No amount of media budget can substitute the power of great storytelling: Santosh Padhi (Paddy)

Popularly known as Paddy, the Chief Creative Officer of Wieden+Kennedy India, told that we must stop sulking, embrace the opportunity to learn new tools, and infuse more passion into our efforts, as it will undoubtedly manifest in the quality of our work

Akansha Srivastava
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No amount of media budget can substitute the power of great storytelling: Santosh Padhi (Paddy)

Santosh Padhi (Paddy)

In the quest for an 'always-on' presence, many well-known brands are prioritising short-term campaigns at the expense of cultivating a long-term brand vision.

Santosh Padhi, Chief Creative Officer, Wieden+Kennedy India, said, “It’s a cycle. While today's marketing approach is comparable to the fast-paced T20 era, there is also a future for the T10 era. Everyone has become restless and wants to do multiple things rather than focus on one big thing, which is a reflection of society and we cannot shy away from it.”

But seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, Padhi holds the belief that 4-5 years down the line, when humans will be seen becoming and behaving more like machines, marketers will realise the importance of human truth, big ideas, power of storytelling and the importance of craft.

Padhi added, “Similar to the current times where we are witnessing a renewed appreciation for tradition and culture with a scientific lens, big ideas will also make a comeback after some time."

Popularly known as Paddy, the W+K chief told that the creative industry is very contagious. If someone starts doing great work, others will follow. 

He commented, “I want this industry to be positively contagious. Let's all produce great work so that we inspire each other. Hence, I'm expecting this leap year to really give us that creative leap.”

Padhi recommended that we must push beyond our comfort zones. "Embrace the opportunity to learn new tools and infuse more energy into our efforts, as it will undoubtedly manifest in the quality of our work. Instead of dwelling on negativity, we should stop sulking and direct our focus towards the positive developments within the industry," emphasised Padhi.

No amount of media budget can substitute the power of great storytelling and craft

Padhi then went on to urge marketers to invest more in creative brand ideas and crafting them well, than just spending a little extra to secure additional spots across mediums. He said many clients are putting less than 10% of their media money into creative development. They don’t realise that the channel/medium is just the platform and not the idea, it’s the brand idea/story that moves humans.

While creativity is subjective and an idea can come from anywhere, be it consumers, research, media agencies, content creators, or brands themselves, Padhi stressed the importance of investing adequately in creative storytelling/crafting which traditional creative agencies have been doing for years and have a better hang of it. Drawing a parallel with stalwart believers in creative excellence like Nike, he emphasised that brands committed to a strong creative product have historically been willing to pay a premium for the services of creative agencies.

“Clients are often willing to allocate substantial budgets, sometimes in the hundreds of crores, to media expenditures while hesitating to allocate even a small part of that budget to creative ideas/ execution of that idea. If a brand doesn’t have a compelling story to tell, no amount of media budget can substitute the power of great storytelling and craft," exclaimed Padhi.

Padhi further said, “In the last few years, we have witnessed wonderful pieces of storytelling moving us, work that has also travelled across borders. Such pieces of work keep surfacing again and again in this cluttered social media space that too for FREE!! because they are great pieces of work, that’s the power of great storytelling and beautiful craft.”

Why are creative agencies struggling to remain relevant?

The landscape is evolving, with brands increasingly collaborating directly with content creators, media agencies, and platforms also for creative work. With the shifts in dynamics, the challenge for traditional creative agencies to remain relevant has become even more pronounced, compounded by the emergence of generative AI as an additional factor.

Explaining the heightened challenges of sustaining a creative agency business, Padhi noted, "There has been a catfight within the creative agencies by lowering the credentials, value and fees with clients reflecting into the poor creative output. Adding to it, a significant 20–30% of industry leaders have departed from the creative agencies' arena. Regrettably, baring few over the past 15 years, the second wave of new leaders in creative agencies was not adequately nurtured, leading to their current struggles."

Despite these difficulties, Padhi is optimistic, highlighting that there are massive business opportunities for all of us only if we are loyal and honest to our business. “Look at the market scenario which has never been so dynamic and massive in the history of Indian marketing, with an increasing number of unicorns, new young entrepreneurs and brands who want to make their brand famous in no time. Let’s not forget we are the only mediators for them to reach consumers, to support our creative abilities. There never have been so many data points, channels, platforms and tools to tell the brand story to the world’s largest consumers,” explained Padhi.

Padhi acknowledged the intensifying competition, remarking, "It’s business at the end of the day and everyone has become a competition. Failing to excel opens the door for someone else to step in and thrive. Notably, media agencies are recruiting creative talent to capture incremental business from creative and many others.”

Explaining the relevance of creative agencies and defending his community, Padhi used a cricket analogy. “More than half the nation claim they can play cricket, and one-tenth of them can hit a six once in a while. Some of them even win a match. Does that make them a professional cricketer? Can they be consistent? Deliver what’s expected every single time? The ones who do that again and again, I call that professional cricketing/ creativity.”

He highlighted that we live in a collaborative world. In terms of marketing, if different specialists and super specialities come together (exactly like our Indian cricket team played during the last World Cup) with lots of passion, integrity and honesty, do what we are best cut for with a single mind agenda, complemented bypassing the brand baton to each other at right time without any ego and complexity, we can get back the lost shine soon.

“Remember only when the brand does well we all will do. Look ours is a very contagious industry. Let’s do great work and spread the right vibe, when you do that you, your agency brand live a longer life, sometimes even immortal,” Padhi added.

General Elections 2024: Political parties should look beyond the mundane and tell human stories

Political parties hold the potential to connect with India's massive population of 1.4 billion. With the general elections around the corner, Padhi expects political parties to go beyond mundane ads that feature their party leaders’ faces across the campaigns and push the envelope of creativity.

According to Padhi, politics have changed in our nation. Hence, political campaigns should transcend the mundane practice of featuring leaders' images and boasting only about their achievements. We are living in a more transparent world today, political parties and leaders need to be more honest and transparent. He emphasises that in a diverse nation like ours, a big human honest idea should take the lead followed by many truths offering peculating from that.

“Similarly, there’s a larger story for each party. Each party’s contribution to the nation's growth as they stand for certain values, which can be said in many interesting ways,” said Padhi.

Having said that, he believes that political parties have upped their creativity game in recent times. Padhi said, “They are very open to creativity. Consultants working with political parties have played a role in making them realise the significance of storytelling.”

Even if he gets the offer to work on any short-term political campaign, Padhi will prioritise his current set of clients over creating ad campaigns for politicians until they agree to give him full creative freedom.

Padhi commented, “Obviously, political ads will get us truckloads of money, but I would lean towards handholding some of our dear clients who have partnered with us for the last one year. Also, with the current team size, we can’t do justice to some of our existing clients and, along with that, do a massive political campaign.”

He added, “My favourite political campaign has been “The Great Schlep” done for Obama. It’s a  wonderful example of human relationships and how we as an industry have the power to change human behaviour and mindsets, If a political party has faith in me, and allows me to do something like this, I am game to even work 24x7.”

creativity media agency content creator Santosh Padhi great storytelling political party Chief Creative Officer media budget Wieden+Kennedy cricket