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What BBH's global pedigree spells for BBH India

By afaqs! news bureau , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | November 21, 2008
Simon Sherwood, Nigel Bogle and Sir John Hegarty, addressing the press and members of the Indian ad industry, spoke about the global lineage of BBH, now in India

It's & #BANNER1 & # not every day that one gets to hear global ad legends talk about the legendry work that carved the destinies of myriad brands. That is what made November 19 special for the Indian ad industry, as BBH's three musketeers - Sir John Hegarty (worldwide creative director), Nigel Bogle (group chairperson) and Simon Sherwood (group chief executive officer) - addressed the press and members of the Indian ad industry in an event organised by the Ad Club in Mumbai.

Sir Hegarty speaks

Sir John Hegarty took to the dais first, speaking on what BBH stands for globally. Citing BBH's first ad ever, for jeans brand Levi's (When the world zigs, zag), Sir Hegarty stressed that what was once a tagline for a brand became a mantra that the agency swears by even today. "It's a daily reminder that the essence of creativity is the difference," he said.

He punctuated his speech with 'The power of truth'— citing the example of Audi - an account won by BBH in 1982 when the agency had eight people, and was pitching against Saatchi, which had 400. The idea was to communicate the German origins and innovation, in the same breath.

"On a factory visit, I saw the words 'Vorsprung durch Technik', which was a company motto that had fallen out of favour," said Sir Hegarty. "We proposed that the advertising stays rooted in this brand truth. The client thought we were crazy because no one would understand the meaning of those words. But we persuaded them and today, VDT is an idea that is still running 25 years later."

Similarly, 'The power of fame' is another BBH concept, an example of which is the work on its founding client, Levi's. In the UK and Europe, Levi's was seriously losing out in a bid to follow everyone else, rather than being true to itself. "We presented them with a strategy that rededicated the brand to the values that made it famous: The Original Jeans," he said.

'The power of strategy' was next on the agenda, and this time, Johnnie Walker served as an example. The brand was declining because of some 60+ scattered advertising ideas across many markets. What it lacked was a single brand thought uniting these.

"We realised that Johnnie Walker, the man himself, was all about progress," said Sir Hegarty - a thought that made the agency turn the brand around by showing the striding man so that he was facing forward and walking towards the future…in progress.

The 'Keep Walking' campaign still works. Sir Hegarty wrapped up his speech by talking about 'The power of product demonstration', which he termed as the simplest of advertising vehicles.

Simon Sherwood speaks

Simon Sherwood took over, beginning his talk with the statement that in the early 90s, consumers across the world increasingly started adopting a global mindset that transcended national borders. "The opportunity we faced was to build a global agency model that recognised this new reality," said Sherwood.

At that time, BBH didn't know if that meant four offices or 12, but with the addition of BBH India now, the tally comes up to six. While some may argue that this is madness, BBH is just fine with its 'small is beautiful' outlook.

Sherwood admitted that this model won't work for everyone ¬¬- it won't be ideal for companies that are highly decentralised in the way they market their brands, nor will it suit those product categories where the usage is highly localised. Such companies, said Sherwood, have approached BBH either for developing creative work centrally from one place (and run it globally), or develop a central idea and then adapt it regionally/locally.

"Our setup is designed to do both," Sherwood said, sharing examples of the work on Axe (The Axe Effect) to support his point. Axe broke the 'hunky guy-pretty girl-heroics guy gets girl' stereotype - it instead became a brand for the regular man to seal the deal with his girl - an insurance against rejection for every kind of man.

Sherwood then steered the topic towards BBH India and said that the plans to launch the Indian operations were on for a long time. "But we have built this model one region at a time, first by going to Asia in the mid 90s, followed by North America, then Latin America, then to China and finally, here we are in India," he said.

So why has it taken so many years to lay the final piece of the jigsaw? "Because we're a private company, we can afford to play the long game, and because we prefer to start our businesses when we're ready, rather than acquire existing agencies," Sherwood explained.

The launch of the BBH India office will benefit the agency's global MNC clients in connecting with the 'New India'.

Nigel Bogle speaks

The final shot was fired by Nigel Bogle, who said that the time for the traditional interruption and repetition model is dead. "I know that television is a very strong medium in India, but this is increasingly the exception, as interruption makes way for engagement," Bogle said. "We are living in an accelerated culture, where the most precious commodity is human attention."

Bogle went so far as to say that BBH sees itself as a company in the manufacturing business - it manufactures emotional components in brands that add value to those brands. Over time, this has meant the use of new media such as mobile marketing to reach elusive teenagers, or even, in the case of Perfetti Van Melle, the creation of a campaign that ran online, on mobile, as a game, and as a viral.

Talk of multiple media meant the topic of media agencies wasn't far behind and Bogle claimed that fragmentation has led to the separation of the media planning/buying and creative functions - something that is rather sad.

"This cannot be right in today's media environment, where medium and message are more closely intertwined than ever before," he said. This thought process led to the creation of Engagement Planning in BBH three years ago: a global tool that exploited the opportunities of the modern media environment to create a 'Brand Frame'. It drew on the skills of communication strategists, media planners and digital media planners.

Engagement Planning will also be a part of BBH India.

In 2005, BBH also started a brand invention business, called ZAG, headed by Neil Munn, ex-global brand director, Axe. ZAG essentially helps create the vision, the expression, the design and the values of a brand. ZAG, too, will be a part of the Indian operations.

"In conclusion, I would like to say that we approach the Indian market with humility and respect. We know there are some very fine agencies here and we will take time," Bogle said, "but with fine talent heading our operations here, we hope BBH will become a vibrant member of the Indian ad fraternity soon."

BBH India is led by Subhash Kamath, Priti Nair and Partha Sinha.