We don’t have a prescriptive approach to problem solving. The primary thing is to have a hybrid and nimble approach to creativity, producing all kinds of solutions for problems. Our approach has always been media agnostic and interactive story-telling, so we don’t believe in silos. In fact, you can see a certain diversity in our work — so, you will probably see human experiment on one hand and you can see a tech-driven approach on the other,” says JOONO SIMON, Founder & CEO, The Brave New World.

Welcome to The Future’s Here special series hosted by Creative Brands. The Future’s Here features leaders, pattern breakers, and radical thinkers from the creative industry, namely advertising, media, communication, and branding. My name is K.G. Sreenivas and I am the Editor-in-Chief of Creative Brands, a portal that covers the global creative industry and economy. Today, we have with us Joono Simon, Founder & CEO of The Brave New World, a Bangalore-based full-service integrated advertising agency. Prior to founding The Brave New World, Joono, who has had an illustrious career, was Chief Creative Officer at Leo Burnett (Sri Lanka); Vice-President & Senior Creative Director for JWT Chennai; and Executive Creative Director at Ogilvy. He was also Executive Creative Director Mudra South. “Like an octopus and stealth like a shark” — that is how Joono describes the work ethos of The Brave New World. Joono, allow me to quote Miranda in Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’: Oh, wonder! / How many goodly creatures are there here! / How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, / That has such people in ’t!

K.G. SREENIVAS: It was prescient on your part to be giving shape to The Brave New World back in 2015… I imagine you saw change, I also imagine you didn’t see things changing at the agency? And today, to paraphrase, W.B. Yeats, everything  has “changed utterly” and a “terrible beauty is born”. At the Brave New World, how are you dealing with the Corona world?

JOONO SIMON: I think, if we look around there’s absolute confusion to begin with. No one really has answers. There will be a lot of trial and error as you go along, because the absolute answers to what we are dealing with won’t come by that easy. I’d say that it would be a combination of trying out different things and seeing what works and keeping an eye on the audience and how they behave. It could be a bit odd but at the same time you got to be nimble to be able look at how you can reorient yourself sometimes. You know there’s a saying that “When the fishermen are not going to the sea they spend time repairing the net”. You know, for us, unfortunately, we got into the sea too while repairing it, so it could be a bit of a combination of things in that sense.

The thing that one could bear in mind is that while we are responsible for the brand, we need to be respectful of our client’s decision as regards their brand. So that kind of adds a lot more complexity to things, so while being the custodian of the brand, you need to look at the client’s decision/s and guide them. At the same time, you need to look at your own business, and see if you need to reorient yourself, you need to look at different models. So that sort of a recalibration is the way forward. It will take a little while in my opinion for things to settle down, until then it will be a bit of a trial and error. At the same time, we got to be very aware of what’s going on and keep an eye on the future.

KGS: So at this point ‘conversation’ is important. How did you reach out to your clients and what’s the sort of reassurances probably you gave and sought from each other? What was the direction they were seeking under the current circumstances?

JS: No, no, like I said earlier, the clients don’t have answers about their direction and as always most clients briefs are symptomatic, they will not tell you what exactly the problem is, they will tell you what the symptoms are, they could say that things are not happening, things are not reaching people and so on, but the underlying cause of these could be different. So, there needs to be a lot of rigour in the way you look at that. They need to be shown an analytical approach to problem-solving, so I think, one, you need to first empathize with the client and understand where the ideas are coming from and then use your skills and use your tools to rethink the points and then come up with the solution that could be very different from what you had described or recommended. So, you know, you need to look at things from an analytical point of view and shed your old habits. So from that point we are a lot more well equipped. The client also needs to understand that the older models may not necessarily work.

KGS: Hold your thought there. You have had your fair share of international honours at Cannes Lions, One Show, D&AD, Effies and Spikes and I was reading how it set you thinking about what was actually being celebrated on the global stage, and, therefore, what sort of work ought to come out of India, you know so to connect to what we are talking just now what is your philosophy at The Brave New World in terms of the work you produce and curate?

We understand that for certain
categories, broadcast media is important but you need to understand the thing if you are talking to younger people you probably need a whole lot of ideas and approaches. So, if you ask me in one word we are extremely nimble. We don’t have a prescriptive approach and we have a hybrid team that comes up with solutions tailored to
address certain problems.

JS: So, we don’t have a prescriptive approach to problem solving. The primary thing is to have a hybrid approach to creativity, producing all kinds of solutions for problems. Our approach has always been media agnostic and interactive story-telling, so we don’t believe in silos. In fact, you can see a certain diversity in our work — so, you will probably see human experiment on one hand and you can see a tech-driven approach on the other. We understand that for certain categories, broadcast media is important but you need to understand the thing if you are talking to younger people you probably need a whole lot of ideas and approaches. So, if you ask me in one word we are extremely nimble. We don’t have a prescriptive approach and we have a hybrid team that comes up with solutions tailored to address certain problems.

KGS: Joono, I want to take you back to 2017, where you say, in the story on ‘Once Upon a Road’ instead of taking the brand to the audience you thought of bringing the audience to the brand. In fact, you even created a graphic model which you put out on the Instagram. Can you tell us about the inversion of the narrative, how did you invert the narrative in taking the story forward?

JS: So, the client brief was something else entirely. You know there are catalogues if you look at any e-com brand — it’s all catalogue driven stuff, right? So, from the consumer’s point of view, they go through say Flipkart, they go through Amazon, they go through Myntra, and they go through  multiple e-com platforms all they see are catalogues, although there will be some price difference, some difference in terms of merchandise, but pretty much the same. What we try and do is to break this clutter and make it a lot more exciting with a  lot more consumer participation. So, we totally believe that the biggest problem with the conventional approach is that a lot of times it’s one-way communication, be content with it, and expect people to kind of absorb it and respond to it. But you are not truly letting people participate in brand endorsement, so this was an attempt to make people participate in the idea itself.

