Millennials are not wedded to big brands, they flirt with many things: CCO, L&K S&S

Delna Sethna talks to exchange4media on gender equality, shrinking budgets, digital era and more

e4m by Venkata Susmita Biswas
Updated: Apr 4, 2018 8:53 AM

Delna Sethna, newly minted Chief Creative Officer (CCO) at Law&Kenneth Saatchi&Saatchi (L&K S&S), describes herself as someone who works on “businesses no one ever wants to work on.” She aims at converting those unglamorous businesses into “businesses everyone wants to sink their grimy little paws into.”

True to that, in over her 19-year-old career, Sethna has worked on brands across categories from P&G’s Whisper to Bajaj Auto. In 2017, Sethna and her L&K S&S team won gold at Cannes for the GiveHer5 campaign in the Glass Lions category. The same campaign for Saafkins also won a D&AD Impact Awards Graphite pencil last year. Sethna is one of the IMPACT’s Top 50 Influential Women in the media, advertising and marketing world. Sethna is one of the handfuls of women CCOs in the Indian ad world.

She spoke to exchange4media about gender equality, the changing role of the CCO and more.


As a woman leader, what is the legacy you want to leave?

I would like to treat everyone agnostic of gender. I do not think that if one is a man, he should not work on a sanitary napkin brand or if one is a woman, she should not work on an automobile brand. I see people by their capabilities; some are great with humour, some with emotion, some are just great. I am hoping that the world becomes equal if we stop saying “she got far for a woman.”

The ad world is still dominated by men…

It is true that this is a boys’ club. And I don’t think there are as many women in advertising yet. I do believe that women have to work a lot harder to compensate for the fact that they are women in certain cases. In my career, there have been times when I have had to go up to my seniors and claim my work for myself. Men do this more easily than women because men have been taught that they can claim what is theirs. I don’t think it is un-lady-like to march up to the corner office and take credit for your work.

What I am hoping is that when a young girl has a woman boss, it encourages the girl to go up to her boss and talk more freely. It is easy for me to go to a corner office and say this shouldn't happen, but it is more important for me to take that person along and make the people in power hear these stories too.

What is the kind of work that you admire?

There is work that appeals to my brain, and there is work that appeals to my heart. They are both important. It is important to laugh and cry; there is a catharsis either way. I admire work that makes me see something in a way that I had never thought of before.

Does the role of a Chief Creative Officer need to be reimagined in the digital era?

I don’t believe that you need to change the way you are. But you certainly need to hold fort stronger with clients. Because you suddenly hear things like: I need a viral video! I can’t create a viral video, but I can give you an idea that resonates with the consumer so well that he/she wants to share it over and over again. I cannot give a client a viral video; such a thing does not exist.

When I joined advertising way back in 1996, we were going through a transition; the end of the print era. This conversation about digital was going on in the context of television back then. It is just media that is changing. A good idea should be agnostic of the media in which it plays. The only difference is that in the digital medium, things are more short-lived. The millennial consumer is not wedded to the big idea, big brand. They are ready to flirt with multiple things. It is about knowing the hot buttons to press at the right time.

Pressing the hot buttons at the right time, how does that impact and influence your work?

It is exciting, to say the least. For India, it is not that different, because we work on timelines that would horrify anybody in the West. Their lead times on campaigns are a minimum of 4-6 months, ours will probably be 4-6 weeks, if we are lucky. We have always been a country where we have worked on much shorter timelines; it is just that now you need to stay abreast of the recent developments.

It is no longer about reading D&AD and The One Show etc. We live advertising now. Everything becomes a trigger for what you could use. It is more important now to look outwards than inwards. Earlier we would look at books for inspiration and ideas would look borrowed from other places. Now you need to be updated on what’s in the news, what people are sharing, etc.

It is no more about looking at our little bubble of advertising.

When you are looking outwards for ideas, how hard or easy is it to convince a client of a novel idea?

It’s not easy. It is hard to show clients that I don’t have to talk about the brand to be brand relevant to the consumer. What consumers are consuming is content. I don’t know if brands have understood that quite in the same way. Consumers no longer passively consume advertising. The conversation we are having with clients is not about creating the next commercial but creating the next movement.

Budgets are on a decline, how are you striking a balance?

We are adapting. While budgets are shrinking, expectations are not. As budgets shrink you need to get more creative or learn to adapt. We can work closely with the production team to do the most with the budgets available to us. This also means that one has to understand the processes. We also need to build relationships both ways - with clients and the production team - to maximise the output.

It is more about trying to ensure that the vision is not compromised because of the shrinking budgets.

As the CCO, what is your vision for Law&Kenneth Saatchi&Saatchi?

I am taking it one year at a time!

We are finally at that point where we have committed to saying that we need to be recognised as a creative powerhouse. We are moving towards a point where we have creative people on board who think of advertising more than a commercial film and in terms of the business problem.

We need to up our game as a creative agency. I know there might be a few people out there wondering if winning awards last year was a flash in the pan. It is important for us to consistently build on that year on year. The greater vision is to do work that will deliver “impossible outcomes,” which is what Saatchi&Saatchi stand for.

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