Paul Josy Curated
Chairman at BBDO India
CURATED BY :
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.
Which have been your favourite ad campaign?
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.
what are challenges around creating content for multiple platforms and diverse audience?
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.
Can you tell us how the whole idea of Ariel campaign 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.
How do you define greatness?
Is there anything that you would do differently in your career?
How did you reach at this position?
Did anything have influence over your. career?
How can you create an impact?
Can you pick two countries that standout in regards with their work?
Can you share how gillette movement start?
Can you tell us about the changes you have seen through your career?
What are the two things about this industry that you don’t like and want to change?
It wouldn’t be fair for me to say some things, but I feel there is a lot of wasted time, intellectually speaking, there is too much talk. There is so much discussion that you don’t kick the ball. It’s like the ball is at the centre, the spectators are waiting and the people are drawing charts on the ground. Their hands are still moving, but you’ve got to use your feet. That’s where I feel the sluggishness. The good thing is that there are so many ideas out there. I see eager young people and I can feel everyone’s energy, and I can see the good things and that’s what’s exciting. You can see the good things happening and the positive energy all around you.
If not the Chairman & Chief Creative Officer of BBDO India, what would you have been?
I would help people fight the authority. I’d help people find their own unique voice and show them you never have to do it and regret it.
What is the one thing you would like to change about yourself?
I think I’m a procrastinator, because I dream too much and waste my time enjoying the dreaming, and that’s where all my fights happen with clients, at home, everywhere.
Could you tell us a social cause that you are passionate about?
There is no particular cause, but I’m all for the underdog. That is why I started an agency called David, because when I see any form of oppression, any sort of authority that affects people who are not able to speak out, then I get impacted and I start doing things. It is reflected in my work as well. When I see any sort of oppression or any type of authority trying to control people in a way that is artificial or meant to benefit a chosen few, then I tend to fight.
What is the greatest lesson that you have learnt from life till now?
It is difficult to say, but there are two moments that I will never forget. One is when I had joined Lintas – Kersy Katrak and Alyque Padamsee invited my partner and me to be a part of Lintas. I was 26 years old then and they were making me a creative director. Kersy then had said something that I’ll never forget, ‘I give you the freedom to fail for me’. I had never heard that from anyone before and hearing it from this man just changed my life. You see, my parents were very strict; I stood first in school because my Dad was this dominant guy who used to check my homework every day (I don’t do the same with my son). With what Kersy told me, I learnt two things – there is no protection and there are no boundaries. The second learning was when I joined Xaviers. As I was entering the college, all of 13 and a half years of age, I saw a bunch of students carrying out a protest. They were guys running around the roof and chucking pieces of paper. I picked up on such paper and found out that it was a protest for representation in the management committee. I’d never heard of these things, I didn’t know what a protest was. When I saw that I realised that there is a counterpoint to everything and that you can challenge a point. From that day onwards, I don’t accept a problem anymore. I questioned everything from that point onwards.
A skill that others don’t know you possess?
There is a bit of ventriloquism, where I can make a voice and people in the room don’t know where it’s coming from. I’ve often done that in school and sometimes during meetings! It is a peculiar voice that comes from deep inside me, which I trained myself by reading books when I was in college and school. I had read about it in books by Enid Blyton and Alfred Hitchcock, which made me think that I, too, must also learn how to throw my voice. I’m not an expert at it, but sometimes people do get fooled; one of my teachers in school used to take away transistors from all the kids because I would make the sound of cricket commentary and no one knew where it was coming from. So, everyone’s transistors that were in their bags or on their benches would be confiscated! Client meetings and boardroom meetings are not a voice circle, there I have thrown layouts in the air in disgust and walked out, so that’s a different kind of throwing. It is not a throw of voice, but a throw of something else.
What is your biggest fear and how do you face it?
Yeah, that’s a big question. How do you answer that? Because when you think about it, when you have fear, you think about relationships and you think about parents and you think about death. It is things like family that are a part of you, your blood, that’s what I’m afraid of. I’ve never faced it yet, so I don’t know, but I always fear, it is the only thing I fear. It’s the same childhood fear when you wake up and say ‘where’re my parents?’ It is a really bad feeling.
A precious childhood trait you still possess?
I have a tremor. I’ve always had a tremor, that’s the only thing I had. The only permanent possession I have that also has a sense of importance. That’s a physical trait. The other trait is exploration. I always was an explorer. I wandered away from home when I was six and had people look for me. I was always this guy who wanted to find out what all was out there. I still have that habit and I still do it.
which artists/directors/writers/designers do you really admire?
I am inspired by creative work that act as agents of change. I am moved by the sincerity and honesty of ideas. I look for true contribution and influence in everything. That’s why I am blown away by campaigns like REI’s #OptOutside or the guerrilla artistry of Banksy, the audacious experiments at Tesla, the fearless attitude of young revolutionaries like 17 year old Joshua Wong and many of the amazing change agents who speak at TED. They give me reason and energy to find my own way, truth and light.
