IPL ad universe: Covid puts creative talent to test

Elroy Mariano

The Indian Premier League seems to have attained the stature of an anthem that the country chants in unison. And all along with it has been the alluring universe of IPL ads that has made the experience even more worthwhile. Over the years, brands that have managed to hit creative […]

The Indian Premier League seems to have attained the stature of an anthem that the country chants in unison. And all along with it has been the alluring universe of IPL ads that has made the experience even more worthwhile.

Over the years, brands that have managed to hit creative sixers during the gala have reigned over the hearts and minds of consumers. That said, this Covid-hit year has not been the same unlike the past 12 seasons. Several industry maestros and consumers alike have taken to Twitter to point out the big dent in quality of these ads when compared to the previous years.

However, it must be noted that ad agencies have been shooting remotely amidst Covid-led challenges like low budgets and operating under government guidelines of production. Creative talent has been put to test like never before.

With consumers expecting the creativity of the old normal, creative leaders are trying to make it work despite the remote shooting, and production and budget related challenges. This means a lot more effort has been going in the pre-production phase with connectivity issues often leading to a lot being lost in transmission. 

The old normal 

Creatives contend that while it has become harder than ever before to come up with creative solutions to make an IPL-benchmark ad, they are doing the best they can. 

Rahul Mathew, Chief Creative Officer, DDB Mudra Group, points out that things are already a lot better than they were a few months back but albeit many changes. Elaborating on the Covid-led executional and production-related challenges and transitions this year, Mathew said, “We’re back to shooting on sets and locations. The phone cameras are back to clicking images of sunsets and selfies. But, of course, with many changes. There are far fewer people on the sets. Even agencies are mostly absent. The monitors are now at individual homes. Music is mostly shared on a Zoom call and not in a studio. The same goes for edits and all the other moments of physical interaction that made the life stage of a film. And like all changes, it comes with its challenges. The internet connection being the biggest one: Much is lost in transmission.”

Sharing more on the roadblocks, Mathew says shoots have become slower with teams being able to pack much less into a day. What the CCO misses the most is the spontaneity that came from physical interactions and discussions. “The joy of presenting your labour of love is a lot muted when you’re just sending across a link,” he remarked. Mathew shared that the agency which is doing a fair amount of work on IPL has to now invest a lot more effort and discussion into the pre-production phase, so that there are fewer surprises.

Brands like Vodafone, Swiggy and Nestle have put out some great work during IPL over the years. Some industry observers have taken to Twitter and pointed out the dip in quality of ads and the dearth of good ads this year. 



Pallavi Chakravarti, Executive Creative Director, Taproot Dentsu, admitted that creative talent is indeed being tested. However, she was quick to add: “I daresay we’re doing alright even with the limitations at play today. See, conceptualising an idea is the easy bit – we can do that at home, in office or in a cab. It’s breathing life into that which is the difficult part. But having said that, after a perceptible lull it was heartening to see not just agencies but even clients and production houses swinging into action to make things happen.”

One such example was the IPL ad conceptualised by Taproot Dentsu for Facebook. 

Chakravarti points out that the work was produced at an astonishing speed, despite the team shooting remotely across Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan. “The campaign has the kind of scale and depth of storytelling that is difficult to achieve today, and that makes it all the more special,” she contended.

The agency from the house of Dentsu Aegis Network is also working on IPL campaigns for Aquaguard, Discovery Plus and a couple of other brands. 

Shining on

Publicis-owned Leo Burnett too is creating IPL ads for a number of brands like PharmEasy, PhonePe and Acko, with some already on air and many more still under production.

Rajdeepak Das, Chief Creative Officer – South Asia & Managing Director – India, Leo Burnett, says the situation has created an unexpected opportunity for creatives to explore and tap into new proficiencies. “A lot of our creative heads are not only writing but also directing their own scripts. Creativity actually shines to constraints. In the past few weeks we have witnessed that in full force. The elements that make a great campaign will universally remain the same and we have found new ways to unlock these. What once seemed impossible is being managed seamlessly; we have gradually moved from shooting remotely with Zoom to shooting on sets with PPE suits,” he remarked.

Despite the roadblocks, a couple of brands like Khatabook, Dream11 and Goibibo have been lauded for creating some creative gems.

Mithila Saraf of Famous Innovations feels creative talent has risen beautifully to the occasion. “If you see the work getting released all around us, it’s insightful, uplifting and generally a good relief. Yes, it’s not easy. But everyone is genuinely going out of their way to make things happen – including clients and production houses.”

The agency is conceptualising some IPL ads for players like Mia by Tanishq, Sporto Flexiwear, Platinum Jewellery. The biggest challenge, Saraf states, has been how to stay relevant to the current context, without becoming too sappy, preachy or replaceable. “We are constantly hunting for fresh insights and positive takes. And that has been an invigorating uphill battle.”

Industry observers are hopeful to see some brands shine in the days ahead and bring back moments of ‘feel-good’ advertising.

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