Has digital creativity taken a hit or evolved during the lockdown?

As marketers across categories go online to get their message across, caught up with industry stalwarts to understand if and how creativity has evolved on digital medium

Shradha Mishra
New Update
Has digital creativity taken a hit or evolved during the lockdown?

Marketers are shifting their ad spends to digital from other mediums as they feel consumers are mostly online during the Covid pandemic. The shift has challenged the creativity part of digital communication as the expectation has increased to generate serious ROI and drive engagement and interactivity. caught up with industry stalwarts to understand whether and how creativity has evolved on online campaigns as digital becomes a major medium of communication for marketers across categories. The experts said campaigns that reassured consumers, created problem-solving innovations and used technology in creative ideas were some kind of evolution. However, not many such campaigns were created in India as digital is seen as a cheaper medium and so marketers have invested less on creativity.

Amit Akali

“Spends on digital have indeed increased but I don't see creativity evolving on digital formats. A lot of it is basic in performance marketing and marketers are still using digital as a medium to get the messaging out,” said Amit Akali, Managing Partner, What’s Your Problem.

“They are making films and videos but instead of those running on TV, it's going on to digital,” Akali said.

Aalap Desai

As traditional mediums are out of the equation, the only possible way brands can connect with consumers while maintaining a safe distance is by going digital. So spends and activities on digital are through the roof. “The money planned for an outdoor campaign in June was used on a digital campaign. It serves as an active medium to operate in as well as saves money. This change has expedited our learning of digital and the expressions of ideas on it. Any other day, this is a shift we were hoping for in the future,” said Aalap Desai, NCD, Mcgarrybowen India.

Creativity in advertising has never faced this kind of event and so there is no playbook for it, Desai said. “We are dealing with things as they hit us. Have we evolved? Of course, we have. We have adapted to the new normal and have started thinking with the restrictions in place. Creativity finds a way and so are we, as an industry,” Desai said.

Sukesh Nayak

Sukesh Nayak, CCO at Ogilvy India, said creativity has evolved on digital and given chances to people to up-skill themselves depending on how interesting the work is.

Nayak explained that there are two kinds of work for clients on digital.

• Digital maintenance work for a lot of brands.

• Social advertising outset that is helping brands to reassure the consumer.

“Whether it was a paint company or restaurant coming back home with solicits of lockdown, all these helped. A lot of customisation, informative, one-on-one work happened for brands across categories,” said Nayak.

Another change was that creativity became more problem-solving than being artistic in such challenging times. Campaigns earlier were more about pushing the boundary of creativity but the lockdown has pushed creativity to look for effectiveness that can solve problems.

Sanket Audhi

“Agencies have become much better in terms of creating creative solutions. And that's only because we have had this period of boredom that got all of us. We have seen creativity bursting in multiple situations like car buying, home schooling, etc,” said Sanket Audhi, CD at Dentsu Webchutney.

Audhi said brands are determined to find new opportunities and overcome challenges in business. They are exploring a canvas for creativity that the entire ecosystem at an agency can explore.

“Ogilvy is an idea agency and I find this medium a lot interesting. There is a lot to be done on the medium,” Nayak said. “In America or Brazil, digital work is tied with engagement and technology and it gets me excited. I am waiting to come up with such work.”

A few campaigns Nayak said were effective on digital in the lockdown.

• Asian Paints campaigns

#FightingCoronavirus: Asian Paints brings back ‘Har Ghar Chup Chap Se Kehta Hai’ film, gives a reason to smile

Asian Paints revives love for homes with second film under ‘Har Ghar Chup Chaap Se Kehta Hai’

Asian Paints launches first TVC of its hand and surface sanitiser Viroprotek

• Phillips Father's Day post.

Five Star ‘Do nothing outside’ challenge


Public service campaign

Any piece of work that can fetch eyeballs and generate conversation without someone pushing it is great to work. It should be interesting, thought-provoking, along with being contextual.

According to Akali, a lot of agencies had to add digital offerings in the last four-five months because there was no other relevant medium. “Many agencies that have been forced to get on to digital are using it as a medium of release,” he said.

During the lockdown, WYP created a campaign ‘Lenovo smarter tech’, where it built a tech platform for kids who don't have a privilege to attend online classes. It was programmed in a way that anyone can enter and join the platform to teach those children.

Akali said it connects students with the teacher and allows anyone to be a teacher. He shared a few campaigns of his choice.

• Lenovo campaign.

• Johnnie Walker, paper bottle campaign. It wasn’t a digital idea initially but created a lot of conversation and engagement on digital.


• Apple work-from-home campaign.  “What’s lovely about the film is the honesty they brought alive about the situation around us,” Akali said.

• Red Label #DooriyonMeinApnapan campaign.

Rahul Mandal

“Brands that have created a genuine impact on the audience during the pandemic, in my opinion, are the ones that have identified the right human insights, the right influencers, the relevant platforms, and the right message and fine-tuned their products/services to help the audience and society,” Rahul Mandal, Group Account Manager, Strategic Planning at Chimp&z Inc, said.

Mandal shared his lockdown favourites.

Budweiser #WhassupBudChallenge:

Insight: People are in quarantine, away from their friends, bored.

Idea: Recreate the brand iconic international ad with Indian influencers and get them to indulge in the challenge.

Godrej Expert Rich Creme’s #ColorLikeKaran:

Insight: Many people aren’t able to visit the salon and haven’t tried colouring their hair before.

Idea: Got one of India’s top influencers (Karan Johar) to create a narrative around his problem and demonstrate the product’s DIY application at home.

