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7 minutes read

Multiple Fears Have Made Creativity A Lost Child In Advertising: Swati Bhattacharya

In an exclusive interaction with Marketing Mind, Swati Bhattacharya, the outgoing Creative Chairperson of FCB India, opened up on her more than three decades long journey in the adworld, its transformation over the years and why she wants to be a soldier of creativity without a joblist.

| Published on February 26, 2024

Swati Bhattacharya, the outgoing Creative Chairperson of FCB India

The first encounter with advertising happened at a very young age for Swati Bhattacharya, the outgoing Creative Chairperson of FCB India.

An only child, she grew up in a family where her mother was working in Public Relations and father in Indian Newspapers Society (INS), therefore, the home felt more like an ad school.

Starting her career with JWT and spending 22 years in the agency, followed by a short stint at Dentsu Mamalabs, what it took for her to join FCB India eight years back was a meeting with Susan Credle. It was Credle– the then Global Chief Creative Officer of FCB Global, who has been recently appointed IPG’s first-ever Creative Advisor– who gave her the opportunity to be India’s first woman CCO in 2016.

Under Bhattacharya, FCB India has won more than 160 awards- including One Show Pencils, Glass Lion, Gold Lions, Silver Lions, Bronze Lions, Clio golds, D&AD Yellow Pencils/ Graphite Pencil/ Wood Pencils and 4 Spikes Grand Prix- in the past eight years.

Opening up on the reason behind her impending departure from FCB India by the end of March this year, Bhattacharya revealed that it is mainly because of her sudden craving to explore and find new creative playgrounds outside advertising.

“It is just the human being in me wanting to take some time off and wanting to stand alone- without the designation and without the support of a big network agency. Just be a soldier of creativity without a joblist!,” she said.

In a candid chat with Marketing Mind, she mentioned that even though she and the team at JWT were making ‘really popular’ work, they were invisible on the global stage.

“In JWT, I was working on very successful campaigns like ‘Epang Opang Jhopang’, Pepsi, 7UP, Maggi Hot N Sweet Chilli Sauce and Polio for UNICEF with Mr. Bachchan,” she said.

This is in stark contrast to her time at FCB Group India, where she is a celebrated figure as she has been the one coming up with work that won awards, both in India and internationally.

“So, I have seen success, both with and without awards, and that’s the beauty of it. The beauty of my time at JWT was we were working with the most popular brands that were so culturally spicy that it didn’t matter if the work would never travel outside India,” she recalled.

With this, she also busted the much talked about myth of FCB bringing her in solely to work on campaigns for awards purposes. Replying to a question on the same, she laughingly replied, “I had never won or entered any award before joining FCB. If somebody told me then that I will have to win 160 international awards that include Cannes Golds, Yellow Pencils and Clio Grand, I would have never had the guts to take on the challenge.”

She added, “I have never done anything only for awards and so, the sole pressure of writing something that brings home an award, would kill me!”

“Even to win globally, your work has to resonate. It has to foster connections in various parts of the world. So, yes, I’ve won a lot but it’s all coming from the same source. It wasn’t that I was fixing potholes one year, fixing ozone layer in the second year and fixing organic crops in the third year. My award work is who I am, what I believe in, my sensibility and the brands who asked me to work for them expect me to bring my sensibility to them,” she said.

Additionally, she also pointed out that she gets invited to a client’s boardroom on the basis of who she is and what she can do for the brands. “And, that makes me think why there is so much intersectionality between my work and me,” Bhattacharya said.

Talking about her stint at FCB India, she mentioned that it was campaigns like ‘Sindoor Khela’ for Times Of India, ‘The Open Door Project’ for Millennium School, ‘Project Streedhan’ for DSM India, Horlicks’ ‘Bottle Of Love’, Times of India’s ‘Out and Proud’, STIR’s ‘Untangling The Politics Of Hair’, ‘Chatpat’ for SOS Children’s Villages of India, ‘Can’t Wait, Won’t Wait’ with Alia Bhatt for Dark Fantasy, ‘#DilDostiDominos’ for Domino’s Pizza India, and many more that made her eight years with the agency truly incredible.

That being said, she also highlighted that during the end of her time in JWT, she had begun doing short films and documentaries because she was getting bored with advertising.

“I would always say that for me advertising is like a relationship, and even Tarantino puts it- ‘Whenever you’re tired of a relationship, you should try a romance!’ But during my FCB India stint, I felt that out here, it became such a deeply romantic career phase that I never wanted to escape what I was doing in my day job. Not only did my work find purpose, my brands did too,” she stated.

Upon being questioned on the timing of her departure, which comes quite soon after the agency roped in a new CEO and rejigged leadership, Bhattacharya stated that it’s a passing phase, and it is just coincidence that the timeline reflects such a thing.

She wished the agency all the best and added, “I feel all the new young leaders in FCB are ready now, be it Udayan, Anusheela, Rakesh, Kartikeyan and Romit are ready for the next chapter and something new and exciting will get born now.”

In Bhattacharya’s POV, today advertising is undergoing a transformation and becoming more science than art, which is why it’s good that people like her, who could become critical of that, are moving out to do other things.

“Since the power of measurability has taken center stage, the quest of immediate reaction is coming at the cost of making a connection!,” she opined.

“Even when I’m judging Cannes and I look at some of the work that’s coming in digital or gaming, it looks really beautiful when I view it but just as I put my laptop down, I don’t remember one single piece of work. This is a malaise of the age that we are living in, and I think that it’s going to pass. This business needs creativity at the center and not on the sides,” she emphasized.

That being said, she also underscored that for somebody like her, who believes that intimacy is the algorithm of creativity, when the algorithm of science takes over creativity these days, she feels as if she’s having a lover’s tiff with the industry.

“There is a lot of fear in the boardroom today- We fear the client and the client fears the consumer- and when these fears talk to each other, creativity is a lost child in the power corridors looking for mom,” she sighed.

For her, what’s been the driving force in all her work is establishing a human connection. While she has encountered many skeptics and naysayers along the way, who raised questions like whether the approach is too soft or will the product differentiation come through, she has not only battled it out, but actually enjoyed winning them over.

“All my accolades are a result of this journey. And the fact that I did this while leaving office at 5.30 pm, makes it even more wicked,” she said.

On a parting note, Bhattacharya also propounded that women tend to have a better relationship with success overall, for they know where to keep it and how to deal with it.

“Women don’t do that- I have more than you or Mine is bigger- thing,” she said.

Success to her, seems similar to a roommate that stays with one for a bit, but for the rest of one’s life, it is love which is an individual’s only legacy.

“The awards made my CCO stint shiny, otherwise men would think I was just a diversity token. But for any man or woman to succeed, there is a need for an ecosystem for survival. Susan gave us that and that’s what made it so easy,” she said.

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