We'd like to focus on partnerships and associations: Josy Paul, BBDO India

Paul lets us in on walking tall through 2017, transformation of the agency space, how BBDO India plans to continue staying on the top of the game and what makes him weep with joy

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Jan 22, 2018 8:58 AM

Whether it is about bagging the status of the Most Creative Ad agency of the year 2017, according to the Gunn Report, or being the creative minds behind Ariel’s iconic #ShareTheLoad which garnered the status of being one of world’s top ranked ads, there seem to be plenty of reasons why BBDO India has been catapulted into the upper echelons of Indian creativity. And at the helm of all this creativity is Josy Paul, Chairman and National Creative Director, BBDO India. 

When we caught up with Paul, who is considered to be one of the most influential people in Indian Advertising, we discovered a high-achieving yet simple and welcoming man. “There is no dearth of brilliant work in our industry. I study them every day and I weep with joy to know that I belong to a world where we have the freedom to explore our unique identity and shape our creative self in the company of so many awesome people,” beams Paul and we drift off into an immensely thought-provoking yet fun conversation. Edited excerpts:

Let's start by asking you, how was 2017 for BBDO India?

It was a year of distributed creative leadership, generous recognition and unprecedented growth. It felt like lady luck had a soft spot for us. Our work for Ariel was ranked the No. 1 most effective campaign in the world by WARC - the world’s foremost benchmark in terms of advertising and marketing. BBDO India was ranked No 1 in India by the Gunn Report and the Big Won Report. And seven of our talented people were ranked amongst the top 15 globally. 

We won Gold and two Silver Lions at Cannes, the Yellow Pencil at D&AD. And in October we won the ‘Star of Madison Avenue Award ‘for bravery from the Advertising Club of New York. P&G Ariel’s Dads#ShareTheLoad was voted among the top 10 best campaigns for Social Good in the last 100 years – by Campaign US. 

Mirinda #ReleaseThePressure was PepsiCo India’s first big win at Cannes, and went on to win at numerous Indian and international award shows. Visa #KindnessIsCashless and eBay #ThingsDon’tJudge were significant transformative campaigns of the year and big winners at Spikes Asia. 

And then we won Idea Cellular! The new campaign is just out, and the first reports are favourable. That’s our elevator speech for 2017. It was all about big integrated work, extraordinary talent and enlightened clients who lifted us up.

What are the possible transitions that we can expect in the agency space as we begin the new year?

Advertising faces the greatest upheaval of all time. You can never tell exactly where the future is going but you can get a strong sense of the forces that are shaping it. For example - The sheer volume of forgettable content, the fragmentation of media, budgets and agencies, the changing role of intuition in the age of big data, the curious influence of social media, the rising excitement of everyday news and the unpredictability of fake news and the surgical strike of ultra-targeted marketing. Never in the history of our business have so many different shifts hit us at the same time with such immediate effect. We are in a state of transit.

BBDO's Ariel campaign has received global attention, something that not many Indian campaigns have. Can you tell us how the whole idea was born and what it took to create something of that stature?

Women in India spend close to five hours doing household work while most men put their legs up, watch some TV, and do only 19 minutes of work. This is a tension that is simmering within the families that we see around us.
So we decided to ‘act’ on this information and observation - with the purpose of removing the cultural stain of gender inequality at home. The initial stages of the campaign emphasised the performance of the product, maintaining the long-term benefit of ‘one-wash stain removal’, no matter who washes the clothes. So we thought if any anyone can wash the clothes and still get the perfect wash, why not ‘Share the Load’.

We created a variety of executions in clever forms and formats that pushed a specific behaviour from men thus inciting men to get up and do the laundry. Starting with the product, the brand launched the ‘His and Her’ pack, that included instructions on how to do the laundry. This came from an ironic insight, that while men took pride in being the sole operators of 95% of a household’s machinery, they got away with claiming not to know how the washing machine worked.

We then took a medium that no one had used before - the wash care labels on the inside of clothes. We changed the washing instruction by adding one more thing – that the garment could be washed by both men and women. These were sewn into clothes from retailers and designers. Further, an integration with leading matrimonial websites required men signing up to agree to share the load of housework. It was all quite playful, but it made the point sharply. Agreeing to be equal gave people the opportunity to be a volunteer of the conversation.

