Dec 20, 2021

Decoding Creativity x Effectiveness: In conversation with Harsh Shah

The EVP of business at Dentsu Webchutney discusses Vice's 'The 8-bit Journo' campaign, a gold winner in Creative Strategy at Spikes

Decoding Creativity x Effectiveness: In conversation with Harsh Shah

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Title of the work:

The 8-bit Journo


Harsh Shah, EVP of business, Dentsu Webchutney

Please provide a brief summary of ‘The 8-bit Journo’.

The brief: Uphold Vice’s purpose of bold and investigative journalism for the disconnected Kashmir youth following the communication blackout.

The context: Since 1947, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been afforded a special status by the Constitution of India. On August 5, 2019, the Government of India revoked Article 370 of the Indian constitution which afforded this special status. Along with it, the statehood was revoked and a communications blackout was imposed for security reasons.

No calls and no internet meant that the residents were left in the dark, disconnected from the outside world. For over 142 days, the youth that relied on the internet for news were cut-off from the world.

The approach: No tech/negligible journalism made the youth feel alienated, hence we launched ‘The 8-Bit Journo', the world’s first stealth SMS news service during a blackout by Vice Media.

On the 100th day of blackout, as SMS services got restored, Vice upheld its brand purpose by deploying a specially curated news service around youth’s loved subcultures—arts, gaming, sports, etc—and helped 1.2 million disconnected youth catch-up to the world with 6X speed. It shared six news pieces for each day of the blackout (947 in total).

Tell us why your team decided to enter 'The 8-bit Journo' into the Creative Strategy Spike. 

The core value that drove us to work on 'The 8-bit Journo' was empathy. Empathy for the youth of Kashmir who were left behind while the whole world was moving ahead.

The work stemmed from a rooted strategic space that spotted a very pertinent problem to solve for. Having identified the right problem statement, the next challenge was spotting the right medium for the message—owing to the communication limitations during the blackout. Especially when there is no platform available. With our ears on the ground, the opportunity flashed in our media research: the window when the government starts to roll back the communication—it usually does so in phases—starting with the SMS.

'The 8-Bit Journo' is a reflection of the perfect processing that undergoes value addition through all the verticals of strategy, creative, and media.

Winning a Creative Strategy Spike is a reinforcement and an acknowledgement to the creative benchmarks that the work has been able to achieve and that it continues to impact the world by solving for the right problem statements in the most creative and ethical way.

Every team has their own way of coming up with a campaign idea. In the case of 'The 8-bit Journo', how was the idea conceived? Was it by the creative team, the strategy team or was it a collaboration from the get-go?

Once the strategy team sparked the conversation around the dire state of the youth in Kashmir throughout the media blackout, it spread like wild-fire on the floor. From here on it was a collaboration between the teams to find the best way to reach our audience.

The next step was to find a way to bring world news to our audience, regardless of the blackout.

Figuring out the ‘how’ was the biggest challenge. In a digital age, where the internet has endless possibilities, we were at a deadend. Instead of looking for new ways, our strategy was to turn to the old. We needed channels that could surpass the media blackout.

And so, the stealth SMS service was conceived. Not only did we go back in time on the medium but also the way that the text would appear, using pixel art to appeal to our audience.

"When creativity is effective and effective work is creative, it has even greater power to positively impact people, brands and the world." What are your thoughts on this statement? How does marketing effectiveness drive creative thinking in your team’s work?

One of the most believed adages in the creative industry is that if your work doesn’t solve for any problems, then it is just art. And since the days of the print, this adage has been held true from the most classical work of Volkswagen to the modern work by Dove. When creativity is effective and effective work is creative, brands not only become a part of the nation’s culture but also drive it further. Take for instance, the work on Ariel’s 'Share The Load' campaign or Stayfree’s 'Project Free Period' campaign, among many other works from India that have been able to positively impact its brand’s consumers as well as the world.

All the work that we do must translate into the marketing objectives we set out to achieve in the first place. That is the single-minded barometer for us to calculate our effectiveness. It helps bring clarity on the table and shines the guiding light and helps the ideas be sharper.

Can you spotlight a recent piece of work done by your team that encapsulates the perfect partnership of creativity at its heart, but driven by marketing effectiveness?

Our recent work for brand Tanishq, an Indian jewellery brand, is one that we’d love to shine the spotlight on. The brand aims to be culturally relevant for young couples, but has been caught in the social media crossfire several times because of the increasingly complex environment we live in. Through our latest campaign, #MarriageConversations, we were able to deliver an unprecedented win for the brand, by uncovering an obvious but rarely spoken truth: weddings are surreal, marriages are real. Amidst all the celebrations and planning around the ‘big, fat Indian wedding’, an aspect that often plays second fiddle is the marriage. And so, we decided to rescript India’s wedding narrative by encouraging couples to talk about the marriage, as much as the wedding itself. We showed power in vulnerability by showcasing important subjects that have an impact on marriage—mental health, financial stability and long-term decisions to do with family planning—being tabled by young couples before their big day.

The campaign has won the respect of young India, and is being shared widely and organically across SA, with an unprecedented increase in positive sentiment. 

(This article first appeared on

Campaign India

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