I wasn’t planning to be at Spikes Asia 2015. But the world re-writes your life in ways you least expect. I got a call from the Cannes Lions organising committee inviting me to be on the BBC panel on gender equality at Spikes Asia. Yes, I was interested. One thing led to another and I ended up committing to speak to the Spikes Young Creative Academy and judging the Young Spikes Integrated Competition. And then, as I land in Singapore, I got news that 16 of our entries have been shortlisted on the very first day. So I was at Spikes Asia 2015 with so much to look forward to.
Speaking to Asia Pacific's top students at the Spikes Young Creative Academy the next morning was a moving experience. They sat in rapt attention as I meandered my way through my past trying to connect with their present state of excitement. They were at the starting point of their working life, and I was showing them the difference between a career and a calling.
“A career is what you are paid for, a calling is what you are made for.”
I know they got it. I know they felt it. I could sense the intense energy in the room. My stories had become their stories. I was thinking about the session as I walked back to my hotel. There’s no greater energy than when you put yourself in the other guy’s shoes. You feel blessed, you feel fulfilled.
That evening I was part of the panel discussion on gender equality with three amazing and famous women. Our topic was 'Celebrating Diversification – Putting Gender At The Top Of The Agenda'. The big question: why are there so few women at senior positions in the advertising industry? Only three percent of women are creative directors. We spoke about the individual versus the system, and how advertising agencies need to fight the forces of history, prejudice and societal pressures with more empathetic HR policies that recognise the many milestones in a woman’s life. It was about greater empathy. I was asked to be on the panel because of our advertising campaigns that put women at the center of brand ideas – be it Gillette ‘Women Against Lazy Stubble’ or Ariel ‘Share The Load’ or Visa ‘Saree School’ or Whisper ‘Touch The Pickle’. I observed that all of these campaigns and movements did well – were effective and transformational for the brands – because they was led by women. Was it luck? Or was it because luck is a lady!
Judging the Young Spikes Integrated Competition was an inspiring experience. I wasn’t actually a judge but a pilgrim of the future. These bright teams, with tremendous creative power and potential, will most certainly take the industry higher, further and faster. The winning team for the Integrated Competition won because they had got under the skin of the target audience. They had completely surrendered to that world and put themselves in the shoes of that specific audience – sharply and brilliantly. The other teams had fantastic work too. But these guys won because of the sheer force of empathy.
That evening we won 10 metals including two shiny gold trophies. The golds were for our movement idea Ariel ‘Share The Load’. It was an idea that empathised with women, and how they felt about the role of men in household chores. ‘Is laundry only a woman’s job?’ It helped spark conversation and debates and created significant PR, engagement and sales for Ariel in India.
Empathy is often underrated. But in the end that’s all there is. If you can feel the way I feel, you’ve got a friend for life. Isn’t that what brands and relationships are all about any way. That simple! And so I returned from Spikes Asia 2015 with two important reminders – empathy is God and luck is a lady.
Josy Paul is chairman and CCO, BBDO India