Leo Burnett investing a lot on human data: Rajdeepak Das

The Chief Creative Officer and CEO of Leo Burnett, SouthAsia, shares insights about the agency’s post-pandemic productions, their entries for Cannes Lions and much more

e4m by Kanchan Srivastava
Published: Jun 6, 2022 8:18 AM  | 7 min read

Stunning panorama, abundant greenery, ample sunlight and a lot of laughter and chit-chatting lend advertising agency Leo Burnett’s office a feel that is more like a university campus than an ad agency.

“Creativity can hardly be achieved within the confines of a cubicle. The best ideas are born after freewheeling conversations and criticism only,” says Rajdeepak Das, Chief Creative Officer and CEO of Leo Burnett, SouthAsia.

The average age of employees ’Burnettos', as they call themselves, could be less than 30. They don't believe in formalities anyway.

That energy and freedom are reflected in Burnett’s powerful storytelling and creativity. The agency has two shelves full of coveted awards and cups, including several Cannes Lions.

Four such ideas that resulted in superlative ad campaigns in 2021 are competing for Cannes Lions global creativity contest this year. This includes Whisper’s ‘Keep Girls in School’, MPL’s ‘Billion Cheer Jersey’ and Spotify’s Sunta Ja and Jeep-one Mission Earth. 

The barrier-free atmosphere perhaps results in better productivity as well.

“The team has delivered close to 75 campaigns in the last couple months,” says Das, who is one of the youngest creative heads in the country and was recently featured in the popular Netflix docu – series ‘Creative Indians’.

Apollo 11

LB India won multiple Grand Prix’s and medals at Cannes, One Show, D&AD and Spikes Asia and ranked as number 1 agency within the LB Worldwide which has 86 agencies under its fold.

However, the company cites “Apollo 11”, a specialized division of ‘mutant creatives’ solving human and brand problems, as Das’s “biggest” achievement. Some of the top campaigns of LB have come from Apollo 11 only.

Apollo 11 came into existence a few years ago when Das decided to build something “crazy”. A bunch of people with entirely different skill-sets were hired for brainstorming and finding solutions for brands. This includes computer engineers, rocket fuel scientists, environmental researchers, entrepreneurs whose start-ups didn’t work, influencers, musicians and product designers.

“I had a dream to build something mad,” he laughs, then explains, “These people didn’t know ABC of the ad world but they know how to solve problems. They are hard to work, but they can deliver anything. They are built to find solutions for the brands. They could not succeed in their core areas, but they are young people with more life experiences. They are the ones who know what NOT to do.”

Das believes it is very important to know what you don’t want to do. This gives you a lot of clarity on what you want to do and are good at.

Ask him about the pandemic lessons, and Das pauses for a minute to control his emotions and articulate his thoughts. 

“We would have never seen the human side of our people, had the pandemic not been there. This period helped us to see the humane side of our clients. They inquired frequently whether we were fine, needed anything. They offered extension in the deadlines. Clients proposed free vaccination of our staff as well.”

“Some brands are doing well, some brands have gone down. Some, like hotels and airlines, have bounced back. Market has changed drastically over the past two years. Business leaders have had a change of heart. Briefs are no more. Clients ask us to just do a campaign. It's good to see the humane side of corporates,” says Das.

Leo Burnett always believed in the human side; believed in people, populism and purpose. “Since the last couple of months, we are purely that side,” Das underlines his agency’s philosophy, citing his popular campaigns for Whisper, MPL, Spotify and Kapil dev’s world cup match come alive.

“You can find a thread of humanity in all our campaigns. Pandemic has given us clarity about our own work, people, business. I can’t pinpoint every single bit of it, but the way we chase the problem now is very different now. When we go to clients, we know very clearly what will work, what won’t. We knew before as well but Pandemic came as a filter.”

“We don't want to waste client’s money on things which people don’t like. We are telling clients about it upfront. Unicorns love us for the same reason,” Das says.

Start-up winters & IPL

Investors have started pulling out of some of the start-ups associated with the Indian Premier League. Will this impact the IPL next season? Das, who has been handling several IPL campaigns of startups, says - No.

“IPL is a platform that equalizes the brand. You may call it democratization of brands. It is no longer a prime-time thing. Brands are built during the IPL, like CRED in 2021, Phonepe, Pharmeasy, Spotify in 2022. We don't know the formula but with years of IPL experience, we know which format will work in the IPL,” say Das, quipping that LB has played more IPLs than cricketers.

Human Data

LB is investing a lot on human data. The agency has got a team of experts from the e-commerce segment which spends a lot of time digging out relevant data which often forms the basis for ad campaigns.

“Data is a beautiful tool for creativity. Data and AI tells us what to do. For instance, HDFC life’s campaign is a data specific subject which involves a lot of human data and financial story. We studied and turned the cake out of it. If you want to retire at 40 years of age, what should your cake or pie-chart look like? How much you should invest,” Das explains.

“MPL is also a data story. We designed the jersey based on the sound waves of cricket fans. Missing 175 campaign also required a massive amount of data to create the Kapil Dev story from the 1983 world cup. His world cup match innings of 175 not out was not recorded anywhere. We recreated the match by using data. Many more interesting pieces are in the pipeline,” Das said. 

No branded content

Many top ad agencies are venturing into branded content production to open up a revenue stream and also to stop brain drain to the film industry. Does LB have any such plans?

“No,” clarifies Das, adding, “We lag far behind to catch the trend. We don't want to catch up. Running for content is a catch-up game which started 13-14 years back.”

LB is collaborating with other companies in order to get the branded content for clients.

“LB has always been a breeding ground for creativity. We lost many leaders such as Nitin Tiwari, Ashwin Tewari to the entertainment industry. We can't stop people from doing so. We have to reverse the brain drain. We want to provide the best content but without producing it. We have a collaboration model,” Das says.

He justifies his stand by citing the example of RedBull not making its own car engines for Formula 1 races. “RedBull is the only company in formula 1 that doesn't make its own engine.”

“We can do branded content, we have that talent and we lose people also. But we wish to surrender ourselves before someone who knows something better than us,” Das says, adding that LB collaborated with Netflix and Orio.

Metaverse Plans

Ask him about LB’s plans to exploit emerging formats such as Metaverse and NFTs? Das is quick to answer, “We will not make NFT or Metaverse just because everyone is doing so. NFT and Metaverse both will last longer. How you use them is important and changes everything. Context is more important than content.”

“LB will take them up, when it has the purpose to do so,” Das asserted. 


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