Shreyas Kulkarni

BBDO India CEO on the return of effectiveness, rivals, and why creativity must create value

Suraja Kishore believes that without value, there is no success. We pick his brain on these aspects of the advertising world.

A couple of days ago, BBDO India won the D&AD White Pencil for Ariel’s Silent Separation film from its ongoing Share The Load campaign. 

It is a remarkable achievement because this particular pencil is one of the ultimate laurels for creative work that makes a difference and drives real change. The Omnicom-owned advertising agency won it in the Sustained Impact category – this film was the seventh in Share The Load’s nine-year history.  

This work from BBDO India for the Procter & Gamble (P&G) laundry detergent brand makes an excellent candidate for the agency CEO Suraja Kishore’s definition of effectiveness – work that moves the needle on either brand metrics or market matrix.

Rather than partake in the removal of stain messaging like most detergent brands, the agency chose to speak about a near-omnipresent cultural stain – the lack of equality in household chores. 

Share the Load has won top honours at D&AD and Cannes Lions - creative advertising awards - and at WARC and the Effies, the two biggest effectiveness awards platforms. 

“A client like P&G is not into charity. They are making sure the brand has a real purpose and connects with the consumer, and at the same time, they are doing business,” he states. 

P&G chief marketing officer Mukta Maheshwari, in a recent interview on the ninth Share The Load ad film, spoke along the same lines; “This is our ninth year doing it. We wouldn’t be at it with passion, energy, and gusto if it wasn’t good for business.”

It is necessary to talk about effectiveness because Kishore believes many marketers, regardless of campaign size, are increasingly asking about its effectiveness and how best they can measure it. 

Such a question - "What will change after I do the campaign?" - was common practice a couple of decades ago and has returned with gusto.

“I very clearly see a KPI driven approach,” he explains and believes there are “a rare few marketing people who are in the boardroom making sure marketing is seen as an investment and not as a cost centre, who are looking not at budget but at impact.”

For some time, he says, people were not talking about effectiveness. "Today, it is very much back for building business or brand equity."

Kishore has been with BBDO India for over half a decade – he joined the agency in 2019 as CEO from McCann Worldgroup - and oversees the work on brands such as Mercedes-Benz, NIIT, WhatsApp, Ralco Tyres, Pedigree, Gemini Cooking Oil, and Whisper, among others. 

BBDO India's awards
BBDO India's awards
By Devendra Sawant

His staunchest belief when asked to define success, is to create value over everything else. “If creativity can create value for clients, I am successful. If creativity gets new business but fails to create value, we are not successful. If we get awards but do not create value, we will not last.”

If creativity did not create value, “there will be one Share The Load, not nine years of Share the Load.”

His words come at a time when the Indian advertising industry sees new creative agencies open shop every second day and threaten legacy ad agencies’ revenues. 

But Kishore is not too bothered. 

BBDO India does not have a problem, asserts the CEO, because “it has high creative equity”. He says there are bigger agencies, but they do not have a seat on the creative table. “Clients do not call them to build brands because they do not deliver that kind of creative solution.”

We need at least 200 MICA-like creative programs.
Suraja Kishore on the lack of creative courses.

He points to several new agencies opening shop and questions the lack of standout creative work in the market today. Yes, he sees a rise in advertising work but considers most of it “just deployment.” 

The CEO also does not understand why agencies that’ve been around for a while are labelled traditional. “There seems to be an externalised idea that it is traditional. It is not.” 

"Are we in the business of being creative and building brands and connecting them to people and has it gone out of fashion? It has not."

He uses the analogy of Mozart and how he’d be deluding himself today if he considered all those folks with a music app on their smartphones as a rival. 

“There seems to be a bit of a mad rush deploying assets on platforms which I call the post office approach - it hasn't benefited the brands; it hasn't benefited the creative industry.”

BBDO India CEO on the return of effectiveness, rivals, and why creativity must create value

And neither is BBDO India’s CEO bothered about the rise of project work which many or most independent agencies thrive on. 

Kishore calls it the “Tinderisation of the creative business.” 

Apply this dating app analogy where even married people are looking around because they think they'll find someone better to advertising and he believes there are a lot of disappointments and mental health issues. “I will apply the same to those who are in projects.”

“What marriage brings is a long-term investment into a brand. It brings a team that knows the nuances of a brand. Dating brings a bit of excitement, short-term but it's not impactful.”

He also feels it exposes a dearth of creative talent because if there are so many agencies, why is advertising facing a talent crunch? 

The conversation moves to the CCC - Crafting Creative Communication programme at the Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad  (MICA) which he founded. It has given the advertising world the likes of Rajdeepak Das and PG Aditya. 

“We need other programs like that. Its intake is 25 people at best. 25 in a year is no number. We need at least 200 MICA-like creative programs,” he laments. 

Kishore is not a believer in online ad schools. “Their graduates are not equipped with the basic skills. Yes, they are issued a certificate, but when employed, they really cannot do the job because they lack that experience and in-person teaching.”

If you want to create real talent, he explains, you need to include them in real life and “not swim through correspondence.”  

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