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Indian independent agency Thinkstr’s cofounder Satbir Singh shares the pros and cons of work-from-home creativity and what goes into making a major brand campaign during the pandemic.

Fresh from the success of launching a major campaign push for Trucaller, the reality of creating talked-about advertising from home isn't as easy as it seems, says Singh.

“Independent agencies, mostly small in India, do not have the safety-net of core global clients or network support. Ironically, that also means there is no pressure to take evasive action like downsizing your team which otherwise is a heart-breaking event in smaller, closely-knit systems," says Satbir Singh, cofounder of Gurugram-based agency Thinkstr about life as an independent agency founder. A reality which the pandemic brought up close and personal as the entire consumption system got shrunk.

Singh, an avid foodie and a Twitterati, co-founded the agency in 2016 after helming the creative function at network agencies like FCB Ulka, Havas Worldwide and Ogilvy India. Interestingly, Singh counts his agency as perhaps the first agency in the world to start working from home during the pandemic - "we started working from home as early as March 2020".

The last few months have been a tough and often a mixed bag for them, no different from many other similar setups across the country, with marketing budgets being under great pressure.

Work-from-home is not all good news  

Now that it is all work-from-home, the challenges being faced in a creative profession like ours are of a different kind, says Singh. In a typical agency system, there is a lot of human interaction, the spontaneity of thought arising out of brainstorming, and approval or rejection of ideas even before one thinks of execution. “The art director working on a layout even as the copywriter agonises over editing the copy is not something that is easily replicable working from home, hashtag or not”, points out Singh. 

Singh has a mixed viewpoint about the entire WFH hype of the last few months. “The thing about creativity is that it enjoys a challenge and the better part of last year has been a challenge like never before”, he says. Having said that, it would be lovely if that does not become the norm, believes Singh. Presenting ideas to a team of ten, all of whom have their cameras and microphones switched off is a bit of a nightmare in his view.

Creative calls of the pandemic

Creativity thrives when challenged, believes Singh. Right in the middle of the lockdown, he recalls how the team created a digital film for Dabur Red, a leading Indian toothpaste brand. The making of the film was interesting – “it had characters shoot themselves at their homes doing stuff, these sequences were then stitched into a film with VO and music also created by artists at their homes.” Totally crowdsourced in a way, he adds.

Dialling up the creativity

The agency that has worked on brands like Reckitt Benckiser, Glenfiddich, Daikin, Hero Electric, Dabur, NITI Aayog among others in the last few years has been in the news recently with the creative work done for Truecaller, the leading caller ID and spam blocking app. The attention-grabbing creatives done in stark, first-person treatment, have been launched primarily as a print and outdoor campaign. The narrative has been pegged around the harassment calls that women receive and how Truecaller can play a role in curtailing the menace with its caller identification feature. 

The brief given to the agency was simple, shares Singh. “to communicate that, Truecaller as the number one unidentified caller identification tool is in a unique place to help women identify and report anonymous callers indulging in sexual harassment.” 

Truecaller print campaign

Truecaller ad
Truecaller print ad
 
 
Truecaller ad
Truecaller print ad 2
 
 
Trucaller ad
Truecaller print ad 3
 
 
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Finding the true fit

In an era when causes are often latched on to without much thought for the brand-fitment, was there any apprehension on taking this gender-led creative route? Not really, says Singh since, unlike many brands that force-fit a cause purely for advertising brownies, Truecaller at the heart is all about anonymous caller identification. As per statistics, a staggering 8 out of ten women face sexual harassment on their phones and predatory calls aimed at women is almost like another pandemic. Hence the fit, he adds. 

Interestingly, the Stockholm-headquartered company has done creative work with #itsnotok positioning in many markets including India but the current campaign seems to have got the counters buzzing. In India, which is possibly Truecaller’s single largest market, the brand has done a mixed bag of creative work, ranging from taking a celebrity for its debut TV spot in India to going in for the long-form humorous route last year.