‘Advertising today is not about promoting a product but creating conversations’: Devika Seth Bulchandani

2 December, 2020 | newsx bureau

Devika Seth Bulchandani A List

In an exclusive conversation with NewsX for its special series NewsX A-list, Devika Seth Bulchandani has expressed that advertising today is not just about promoting a product but it is about creat...

Slated to take over as Chief Executive officer at North America and global chairwoman of advertising soon, Devika Seth Bulchandani is a known name in the world of advertising. Currently serving as the North American President for McCann WorldGroup, where she has been there for the last 26 years, Devika recently shared some valuable insights from the world of advertising in a recent conversation with NewsX as a part of its special series NewsX India A-list.


Not just advertising, Devika has also done some commendable work in the field of social change and gender equality. In fact, she was one of the movers behind the ‘Fearless Girl’- the bronze culture that we see across New York stock exchange.


When asked about how did it all happen and the message it sends across, Devika said, “There is a very interesting dynamic going in the world. One thing that we are seeing all over the world is that the trust in government, wherever we are in the world and whatever part of the world we are in, is declining, The data, when we look at it, varies from under 50% to 60% in different countries. But, at the same time, what we are seeing is consumers and people are expecting companies, corporations and brands to make a much bigger impact in the society. What we do is that we work with a lot of brands and clients to figure out what is the intersection of what they do from a business perspective and how that can actually create some aspect of social or societal change.”


“The fearless girl was with one of our client, i.e State Street Global Advisors. They are an asset management company and they had some research that said when you have more women on corporate boards, companies do better. I just want to pause for a moment and say this is not about having women because it is the right thing to do. This is about having women we are actually effective when it comes to business results. They had the data to prove it and they came to us to say that they needed to do something and draw attention to this fact so that more companies would get women on corporate boards. As opposed to doing a print ad or digital banner, which is you would for an asset management company, we went about differently and said we are going to draw noise and attention to this issue. It was going to be one of the few things that an advertising agency did that is never going to be taken away. Most of what I do, my grandchildren will never hear about but fearless girl is going to be standing there even when my great grand children are around,“ she added.


 Emphasising the message behind the campaign, Devika expressed, “We started by putting the fearless girl across the charging bull and the whole point was ‘We are here’. It was a very confident stance and the bull is a representation of the masculinity that prevails all of the corporate America and the corporate world.  Here is a 8-10 year old girl and she has her hand on her hips with this power stance looking the bull in the eye to say, ‘I’m here and we have a position in the same sphere as you do.’ I’m really proud to say that more and more women now have seats on corporate boards. That is the result of this dialogue. Advertising today is not just about promoting a product but it is about creating conversations around issues that we need to address as a society and as a world.”


On being asked how advertising has changed amid the pandemic, Devika said, “Very early on, I think it was March 12 when US went into lockdown. The following Sunday, I got a call from somebody in our team as everyone in the team wanted to do something. We came up with a campaign, which was called ‘I stay home for’. It was just a hashtag. We talk so much about how different media can play a role in creating any kind of behaviour change. When we started this hashtag, we got Kevin Bacon involved because he does 360 degrees of separation and people were just holding signs up that said ‘I stay home for’.  It was like ‘I stay home for my kids’, ‘I stay home for my mom’, and it really got a lot of traction. So yes, Advertising, communication, ideas, and creativity can play a massive role in all aspects of behaviour change. Be it making people buy their product, which is traditional advertising, be it making people do something that is good for them or raising awareness about a bigger social issue like role of women in corporate boards. It runs the gamut.”


Reflecting on how one should see the conversation on social media in respect to hate speech and making one’s own voice heard, Devika said, “What happens very often is that we start to think about the medium first rather than the objective first. The minute you start with the medium, you are doomed for mediocrity somewhere. At the end of the day, you have to think about what the objective is and what we want human beings to do. If I want to get from South Delhi to North Delhi or Friends colony to Sundar Nagar, I can take a car, a bicycle, a scooter, an auto or get on hitch hike. It’s all going to get me there. The question is what is the right method, how much time do I have, what am I trying to achieve and we tend to forget that when we think about this whole digital revolution of sorts.”


How does one manage the noise along the way? Devika responds, “That’s what I have to think about when I think about a campaign. Am I trying to create noise, what is my objective, do I want to get somewhere really fast or while I am getting there do I want 20 other people to hitch hike with me. It is the objective that really matters and I think we don’t pay enough attention to it. Every medium has a role, but it has a role. Just because a new medium comes up, we tend to think that this is the only thing that everybody cares about. That’s not entirely true. We have done very successful things for clients that have GenZ audience and TikTok but we have done really successful things for clients where you use Instagram with the most archaic medium called a bronze statue, which is like 3000 years old. It is possibly one of the most famous advertising ideas of all time. You really got to think about what the objective is and what are we trying to achieve, then we think about what the right medium is.”