We have broken the shackles: Josy Paul

06 Sep,2011

BBDO India celebrated its third anniversary on August 30. Mr Josy Paul, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of the agency, is a happy man as in an existence of just three years, BBDO India has established its credentials as an agency nurturing creative excellence that incubates impactful ideas. As Mr Paul puts it, We create acts and not ads.

Ritu Midha of MXM India caught up with Mr Paul on the anniversary day. Presented below are excerpts of the stimulating conversation encompassing 25 years of Indian advertising, Mr Paul’s journey through these years and of course BBDO  and what makes the agency the creative powerhouse it is today. Enjoy!


You are celebrating the third anniversary of BBDO India. How does it feel?

It feels great. We are celebrating three years of not being in advertising. We started three years ago with the thought that India needs more acts than ads. We started with a belief that there is a greater social consciousness in consumers, and the consumer is not only father, mother daughter… or any other relationship. Besides, the family or personal values, a social value is also creeping into the human beings. India is far more socially aware, and we felt that brands must be able to resonate with that. And that is what we are trying to achieve.

This year, we won four Lions at the Cannes – one of them a Black Lion. This year, for the first time, Cannes has created Black Lion for advertising effectiveness  there are only six of them. One that we have is the only one in Asia. We are celebrating that as well.

You sure must be a very happy man.

Yes, of course. The awards are a big testimony to the team thinking together. It is a young team and all the accolades help in our continued strive for excellence.

Tell me something more about the environment at the time of your launch.

Well, at that time media fragmentation had started, and the only way to bring them all together was and is, with an excellent idea. A fancy line was just not enough – you needed an action-oriented idea based on behavior, which then allowed all mediums to get involved. It holds true today as well.

We have proved the power of action oriented idea with campaigns like women against lazy stubble  it started on Facebook, Aviva great wall of education that started as a wall on the road, Quaker healthy heart mission that was a website and invited people to take healthy heart test and Quit India Movement for Nicorette which spanned various media. An interesting one down South (Tamil Nadu) was Lemon Patalum, which we did for 7up. It is a whole platform to invite kids to play light-hearted, lemony, rubber ball cricket with their superstar CSK. Today more than 2000 teams participate in it. We are creating platforms. Many such things are in the pipeline.

Would you then say that television might cease to be the lead medium?

TV will continue to be at the core, because it allows you to reach a lot more people faster, with a singular message, but the TV would not be just a 30-second spot, it will be more about content. For example, the Anna Hazare movement does not have any ads but it is there as news, views and debate and also images. What you create may be a documentary, just a vignette or a quick news item. The message can keep changing.

If television is only a standalone thought where you are just cracking a joke or saying something in an entertaining manner, it becomes just for that moment, but if it is part of a larger consciousness, or a larger behavioral activity  it is part of the continuum, it is part of one energy wave  and hence it is 10 times more effective. A lot of our work is in that area.


How can one maximize the creative impact?

There are so many kinds of people with so many different mediums at their disposal  you have to maximize based on the budget you have. If you don’t have a great budget, and you have to just do a car sticker, it still has to be a great sticker. It is your ambition, together with what the environment allows and offers you. It is all about how you react to the world around you.


To a very large extent, media effectiveness is a game of budgets; to what extent does it hold true for creative?

It is a very interesting question. Honestly, as a creative person I can’t answer the question on the budgets  I can only chat about the impact. And when you have an effective idea, you know it has great impact value.

If you have a larger budget, maybe a big celebrity in the ad, it might have a bigger jump. However, the core of good communication is ALWAYS an impactful idea. Some companies have the ability to take an impactful idea and distribute it widely to make the impact much larger. Others put it in a specific medium because that is the only money they have and that is what they need at that point. So big budget or small, you need an impactful idea.

I will give you an interesting example. We did a piece of work for a company called White Collared Hippies  an alternative travel company set up by young Gujarati guys from California. It won us an award, and quite a few nominations at Cannes. They do not have large media budgets, so they have posted the campaign we did for them on their own website and their Facebook page. While it may not be distributed widely, and they might not be getting customers, this campaign is getting them partnerships. They are getting famous in the B2B space, the campaign is helping them in creating the echo system.

To what extent does gut feel help a creative person?

