FA Bianca, I don’t know if you remember but we had a chat previously. So great to meet you again! I’m based in Lahore and in the middle of a transition from Lahore to Hamburg. I’m connecting from my room, and have just sent my cat out so she doesn’t disturb us in the middle of this.
BG That’s great. As you know, I’m a partner and co-executive creative director at Mischief. We started Mischief about... I think it will be two years in June 2022. Right now, I’m in Brazil, in São Paulo visiting family. That’s where I’m from. I moved to the States 12 years ago to work at JWT New York and then I worked at BBDO New York. Then we started Mischief: me, Greg Hahn, who used to be the CCO of BBDO New York, my partner Kevin Mulroy, who’s the other partner and executive creative director, and some other amazing folks. And I’m excited to talk to you again.
We are based in New York, we just opened our office, our space. It’s in Dumbo. So we decorated, we did construction work, and now it’s finally up and running.
We are playing it by ear to see how we’re going to do the whole ‘going back to the office’ thing. It’s very flexible, and we want to keep the mindset of ‘no fixed address’. So people can work from anywhere, work on their hours, whenever it makes sense to them. We want to respect people’s schedules and preferences, but a lot of people like being in the office and it works, especially for the juniors. They can benefit by being around people, so we have this space now in Dumbo.
FA When I graduated, I didn’t know there was a role like copywriter or being a creative in advertising. I just knew BBDO because I had studied them in business school. I was intrigued
we had them here in Pakistan. You can guess that advertising isn’t that big of an industry in Pakistan. It’s very small and limited to certain cities.
Surprisingly, BBDO was in Lahore and that is where
I started as a copywriter. That has been the only agency where I’ve worked in Pakistan. The good thing was that I entered as a person who didn’t know what copywriting meant, what being a creative meant.
I went from a creative associate level to a senior creative/copywriter in 4.5 years. Now I want to learn more. It was the global BBDO network that showed me that there is more to creativity than where the Pakistani industry is currently at. Bianca, your work was one of the many works in BBDO’s network that inspired me to get out of the comfort zone of my country, and the way that advertising is run here, and explore more.
You were one person I reached out to through my network. I approached a lot of mentors and they gave a perspective of what it’s like to be an ex-pat creative in the US, UK, or Europe. I decided a market change was what I needed. I’m now moving to Publicis One Touch in Hamburg, Germany. They started in the pandemic as well, just like Mischief, and are catering to the global brand of Nivea.
BG We all want to keep the learnings from the pandemic, and apply them after we’re back in the office. I think we have to see how it’s going to work when some people are in the office and some people are not.
The quick business trips will be something that we’ll do less of. The cost is not good for the planet and not necessarily good for the business. Obviously, there’ll be big meetings and it’s important to have face time. But we need to think through when it makes sense so we can save everyone from burnout and then people can spend more time with their families or partners.
Same goes for production. We saw that working remotely is not ideal, but a lot of it can be better. If you don’t have to go to a shoot for many days, and you can do some days via Zoom, and then join for the rest, that’s great.
L[A] Both of you either have moved, or are about to move, between cultures. How do you think that can feed into the work?
FA In Pakistan, I’ve never worked with a creative partner, ie. an art director. Do I need one? This is a new concept for me because, for the first time in five years, I’ll have a creative partner in terms of art direction.
I’m moving to an agency where I’ve been told that almost 95 percent of the people there are ex-pats, and only a few of them speak German. So we are working with our second language, English. We’re not speaking in our first language, and we’re working in a country where most of us don’t speak the national language.
So a whole lot of adjusting, more learning and sometimes just listening in and absorbing the new information so I can implement it for the global campaigns, is what this cultural shift means right now for me. In Pakistan, we were in a little bubble where everyone knows everything, both languages, be it Urdu or English, everyone will understand that. There’s nothing that you need to be cognisant of, no sensitivity around cultures because everyone’s from the same place, same country.
This new learning will affect the creative output.
If you’re sitting in a brainstorm session and somebody is bringing in an insight from his or her culture, then you would probably go back and research on it. There might be some expression that somebody uses that you might not be aware of, and that sparks something as an idea.
BG I can relate to that. When I moved to the States 12 years ago, I knew how to speak English, but I was nowhere near comfortable with it in concepting. I remember not being able to be myself because I couldn’t make jokes. The timing of my jokes were always off.
So then I was like, ‘Ah, maybe I shouldn’t make jokes.’ Once I started feeling more comfortable, I would make a joke and people would say: ‘What?’. I’d reply: ‘Guys, that’s a joke.’
And they might say: ‘Oh, I wasn’t expecting you to be making a joke,’ as if saying ‘you have no sense of humour’. I would say: ‘In Portuguese, I do.’
Almost everybody in New York seems to be from another country or from another place. Everybody has an accent and I think the people that did the best were people that were less worried about making mistakes with language.
There was one guy who always spoke in broken English but so confidently. I thought: ‘Everybody understands him while I’m correcting myself and going backwards.’
