Ashwini Gangal

"Our competitors are not Ogilvy and Lowe": Josy Paul, BBDO

In a quick interview with afaqs!, Paul talks about how he thought of putting a basketball ring above the boring ol' washing machine and why he loves rival brand Surf Excel's advertising. Edited Excerpts.

Edited Excerpts

Let's rewind to around a year back. Tell us how Share the Load was born. What was the brief and how did you crack it?

You know, people around the world have been asking me to make a presentation about the 'process' that led to this campaign. These are random strangers, people from other companies, from TV stations abroad... everyone just assumes the whole creative process starts at the moment of 'a brief', but that's not how it was.

A brief is so transactional. We - the client (P&G India) and us - had several sittings, where we just discussed things. It was a circular process. One thought that came up was: should housewives be paid for the work they do at home? At the time, there was a news report on the subject and the governments (human resources departments) of many countries were discussing this. Another idea that came up was that of equal pay at work. Actor Jennifer Lawrence had spoken up about the wage gap between male and female actors in Hollywood.

We feel advertising is more powerful than cinema, even Hollywood, when it comes to creating change.

Even Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's gender equality-based 'Lean In' movement was gaining traction in India around then. It was the right time to talk about gender inequality in modern-day India...

Yes, advertising had come this far, but it was still at a veneer level. We felt it could go deeper. We feel we have the ability to think a little more than our peers do and the people before us did. We feel that we can change things. That's why a lot of our work is in this zone (ready reference: Touch the Pickle campaign for P&G's sanitary napkin brand Whisper).

When we discussed the campaign with the Ariel team, we spoke about the performance index of the product, yes, but we also discussed what's not being said, what's beneath - the larger cultural context, the social conflicts, and how the brand can achieve a noble purpose, especially since it had reached a certain level (of success in the market).

A new brand may not have the authenticity, credibility or right to suddenly take on something deep. People will say: 'Who are you?' 'What are your credentials?' 'Where have you come from?' 'Are you just abusing the system?' etc. But when your brand's been around for years, you have that opportunity.

"Our competitors are not Ogilvy and Lowe": Josy Paul, BBDO
So you decided to ask the question 'Is laundry only a woman's job?' with no talk of how well Ariel removes stains from fabric, when category codes demand split screen, zoomed in proof of performance?

We find it easier to ask a question than provide a solution.

The brand has been speaking about its wash capability, but nobody has heard it enough. Sometimes these messages require a more emotional rapping to come through.

At the in-store level, though, there's enough product demonstration happening. There's a lot of that in malls too. We're running programmes with washing machine manufacturers that allow men to get involved. Film is only a part of the integration.

And don't forget, when the first ad was released there was a parallel performance-based film on air that showed the stain removal routine. The film showed a couple doing the laundry together. But overall, it's a new way of doing communication, yes. Maybe younger couples seek a different approach to advertising.

It also depends on where the product is in its life cycle and where the consumer is in her life cycle. If there is a brand that has already taken a strong place in the consumer's mind, how do you dislodge it?

There's no definite path. You can create the path. And the consumer will come with you if she/he feels what you're saying is an interesting start. It's like a catchy headline or a seductive phrase or the Pied Piper who says, 'I'll show you a better world'.

There is a requirement to do strong performance-based communication as well. Remember how we introduced the concept of 'evening stubble' for Gillette? Men shave for office and by the time they see their wives and girlfriends in the evening they have this irritating stubble. The idea is about the functional aspect but falls within the whole man-woman space.

Yes, with Share the Load, people asked us why we didn't talk about the product. Well, a product cannot exist purely on the basis of its performance. It has to be connected to something that's happening in society. The product must respond to something that's universal, especially something that affects women, our target audience. We want women to be on our side.

"Our competitors are not Ogilvy and Lowe": Josy Paul, BBDO
"Our competitors are not Ogilvy and Lowe": Josy Paul, BBDO
There was no doubt that the campaign would bring women on your side, but didn't you run the risk of alienating men?

There's playfulness here. It's not an intense 'Them versus Us' thing. Men tend to smile it off; women tend to use it as a hook. It's about the game. At no point has anyone said things like, 'You can't do this to men' or 'We're going to discuss our constitutional right to so and so...' or 'You're affecting our status in society'. There has not been any such discussion. And even if it does happen, it's good for us, because it's worthy of a debate.

Also, today's men are far more approachable and open to things like these. If this (Share the Load) had happened 15 years ago, it may not have worked... but today social media has given everyone the 'license to feedback'. We've been allowed to speak up and talk back. That has created a whole new psychology. If not for digital and social, all our ideas would die on Day One.

