Double Standards: How is it to ideate for brands in a foreign land?

Understanding the local culture and going with the flow seems to be the mantra followed by W+K Delhi’s Dan Berkowitz and BBH India’s Raj Kamble, Jagadeesh Krishnamurthy finds out.

Dan Berkowitz (L) and Raj Kamble (R)
Dan Berkowitz (L) and Raj Kamble (R)

Dan Berkowitz, associate creative director, W+K Delhi and Raj Kamble, managing partner, BBH India

How do you go about understanding the consumer?

DB: People are people no matter where you are in the world. Geographical distances aside, we all share the same range of emotions. I don’t really try to ‘understand the consumer’. For me it’s about submersing yourself in the culture around you. Talking to people, learning the language, reading the newspaper, becoming emotionally invested and living a local lifestyle, as opposed to just observing the world around you academically. If you feel like an outsider, it’s probably because you’re living like one. The best way to learn is to do.

RK: India was an ideal place to understand the consumer for me, as it is a country with many languages and cultures. It was in fact a training ground for my future. You see, in India, you have to rise above a single idea of the consumer and a single idea of communication. You have to cater to a diverse and unique audience. This training allowed me to quickly adapt to the language of ‘the idea’. So when I went abroad, it was relatively easier for me since I had to just understand the new consumer set which I was anyways doing in India while developing a national campaign.

Moreover, the campaigns we developed in London for big brands were scaled and used across Europe by translating into multiple languages, and so the experience was quite similar abroad.

How do you adapt your work accordingly?

DB: For me, great work comes from a combination of being deeply insightful and locally relevant, and at the same time universally understood and appreciated. I think the same applies wherever you may be working in the world.

RK: It was very interesting to work first in India, then in England and then in the US. It is essential that you have to adapt yourself to the local agency culture. For example, in England, the working style is very different as they have around 70-80 people in the creative department and you get a solid one month to crack a nice TV ad. It is more organised with well-written briefs and clear communication plans. All you have to do is creative excellence. In India, you always have to find out what the brief is. In England and US, normally you get signed briefs. Moreover, in England, you get the clients to sign on the problem areas in a brief and then one has to just get back with the solutions.

Are there differences in the way you sell your work to a client?

DB: No. If it is good work it should sell itself.

RK: Abroad, the consumer is far more mature and so clients are inclined to err on the side of subtlety and layered humour. I cannot say that it is easier to sell in India or abroad. It completely depends on your client,the trust they have in you and how they understand your creatives.

How do you adjust to the tech level of the market?

DB: Coming from South Africa I’m accustomed to being a little behind the tech curve and the realities of a largely unconnected population in terms of digital. The rate at which India is catching up is impressive and it’s growing even more rapidly with mobiles, smart phones and tablets providing so many more people with access and in turn creating a need for more great digital content.

RK: I think India is going to be the future of technology. In India we have over 700 million mobile handsets, but I have not seen a single good campaign ever produced using cellphones in this country. There over 120 million internet users in the country, and this is like twice the population of Britain and I don’t think we have used online campaigns effectively. I think there is a huge opportunity here. As an agency we usually think of television, print, outdoor, radio and then add the interactive elements to make it a complete 360- degree campaign, but I think we can do it vice-versa as well. It is the same case abroad as well, even if they do not do this aggressively. But what I discovered is when the clients brief us for TV and if the planner says that the problem can be solved using a digital idea, then the thought process can be changed. I learnt that if we create the brief digitally, we get digital ideas.

Campaign India