L[A] Why do you like working in this industry, what excites you?
FA What I like about this industry is that the spectrum is vast. You could be making a fun, entertaining piece of work and you could also be making very impactful work that gets the nation talking.
Mostly you are serving the clients’ briefs and you find few clients who really want you to be the actual agency partner, to come up with big ideas and solutions. But that’s when I get to really
use my 100 per cent and tell them: ‘Oh, look. This is another way. This might not be safe. It might just be an unconventional way of dealing with your brief, but it can get the work done even more effectively.’
There might be monotony for 70 per cent of the day where you are doing work that you have done countless times. But there is also that 30 percent that is new, where things are exciting and scary.
Sometimes we’d go out and find clients on our own, who’d accept ideas that we have for their brand. Through that we built strong relationships where clients would then come to us and say: ‘Oh, you did this work for us on your own. Now we are bringing you the brief. Let’s do this work and bring in a solution like last time.’
That is what helped me develop as a creative. Sometimes, an idea would come and you might have to find a client for it and that might get you new clients. Then we get to a stage, where bigger clients like Unilever came asking that, ‘We want an idea that’s like the one that you did for UN Women. We want something like that, which gets people talking.’
BG How I got into the business was more a process of elimination. There were all these things I didn’t want to do and I had no idea what to do. Then advertising sounded fun, and I thought: ‘Oh, I could try that.’ I didn’t know what I was getting myself into until I was in college, studying all the different areas and leaning towards creative classes and thriving.
I was fascinated with creating things that could become part of culture, that would change behavior, especially when we do work for good. Advertising is such a powerful tool. Using it to make a difference and not only sell chocolates, that’s awesome. So I found joy into doing that, and I loved how each project can be different.
It’s not just the problem is different, but the medium that you work with is different. The solution that you find can be from creating a new product, to changing the existing product, to creating a film, to using some new tech to create something that no one has ever seen or done before. So all the possibilities and the excitement around creating things that can solve different problems was something very exciting to me.
L[A] Is that because you both work at a time when digital is increasingly dominant?
FA Even more than just digital, it’s the time that we’re living in right now, especially with the pandemic. Briefs that used to come in to sell a product have changed to, ‘What is the purpose of our brand?’
We’re working at a time when brands are more consumer and human-centric rather than just product-led or brand-led. So that gives us more mediums that we can use to reach consumers effectively, or fast, or within a click, or maybe make something that gives consumers a laugh during this tough time. We have flexibility that it’s not just a film brief, like it used to be. It might be the NFT that they can own and feel nice about, or it could be a game that they play so they remember your brand.
BG One of the things that we pride ourselves on is the range in tone and executions that we do. At Mischief, we don’t want to be known as the comedy shop, or the shop that only does stunts, or the shop that only does big TV commercials with celebrities. We have so much in our hands, from different technologies to infrastructure, amazing production companies that can pull off so much... But the crazy ideas we come up with are always there to solve a problem that’s different, not for the sake of being different, but for the sake
of solving that specific problem.
We have to ask ourselves: how can we do something that’s not going to be ignored by anyone? That no one is going to think: ‘This is another brand putting an ad in front of me, they paid for my eyeballs to be looking at this.’ Instead we need to ensure they think: ‘Oh, I want to engage, there’s something interesting here. This work created some emotion in me...’
FA I am inclined towards brands who feel the need to have a purpose. It’s not just for the sake of CSR or that they think: “It’s 2022, so we must talk about something really woke.” That’s not an authentic reason. We need clients who want to make their brand bigger than one product. Consumers are looking for more.
Most of my prized work is the one that had a purpose built into it. Either it was for a health initiative or for a brand that wanted to do good and give back to the community while still integrating its brand at the core.
I’ve been working with UN Women and they have it as their agenda – to produce purpose-based campaigns for good from their platform. But I’ve also worked with organizations like Packages (Mall in Lahore) that have commercial brands, but they have also produced cause-based campaigns through their foundation. They have served people through that and made a huge impact on the country and its people.
My favorite ones have been with purpose, but that is not to say that I haven’t had commercial campaigns that weren’t fun. We recently had a detergent campaign as well where we annoyed our consumers by putting various stains on the screens. As a result, everyone was seen rubbing their TV screens just to see if the screen or the mobile screen was dirty. We frustrated our audience for 48 hours. That was pretty fun to watch, even fun to see my own family trying to rub the screen.
BG We want to make sure that if we’re working with brands that want a purpose-led message, then they are putting their money where their mouth is. There is a big risk for any brand that wants to look good by talking about something that they have nothing to do with.
We haven’t had that specific problem with our clients. But I think, philosophically, this is something that we see as being tricky, when every brand wants to do something good, if they’re not doing it on the inside or helping that specific cause in some way.
Advertising is so powerful. It makes sense, when we can really use this tool to change things, to make the world a more positive place somehow.