What, according to you, are the challenges around creating content for multiple platforms and diverse audience? Also what are the key attributes that make for great ads?

I always felt it would be difficult to talk to different sets of audiences in the fragmented world of media. Until one day when Ajai Jhala (founding partner and CEO) and I visited Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad in 2009. That’s when we discovered the true power and greater meaning of ‘action’. It became clear to us that Gandhi ji did not preach, he spoke with actions… and that’s how he got different sets of people to understand his message even as he fully engaged with them at various platforms across the country.

The fantastic thing about action is that it is not dependent on any language. It is understood by different sets of audience in the same way. There’s hardly any room for misinterpretation. That’s how we found our answer as an advertising agency - in ‘action’. So we set up BBDO India on the back of this new media, neutral media-friendly easy-to-understand action philosophy we call ‘Create Acts, Not Ads’. And the timing was just right. Young Indians were in the mood for action, not words and false promises. They were saying ‘Don’t tell me, involve me’.

You’ve seen the marketing effectiveness, commercial success and social impact of ‘acts not ads’ in many of our brand movements. Be it Gillette ‘Women Against Lazy Stubble’ or Whisper ‘Touch the pickle’ or Ariel ‘Share The Load’ or Mirinda ‘Release The Pressure’, and others. These are all action-oriented ideas that work for multiple platforms and can travel in any medium across different sets of audience.

Which have been your favourite ad campaign (by another agency)? 

I have a long list of favourite ad campaigns that have influenced and inspired me. I am a product and mutation of all this amazing work. These include campaigns from BBDO Worldwide and other great agencies and networks - from India and across the world. There is no dearth of brilliant work in our industry. I study them every day and I weep with joy to know that I belong to a world where we have the freedom to explore our unique identity and shape our creative self in the company of so many awesome people. I travel to schools and colleges to share this secret and tell them about self-discovery through the creative journey of advertising.

BBDO India recently bagged Idea Cellular's account. So what are your creative plans for the brand? 

Let’s start with our latest work for Idea Cellular. Our brand campaign for Idea Cellular ‘A video can change your life’ which focuses on the transformative role of Idea 4G via the medium of videos. ‘A video can change your life’ aims at elevating the role of Idea 4G beyond the category conversation around speed, coverage, content and apps to reflect its transformative role in people’s lives and society.

We were having a Group Creative Therapy session on the power of videos in the mobile new world and almost everybody had a story of a video that affected them and made them change something in their lives. It was a chain reaction! We realised that it’s not just our story but everybody’s story. That’s how the thought for Idea 4G 'A video can change your life’ was born.

The Idea brand has always been about 'transformation with purpose', and our new campaign builds on that positive equity even as it sets a progressive new agenda for the future led by the power of videos.

How are the preparations for Cannes 2018 going along? Also, an ad campaign that you think deserves big wins this year?

Honestly, it’s too early to tell. The wheel is still in spin. Remember what Bob Dylan said:

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

What would be the focus areas for BBDO India for 2018?

Our main focus area will continue to be “The Work. The Work. The Work”. Work built from behavioural observations and insights. Work that has ideas so big they can be defined as tweets. Work that is constantly measured and optimized and leads to financial rewards for our clients.

2018 is special. We will be completing 10 years since we launched BBDO in India as a 'start up'. How can we go back to the start and get all of us to feel the original hunger that led to our marketing-changing transformational work. Our source is our force. That’s an important area of focus. 

We are in the process of setting up and growing our office and offering in Bangalore. That’s our new focus. Bangalore is not a branch office. We have no branches, only roots.

We’d like to focus on partnerships, collaborations and associations that can bring a new air of discovery. Be it psychologists, technologists or neurologists. Unprecedented growth and fresh work is a by-product of unconnected influences.

How do you see the horizon of advertising in India unfolding over the next couple of years?

I think it’s good not to know. We all need a bit of unpredictability in our lives. That’s why life has ‘if’ in it! That’s the uncertainty thing, which is healthy. That’s what makes life exciting. And the only way to respond to the tectonic shifts in our business is to let go, and enjoy the game. The unpredictability, the surprise, the new learning will be our greatest reward.

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