Brand news

Titus Upputuru: 'The curve is progressively moving towards digital now!'

08 Jun 2020

The COVID-19 global lockdown has not just confined us to our homes but thrown at us challenges of various dimensions. From the ad industry’s perspective, organising and shooting an advertising campaign in these conditions proved to be the big test. However, despite these challenges our creative leaders have continued to create work that inspires all.

Starting today is our new series – e4m Creative Zone – where we get to know how Creative heads have been surpassing the COVID hurdles.

In today’s edition we speak to Titus Upputuru, one such creative leader who has spent over 25 years in advertising. Uppurturu, the National Creative Director of Dentsu One and Creative Head, Taproot Dentsu, has many international and national awards in his kitty. His campaign for Afghan Telecom recently won the interest of the White House and was even exhibited there. Upputuru speaks of how creative concepting has changed amidst lockdown, his ad campaign for Honda, bringing it to life in these conditions and more. The lockdown world has led to traditional creative agencies upping their expertise in the digital space by getting into aspects like lead generation and social engagement enhancement and this has made the game interesting, he says.

Edited excerpts:

Tell us how the lockdown has changed the process of creative concepting for the ad world? Does creativity sit far closer to home now?

So typically, within an advertising agency or brand communication framework is that we get a brief from a client or we internally discuss with the planning and account management teams. And then we start with a meeting where we gather in a physical room. And everyone comes in, we find chairs for everybody. We call for some rounds of chai and coffee. We start with a few laughs. I really miss Munir, who gives me tea and coffee, back in office. So, after these rounds of pleasantries and laughs, we deep dive into the objective and challenges of the brand or the company. And then once we get the inspiration, sometimes we revisit the brief and sit again. Once the inspiration happens, the creative folks usually tend to fly. The flight of imagination happens.

Typically at my office when I sit with my team members, once we are done with the brief, I tell them to go and disappear somewhere. I tell them ‘don't sit on your seat because usually when there's a deadline or there's an artwork that needs to be signed up, those are important things. But when you are sitting and thinking, and somebody comes and disturbs you every two minutes, it just becomes a hindrance’. So I tell them to go and just disappear into some room, any conference room, or go downstairs to a coffee shop and just come back with some ideas, with yourselves or with your team members. So, I feel like when we are locked down like this in the confines of our home, at least one thing is not happening is somebody is over the shoulder asking you what happened to this and that. You are able to start to shut down yourself and certain things. 

Ideas aren't really designated to occur within the confines of an office. So typically for creative people they could occur anytime, because your mind keeps working. It's not like you're only sitting in front of a paper and a machine, a pen and then that's when the mind works. It could be when you're driving or when you're into a shower or you know when you're about to sleep or maybe when you're in a coffee shop - ideas occur and then you pen it down because sometimes you forget. So you want to take them down on a tissue paper or even on your notes file in the mobile phone. 

So, in this lockdown period video calls have enabled us to congregate together anyway. The planning, account management and creative folks come together and they jam and discuss.

But the creative process itself, the creative process of thinking is more peaceful because you are able to confine yourself, you're able to lock yourself into some corner, some terrace, some garden, some backyard, and you're just thinking about the idea. So it's not such a bad place, actually.

Talking about the ad campaign for Honda that you created during the lockdown - what was Creative Honda's brief to you?

Honda has always been known for its wing mark which is one of its iconic symbols. So back in 2012, when we did this film called ‘Pancchi uda jaye rey’ it was about this aspect of how I take my feet off the ground. And that's what you do typically when you're on a two-wheeler because your feet are not on the ground. So when this lockdown happened, we were thinking about all these motorcyclists. If you see the two-wheeler experiences, it’s like you are out in the open unlike a car which has a shield. There is nothing, you experience the sun, you experience the wind, the raindrops and it’s such an outdoor experience. So all the bikers having to be homebound, we felt like it was so stifling for them. So we thought we should do this film where we can tell them that there is a time for everything and that currently it’s time to rest your wings. 

Tell us the challenges between idea and execution? Also from brief to execution, how many days did it take to pull it off?

So after the idea occurred, I wrote down the narrative. Typically, when we get a brief, when we want to make a video, we call up a production house or a director. And then we have long chats on the vision of the film, on how to go about making this film. Then we have pre-production meetings and extensive conversations with the client.