BBDO India is like a newsroom. We're not in the advertising business; we're in the news business. We're here to create news for our brands. Our competitors are not Ogilvy and Lowe; but BBC and CNN.

Okay, we have to ask - detergent is a boring segment. Did that bring with it some creative inertia before you reached your winning Share the Load idea?

Yes, I'll be honest. When we started off it was a bit frightening, because, well, it is detergent! (laughs)

But when the people in the room are interesting, the product becomes interesting. You almost forget that someone has placed detergent on the table. The hashtag #ShareTheLoad was the result of a spontaneous statement tossed across the table. When it's so joyful, suddenly you're not discussing detergent anymore. Suddenly, you're talking about how you've never ever heard your dad apologise for anything.

We were excited by the possible discovery of a social situation because of this so-called boring product. Communication can make anything cool. The shaving segment was seen as one of the most boring, but we changed the way consumers looked at it (with the 'Women Against Lazy Stubble' campaign for Gillette).

Ariel is not the only brand pushing for 'laundry equality'. HUL's Surf Excel says it's 'As good as mom's hand wash' and airs ads in which men do the laundry. Lloyd has launched a campaign around 'unisex' washing machines. When trying to own a social purpose, isn't exclusivity a pre-requisite?

People have gone into comparisons about all the work. We don't sit and deconstruct our competition. We believe our competition has done a great job. We have received their communication like any other consumer would and we love what we saw. We have great respect for our competition. It is not either-or; good ideas can exist side by side.

We were happy to see more people joining the movement. It means we're doing the right thing.

There's no worry about others getting into this space. We're committed to this space and can't run away from it. We have to keep looking for new possibilities and new meaning in this space. We can't get fazed because others are entering it. We don't feel threatened. We are emboldened. Whoever is following us should feel like they're following the right leader. In fact, we don't want them to turn back.

"Our competitors are not Ogilvy and Lowe": Josy Paul, BBDO
Outside the industry, how did people react to Share the Load?

The day the campaign was launched on Facebook, I was in the US, doing a project for BBDO Chicago; I got calls through the night from Indian consumers.

One girl, who had left her company because she had started hating marketing, called to say the 'Dad' film made her want to come back into the profession. She spoke to me for half an hour. She said, 'I never realised the kind of power I have as a marketer. I stupidly thought I was in the wrong field...'

I got a call from a guy who was carrying his resignation letter in his pocket when he saw the ad. He said, 'The ad gave me purpose...' He decided not to resign. It was like a big 'confessional' thing happening. Just based on the stories we've received from consumers, we can put together ten editions of 'Chicken Soup for the Laundry Soul'.

So what is the challenge here on?

For me, the real stress is being able to capture this torrent of feedback. We need a whole battalion of people to do that. It's not about institutionalising the process of social listening. It's about knowing what people are saying everywhere - in cinema halls, on TV, in the news, in person and online. This is gossip... for change.

A Note From the Editor

Ariel has changed the way we look at green shirts, hasn't it? “... Woh meri green shirt dhoi kyun nahi?!”

Never mind the awards Josy Paul & Co. have managed to win for their Share the Load campaign for detergent brand Ariel, over the year gone by. Let's, for a second, focus on the award it didn't win – the Lotus Roots Award at the recently held Adfest 2016. As the name suggests, the Roots award felicitates creative work that's rooted in, and helps solve, a local issue, one that's unique to a specific country. That Share the Load didn't win this award is very telling. It means it's not just desi men who tend to shirk household chores like laundry; men across the world do. Indian men are, ahem, global in their outlook, after all.

Agreeing to run a two minute-long ad film on television takes a brave client. But it takes an even braver one to approve a detergent ad with no mention of the product's stain-removing capabilities. And that's not even my favourite part of this campaign. It's this – the women in the ads don't ask the men in their lives to help them out with the laundry. The brand makes that case.

Interviewing Josy, BBDO India's creative head, is always fun. He can give the most provocative question an abstract, philosophical, almost Zen-like spin. However, the answers he gave me this time were rather tame considering he's the kind of guy who can stand up in the middle of a flight and ask his co-passengers to help him out with a pitch presentation and get the air-hostesses to walk around with creative ideas scribbled on placards. True story, that. And he won that pitch, by the way.

He has found a fitting client in P&G. As a prank, one of the brand heads got Josy's wife to admit on video – that was played at a seminar – that he doesn't do the laundry at home.


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