BBDO India’s Josy Paul speaks to WARC India Editor Biprorshee Das about P&G detergent brand Ariel’s “Share the Load” – one of the longest-running and most successful marketing campaigns globally. This interview is part of an ongoing effort by WARC to unpack lessons on some of the most creatively effective and enduring work in APAC. 

WARC: It has been over eight years since “Share the Load” was launched. How was the campaign conceptualised?

Josy Paul: It was the end of 2014 when we got the brief, “Ariel washes away the most stubborn stains in just one wash”. This was the larger proposition; there were ads running that showed this. What the brand found was that the emotional connection with the audience was missing. Could there be a way that some conversations around the brand could be created?

This was on the back of the work we had done for Whisper. Before that, we had done “Women Against Lazy Stubble” for Gillette. This track record gave us the credibility to manage new conversations and therefore create a new kind of connection with the consumer.

Now, we have a process we call “creative therapy”, where we sit and talk about the experience with the category. I call these “confessions”, not insights; we only talked about all that was happening at home while handling chores.

We were aware that around that time, there was already an amazing campaign done by the competitor – “Dirt is Good” (Surf). How do you rise when there is already a lovely conversation going on? “Dirt is Good” was all about the “outside”, it was about letting children play outside. We asked what was going on inside the home.

The creative therapy led to people talking about the inequalities we see at home. One of our planners discovered this piece of information that said an Indian man spends 19 minutes a day on household chores while a woman spends five hours. We found the data interesting because it was connected to laundry, an aspect of chores. When the brand agreed to explore this idea further, we wrote the line – “Is laundry only a woman’s job?”

The line was a provocation. I knew we had touched something raw. In this new world of social conversations, I knew this would help the brand because we were asking a relevant question.

Our first film was a simple 30-second spot in which two elderly women were discussing how women have progressed and as they are talking about how their daughters and daughters-in-law are doing better than their sons, the son asks if his shirt has been washed and then the question if laundry is just a woman’s job. Those 30 seconds kicked ass and started a major conversation.

It led to tremendous action for the brand. That’s when we knew we touched gold and then, of course, we struck gold in Cannes.

How are you sustaining this idea of “Share the Load” with a fresh approach each year and keeping it relevant?

Even we can’t believe we are still doing it. After finding success in the first year, we began to look at the reactions and realised how this needs to continue. It couldn’t be a one-off – this was organic and people were involved. In the following year, the brand wanted to continue because it saw that there was something that was creating magic and raising equity.

What we showcased in the first year is that a condition like this exists in homes. Then, we moved to why this is happening. We realised that it is about the conditioning of men. That is when we did the film featuring a father apologising to his daughter. He apologises not just for himself but for all fathers because he sees his son-in-law asking and demanding things while his daughter is running around doing the chores around the house.

We had other scripts but at pre-production, I felt that we didn’t have something that can make society think. I didn’t want to just write a film but rescript conversations. If the authority that controls what happens in the house is vulnerable, then change can happen. I remember saying in the room – “What if a dad apologises to his daughter?” Pre-production meetings were supposed to have been done with but we went back to the script. My partner rewrote it in 15 minutes.

Each subsequent year, we have looked deeper into why this is happening in society. We were giving men one more reason why they need to look at themselves and rearrange the scene at home. Every year, we look at something that already exists and we uncover it. The moment you uncover it, discussions begin.

It is the process of revelation that happens each year. All of these come from confessions, like I said, and not insights. It comes from deep listening, processes that allow people to speak and tell their truth.

Not a single script of ours is manufactured. They are all real statements pieced together.

You said in the past, “Create acts and not ads” – an approach we have also observed at WARC. You have done this before with Gillette and Whisper. How has this mindset evolved regarding your work with Ariel?

All of us evolve as creative people. During the evolution, you realise that you did something that was good for its time and then as an artist, you want to do what is relevant for the present.

In the process of finding relevance yourself, you are doing the same for the brand. The brand is not separated from you. I find whatever I do for a brand, whichever it might be, actually affects me.

When we did the “silent separation” film, I realised we had created something that affected me personally.

But as you are ultimately helping a brand to sell more products, how are you treading that line between provoking, being creative, effective and pushing hardcore sales?

This is where client partnerships make a huge difference. The Ariel team sees the value in what we have done and they leverage it across touchpoints. We may come from one or two touchpoints but they see how they can create a sentiment in the chain of distribution and how to use it in small ways across media to see that it results in better sales.

Some of this work is directly linked to sales because when you create conversations, you create sentiment. And when you create sentiment, you create desire. That is the nature of the world.

For example, when you and I discuss 50 years of (the Pink Floyd album) “Dark Side of the Moon”, I will go back and play the record. There is a conversation from which a sentiment has been created. And now I want it.

This is how we find our way closer to where sales happen. The client, on the other hand, takes what we have given and using the massive marketing muscle it has, takes it down to the lowest media point through other partners.

In 2017 and 2018, our campaigns were the number one in effectiveness in the world, not just for creativity. I am sure WARC looks at many other metrics but clearly, sales is one of them.

Also, more importantly, the campaigns are loved by men. We are not bashing men, no. We are very careful. We are not pointing fingers but only laying a situation before you. It is just a slight provocation.

IPSOS, without any request from us, has done its own research on this. I was told by them that men love the work more than women. It has the highest CTR I am told.

“Share the Load” is a great example of the benefits of a long-term brand platform. How does an overt focus on quick results undermine this? 

Some people might not want to wait. They might want immediate results, especially a lot of startups. They just want that initial burst to go to the next level. They may change tack completely after that.

It is not easy to answer this question but I wish more clients would be consistent with what they believe in. “Share the Load” is an amazing case study even in terms of smooth transition (within P&G) – how one person managed the campaign, gave it to the next and how it kept going.

We don’t get this much, to be honest. Should this happen? Yes, it should. When you are consistent, that’s when people start gravitating towards you because they have an anchor. Otherwise, you are losing anchorage.

But when do you say enough with a sustained campaign like this? How do you know an idea has run its course?

The most obvious answer is that if the conflict exists in society, you have to keep thinking of the next step. To find the little nuggets, you have to be an antenna and keep listening.

There are marketing measures that P&G uses to know whether there is a decline in interest. That is when you know you have to move on. As of now, we are not sensing it yet.

Based on the campaign’s success, what is needed to be truly creatively effective?

When Creative Effectiveness was launched at Cannes in 2011, we won the inaugural Creative Effectiveness Lion for “Women Against Lazy Stubble”. To see the impact of your work both in society, as well as in the bottom line for the brand, is one of the greatest highs. To see WARC champion this is terrific.

You do want to feel a shift, whether it is behaviour, attitude, brand sales, performance and equity. You are born to create change. We are in search of that with our work.

Creative for creative’s sake died a long time ago for me. Now you are responding to real problems and needs with your work. And when you are doing so, there has to be a real shift and a real solution that results in the shift. Sometimes you are lucky; it works and therefore, has creative effectiveness.