“If you do not know how to celebrate your good work, you cannot do it better the next day.”
Syed Gousul Alam Shaon
Managing Partner & Country Head
For Syed Gousul Alam Shaon, everything started back in 1999 when he started his advertising career with Rediffusion DY&R, Delhi. After having a good start there, he returned to Bangladesh and joined McCann Erickson, Dhaka in 2001 as the Head of Strategic Planning. Being a rare breed with both planning and creative capability, he then took over the responsibility of Strategic Planning and Creative Department at GREY Dhaka as General Manager in the beginning of 2007. Today he is an exception to head an agency in Bangladesh as the Managing Director & ECD, without owning any share.
During this journey from 2007 to 2013, he has lead Grey Dhaka to win 9 times “Agency of the Year” and highest awards at Commward 2013.
Under his lead, Grey Dhaka has become the one and only creative agency to win prestigious APAC Effie award and Spikes Asia. He also has led the agency to bag two awards in Ad Stars Busan and also the first ever shortlist from Bangladesh in Cannes Lions. Grey Dhaka has also made history with the most flash-mobbed video for ICC World T20 Bangladesh 2014. According to Fox News it was bigger than J Lo and Pitbull’s World Cup song.
With his versatile talent, Shaon has acted in numerous TV commercials and television dramas. Aside advertising and other forms of art, he is equally passionate about Table Tennis, voluptuous about books and obsessive about movies and music.
In an exclusive interview with Bangladesh Brand Forum, on the occasion of Commward 2015, Shaon shares many of his deep insights and inspirations as well as highlights some guidelines for the advertising industry & professionals.
BBF: You are one of the most inspiring creative leaders of the country, always coming up with brilliant ad campaigns and ideas. What encourages you most to think out of the box and break the obsolescent formulas?
Syed Gousul Alam: Bangladesh inspires me the most. When I say Bangladesh, I mean the people – the chaos – the enthusiasm of the youth of Bangladesh. Being a professional of advertising and communication, I have always realized, there are so much more to do in this country and this inspires me a lot.
BBF: In many of your conversations you mentioned about your fantastic childhood that helped you to be very imaginative and to be incredibly creative. Would you like to share few words about it?
Syed Gousul Alam: As we all know, the human brain develops the most within the age of 12 and the way a human being grows up, fundamentally forms his vital characteristics. I feel fortunate that my childhood was an incredible experience with a mixture of culture, values and humor. I grew up in a house full of bookshelves. Though, at that age I hardly knew what were all those books about, afterwards it eventually made me a bookworm and the habit still continues with me.
The most interesting part of my early years was my grandmother’s house where I got the best lessons about culture and norms. I read Satyajit Ray for the first time when I was in second grade. Those practices actually shaped my way of thinking, sense of humor and observation towards society.
BBF: What are the major changes that took place in our advertising industry over the last decade?
Syed Gousul Alam: Firstly, the competition has increased to a remarkable level. Therefore, when competition increases, the quality of work improves in parallel. In a competitive environment, it is not easy to create a campaign or set strategy satisfying the demands of clients. So, doing something basic or typical does not work anymore. Silly songs and dances are outdated now. Secondly, there are more professionals joining in from different cultures who understand the game. Thirdly, the proliferation of media – internet, satellite channels and so on has changed the industry most remarkably. From clients to consumers, everyone gets to know about the latest happenings around them instantly. So, advertisers need to dial up their game and play better than they used to do. Finally, as a country, the confidence level Bangladesh has gained in the last decade, from cricket to economy and all other aspects, has triggered the new progress of communication and advertising.
BBF: Do you think we are now able to compete with the global players in terms of quality? How can we perk up more?
Syed Gousul Alam: Any day! From skill, confidence and intelligence perspective we are as good as anybody in the world. The thing that has not happened is the last connection, in which we will create and express. Well, that part is happening right now as we are talking and expressing our thoughts. I think, it’s just a matter of time, may be two or three years when we will see the blast – our country taking the lead in many creative sectors.
To perk up the potentials we got, we have to change the habit of perceiving negatively about our nation. We should start with a positive attitude while doing something. And the moment you become positive, the rest of the journey becomes much more enthusiastic and exciting. We need to have more patience. Nothing happens overnight and being patient while approaching things enriches the quality.
Another important fact is that the youth needs to go a bit more deep into what they do; they need to read more. The reading habit has gone down drastically. There is a huge difference between information and knowledge. Today’s internet revolution has helped to get the information but few of us are making it up to knowledge. So, these are few sectors, in my opinion, where we need to improve.
