His mantra is to disobey. To go against the grain. To question the status quo. To destroy the sameness.
He breaks stereotypes. And mindsets. And makes new ones. Only to break them again. And he has been doing so for 10 glorious years. He taught us to revolt and stay uncomfortable and restless in order to seek a higher purpose and meaning for brands and advertising. You know the man. And he knows you.
As one of the industry’s influential leaders, we would be delighted if you join us to celebrate the man in the most disobedient party of the decade. Disobey the social niceties. Dress the way you want. Speak the way you wish. Disobey your designation.
Join us for drinks and dinner as we bid goodbye to our friend, mentor, co-creator, co-founder of ‘acts not ads’, Ajai Jhala - the ashram man with his jungle logic who built this agency on social disobedience.
That farewell party invitation from Josy Paul, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of BBDO India, dated July 6, 2018, pretty much sums up the role of outgoing CEO Ajai Jhala, his partner of nearly a decade who helped forge the agency’s philosophy of ‘Create Acts Not Ads’, earning global acclaim and giving birth to social movements in the process of creating some iconic advertising campaigns for top brands. Think Gillette, Ariel, Whisper, Mirinda, Quaker, Visa, SC Johnsons, All Out, Aviva et al and you get the picture. “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell,” Jhala had once told us, explaining that for him, business meant targeted growth, growing brands and winning new business, all with a sense of purpose.
Here are excerpts from a conversation we had with Ajai Jhala a day before the aforementioned farewell party, in which he talks of his take-aways from a decade at BBDO India, moving to Kent to be with his family and what he is going to miss.
Q] What is the one big story that emerges as you sum up your 10 years at BBDO?
To me, the one big story is how we as outsiders and underdogs carved out a whole new way of creating brilliant and brave work on big brands by challenging cultural convention. One word (action) was chiselled into a mantra (Create Acts, not Ads) so powerful that we mounted a love missile (Social Disobedience) on it to challenge the way things are. The beauty of the story is that it was always embedded in the last two letters of BBDO. To DO is to be.
Q] How are things being managed at the ground level? How are you transitioning client relationships, for instance? Who steps into your shoes?
We always work as a team and no business is dependent upon any one person. At the ashram, we walk barefoot so there are no shoes to fill.
Q] What are some of the things that you are going to miss?
Being part of the next big social disobedience movement that BBDO India develops for a big brand. Pop Culture Wednesdays where once in a blue moon we would go and see a movie during work hours. The leadership meetings in the mountains of North India and Matheran in Maharashtra. The creative collaborative sessions where everyone rolls up their sleeves and brainstorms to solve a problem. Drinking rum with Josy.
Q] Is BBDO going to occupy mindspace even after you leave?
Yes, of course, because of its people, values and work, but above all for the spirit of partnership and co-creation instilled into the organization by Josy. But it is a not a one-way street. I have left a bottle of my marmite and the promise of more mangoes from Jai Farm next summer as a way of them remembering me!
Q] The invite for your farewell party, ‘the most disobedient party of the decade’ that Josy sent, says ‘Ajai Jhala - the ashram man, with his jungle logic who built this agency on social disobedience…’ Ajai can you talk of this jungle logic that has stood you in good stead?
The jungle has taught me to appreciate at a visceral level the concept of flight or fight. Over time, I have improved my ability to control my flight response. This has taught me not to panic at the first sign of a crisis or the first sight of a lion. As for jungle logic, every January I would tell Josy if I had spotted a lion or lioness at my father’s plantation near the Gir Forest and as surely as day follows night, we would win a Lion at Cannes in June. Coincidence, correlation or causality!!! Go figure.
Q] Talking to us last year, you said that you always look to attain a peak state of flow, where ability and challenge are equally matched… how is that going to play out in the months ahead?
I plan to spend time in nature walking, doing yoga, writing and farming in a mindful state. So hopefully I will experience flow and transcendence in a deeper and less fleeting way.
Q] What’s on the agenda for you immediately? When do you leave the city? Where do you go from here?
I leave for Kent in the third week of July. I am looking forward to spending time with my family, walking in the fields and woods that surround our home and reading BBDO India’s book ‘Experiments with Social Disobedience’.
Q] What would be your key takeaways from the 10 years spent at BBDO?
Take a position, have a distinctive point of view, act on it and for heaven’s sake don’t obsess about differentiation.