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Often there are discussions that creative directors can be good copywriters but not good scriptwriters. So even if they are the torchbearers of a communication and proposition, brands prefer working with content specialists such as creators, publishers and content wings of media and digital agencies when it comes to marketing through content.

In such unprecedented times, when spending on ads is being seen as insensitive, and proper shoots are not possible, more and more brands are banking on content to reach out to their audience. Sensing the need of the hour, a lot of creative agencies are seen pushing the content marketing and branded content envelope due to the circumstances.

Rohit Ohri

According to Rohit Ohri, Group Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, FCB India, creative agencies are opting for content more by default than design because one cannot do anything else. “At FCB India, we have been creating content for four years now. We have created world-class work for Times of India, Millennium Schools and Mumbai Police. Other agencies might not be doing it, but we are creating content for long now. In these times, everyone is forced to create content. It is not by design that the agencies are using content marketing to send across the brand messages,” he said.

Along with the limitation of resources, mediums are also scarce due to strict lockdown. Outdoor, experiential and a part of print are out from the usual touchpoints. This is pushing brands to try hands on content as they are left with only TV, radio and digital.

Jaibeer Ahmed

“Given the unavailability of a lot of media platforms such as print and OOH, digital and social content enabled them to stay connected with the consumer. Content has the flexibility to be contextual and relevant to the moment. It gives brands an opportunity to participate in the consumer’s conversations as well,” said Jaibeer Ahmed, Senior Vice-President, Cheil India.

Namrata Nandan

Namrata Nandan, Executive Director, TBWA India, gives credit to clients who have been more forthcoming and willing to adapt to the quality within these limitations.

A few creative agencies believe that they are creating more content-led campaigns these days because the consumers have extra time at hand to spare to consume content online.

Mithila Saraf

“Sometimes we joke that 'content' is just a euphemism for a cheap ad. But going back to the more traditional definition of content, you expect longer durations, more user-generated creation and a subject wider than the immediate brand or product at hand. All of that is more relevant in these times as people are spending more time online and are constantly consuming content. That's why we probably see an increase,” explained Mithila Saraf, Business Head, Bangalore, Famous Innovations.

She said Famous Innovations was, in fact, producing more content before the coronavirus crisis. “We collectively produced a lot more content in pre-Covid times than we do today. Very little work is getting released by brands today than it was previously. The only difference may be that we, as an industry, are noticing and sharing that work more because we are spending more time online ourselves.”

Titus Upputuru

Altogether, “This virus has been a blessing in disguise. One is learning new ways of marketing and engaging with the audiences and users. It’s exciting,” said Titus Upputuru, National Creative Director, Dentsu One and Creative Head, Taproot Dentsu.

Short-lived affair?

A content marketing expert, however, suggested that this whole change where creative agencies are producing a lot of content is just short term. The moment things start getting back to normal, and production begins, they will move their focus back on creating ads.

Ohri contradicted it and said that it’s not just because of the crisis that content has suddenly become important for agencies. “Brands creating content to engage with the consumers have already been on the rise. I have doubts if anyone will go back to just creating ads. Content marketing is an increasing trend in any case. I’m sure for a lot of people, this experience of creating rich and valuable, cost-effective and relevant content will be enriching.”

Ahmed agrees with the importance of content marketing in the long run, but he also believes that advertising and content marketing have two different roles to play in the marketing playbook. He said, “The brand film is a critical piece of communication that establishes the brand’s positioning in the minds of the consumer. On the other hand, the content’s role is to bring forth the other aspects of the brand persona while strengthening the core proposition.”

Creative agencies putting their best foot forward even in content

Agencies are not just producing more content, they are even producing far better work than deemed content marketing experts when it comes to creativity.

Dentsu One and Honda 4-wheelers generated a UGC campaign where Honda car users sent videos of them doing household chores and how much they miss driving their Honda vehicles. For Greenpanel, Cheil India created #21daysOfFitAtHome campaign where the brand recommended everyone exercises using their house furniture to keep moving. Another significant initiative by TBWA for JSW Paints was content around the theme of #PlanetHome. FCB India also created a colourful campaign ‘Aaj Careful to Kal colourful’ for Kansai Nerolac.

A major reason for them producing unmatched good-quality content is that they have the best understanding of the brand more than any other partner agencies. They understand the brand inside out as they have been together with the brand on its journey all the time.

Upputuru said, “No one owns creativity. But creative agencies have an advantage because they know their audiences well and know how to engage them in powerful ways.”

“The convergence of category, brand and consumer understanding gives agencies an advantage,” said Ahmed of Cheil India.

Nandan believes that prevailing budgets govern the production of any content output and as long as the idea for the brand is strong, creative and quality follows.

For some time, the lockdown and social distancing will remain the new normal, but once everything starts becoming the way it was pre-Covid, would creative agencies' love for content marketing fade away?

Nandan concluded, “This period that we are going through may be short term, but its impact will be seen in the long run. Agencies are unlearning and relearning, and so are clients with them. There is no getting ‘back to normal’ as the normal itself has changed. The only agencies that will survive are the ones who adapt to the new normal.”