Kotak 811 - Ranveer Singh’s Zero-Contact Video KYC:

Insight: The use of video-calling apps became the new normal for all work.

Idea: The brand moved its KYC process online and got Ranveer Singh to demonstrate the process on video. 

Nayak said that a lot of work on digital is cultured towards days and occasions but it doesn't do too much in terms of brand sales, though it might help a brand to be legit.

He feels if a brand has a reason to say something on some day (like Father's Day) then only they should. Just a random message makes no sense at all. “If you are witty, emotive and have a point of view.”

“Brands shouldn’t think digital as a cheap medium, rather cherish and have courage and guts to back it. I feel so proud to have connected with clients like Cadbury and ITC that allow us to think out of the box and stand with the thought idea,” Nayak said.

“The quality of work is average if that's the case. I am very certain the marketers are looking at it as a support, conversion medium and I think all that is justification. If more and more agencies find brave partners then they will have more work that is outstanding,” Nayak said.

Nayak said he admires the digital ideas and innovative work done by Dentsu Webchutney.

Desai of Mcgarrybowen shared the evolution in campaigns he saw on digital during the lockdown.

1. Heineken | #BackTheBars

Heineken Brazil started a digital campaign through a very easily participative idea to help people save their favourite local bars so that we still have them around when things get back to normal.

2. #PrideFromHomeByBigFM

Every year, millions of courageous people come out on the streets and express who they are. They walk holding hands, kiss whom they love, and hope that the world will see them differently.

But 2020 changed it all. The Covid-19 induced global pandemic enforced a strict national directive that everyone follows, physical distancing, which has led people to stop expressing themselves at public gatherings, including the Pride March. Therefore, Big FM gave people a way to show their support from a simple everyday chore.

Getty Images Goodbye to the Handshake

Getty Images are an image bank, and the least used pictures from their repository are handshakes. So they decided to create a digital film out of it. It made people smile and at the same time, reminded the consumers that Getty has a vast library of images available. People could explore their collections through the films they posted on social media.

 Heineken #Connections

Heineken created a digital film about the ways video calls have changed our lives. The insightfulness of the way we have accepted this digital intrusion is beautifully portrayed in this film. It's been a hit on YouTube and was trending on the day of the launch.

Did creativity evolve in performance marketing?

Brands have been persuasive in many ways but no compelling piece in terms of performance marketing has come out.

Audhi said that he hasn’t seen a remarkable creative in terms of performance marketing. The industry has stagnated in terms of approaching performance marketing and newer different touch-points will help media marketers.

“People have spent so much time on a digital medium that they have gotten used to digital ads so there is something new that has to come. Brands need to put themselves in the customers’ shoes and think about what they are doing rather than having a bloated up idea about it themselves.”

“Because there is less understanding of how people are surviving through the lockdown, marketers are being confused about what aspect of society to communicate,” Audhi said.

A differentiated approach on digital would help brands stand out on digital right now rather than going on more relaxed platforms.

Rikki Agarwal

Ads on performance marketing are very functional and to create a beautiful creation in less than 10 seconds is very challenging, said Rikki Agarwal, Co-founder of Blink Digital.

Agarwal said creativity needs investment and investments need money. Right now nobody wants to take a chance and so businesses are at stake.

In a programmatic marketing journey, there is a lot of data which is being collected at the backend. Future in programmatic creative is all about how the marketer and creative specialist is going to use this data and create a dynamic ad format by combining all the variables.

Bharat Khatri

“If someone is looking to buy a car right now during Covid, then how can a brand understand the prospective consumer's search behaviour, current location, type of phone he is using and target him with a hyper-local banner where the consumer can tap on the banner and connect to the nearby dealer to book a car and a test drive rather than going through a complex journey of filling a lead form, sharing e-mail id, all other details and then getting a call,” explains Bharat Khatri, Country Head, Xaxis India.

“That's the future we are heading to, how creativity would also be connected to data and how data-driven creatives will be the next stage to drive performance in the digital stage,” Khatri said.

“Because of sales being important, focus is on performance media but I don't think in India we will be able to make it as creative as it has been done internationally,” says Akali.

“It’s going to happen but it will take some time. It will evolve and can only get better from here,” adds Akali.

Experts said that marketers have also adapted marketing through online gaming and UGC as consumers were bored and looking at ways to spend their time. If they see something mildly interesting, they engage with the campaign. As a result, there is a personal connection and involvement with the brand.

Akali said that brands and agencies need to know that we are in an interesting space where we might not need every platform to communicate.

Also, the tonality of communication should be according to the platform's voice and behaviour of a consumer on that platform. “We have to understand the platform and be platform-centric.”

Keep abreast with platforms, suggests Akali. Digital allows interactivity and it's all about getting consumers involved and people have to look at ideas which get a consumer to be involved and engage with us. If it’s one-sided then it’s no better than a television commercial, he said.

Pooja Jauhari

Durex: Love their spin on how things should not go back to normal is one campaign that Pooja Jauhari, CEO at The Glitch, found effective for consumers and beneficial for the brand.


Khatri shared Netflix’s fake spoiler campaign.

Agarwal mentions about Nike and Intel’s campaigns.

• Nike campaign: When every brand was trying to find different ways to connect with the consumer, Nike turned to a post. Leave it to them to hit the ball out of the park, on something so simple as an Instagram post.

• Intel game with us.

 Audhi shared two of his favourites in lockdown.

Courage is beautiful by Dove. Recognised frontline workers:

‘Reverse the khata’ by Axis Bank:

digital creativity