Aishwarya Ramesh

Missing: Masks in ads in post-lockdown world

In recent times, ad films are increasingly portraying actors in a situation where they aren’t wearing masks, even though the Coronavirus pandemic is far from over.

At the beginning of the COVID-induced lockdown, all ad and feature film shoots came to an abrupt halt. The pandemic was spreading rapidly and shoots, typically a process which involves people being face-to-face in close quarters, had to be put on hold.

As India ’unlocks’, shoots have also resumed, but the ads being shot have changed, in tone and visuals. At the beginning of the lockdown, a lot of the content was shot ‘at-home’, featuring family members as stand-ins for the professional actors, and the technical aspects being handled remotely. Most importantly, all of them were wearing masks.

Many protagonists in the ads showed us good hand-washing habits, respectfully urged viewers to maintain social distancing and use sanitisers frequently. However, the ads lately attempt to distract from the reality of the situation we live in, taking on humorous tones and, most notably, the masks are absent from most of these ads.

Here are some of those recently released ads in question.

Though shoots have resumed, protocols are in place to ensure that those creating the ads don't fall sick. Santosh Padhi, co-founder and chief creative officer, Taproot Dentsu, explains that strict protocols have been released by the film association, and whatever ad film one makes, fall under it. "There are things like everybody’s insurance has to be done, everybody’s COVID test has to be done before you get into a shoot, and there are many other things one needs to follow," he says.

Santosh Padhi
Santosh Padhi

Padhi explains that there’s a protocol that anybody who attends the shoot, be it agency, client, producer, director, actor, etc., has to be tested for COVID and have insurance.

"The BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) has reached out to the film industry and placed protocols, which are being followed. Otherwise, it is easy for the BMC, or the union to target brands and the industry on why they didn’t follow the protocol. It’s more of a technical issue than a creative or an emotional one. If something had happened, people would have objected, and brands would have pulled them (the ads) down. The reason it’s not happening is that people are following protocols," says Padhi.

However, he agrees that from a creative point of view, it’s definitely a big compromise to have people wearing masks, or social distancing. But once they’ve all tested negative, the focus is more on the creative aspect if the acting is good.

“Part of your advertising is to sell an aspiration. If you have your actors wearing masks in the ad, it can be challenging to show emotions, such as a smile,” explains Sumanto Chattopadhyay, chairman, 82.5 Communications.

Sumanto Chattopadhyay
Sumanto Chattopadhyay

He says that it is in this context that 82.5 Communications' ad films have attempted to showcase family situations, or lone stories, contexts where a mask is not required.

"We don't show people hugging, or a crowd of people. However, people are fed up of having to wear masks, and seeing it in ads is not a pleasant thing for them either," explains Chattopadhyay.

He adds that another reason for skipping masks in ads is because the filmmakers and brand owners want to ensure that they (the ads) stay relevant, even after this time has passed. "If we were to portray an ad with people wearing masks and if there is no requirement for masks, say, six months down the line, then we would not be able to air the ad anymore."

Ritu Sharda, CCO, Ogilvy India (North), opines that everyone wants to show a world that is better. Most people want advertising to look happy and clients want their brands to be seen positively.

"By now, we all know what the world around us is like. We all know how to stay safe. So, I don't think it's about portraying that the pandemic has ended. You just don't want to constantly remind people that this is how the world will be. It's a little comfortable place where the world still is okay. It's a glimmer of hope. It's a bunch of seconds that make you smile without fear."

Ritu Sharda
Ritu Sharda

She acknowledges that many brands are showing people in masks too, and that's a choice the brand owners have made. "They're saying that even if the world does stay like this for a bit, and even if this is the 'new normal', we won't stop doing whatever we want to do, what we love. Whichever way you take, I think everyone is aching for a world that doesn't live in fear. Fingers and toes crossed, it happens soon," she signs off.

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