Josy Paul, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of BBDO India, is a highly optimistic person even as he spends the lockdown period at his Bandra home, looking at the world not through his designation, but from a different meditative lens. Though BBDO has not yet released an ad campaign in the COVID-19 crisis period, he says the last 50-odd days have seen ‘an unleashing of creativity and a laboratory of ideas’ for the agency’s Indian and global clients. He is confident that there’s only opportunity and possibility on the other side of the crisis, and sees the economy bouncing back soon with communication playing a key role in its recovery.
Here are excerpts from a conversation with Josy Paul:
Q] We know that the entire creative process at BBDO is rooted in the entire team sitting together and ideating together at the ashram, sharing lunch in your lunch room like a family… you must be missing the ashram…
Well, life changes and you work with it. It’s like a virtual ashram now with all of us on these virtual calls. We light diyas at home and some of us light incense sticks, so we feel like we’re in the ashram. But it’s amazing how everybody has adapted to the new way of working. Our meetings start on time and we’re getting more done. In fact, there’s no lockdown on ideas. Of course, we miss the corridor chats and the operation process, but we try to work it out between or during video calls. So social distance is making the team come closer.
Q] How do you start your day these days?
There’s a lot going on for me, personally, because I do a lot of work for India as well as a couple of clients across the world, which is just happening as we speak, so I can’t name them. My day starts at 9:30 am and goes on right up to about midnight. Of course, you get your spaces in between to try and help out at home, since we talk about #ShareTheLoad! Individual brand leaders bring the team together and people are quite eager to come together, to be honest. There’s a natural human need to communicate and participate to eradicate the isolation… our ideation sessions happen across India and across the world. So it’s quite a new interesting world for me.
Q] While some agencies have been prolific in churning out ad campaigns during the lockdown, we haven’t seen you release any ads… why is that so and are you planning to release a campaign for any of your clients anytime soon?
There’s a lot of good work out there and we salute that, but for us, the last 50 odd days have really been a laboratory of new ideas. It’s been an unleashing of creativity for our Indian and worldwide clients. We’re sharing new ideas with our clients almost every day and we are fortunate that most of our clients are initiating immediate action. So, you are going to see a lot of work for brands like Ariel, Idea, RALCO Tyres, Ford, Snickers and a lot of new local and worldwide clients.
Q] This time of the year, preparations would have been on in full swing for the Cannes Lions… You have been a regular at Cannes and other festivals, both judging and winning awards… do you miss the award festivals?
We go to Creative festivals to renew ourselves… to be inspired, to re-energize, to break through the curtain of past, touch the edges of the future. These times that we’re going through are exactly that. The festival of ideas is happening all around us. Look at the exchange of learning, the reinvention we’re seeing around us. People are learning to grow and strive. The celebration of creativity is what we’re living right now. So the festival is on.
Q] When we were talking the other day, you said something beautiful… that life is a start-up and work is a start-up… and this COVID-19 crisis has an element of rebirth to it… tell us more about it…
In the early days of the lockdown, I was wondering what I was going through… and I realized that it was like vipassana… you can’t go outwards, you go inwards… What we’re all going through is rebirth. It’s like starting up all over again. It’s a crash course for all of us and we’re all graduating at the same time. The other side is going to be slightly different and it’s like you’re crossing over to something new and therefore it’s like rebirth. There’s a whole new world waiting for us.
Q] What are some of the things you’ve told yourself during this lockdown?
That’s a great question, because this is when you start putting new codes to your life and a new order and you realise that nothing is sacred and that you have to keep an open mind… it doesn’t matter where you came from… you’ve got to look at it from now, the present and tomorrow. But keep your creative engine well-oiled. See that everyone is working in full force and your own creativity is being well used… but enjoy the present. Re-invent yourself as you go along and maybe it invites you to re-invent the system… Most importantly, I would say, don’t judge too soon.
Q] Overall, what do you see as the positive outcome of the COVID-19 lockdown period?
In the beginning, everyone would feel that what we’re going through is some sort of a crisis. But these are the times that you go through the darkness to get enlightenment. For me, everything is a first and I’ve never felt this way before; I do feel like a creative trainee and I’m eager and excited to see what’s on the other side. I feel there’s only opportunity and possibility. I feel like it’s good for me. I hope so.
Q] We have seen amazing resilience of the human spirit, a community feeling, more empathy, ability to live with bare essentials - do you think these values will endure post COVID-19?
I sincerely hope that all you’re saying and the values we see will endure, but there are some things we can’t predict. You’ve got to let it play out. Experts say that it’s going to be a very slow return to the normal scene. In advertising, we always like slow motion, so it’s time to enjoy every detail of what we’re going through right now. Tomorrow, you have something else to look forward to. If you try to control the future too much, you have nothing to look forward to, because you’re already controlling it.
Q] What will it take for the media and advertising industry to get back on track? Do you see this lockdown affecting consumer behaviour in the long term because people are not buying too many things, getting used to minimalistic living… also, as the economy is badly hit, people may not have spending power going forward…
I’m very optimistic. I feel the economy will bounce back with communication playing a very key role. Today, all kinds of bodies have come forward… not just marketing communication, but industry groups, lobby groups, government bodies and institutions… because they realise and agree that communication will lead to greater morale and better excitement in the market. It will impact consumer sentiment positively and when you impact consumer sentiment, that collective optimism will kick-start and feed the economy. Communication has the power to change the energy and I’m sort of optimistic that what we do as an industry will help kick-start that excitement.
Q] How do you expect the world to heal itself?
I was watching this guy who has gone through coronavirus and he’s a celebrity - I won’t name him, but he said something very beautiful. He said that when he was going through it, the virus was dragging him down so that it could take over his body. But he fought it and said if he exercised and got into action and just did what he does, he could fight it. And that’s what happened. He used action to fight that virus and to let his body find its own immunity. If we must heal or expect to heal, it must be based on action. What all of us are doing is exercising our mind and brain; the best immunity against COVID-19 blues in the future is our own inner rock and roll. We all have the power to change the energy when we have positive conversations, and that is how we can kick-start the world.