Shilpa Sinha on How Cultural Respect Makes for Impactful Creativity

After years of working in diverse markets across the globe, Shilpa Sinha, chief strategy officer for McCann Worldgroup Asia Pacific, has built a wealth of experience and wisdom.Reflecting on the impact of strategic insights and her most challenging projects across client and agency roles, Shilpa stresses the importance of meaningful brand roles in people’s lives. In emphasising APAC’s exciting potential and diversity, Shilpa offers valuable marketing strategies and insights. LBB> You’ve had an extensive career working in various markets, including India, the UK, China, and Russia. How has your experience in these diverse regions influenced your approach to marketing and strategy?Shilpa> My single most important takeaway from working in different countries has been that if brands want to come to life meaningfully, they have to be germane to the market context and respectful of their audience’s realities. Global brands can be unitary in their promise but need to be culturally representative and resonant in how they shape and present their narratives. The era of a ‘purely adaptive or rollout’ approach to marketing and advertising has passed. LBB> You’ve worked with a wide range of brands, from beauty and personal care to luxury automotive and telecommunications. Can you share an example of a particularly challenging project where your strategic insights made a significant impact on the brand’s success?Shilpa> Collaboration and teamwork are the defining tenets of our business, so I cannot take all the credit for any brand’s success alone. I can quote an example where I played my part along with other agency members and, of course, our clients. This was during the launch of Lincoln in China, one of the last entrants in the most competitive automotive market in the world. It was a time when a new segment of luxury consumers was emerging in the country- people who were moving away from status symbols towards a more personal experience of luxury. Lincoln was positioned keeping this shift in mind. Even the proposition of the cars underscored experiential storytelling rather than the selling of features. Lincoln now sells more vehicles in China than it does in the US.LBB> During your time at FCB Moscow, you won the first-ever Gold Cannes Lion for any IPG agency in Russia. What was the campaign, and what strategies did you employ to achieve such remarkable recognition?Shilpa> It was the ‘Ultimate Giving Pleasure’ for BMW’s 100-year anniversary. The strategy of ‘including and rewarding our competitors’ customers just like our own’ was built from something very fundamental – continuous listening to what our potential customers were saying in real-time, in addition to our own customers. The creative solution was almost zero-budget and delivered overnight but it had a strong impact. Proving that big thinking doesn’t necessarily have to be time-consuming and that big impact doesn’t always call for big budgets.LBB> How do you see the role of effectiveness and creativity evolving in the marketing and advertising industry, and how will you leverage your experience to further this evolution in your new role?Shilpa> Effectiveness and creativity will continue to grow in importance and will become mutually inclusive concepts. Creativity will increasingly be measured for its impact; Effectiveness will be more and more difficult to achieve without a compelling creative solution. My endeavour will be to rouse the strategic community to collaborate even more closely with creatives to catalyse creativity in new flavours to move culture, people, and category and advance the brand’s commercial success.LBB> McCann Worldgroup is known for its global presence. How do you plan to bring a global perspective to your work in the Asia Pacific region, and how do you adapt strategies to suit different cultural contexts?Shilpa> The key here is the expansive and inclusive way in which we operate at McCann Worldgroup. Everyone already has a global perspective because we are a deeply connected community across disciplines with a wealth of frameworks, brands’ best practices, intelligence, capabilities, creative inspiration, tools and resources. That powers our thinking, but ultimately, our strategic approach and, consequently, the creative work is borne out of the core truths we uncover in the specific cultural/market contexts.LBB> You’ve held leadership positions at Unilever, WPP, and IPG. How have these experiences in both client and agency roles shaped your strategic approach and understanding of the industry? Shilpa> I consider myself privileged to have been well-versed across the client-agency spectrum. This has taught me to be more mindful of priorities and pressures prevalent in both sides. For instance, I recognise that our clients’ mindscapes are not occupied by brand communication and brand equity agenda alone. Product development, sales, brand profitability, and media efficiency are just some of the many mandates on their plates. I am thus able to look at the bigger picture, encourage teams to understand and add more value to our client’s business and evaluate agency proposals with a more informed and holistic lens.On the other hand, I understand that clear client briefs and a readiness to take risks go a long way in generating impactful work, so I work towards receiving clarity and fostering open and trustful relationships that enable best-in-class creativity. LBB> McCann Worldgroup emphasises the importance of meaningful roles for brands in people’s lives. Can you provide an example of a brand that has successfully achieved this, and what lessons can other brands learn from it?Shilpa> At McCann Worldgroup, we relentlessly strive to create and activate enduring and meaningful brand platforms. A shining example of this is Mastercard. Over two and a half decades, ‘Priceless’ has been at the heart and soul of the brand and ‘owned’ compellingly in consumers’ minds. But priceless has been constantly advancing- from connecting people to what’s most important to them to creating and enabling priceless experiences to inclusively connecting people to priceless possibilities. The freshness of the priceless narrative has been inspired by macro cultural shifts, consumers’ aspirations and category dynamics. It’s a very simple lesson for all brands- powerful creative impact starts with powerful truths. And truths are always a work in evolution.  LBB> You’ve worked extensively with challenger brands. What strategies do you employ to help these brands stand out and compete effectively against industry leaders?Shilpa> I have always applied some of these core operating principles while working on challenger brands: Having a point of difference or owning something unique, challenging or breaking conventions and deploying a marketing programme that is ‘not perfect in 360 degrees’ but outstanding in some measure and optimal in maximising return on budgets, which are usually limited.LBB> After eight years away, you’ve returned to Asia. What excites you the most about working in this region, and what are your aspirations for McCann Worldgroup Asia Pacific under your leadership?Shilpa> Asia’s unmatched breadth and depth of cultural diversity and social complexity is the kind of stuff that makes for any strategist’s dream job. Today, Asia is ascending in phenomenal ways – it’s the world’s economic engine, tech hotspot, innovation wellspring and culture shaper. Who wouldn’t be excited to be a part of this exciting story?My aspirations for McCann Worldgroup mirror Asia’s progressive trajectory- ascend to the pinnacle of success in effectiveness and creativity and sustain it. I’d like for McCann Worldgroup to earn an irrefutable reputation as the agency that innovatively elevates its brands’ meaningful roles in Asian people’s lives.

Recommended For You