Shreyas Kulkarni
Points of View

Should advertising awards include a COVID category next year?

We spoke to three advertising executives and two chief marketing officers about it.

While we’re in no way insinuating that there should be any kind of celebration around the global disaster that's engulfed us, we asked brand experts this question. Should creative work born out of the Coronavirus pandemic - and we see a lot of it around us - be categorised separately in advertising awards next year (in 2021)?

Sure, most of the work done this year (in 2020) is, in some way, related to the pandemic, so one may argue that it's pointless to classify it separately. But on the other hand, there are several commendable instances of work done remotely. Ads shot in dire circumstances, against all odds... So, perhaps, there ought to be a 'work from home' or 'shot from home' category.

Edited excerpts: 

Senthil Kumar, chief creative officer, Wunderman Thompson 

Senthil Kumar
Senthil Kumar

We should have overcome the COVID situation by early 2021 with an effective vaccine, and must move on to better days ahead. Work that has stood out this year has been brand work and that is about fighting the situation and celebrating the Heroes of Humanity in spite of the crisis. Surely, it is not work that’s advertising COVID in any way.

I believe the work should compete in the respective brand category, or the medium of release. We don’t need any more categories. Just great work and creative solutions that move the markets back to normalcy and the human race beyond the barriers of contagious reminders and flashbacks. Over and out. 

Jayen Mehta, senior general manager, planning and marketing, Amul

Jayen Mehta
Jayen Mehta

It’s a good idea because if you have a once-in-a-lifetime category like this, people will always remember it, and how during these hard times, client, production houses, agencies and models (actors) put together content to keep the industry moving. 

We made eight to 10 ad films in the last few months. Our ad for ‘Amul Kool’ was taking place at Madh Island (Mumbai) and all of a sudden, the Maharashtra government halted the shoot on March 18. We somehow managed to shoot and run it during ‘Ramayan’ and ‘Mahabharat’. 

In another case, for our ice cream brand, our Mumbai-based agency found a DOP in Guwahati, Assam and models who lived near the city and they took due precautions during the shoot.

For Raksha Bandhan, we had the director in Mumbai and had to scout for models and modify a house because we couldn’t find sets that matched our needs. The artist who sang the song was somewhere in Ajmer and she locked herself in an insulated space to ensure clarity because she couldn’t step outside - all ingenious solutions.

People have put in a lot of hard work for this and we need to celebrate them. It’s not the brands, but the guys who stretched themselves to create this work. They are the creative warriors who overcame barriers. 

Russell Barrett, CEO and CCO, BBH and Publicis Worldwide, India

Russell Barrett
Russell Barrett

First, COVID is not a media event. It’s a global pandemic. We’re talking about loss of lives and livelihoods. I hope to God this isn’t turned into an award circus. 

Second, COVID is a global pandemic. That means whoever you are and wherever you are, you and the market you work in has been affected by it. So, what ad isn’t a COVID ad in one way or the other?

I also doubt very much that you will need to remind the jury that 2020 was the year the world got hit by COVID. So no, I definitely don’t think there should be any special category. 

We should recognise creativity that lifted spirits, tried to make a difference and made brands more relevant to their audiences in what will probably go down in history as the weirdest year in living memory.

Srinivas Adapa, chief marketing officer, Burger King India 

Srinivas Adapa
Srinivas Adapa

I would not look it as a COVID category per se. Somehow, I think the impact of COVID has been felt all through the year, so it is not about one different advertising category…

This has been a time when brands did purpose-led communication, went beyond ‘woke’ kind of advertising and stayed true to their cause…. Brands that were real and didn’t try to hard sell - we should celebrate them in categories that exist… I’d look at it that way than one section or category in advertising. 

Nakul Chopra (Goafest 2020 chairman, former president, AAAI, and former CEO, Publicis India)

Nakul Chopra
Nakul Chopra

If you look at any award functions around the world, the thought process is that there are different categories of products that do different kinds of advertising. And hence, the award categories are defined by either the medium, or within it, the product category. 

How a health care product has responded to the COVID situation can’t seriously be compared with other product categories. Going by conventional wisdom and the categorisation system that is now universally used by award shows around the world, I would be a little suspect of creating a COVID category, which cross-references products… If it’s a special award on a one-time basis, I guess it could be done. 

There should be a big enough body of work to create a category… It’s counter-intuitive to the fundamental logic of categories. If you want to do it as a one-time thing, you would do it in response to saying, “Oh, there are a lot of ads that were created, or communication that were COVID specific.”

Yes, there are health care and wash products, but I haven’t seen other product categories give COVID specific messages like consumer durables or automobiles. What would a TV brand say, “Stuck at home, buy a TV.” If there is a large enough body of work, or the awards committee decides to institute a one-time award, but I am not inclined to say yes there should be.