Purpose is rooted in a desire to start something. Without purpose, we’re lost. With a deep understanding of your purpose, you’re empowered with direction, empathy, and meaning. Communicate sat down with Kalpesh Patankar, Chief Creative Officer of Leo Burnett Middle East to decode the true meaning of applying the purpose paradox in advertising.
Why is it so integral for ad agencies today to embed empathy and emotions in their approach to building work for clients? What role does the deep understanding of human psychology play in today's digital age?
Very simply put – to be relatable. Over the last decade or more, there has been a paradigm shift in the way audiences perceive brands. Today, more than ever before, consumers are holding brands accountable. They’re expecting transparency and demanding responsibility. People do not want nameless and faceless corporate behemoths towering over them. They want real people with honest emotions, raw, unfiltered narratives, and relatable values. Understanding this is fundamental to our success. The ‘digital age’ has changed technology, media, and tools; it hasn’t changed the fact there it all still exists at the service of humanity. Across social media, it is people sharing memes and ‘viral’ content that makes them laugh or cry, it is people putting on VR headsets and scanning AR codes with their phones to enter games, metaverses, and experiences that make them imagine and dream, on every generative AI platform, its people putting in prompts to express themselves. Understanding people will always be fundamental to any endeavor in our world.
In image above: Kalpesh Patankar, Chief Creative Officer at Leo Burnett Middle East
While the concept of cause-related marketing has been in the books. Many profit businesses today are also embedding it into their independent communications strategy. Why is that? What factors contribute to the need for the same?
This ties back to the previous question. Businesses exist to serve a need in the market. And the collective needs of markets worldwide, today, are responsibility and accountability. People are becoming increasingly conscious about the planet’s health, individual health and wellness, sustainability, diversity and inclusivity, and equal opportunity. As a reflection of this, businesses are recognizing the need to incorporate these needs as a core part of their promise and offerings.
How can ad agencies work collaboratively with their clients to build emotionally compelling and empathetic work?
I would say there’s one thing that would be key to this exercise – vulnerability. We need to let our guards down and speak from places of truth and honesty – choosing to have empathetic, emotionally open, human-first conversations in our brainstorming and meeting rooms. When audiences realize that the brand is empathetic to their realities and needs – through work that resonates with them – their loyalty will follow. And as a result, business objectives too, will be met.
As a creative, how do you decode human psychology when working with content?
Oh my, the question is so scientifically phrased, that I’m not quite sure how to answer that. Honestly, I don’t ‘decode’ human psychology – or at least, I’ve never actively thought of it that way. I just observe and ponder, like I’m sure a lot of us do. What was so insightful about that viral joke by that stand-up comedian that everyone found funny? What was – again – so vulnerable about that speech by that student, which tugged at everyone’s heartstrings? What is so delightfully simple about that dance trend that’s got everyone tripping on their feet? You just observe, ponder, and try to tap into that well of thoughts when you’re tasked with creating branded content that would hopefully resonate in similar ways.
With the abundance of data at your hand, how do you find the right balance between data-driven insights and the human touch needed to create emotionally resonant campaigns?
I’ve quoted this before and I’m going to do it again because it’s one of my favorites – data can get you to the doorstep, and creativity will get you invited in. That’s what it is, at the heart of it. We’re fortunate to have such insightful data and information at our fingertips that help us make informed decisions. However, the data can only guide. It’s a creatively told, human story that will, ultimately, strike those emotional chords.
Building emotionally compelling work often involves telling authentic stories. How do you guide your creative team in finding and sharing these authentic stories, especially in industries or markets where authenticity might be challenging to convey?
I think, as a creative, you must constantly be a sponge for stories. You need to soak them up anywhere you can find them. In conversation with your cabbie, while observing a character graph in your favorite show, on your social media feed, on your morning walks, or in the adjacent aisle on your flight. When you have that, then you can always tap into your reservoir of life experiences when you have a brief and pull a suitable story from it. And fortunately for us, we live in a market where authentic emotions and stories are not at all hard to come by or convey. We’re 200-something nationalities living together in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world – people from all walks of life, there’s no dearth of authentic stories to find and tell.
With the rise of social media and instant feedback, how do you balance the need for authenticity and empathy with the potential risks of backlash or misinterpretation in marketing campaigns?
Do you know what the most exciting thing about an idea is? The risk. If you’re doing something truly different, something that perhaps hasn’t been done in the same way ever before, there’s bound to be an element of unpredictability. And you’ve just got to go with it, and if there’s a misinterpretation, then you’ve just got to be ready to react and respond with authenticity and honesty. However, as long as your work is authentic, honest, and empathetic – without being offensive, insensitive, or derogatory – I find it hard to imagine that there would be major backlash. The human experience, ultimately, is a shared one – and I find that more people will relate to an honest, human emotion, than not.
In the context of ethical advertising, how do you ensure that empathy is not just a marketing tactic but a genuine commitment to a cause or a social issue?
The only way to ensure that is by giving ourselves a reality check that anything hollow, will eventually collapse. Using empathy as an ingenuine marketing tactic will only get you so far in the long run. Audiences will, sooner or later, see through the window dressing and notice the lack of sincere commitment. Being genuinely invested in the cause or social issue that is relevant to your brand (which ultimately also equates to being true to yourself) and becoming an unwavering champion of that narrative – will serve you well in the long run. It's as simple as that.