BBF: Under your lead, Grey Dhaka has become the one and only creative agency to win international awards. What are the next resolutions?
Syed Gousul Alam: Last year, Grey Bangladesh got shortlisted for Cannes Lions and we are the first agency from this country to reach such platform. By standard, this is actually a big achievement because Cannes Lions is the biggest award for creativity in the world. The category, in which Grey Dhaka was shortlisted, had 14 thousand entries and our agency was among the best 100. We have won at Spikes Asia last year. As a Bangladeshi, I am the first one to serve as a Juror in this year’s Spikes Asia. As an organization, we follow the same rule I have mentioned previously that we are as good as anybody.
I have immense trust in my organization – next year we will win at Cannes. There are beautiful projects we are designing which will help the country, the brand and make sure that Grey Bangladesh wins at Cannes. That’s a promise.
BBF: Many history making campaigns including the ICC T20 World Cup campaign happened under your leadership. Can you name some of your favorite campaigns and share the strategies behind them in brief?
Syed Gousul Alam: Frutika is of course a very favorite campaign of mine; it has an emotional connection with me also. When I became the general manager of Grey Bangladesh, we were going through a really bad phase in business context. In that challenging period, Frutika was the first campaign that grabbed attention of the mass and everybody from the industry was talking about Grey, again.
PhothomAlo’s ‘BodleJao, Boodle Dao’ and BBC Janala’s ‘Chailei Hoi’, Grameenphone’s Internet Campaign, and ‘Spelling Bee’ are few of the favorite campaigns of mine.
BBF: In your opinion, what is the role of creativity in advertising?
Syed Gousul Alam: Creativity is the centerpiece of advertising and communication business. Creativity does not mean only an intangible thought translating into a television commercial or a press ad; it’s a centerpiece of ideation. I always say, God had an idea called world and he created it. So, the world also had been an idea before it was created. So, when you are in a job of ideation or idealization, moreover in an advertising industry, creativity is everything.
BBF: What is your opinion about Commward? How do you think Commward can inspire new emerging AD agencies to come up with ground-breaking campaigns?
Syed Gousul Alam: To be honest, Commward is the only saving grace in the award scene in this country. For us, there is no other award in the advertising and communication scene. The industry is booming at full speed, numbers of people are working here and Commward is the only appreciation for us till now. For the agencies, Commward is a part of the regime now. Every year we wait for Commward to come when the community will be together and celebrate the best campaigns.
Thinking positively and celebration are much correlated. If you do not know how to celebrate your good work, you cannot do it better the next day. So, it’s an inspiration for all of us to work so well throughout the whole year, so that we can be recognized in Commward.
BBF: Share few words about your session in the Communication Summit 2015.
Syed Gousul Alam: My last two years at Cannes Lions has done wonders to me; it was an amazing experience to see how the best creative minds are thinking today.
In my session for Commward 2015, I have projected insights from those experiences as well. I have always tried to point out the fact that advertising agencies are not being treated as they are supposed to be. The flow chart is: firstly there are businesses, then culture & society, then the brands and lastly the advertising agencies. So advertising agencies always sit in the fringe, like a sideline of a football match which might be needed or the other way around. Clients might often say, “I don’t have money this year, so I don’t need you”. So, my session was about making my colleagues aware of the fact that the consumers have changed – they are independent and more informed about us; thus, we should move from the fringe to business context. We need to be business partners rather than a communication partner. To achieve this, I have shared my thoughts on how we need to get into Solvetizing from Advertising.
As an agency we have to solve our clients’ problems rather than trying to create image, awareness and emotional stuffs. And through this solving process we have to build brands. It will make the industry more dynamic and serve deeper partnering with the clients. Becoming an integral part of their business will make them consult us at the time of decisions.
BBF: What would be your ‘tip to triumph’ for the young Marketers?
Syed Gousul Alam: Be more human. In this era of virtual socialization, I think we often forget to be human. The world is extremely chaotic right now. As because the advertising professionals are always one step ahead of everyone in case of sharing ideas and spreading thoughts, they need to learn to love more. They are the one who has got to hug the people and say, ‘Don’t get upset, things will be better off’. The world needs them.
Marketers need to go beyond the marketing room and get into the societal need. Now that the society is much more connected than ever before, the more the marketers will be society centric, the better and easier they can build brands.
Interviewed and Compiled by