friends and the question that frequently pops up is, ‘How to make the shift?’. I have made it a point to share my experience with my colleagues because I have seen way too many of them taking the plunge and eventually getting frustrated as it did not match their expectations. 

The following questions are a compilation of the FAQs that I encountered and have managed to answer to the best of my ability before liquid forces in the party take over. 

Q: Is learning digital difficult?

I will be honest, to learn digital, you must unlearn a lot of ATL. The learning curve has been one of the biggest challenges that I have faced. But the funniest part is that it is also the most liberating part of the journey. It takes a lot to let go of what you have been doing for years and start doing things like a complete fresher. Trust me, it will change the kind of creative you are. It has not been easy but I have learnt to understand both sides of the spectrum in five years. Finally, I have learnt to think of ideas without deciding the medium first. We now think of ideas and then determine what medium will be the strongest - ATL or digital. I have learnt how to integrate both worlds truly. Not lip service integration but an actual one. Every single day, I have learnt how to unlearn and learn again.

Q: Digital is full of jargons, was it difficult to understand and use them? 

A: This is true, there are a lot of jargons. Since it is a constantly evolving medium, there is always a new aspect on the horizon. But everything is logic-driven and eventually, you get used to it. We did learn jargons like "Typography", "Insights" and "Artwork" after we joined mainline, didn't we? If you are willing to learn, you will learn them and start using them in presentations. I faked it till I made it and I am still getting there. I believe you must be constantly curious about the world of jargons and at the same time also be suspicious about them.  

Q: How young is your team? 

A: Very young and that is one of the key things that I enjoy in digital. In most meetings, the team's average age is around 25 years and I think that is amazing. These guys are evolving so fast that I had to learn to grow at their pace and hopefully, sometimes, stay ahead. As a creative person, the people I worked with have helped me evolve and of course, there have been challenges too. Since the team here is young, the talented ones are still adding mature virtues to their personalities and sometimes that becomes a challenge. I have seen some of them come droopy eyed to work because they were on Clubhouse till 6 AM, or they will respond with a word that you are still not familiar with. You can't help but smile at this behaviour because most of them will also know how to translate these things into their work. Giving them some freedom, allows them to work better and you will soon observe how they transform into brilliant creative professionals. 

Q: Do you make social media posts all day? 

A: This is not entirely true, but it does take a lot of our time. In most digital retainers, social posts and digital assets are specified in the scope of work. It is a delivery list that is counted at the end of the month before the retainer is paid. It affects the money and since the number is high, every post is discussed & escalated like every print ad is. I started enjoying them after I realized that in mainline, I used to build a brand through campaigns that were launched at regular intervals but in digital, we build the brand every single day. I found joy in that. And no, we don't just make posts all day, we create loads of campaigns that run amok everywhere and win awards too.  

Q: Does digital have the budget? 

A: Most often not. While digital has grown exponentially over the last few years, client budgets still don't match their expectations. Most clients still demand the quality of a mainline campaign while paying with a digital amount, especially in films. This hurdle has led me to learn one of the most enjoyable things in digital, i.e. I shifted my focus to "Quality of conversation" from "Quality of video". This means that the conversation of the asset is more important than the money needed to make it. I have realized that if you have a deep thought that connects, the audience doesn't go too deep into things like production quality, etc. It is amazing how your brain works when you don't have the budget but love the idea. You think more and then execute. You celebrate the idea, not the execution and the quality truly blossoms when you do have the budget. This is when content and production come together, to make beautiful campaigns come alive. Something that has been on the rise recently.  

Q: Does Digital advertising have a work-life balance? 

A: In the field of advertising, whether it is mainline or digital, you can’t stop working even when you have stopped working. Also, the frequency is astounding especially if you have just ventured into digital from mainline. It took me time to get used to it and adjust. In mainline, we had time at hand to create layouts, however, that does not apply here because deliverables need to go out in an hour. We don't have the time to apply the finesse that we used to on the content going out. The conversation here is more important. We spend time figuring that out more than anything.   

I am sure there are more questions than those listed above when you are considering crossing over. So, I hope that before you do, we bump into each other at an upcoming event, and we can then have a discussion right before the drinks take over.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of

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