We evaluate costumes and location. We seek location permissions and all that and then go about shooting. Then we do music company compositions and I really love those sessions, sitting with music directors. And one of the lovely experiences was when I sat with Vishal Bhardwaj. He was composing a track for myself on harmonium. That kind of luxury we don't have now, because the film industry was shut. So I was pondering over how to execute this. I have a little bit of experience in terms of making films, like I directed a few films myself and so I said let me give it a shot. 

So what we did was that we engaged with people who have Honda motorcycles. We thought we could talk to them, engage them so we found them professing love for the brand on Instagram. We spoke to young Instagramers and they were willing to share their beautiful photographs for this film. And I edited the whole sequence myself. And once we had that, I requested an acclaimed voiceover artist to lend his voice for the video. He loved the script and agreed to do so. We recorded it from his own phone. And then the sound engineering was done by Melvin from Bombay. He was also working from home. He was very kind and very patient to keep revising the mix as per the need of the hour. 

The music, of course, I picked it from a library. So it all came together very well and beautifully. I thought the sound design and pictures were very beautiful and soulful. It’s a user generated content piece. I'm really grateful to Instagramers who have given us these lovely photographs. It is also because they love the brand and really wanted to put something forward at this time. In terms of the duration, I put together the video which typically took me about four or five days, not more than that but then there were changes. Thereafter, that took some time.

While team chemistry is an important aspect of the overall creative process, does it go for toss when in the wfh (work-from-home) mode? How can creativity be fostered at a time when people are homebound, there is video fatigue and people are grappling with a continuous stream of dreadful news affecting our lives these days?

I can speak for myself, I do not watch news. Unfortunately, newspapers have been shut down so one doesn't get that morning ritual. Once in two weeks, I would watch television. News anyway comes to you on your social feed or on your WhatsApp. So we are not really worried about it. I have an aunt who recently said that there is so much news out there and it is so depressing. So I told her to switch off because these are not under your control. Be it locust attacks, cyclones or Coronavirus. So what can you do about it?

Of course, it is important to look at what is going on and prevent oneself and also to know all these warriors who are continuously working and about them. But beyond that, you can't do anything so better to shut the news and in fact pray to God, seek his mercy and grace to have mercy on planet Earth and redeem us from these problems. So, what we do focus and what I keep telling my team is that let's focus on the work at hand and let’s get inspired by the creative pieces of work and also let’s focus on family. This is a time when we have the opportunity of having a meal with them, because usually you are outside, working or on the road.

Honestly one of the things is like when my kids were growing up, I used to think, you know, oh my God, I’m really missing what is happening during the day with them as I’m gone practically the whole day. And I don't have that information of how my toddlers are growing up. While they're grown up a little bit now, I’m fortunate and grateful that I can grab lunch with them and maybe after a quick lunch, can play a game of Monopoly or carrom. So I tell my team to focus on these things and focus on the positive aspects.

The crisis has brought in a great deal of upheaval in the way agencies are working now. Where do you see the silver lining or the green shots of opportunity in all this?

Before the lockdown when we were trying to get into the digital world you know there were lifeguards and we were swimming in a pool.  After lockdown we are just thrown into the deep waters, into this gigantic ocean of the World Wide Web. And most brands are just doing work on digital because that's where everyone is glued on to right now. So we are all there and it's an amazing experience because it’s not that we were not doing digital work earlier. But I think that now the curve is moving to digital more than ever rather than cracking a TVC and then something like an outdoor, print then followed by digital. Earlier, we were doing a lot of video content but right now we are doing things like lead generation, enhancement of social engagement, content creation, and getting into so many other things like different models of digital. I think this is a beautiful experience and it's a new freedom that one is enjoying. 

It seems like we have almost reached the peak of pandemic advertising with a fatigue among consumers building up, given the spate of ads on COVID-19 being released every day. What will be your message to brands and agencies on how they should stand out of the clutter rather than being a part of that clutter?
The lockdown took us all by surprise. I think it was important to reach out to consumers via brands to assure them and say that we care. According to me, it was important to me and was not just a knee-jerk reaction. But right now, of course, I think there are new conversations that one can do.

Like for example if I’m at home, then how can I engage with the brand. How can I buy a brand? How can I know new aspects of the brand because I'm not going for a brick and mortar experience of a certain brand? So those are the aspects of how can I engage with the brand, have new conversations with consumers and those new conversations will emerge. Like Nike did two films - both so motivational and emotional. You don’t feel like “tell me something new”. It’s inspiring people so much and they are all sharing it. There are new ways to engage with consumers - with a new insight - and I’m sure that one is looking forward to these new conversations.