The Ogilvy India office in Mumbai is buzzing with energy when Devika Seth Bulchandani, Global CEO, Ogilvy, and India Chairman,Piyush Pandey, take the stage. Bulchandani talks intensely about her work, growing up in Amritsar and how she wanted to do everything that her elder brothers did. The boundary pushing continued right through her life, winning her many accolades for her work at McCann earlier – for the Mastercard ‘ priceless’ campaign and the iconic ‘ fearless girl’ symbol of equality on Wall Street.
Ogilvy, under her leadership, was named the network of the year at the 2022 Cannes Lions and bagged the prestigious Titanium Lion for the Shah Rukh Khan-My Ad for Cadbury Celebrations. In this interview, she talks about the digital transformation happening but how everything still boils down to the power of creativity and the great idea. Excerpts:
Globally, ad agencies are seeing a lot of turmoil, with digital agencies to consultants making a play.Do you think the traditional agency will continue in the form it is today?
What was a traditional agency: There was print advertising, then there was radio, then TV; it always evolved with the medium to connect to consumers. But for some reason we take print, radio, TV and put it into one bucket and put digital in the other. Agencies will keep evolving in how they tell stories to consumers, whether through technology or data — that evolution is always going to keep happening. If consumers are on different devices, we need to connect with them and understand them. But I will still say that the power of creativity will reign supreme.
Advertising is becoming more tech-led.Are agencies equipped for this digital transformation?
We will be hiring more tech people who understand it. Think about the old world of how agencies surrounded themselves in the ecosystem of partnerships: there were production companies who helped make TV to radio commercials. Today we need a different set of partners; tech companies and people who are doing things in new ways. So everything is exploding; we are working in more mediums than ever and our partnerships to make that work a reality are with different kinds of companies. So even the Mondelez work ( the Cadbury hyperlocal campaign with Shah Rukh Khan where kiranas could customise the ad to their needs), there was a tech partner involved in making that a reality, but we also have a creative technologist who is here inside to speak that language. There is no shortage of imagining new ideas- the critical thing is how we make it real.
How has the portfolio of people you hire changed for you?
Advertising was always an industry that attracted different kinds of people- I have always said that there are more ex-lawyers in advertising. (laughs). We have always attracted different kinds of people, and we need them because the way creativity is expressed is so varied. You will find people in the creative eco system having one foot in the world of advertising.
Will Ogilvy look at hiring more technologists or will you look at outsourcing?
Both. We are hiring more technologists here in India and we are doing it in other markets as well. But with the rapid speed at which technology moves we have got to have partnerships. I don’t think there will ever be a case where we will have all the technical expertise and nor should we, that is not the core of our operations. But we need the people who are fluent in that language and making sure we have access and relationships with what is happening at the cutting edge, so that we can utilise that and make our ideas real. It’s a balance of both.
Where does Ogilvy India rank for you? In the top five?
In terms of revenues, it would be in the top five globally; by reputational halo I would say it’s one of the top ranked, even in India it’s top of the game.
Will it come into the top three soon in the Ogilvy network?
I just challenged them to use this moment to scale up and become even bigger.
Agencies were seen as the most articulate in a boardroom of clients, but today clients are seeking smaller and nimbler agencies and making it transactional rather than building relationships. How will that affect larger agencies like you?
The biggest reason why we talk about these things is due to the scarcity of time; time has become the biggest currency. I spend a lot of time with clients and I have not found any hesitation or resistance for them to want to give you a seat at the table when you add true value for them. The speed to value has become a lot more important to clients today. I went and met Deepak from Mondelez (Deepak Iyer, President, India) and he spent an hour with us. It was a seat at the highest table there, but Ogilvy India has earned the right to be at the highest table.
Do you see newer geographies besides New York becoming more relevant for ad agencies?
This year in Cannes I called it the year of India. If you were at the final night, I was counting, India showed up four or five times. Just look at my own appointment, it kind of feels like it is a moment. You have so many CMOs at the global stage who are Indian- so it does feel like there is a moment.
Do agencies obsess too much about awards ?While consultants are walking away with the big bucks?
Our product is about pride, they don’t do what we do. They are not in the creative business. In any creative industry, pride and product is a big part of it; Hollywood has it too - when you are creating stories, it’s an important part of it. They (consultants) don’t do it; they do martech implementation.Our core business is creativity.
Clients are finding digital advertising is not working the way it is and there’s a move back to print and TV? Are the sands shifting again?
In any revolution it will swing like a pendulum. I am not sure it’s coming back but it will always find the middle ground. The truth is, forget the medium, forming emotional connections with human beings has powerful results for a brand relationship with a consumer. That’s an irrefutable truth.
Many ads were under fire in India and clients withdrew them. So in today’s environment are brands chary of taking a stand?
It’s not only about taking a stand but also reflective of modern reality. In a lot of markets it’s not one dimensional; when you tread into waters like that, there’s always going to be difficulties.We tell clients let’s figure out what’s right for you to do. The world’s quite polarised today, so some people will agree, some won’t and there will be a discussion. It’s how we deal with that and how as brands they are ready to deal with all that.
Do you see more home grown brands going global from India?
Innovation generally travels from the West to the East, that’s been the path, but I hope that changes. Right now what I am seeing is in the entire Asian operations India is a crown jewel and Asia is a stallion. At the London International awards we are going to see work from India and also from Bangkok that is spectacular. I see myself as an individual version of that. Indian exports of leaders have already happened. We have a very unique culture so if the brand is based on local insight it’s harder for them to go global.
Do talk about your rise to the top in a mostly male and white dominated ad industry in the US.
One we need more of those men to be champions of us (like me), a diverse woman in the US, and two we need more women out there to believe that there are guys out there who are doing the right thing. And they deserve a lot of credit. Harris (Harris Diamond, former CEO, McCann) gave me tough lessons as he was preparing me; Rob (Rob Reilly, former Global Creative Chairman, McCann) believed in me. I got the preparation and the belief and Mark (Mark Read, WPP CEO) gave me the ultimate stage. Then there was Nina DiSesa (former Chief Creative Officer, McCann), she’s an incredible woman leader. She was my true mentor; I actually call her my tormentor ( laughs). I learnt more about how to lead like a woman from her; those guys got me ready, gave me the platform but she taught me how to be an incredible woman leader.
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