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Josy Paul, chairman of BBDO India shares with The Drum his views from an agency lens as also personal lens on what to expect in 2021. As the world starts taking the vaccine jab, he says (in good humour of course) that “the best vaccine could well be belief and optimism”.

I am waiting for my Covid-19 test result. A friend came over during the holidays. A few days later we learned he was Covid positive. As I write this piece, I keep checking my phone to hear from the testing centre. In a way, it’s like the year 2020 itself! A year of waiting and wishing that the deadly virus will go away, hoping that the whole world tests negative!

“Hanging on in quiet desperation” creates anxiety and mixed feelings. It works like a large magnifier. You can see every little detail of your journey throughout the year. In the early days of the lockdown, I was wondering what we were going through. I realized that the lockdown was like a ‘vipassana’ meditation… you can't go out, so you go inwards. It felt like a rebirth.   

Doing the right - and the brave - things

The year 2020 was a time for collective self-discovery! We were encountering things we had never experienced before. Very recently we had to let a client go. It was not an act of bravado. In these times, we needed the account badly. But we had to say thank you and goodbye. Why did we do it? We were seriously concerned about our people who were working on the account. The endless wasted time, effort, and mental harassment were just not worth it. It was not an easy call. In our 12 years of building the agency, we had never done anything like this. It was a test of our culture, our values, and our humanity. One of our values is ‘To do the right thing’ – and we did that in the interest of our people and the organization.

We were dealing with feelings, more than ever. Managing fear, anxiety, panic attacks, sometimes resignations. It required us to bare our souls to each other. Lots of therapy. We spoke openly as a team. We have come closer because of these breakdowns and meltdowns.

Evolving work-codes of a post-Covid world    

Outside, the fires continued to rage! The pandemic was pushing us to create new digital brand experiences for our clients. The sudden onslaught forced us to realize the importance of omnichannel readiness as more and more consumers were consuming digital channels at an unprecedented scale. The media and content world were changing at the speed of the virus. Our creative response to the new dynamics became our single-minded focus.

We started putting new codes to our life and a new order to our work, and we had to accept that nothing is sacred and that we must keep an open mind. It did not matter where we were coming from… we had to look at it from a new perspective - the present.  

We kept our creative wheel well-oiled. We saw that everyone was working in full force and our creativity was being well used. We were re-inventing ourselves and, in the process, we began to re-invent the system.

We learned not to judge too soon. It was a year of becoming. Looking forward, here are some notes I made to myself, more like a synthesis of personal observations and conversations I have had with advertisers, journalists, agency chiefs, students, and lovers of advertising:

2021 will be the year of emotional data 

Empathy, authenticity, and personalization will be the marketing strategy for 2021. We will see a lot more personal experience and stories influencing our work. We will see how, more than ever, the work gets more powerful when it's built on real human emotion. We can expect more raw honesty, thoughtful tech, and heartfelt craft in the campaigns. Big data and other tech tools will expand the power of this new reality.

There is no security, only opportunity

Creativity will no longer be only in the hands of a few. It is everyone's industry now. Or as the Cannes Live Manifesto says, “Creativity is extraordinary. It can come from anywhere and exists in everyone. It is in her, in him... And in them… Creativity is not only for anyone but for everyone. Whoever you are, wherever you are, stay restless. Aim higher. Push forward.”

Individuals will become more influential. They will drive the change. Large organizations will be forced to follow. We will see more and more start-ups competing for projects as people who lost - or opted out of - their jobs come together to create new moment-sensitive offerings.

Talkability and Trolls will be the new currency

Advertising agencies will learn to swiftly adapt to new content ideas and executions that work for the new media and social context. Consumers will seek familiarity and trust more than ever. Brands and agencies that have strong roots and emotional equity will thrive.

Ideas that generate PR and talkability, and get more than their fair share of attention, will be more valued than ever. Trolls will become a new currency. 

The best vaccine is belief and optimism

The best immunity to the Covid blues will be your inner rock and roll! When things are uncertain, you decide what is certain. You can predict anything. It is up to you to make it happen.

I believe the economy will bounce back, with communication playing a key role. Government, industry bodies, lobby groups, companies, brands, and all kinds of institutions will agree that the right communication will lead to greater morale and excitement in the market. Increased engagement will impact consumer sentiment positively. This collective optimism will feed the economy. Communication has the power to change the energy.

Here is to a brighter 2021.

Josy Paul is the chairman of BBDO India.