So, therefore, if we started with
the premise that we are gonna talk about a man who you know who is going to travel for the first time and the consumers, the audience, the road trip fans collectively navigate the story. So, you let people and participate in the story and take the story forward so we got 5,000 likes altogether and we made the story entirely with the part of the fan base, so they actually stitch the story together

So, we started you know with a story on Twitter — it’s about two roads, roads are all about how we are speeding along them, it’s about road trips and journeys and the basic insight was that if we ride different, if we travel different, if three people took the same trip they will have different stories to share because each person has different skills.

So, therefore, if we started with the premise that we are gonna talk about a man who you know who is going to travel for the first time and the consumers, the audience, the road trip fans collectively navigate the story. So, you let people and participate in the story and take the story forward so we got 5,000 likes altogether and we made the story entirely with the part of the fan base, so they actually stitch the story together. It was that way that we took the story forward. Then we transferred it in a graphic story format on Instagram and later we shot the entire thing with the same catalogue and merchandise and that became a story on Facebook.

So, it’s an idea that encompassed three platforms. While we did that we also took the audience along because they were invested in doing this because they were co-creators of the story, so they came with it and when we finally put out the merchandise, they felt that they were actually a part of that. So it is a cool way of engaging the audience and make them participate in the story-telling, essentially making them part of the whole collection!

KGS: Your work ‘Project Eve’ was also counterintuitive. How did you conceptualise the campaign and how did it meld with the brand personality?

JM: So, Project Eve was a different challenge. Project Eve was a brand launched by Reliance a few years back. The bulk of our challenge was about making people walk into the stores. Broadly, I can tell you that they don’t really spend much on commercial media not that they spend a lot on digital media either. So, in this case, I would say we had very strong data in marketing and so you needed to come up with stronger insights based on consumer behaviour, we needed to understand who we were talking to so the plan of the day became very very important. I remember back then the doctor would use the stethoscope as the tool to gather data about the human body and come up with solutions. Today, it’s completely different. Every single doctor wants blood tests done or some tests done so what I am saying is that any industry that needs to evolve, it becomes lot more data-driven, and data-dependent. So I would say I am learning from the past to move forward.

KGS: From that perspective do you see greater integration of agency and marketing, within the agency?

Joono: Yes, Absolutely. One of the things I would like to talk about is when we talk about data, one thing the all clients forget is the fact that you need to make sense of the data. When you say big data you talk about big lumps of things. Initially, you need to just segregate the good from the bad, you know, pull out the insights from the stuff. Data alone is not going to help, you need someone to translate the data into accessible insights and then convert them into content that you know you understand.

So, the role of the agency will have to be one of closely collaborating with client, get the data, and then translate that into accessible insights and then to content. Most companies have their analytical teams, they have data they are willing to share with the agency, but the last mile lies with the agency — but they should know what to do with it. It is important to understand that having data is not good enough — you need someone to make sense of it and convert them into accessible insights.

The Roadster campaign by The Brave New World.

KGS: The current situation has thrown up enormous challenges. It’s critical to be present in the future. So digital it was — that route to staying not only in play for both brands and agencies, but also meaningfully relevant on the other side of the pandemic. At the same time digital ad spends also declined alarmingly — Facebook and Google, for example, are expected to lose close to $45 billion in ad revenues globally in 2020. What is your take on the digital horizon?

JS: Consumers right now have put a pause on everything, on one’s own life itself, forget about stepping out, buying things and all of that. So when we are on pause mode, there will obviously be a natural fall in consumption. Consumption impacts everything. So, going forward, most consumer behaviour is going to shift online. It’s kind of dystopian in a way but we have birthday parties and parties on zoom today! Although it is kind of dark and may not last for too long, there will still be a recessive effect of this behaviour for long. So, the platform of choice or the medium of choice will be digital and you would also see OTT playing a big role because people are spending enormous time watching content on Netflix and other OTT platforms. So, OTT is playing a big role and creating content for this platform would be a big challenge for marketers and agencies and each platform behaves differently. You can just look at the differences, how one is on Netflix and the other is on Instagram, how one is on Tiktok and another on Twitter. So these are the challenges marketing companies have to deal with. You have finite budget but you have multiple and fragmented media choices. How do we really choose? Which one is more relevant? All of that thing has to happen with an understanding of the audience, who you are talking to, and what are the key things they want.

You have finite budget but you
have multiple and fragmented media choices. How do we really choose? Which one is more relevant? All of that thing has to happen with an understanding of the audience, who you are talking to,
and what are the key things they want.

KGS: One final question: At the Brave New world, given the circumstances, what were some of those if I may call them brave decisions you have taken while looking to the future?

JS:  I would say that you know when I started in 2015, I had a choice to make either to be a mini model of a large model, something like a network model like showcasing a mini JWT — the chief model of a larger model — or look at a new model altogether. So, that was the challenge I had. I could have been you know kind of misled by models that were around, because you already see how our conventional agencies have been doing well. I mean the empires built on models such as that of WPP or those of the e-Com giants. So we took a gamble on the future going by future consumer behaviour. But to start a company with a digital centre is still a problem. Yes, I would say that. In that sense I would say that although everyone is looking at, you know the current scenario in a negative way I would say, to quote that old adage, “it is darkest before dawn”, there will be innovation that will see us through. People will be forced to innovate, people will be forced to come up with new solutions, and post-Covid you will see a lot of bright spark and newer ideas that would actually be you know a lot more powerful to move things forward.