The future of advertising is about creating acts, not ads: Josy Paul

Josy Paul, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of BBDO India, spoke on the opening day of Cannes Lions Live as part of the  ‘What I’ve Learnt’ module

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Jun 23, 2020 8:16 AM
Josy Paul

Cannes Lions Live saw Josy Paul, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of BBDO India, presenting his thoughts as part of the ‘What I’ve Learnt’ module at Cannes Lions Live. He began by introducing the audience to three of his ‘close friends’ – failure, rejection and embarrassment — and went on to explain how these three outliers can help build agencies, cultures and work that are celebrated across the world. 

With stories from his early years building David (the agency he began with Ogilvy in June 2000) to setting up BBDO India from the backseat of his car in 2008, to the inaugural Glass Lion Grand Prix at Cannes, to creating the most effective campaign in the world, he revealed the joys of losing, and how you can’t breakthrough until you break down.

He kicked off the talk with his story as a young trainee at Ogilvy, and his first piece of work that went on to get rejected at the client meeting. “We presented the idea, and the client team looked at each other and they said ‘No, this is not what we expected’. I was so stunned by that reaction that something happened to me. I just rushed to the window and threatened to jump. I looked at the entire marketing department and I said, you guys are responsible for this. It's my first piece of work, and your rejection is like the end of my career so I might as well do this. And everybody was really shocked,” Paul shared.

He revealed that the marketing chief at that time told everyone to leave the room, and spoke to him. “He walked gingerly towards me like I'm a Crouching Tiger, and he said to me, in a very sweet time tone that “step down, my son. I love your passion. I know how you're feeling. And I would feel the same. So just sit down, give me a chance. Let me live with this for a bit. And we'll get back to you.” Something about his voice felt right and I stepped down, and I left,” Paul remarked.

“When I reached the agency, the chief creative officer of the agency was waiting at the entrance. He then held me by the ear and he took me around the office. Like a punishment and he took me to his room. He sat me down and said, ‘I got a call from that multinational agency. They've approved your work, but they don't want to see you again’. For me, I don't know what happened but that was the first time I sensed, in a way, who I was, who I am. And it was like this need to save something, this need to survive. And it just came from within.” Sharing his learning from the incident, he said that he realized that he tried too hard to sell a piece of work.

 “Many years later when we won the Grand Prix at Cannes for a campaign called ‘Touch The Pickle’, we didn't have to sell it, the client bought it. There was an ingredient in that, which is all the difference between trying to sell, which I did when I was a young trainee. The difference between selling and buying and understanding the difference between selling and buying is a lifetime of learning, and a lifetime of finding yourself,” Paul asserted.

Furthermore, Paul shared an interesting point in his career - in June 2000 - when he set up an agency called David along with Ogilvy and WPP. “How we began this agency because we began to attract all kinds of interesting people just from our point of view. And the thing is when you join the agency, one didn’t get an appointment letter, you got a resignation letter. And then the resignation letter talked about all the things you have to resign from and accept the responsibilities of a six year old, and it was quite funny to see the faces of people when they were signing that resignation letter, because it's something nobody had done before,” he revealed. 

Paul also shared an incident of how he gathered insights from co-passengers during a flight to choose between 30 pieces of work. “It was amazing how people started sharing their personal stories. They clapped for us as if we were rockstars. You feel so grateful for them to have made you part of your world, and you realize that's the way the world is, it's so incredibly beautiful,” he remarked.

But what happened after that is totally different. He recounted, “We were a relatively new agency and felt insignificant, back then. The Managing Director looked at us and said ‘no sitting, only standing and only 5 minutes’. I mean, just think about what happened in the aircraft and what you're going through now. You become irrelevant. When someone makes you feel this way, something happens to you. In my head, I saw the faces of all those people on the aircraft who spoke to me and I spoke for the next five minutes on their behalf. What I told the Managing Director impacted him so much that it was as if the stress left his face, and as if a miracle cream had made him younger. He looked at the piece of work that I showed him and something changed. We went on to win all the businesses of that very brand.” 

In the course of his career, Paul said he had realised that the future of advertising is about creating acts, not ads. “Don’t make a PowerPoint, just make a powerful point,” Paul contended. He spoke of what fuelled the success of his campaigns at BBDO India like ‘Touch The Pickle’ for Whisper and ‘Share The Load’ for Ariel. “It wasn't about creativity, it was about empathy, it was about being an antenna, being able to hear people and listen. And we started moving from discussing a brief to having a briefing. We will always refer to it as a briefing session because the difference between a brief and a briefing is that brief is transactional while briefing is human. Briefing is personal as people are sharing things. From briefing, we went into confessions and from confession we went to clear therapy which is all sort of sharing that is so deep that most often people break down when they share their story is about that category. And this is how we started discovering new ways of working on brands,” Paul shared.

He asserted that often in the process of creating work, there's a lot of breaking down. “Some of the sharing is so deep that you can't help but be affected. And the breakdown is good because in the breakdown is when the light passes through and then that breakdown is when we feel there is some breakthrough. The creative journey is the journey to finding yourself and it's through the process of embarrassment, rejection and failure,” Paul remarked while concluding his talk.  

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