What keeps you passionate and motivated?
I don’t see what I do as work. It’s creative therapy for life. I follow the great work and ideas of artists, writers, thinkers and other agencies 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.
Is there a push to encourage people from different socio-economic backgrounds into advertising agencies?
In India, ad agencies live in an ecosystem where we work with diverse talent that come from various parts of the country. This has been evolving naturally and healthily. There is increasing consciousness about diversity because our work needs to connect with multiple audiences in different geographical states where people speak in their own language. With the conversation around diversity on the rise, I am sure we’ll see greater sensitivity and push on this in Indian agencies.
What recent projects from the agency are you particularly proud of?
With Mirinda #ReleaseThePressure we took on the hidden issue of ‘parental pressure’ in India. It’s about changing the conversation around depression and other teenage issues - with the help of clinical psychologists and partners.
what’s the creative culture like in BBDO India?
A culture is only as good as its work and values. ‘Create acts not ads’ made us more socially aware and community oriented. We tried to see how brands could transform themselves in the market - by finding ways to resolve tensions and conflicts in society. This affected our culture - starting with the architecture of our place of work. Our workplace is not an office, it is an ‘ashram’ – a centre for collective creativity and community action. The architecture affected our approach. We became more inclusive. Everybody mattered. The creative development process became more circular and less linear. It led us to many new learnings and so we captured our own principles of impactful brand communications: 1. Content is king. But context is King Kong. 2. Empathy is universal currency. 3. Not just insights, it’s how you incite. 4. A Point Of View matters more than a Point of Differentiation. 5. Create acts, not ads.
how did you shepherd and nurture its growth?
I did not build this agency alone. There was a whole team that created it - starting with Chris Thomas, the former Chairman and CEO BBDO Asia Pacific and now the CEO of BBDO Americas. It was Chris Thomas and Andrew Robertson who offered me the opportunity to set up BBDO in India. And they backed us with faith, confidence and unending support. The first thing was to form the right team. We spent months meeting and attracting the best talent that would finally shape BBDO India’s early years. When we started out, Ajai Jhala and I were clear we did not want to do what was done before. There was a new and young India calling and we wanted to place BBDO at the heart of this changing new world. Young Indians everywhere were rejecting the old order. They were looking for action, not promises. They were saying ‘don’t tell me, involve me’. People wanted commitment, not words. All this and other experiences led us to script a new working mantra for BBDO India “Create acts, not ads”. It was a new language for Indian advertising. And it became evident in one of our very first campaigns - P&G Gillette’s ‘Women Against Lazy Stubble’ (WALS). The campaign created a major buzz in India and broke all previous sales records. WALS went on to win some of the biggest creative and effectiveness awards in the world including the inaugural PR Lion at Cannes and the inaugural Creative Effectiveness Lion. WALS helped attract worldwide interest in our young agency.
Can you tell me how you started BBDO India out of the back of your car?
When we started BBDO India in January 2008, we did not have an office in Mumbai for 11 months. We had no people, no accounts. Ajai Jhala (our CEO) joined in September. RajDeepak Das (ECD, Mumbai) was still in Bangkok, but would come visiting. It didn’t make sense to have an office. Out of habit I would set out to go to work, but I had nowhere to go. So, I would travel about in my car and sit in coffee shops and meet people and discuss the future of advertising. I would have introductory meetings with prospective clients in coffee houses with the excuse that our office was being painted. My students from the communication college, where I was a visiting faculty, would sometimes join me and present my work to prospective clients as though they were my office colleagues. It was exciting and challenging and pregnant with possibilities. That’s how we were born - from the back seat of my car. My business card still shows our address as MH-02-A-7397. That’s my car registration number.
What was the best piece of advice you got when you started your career?
“I give you the freedom to fail” said Kersy Katrak when he hired me at Lintas. Kersy Katrak was the man who led the creative revolution in Indian advertising. Many called him the Bill Bernbach of India. I was 26 years old when Kersy spoke these magic words. Nobody had ever said this to me before. Suddenly, I had nothing to lose. It set me free and gave me wings.
What prompted the jump from man of science to ad man?
It was a chain of accidents. I stumbled upon a set of calligraphy pens at home left behind by an uncle. This led me to do an experimental calligraphic poster for the Social Service League at St Xavier’s College. Which led to the poster being recognised by the Counsel General of Germany who was passing through the college. Which led to me being invited for high tea to the German Consulate. Which got the leadership at the college to take notice of me. This led to numerous clubs in the college asking me to help them with their publicity. And then, suddenly, everyone started calling me an artist – which I was not! Then one day I happened to go to an art exhibition with my college friends. But the art gallery had been taken over by the advertising club of Mumbai - to showcase the winning campaigns of that year. I saw ads after ads that were so brilliant and creative. The work seemed to be calling out to me. So, when I finished college, I decided to try my luck in advertising.