Brands are people, says Umma Saini, Brand and Creative Lead - Google India

The only Indian women speaker at Cannes Lions 2018, Saini says brands have a purpose and they don’t want to be seen as things but want to be in a relationship with you

Brands are people, they have a name, they have a purpose and they don’t want to be seen as things but want to be in a relationship with you, says Umma Saini, India’s only women speaker at Cannes this year. Saini, the Brand and Creative Lead at Google India, believes that though not born in a labour room, brands and people are very closely connected. “It’s the people behind brands who bring their thoughts and feelings to brands, making them a living entity.”

The lady who made India proud by being part of the team that conceptualized the popular ‘Share the Load’ campaign for Ariel, explained how her ads were an outcome of her feelings. “My brother, sister and I went to the same school, were raised equally but there were differences. For example, my sister and I were taught how to cook, but not my brother. My brother could walk out of the house whenever he wanted while I had to answer a lot of questions. These were the things about my life which I really hated and these are the things I wanted to change,” says Saini.

So the first ad she did in advertising and the last campaigns which she worked on, serve as bookends to an exhibition of her journey in advertising for the past 10 years. “I’ll tell you how the parallels were drawn from my life. The first ad that I ever wrote in advertising as a junior most writer in an agency called Saints and Warriors, where I learnt how to write was ‘Why are things different for brothers?’ You know where that comes from right? And then there was ‘Share the Load’, a more recent campaign I worked on in BBDO, Mumbai when my understanding of advertising evolved, and my craft improved,” added Saini.

“Between the first and the last campaigns that I worked on, we can see it’s a journey between two questions and I realise that when we want to change things it feels like a burden, how can an individual change anything? But what we can do is ask a question. We can raise a relevant question in the society which can put the wheels of progress in motion, that’s a contribution that brands are willing to make, and it is good for business too. This is a marriage that is happening today, which is very exciting. I feel that if we can’t do anything else, we can at least ask the right questions and I felt the question is the answer,” she added.

Saini says that now when she looks back at her life, the bitterness has subsided. “I realised that if not for the life that I’ve lived; if not for the experiences that I’ve had which made me angry and uncomfortable, it wouldn’t have given me the voice which was expressed and raised like this.”

“Then I realised that this is what purpose feels like and it hides within our own lives, in our own journeys, and just like this was my story, each of us has our own. We can look back in our lives and take inspiration from it and find creative expression in it which can be relevant,” she added.

This is how she says she found the power of purpose. “Purpose is individual to everyone and in that sense our ideas can be limited. So how do we increase the scope? What happens when we get connected with our own purpose? It increases our level of empathy and we begin to understand that everyone is on a journey too. Everyone has their own purpose, and everyone has their story, and that’s a part of empathy. When we bring these two together; the power of your individual purpose and the power of empathy that connects you with everyone’s purpose, no matter who they are, where they are from, we achieve what is called ‘Purpose Max’.”

“I’ve had an awakening, I cherish my journey, I love what it has brought into my life and I’m not scared of the obstacles anymore. I see them as opportunities and they are good for me and they are good for brands, but does that solve everything else easily? No. We must realise that living with purpose means wanting to change things, and change historically is always met with resistance, we all know how hard it is to do good work,” she explained.

Saini, however, has a lot more to achieve. As she concluded her absorbing session she left us with more thoughts to ponder on. “I am happy that we are living in a time where the voices are getting stronger. We know that 46 per cent of the creative people are women, yet only 11 per cent of creative directors are women. That is a clear problem which we are all aware of and it is being heavily discussed. But as a woman and through my experiences and learnings, I would like to throw in a nugget that I realised in this industry. Whatever it is that you’re going through, there are answers which you can find. Women should support each other; men and women have to come together to make the numbers go up. I could not leave this room without throwing this in, because it is so important and close to my heart,” she concluded.

(Transcription credit Sudha Joshi)

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