Gut feel is essential to a creative person. If there is no gut, no leap, no personal filter, you cannot add to the world. The unique point of view that comes from your own gut, from your own perspective of the world, is what makes it fresh. Freshness is a must in a creative person.

However, gut feel does not work in isolation. We are also studying consumer behavior at media level. Though we have not set up any system to segregate content and understand it in different ways, we are watching what consumers are viewing and what they are gravitating towards.

Moving to another oft discussed phenomenon – user generated content. Do you see it happening in creative?

Well, in creative, there are a few examples but I do not know whether they fit into your definition of user generated content. The user is generating more content  not because he is creating the content but because he is forcing the content  for instance in the case of Old Spice campaign: The man your man could be. It started with one television spot, became three television spots – people started getting excited about it. They wanted their own version on the Net. So Old Spice said you speak to us, and we would start creating it online. So the consumer was talking to the advertiser  and he was creating it live for them. It is a very interesting format.

A slightly different question, how has the ad world changed from the time you returned from the Himalayas about 25 years ago?

Some things have changed and some things have not changed  but everything has definitely evolved. Interestingly, advertising is teaching us, especially me as an individual to also evolve.

I am going with the flow…

There was a time when we were doing a lot of print. There were many good print writers in mid-80s, around the time I joined. It gave way to a bit of cinema, and then to a lot of television. You started enjoying that.

In 2005, we launched CNN IBN, with Rajdeep Sardesai and Dilip Venkatraman, and with that we pioneered two-way television in India. You realised that television is no longer the medium that just beams down on you.

It isn’t just the acceptance of new worlds, and knowing that your past is irrelevant. It allows you to enjoy what is happening. It is just explorative  you are doing it because you are enjoying new things. It is not that you know something very well, it is that you don’t know enough about anything and that allows you to enjoy everything. That is a nice space to be for me personally.


And how has Indian advertising changed in terms of quality?

Advertising has really opened up and it has become very free  it is not really as structured as it was before  it has changed with the changing times. It is getting better and better and integrating with the real world. It was not so real earlier. I remember David Ogilvy asking me during his India visit in 1989, Why are all the women on Indian television completely pink-faced  pasted with makeup  while I have never seen any such lady in a five-star hotel or on the road? I had no answer, and the reason was we had become so used to seeing two different worlds on television, and in real life. Today when I look around I realise that we have broken all those shackles. Openness, freedom and new ways of looking at the same problems, is there. There are young, open-minded people  who are far better than us, far better than me at least.
Is there a dearth of talent in advertising?

There is a lot of talent  but talent over time starts becoming solidised… fossilised. They accept only what they know from before. Cholesterol starts getting into the system  and the only way to beat that talent cholesterol is continuously asking questions. The solution is going out and getting new people into the system  so that the whole system gets energised.

Coming back to you, how is the experience in BBDO different from that in David?

I have never seen it as difference. I see it as a continuum. The spirit of David was the spirit of challenge  the ability to question everything. It operated in a small space, with young clients who in most cases did not have a national footprint. We never had giant businesses. In a way it was the seed of BBDO. What BBDO gave you was space, size, ambition… the ability to integrate with the larger world and to be a part of one world philosophy. BBDO Worldwide is just a giant David – it is a great agency that is doing great work across the world – not only for challenger brands but also for leadership brands. What has stayed is the spirit of challenge  and what has changed perhaps is size, ambition, the platform, the dream, the people you are working with  the osmosis  the ability to integrate with the larger world.

So, what plans for the agency?

BBDO is not about me, it is about brilliant talent led by a fantastic team. We are an organization  and not a one-man band. Three years, and we have built a fantastic foundation.

We want to build on that, and we want to build through national clients. We are a very cohesive agency with a new world mindset. We can solve lot of national problems from a non-advertising perspective, and that’s why we say we create acts not ads. We are in the business of solving a communication issue or using communication for solving a national or social issue or using communication to build something or to create relationships. We feel confident vibrations that we can do anything today.

My last question, do the mountains still beckon you?

It is important to try to find space to the assimilate speed of what you are receiving. Running away to the mountain again is great. It gives you time to catch up with what the world is telling you. You need time to receive. You are using that time to reflect. You are trying to find pauses and spaces in mountains, nature, mist and rain, to catch up with incredible experiences so that you can learn from it.

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