In the business of advertising, creativity or the ability to find lateral solutions and answers form the raison d’être of our existence.

Come to think of it, the core of advertising has always responded to client demands. Some genuine, some ridiculous.

‘We want you to do this within a budget no bigger than a peanut.’ ‘We know it’s late Sunday night, but we want this out in the Monday paper.’ ‘We want the logo bigger than the TV.’

All of which brings alive my pet definition about our soul. ‘Creativity is the art of being brilliant within parameters.' The best thinking arrives when you define a box. Give us a wide-open brief, and we will flounder like a galleon without a compass.

While the pandemic locked us up, it was almost like life arrested the very cogs of human enterprise.

The clatter of machines stopped. Digital highways lost traffic. High streets went bust. The automobile industry shut engines. And the world’s most creative industry got kayoed.

When 2020 hit us, it was like a wrecking ball on weed. It flattened every aspect of advertising. Leaving us gasping for breath, sustenance, money, everything. There just wasn’t a manual printed for the madness.

Slowly, but surely, the dazed Indian advertising lot got up from the mat and rolled up their sleeves. For the bunch that could light a candle in a maelstrom, the lockdown was lateral fodder. If we couldn’t milk this rock, no one else could.

I am sure every agency head, battered as they were by the scale of the ambush, also saw this as the moment to bring out fresh new thinking.

The bloodbath was inevitable, but perhaps there were ways to stall the massacre.

Most agencies had already transported computers to employee homes. Wi-Fi fixes were given.

Of course, there were gaffes, goofs, and glitches. But everyone was understanding. Even clients were.

WFH became the daily grind. Nine to five was in our most comfortable tracks and shorts, and we slowly clawed back into relevance.

I’d think the lockdown unleashed the full creative potential of the industry. Jugaad — in a good way, became part of our daily rigmarole. It wasn’t just the preserve of wily politicians.

For the millions of white-collar jobs that were slaughtered to save the lard of bottom lines, new jobs arrived on the shoulders of expanding financial, IT, healthcare lines.

Brand new clients and categories arrived, all riding the crest of a country ready to safeguard itself against the killer virus.

In advertising, while many agencies took ghastly decisions to cull designations, many wise employees came forth with voluntary pay cuts.

Ogilvy made the first move by shooting a commercial for Asian Paints. Using mobile clips shot by people at home. Piyush’s (Piyush Pandey, Chief Creative Officer, Ogilvy Worldwide) voice rang true as he and the brand urged people to stay home and safe.

The footage was raw, walls were ordinary, models were real, and the clothes were simple. No one had a problem, the client didn’t have a problem, and even the SPCA didn’t have a problem with the dog.

This film was like the first of the Pilgrim Fathers landing at Plymouth Rock, cutting a path for other agencies to explore execution in the days when animals roamed free.

Back at the agency, we delivered this year’s Onam film for Vivo. We remotely shot the film across multiple locations in Kerala and elsewhere in India, UAE, USA, Canada, and Australia. All to inspire stranded Malayalees to use their mobiles to get together with their families for the Thiruvonam Sadhya.

A lot of our people learned new skills and improved themselves. Some chose the time to gain fitness. Some invested well. Some started businesses.

Across the lockdown, agencies and brands played hide-and-seek with trolls. Titan decided not to live up to its name, while Swiggy and Zomato played hardball with them.

Hidden data became clay for new storytelling, product launches bashed on regardless of virtual limitations, shopping found millions of new customers from the Indian middle class, and thanks to the fear of contagion, even deep-sea fish swam in to flop on the shores of the internet. Permanently spurring the rise of digital India.

We crunched geography and crushed time zones with Zoom and its brethren. We saved tens of thousands from red-eye flights and hotel bills. We opened up the idea that you still could attend a Board Meeting sitting under a mango tree, or even in your shower with your video off and audio on mute.

We also virtually celebrated birthdays and anniversaries. We celebrated welcomes and farewells. We celebrated landmarks and achievements. We created magic. We doused fires. We laughed. We partied. We pitched. We even celebrated the exit of terrible clients.

The year 2020 has been the mother of all storms. With only dystopian authors and the players of Plague Inc. knowing how an entire planet could be sentenced.

But among the throes of masked faces and talking eyes, advertising and its people still kept our audiences engaged and commerce going.

While a vaccine should save all of us, I know the spirit of creativity will thrive despite any virus. May it celebrate our inner freedom, much like Prometheus celebrated love.


(The writer is Managing Partner and Chief Creative Officer of Bang in the Middle. And the creative mind behind campaigns like Incredible India and India Shining)