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Brand Purpose: Responsible or Opportunistic? BBDO's Josy Paul and Future Brands' Santosh Desai debate...

... With Agnello Dias as moderator, it's the first debate of The Advertising Club's new series 'Vice & Versa'.

The Advertising Club has started a series called 'Vice & Versa'. "It's a series of online debates which will pick up topics that are being discussed for a while in the industry now," says Partha Sinha, VP, The Advertising Club.

The first debate of this series was about 'Brand Purpose: Responsible or Opportunistic' between Josy Paul, chairman and chief creative officer, BBDO India; and Santosh Desai, chief executive officer, Future Brands. The debate was moderated by Agnello Dias, creative chairman, Dentsu Aegis Network.

Dias laid the groundwork when he said the topic is one of his favourites, and discussed ad nauseam in agencies around the world. He spoke about the school of thought, which said, "It's about time brands pay their dues to society that built them and stand for something, that changes consumer's lives, and not just their habits."

He then mentioned the other school of thought: Brand purpose is an award pandemic. "Pick a heart-wrenching clause, create a clever product variant, or a hashtag, put your heart and soul into the case study video, and pick up your trophy. It's creativity without relevance, communication that gets likes, not sales."

Paul went first and said brand purpose is personal for him. He spoke about three ads which affected him. The first was a Nike ad that read, "There are clubs you can't belong to. Neighbourhoods you can't live in. Schools you can't get into. But the roads are always open."

The second was a Cadbury Dairy Milk ad, which "... sang of returning to your childhood", and the third was Hamara Bajaj ad and "the India we were all so proud of", and the surge in nationalism." It really felt good to be in advertising," said Paul, when he saw the three aforementioned ads.

We were taken back to April 2000 when Paul made a presentation to Lintas' senior creatives, and shared 30 pieces of work. He asked them to pick the top 5, and to everybody's surprise, each of the five picks had that "... powerful social message purpose" in them.

Paul also mentioned the agency David he started in June 2000, saying, " ... Within every product, or service, there is an inherent human cause, or purpose, and it is our moral duty to find it."

He also spoke at length about the campaigns he did. A campaign for Cricket Talk called 'Let's Get Back To The Game' during the time of the match-fixing scandal. 'Open Your Mind' for Essar that helped the company open doors for refinancing and also brought India's first OneShow pencil, and 'Lage Raho' for Alpenliebe.

Paul then spoke about Dove's campaign for 'Real Beauty', which asked people to redefine the meaning of beauty. "It was coming from purpose." He also mentioned Surf's 'Daag Achhe Hain' that made these brands instantly recognisable.

He then spoke about the time when he launched BBDO in India with the thought that "India needs more acts, not ads." He spoke about the campaign 'Education is Insurance' for Aviva, 'Touch the Pickle' for Whisper, and 'Share the Load' for Ariel. "We wanted to be at the intersection of where artistes and activists meet," remarked Paul.

Desai took over and started off by saying, "I'm afraid what I am going to say won't be sweet." While he agreed that brand purpose is a good thing, he argued about a problem, that brands are assertive, and the primary reason for their existence is to do better for humanity. He laid the blame on the articulation.

He likened today's brand purpose to an earlier era where brands made 'super claims', like remove wrinkles in three weeks, etc. "To me, it is nothing, but a dishonest exaggeration."

Desai went on to say brands are doing it now because there's a new generation of consumers that is looking beyond consumption. "To my mind, this way of looking at brand purpose is not only opportunistic, it is hypocritical, it can be banal and boring... and eventually it will not hold because it's not the truth," he said, adding, "It's not just dangerous for society, but for brands as well." He says you can't make the purpose, you either have it, or you don't.

He bemoans brands that now discovered purpose, and think they can lecture us (citing Airel's 'Share the Load' that was created by Paul's BBDO). "How can you have Dove and Fair & Lovely coming from the same stable," he asked, before calling out Gillette's attempt at 'wokeness' with its ad against toxic masculinity.

You can watch the entire debate here: