EXCLUSIVE | Sumanto Chattopadhyay, 82.5 Communications: The Year of Vulnerability

image-for web -Sumanto Chattopadhyay - Chairman and CCO - 82-5 Communications - MediaBriefIn an exquisite, insightful reflection,  Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Chairman & Chief Creative Officer – 82.5 Communications, harks back on 2020, the worst year in living human memory, and wonders if the world been wounded enough to let the light in. 

 ‘The wound is the place where the light enters.’ I had bumped into this quote of the Sufi mystic Rumi a thousand times. I had smiled and filed it away as one of those pretty sayings to be savoured because they sound profound but do nothing more. 2020 had to happen for its meaning to penetrate the skin of my personal life, the skin of my professional life.

As the skin ripped, the harsh light of reality came in and made me see who I was. And who the people around me were. It was, at times, a ghastly spectacle—but an educative one. It was one of those things: Once you see it, you cannot un-see it. But at least you know the score.

It is as if video conference cameras laid certain beings bare—like those saucy ‘X-ray specs’ that were advertised on the backs of American comic books in my childhood. These cameras, filtered through the app, enabled you to see through even those who chose to stay invisible and mute.

And what about me? Who could count on me? The stray motherless puppy, perhaps? The one that sheltered in my building and many wanted to get rid of. It was her vulnerability that drew me to her. Along with the fact that she never asked for anything. She taught me how to let the light in. She showed me the sweetness in the otherwise harsh glare.

In 2020, you had to make yourself vulnerable as a creative person—because the light of the future dawned on the horizon ahead of schedule. You asked yourself if every bit of you could be replaced by artificial intelligence. You brutally reassessed your ‘talent’ to see if any part of it was irreplaceable by the tyranny of zeroes and ones.

As a captain of a ship, your concern was not so much the light that the wound in the wood let in but the water it allowed to gush through. Was the wound telling us to give up the boat and swim with the dolphins? To learn to take to the digital waters as if it were your native instinct?

Being vulnerable shows you what you can count on. And what you cannot. Thus, the veil of pretence behind which analogue agencies sheltered was shredded in 2020, letting in a flood of lie-detector light.

The veil of pretence behind which analogue agencies sheltered was shredded in 2020, letting in a flood of lie-detector light: Sumanto Chattopadhyay

Yet I wonder: Will the obsession with Big Data mean better communication in 2021? Will touching the consumer at every touch-point really touch her? Or will dull, mechanised ‘creatives’ make her switch off the light on the brand that chases her across every website and social media platform? Let’s shine the light on the unpredictability of living, breathing humans instead of their lifeless data-point avatars.

And what of the vaccine? Will it be the number 1 in 2021? Will it make a miniature wound that lets in the light of invulnerability? Will it make us immune to the new way of living we have learnt? If so, let us decide now which precious lessons of 2020 we take with us on the ark. And which ones to toss overboard once we have taken the pinprick.

The super-rich got richer in 2020. Cold comfort for the poor who got much poorer. They are on the brink now, teetering. Let’s shine some kindly light on them. Let’s take lessons from the likes of Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. Let compassionate capitalism get a new lease of life. After all, 21 is the age we are supposed to truly grow up at. Has the world been wounded enough to let that light in? Or is it just my ‘libtard’ fantasy? Perhaps 2021 will still be about extracting photo ops from the forced CSR spends.

Has the world been wounded enough to let that light in? Or
is it just my ‘libtard’ fantasy? Perhaps 2021 will still be about extracting photo ops from the forced CSR spends:
Sumanto Chattopadhyay

When the so-called Spanish flu—that other great pandemic—had wounded the world in 1918-19, there was a similar window of opportunity. But how long did the world let the light of its lessons in before shuttering that window? Did they honour the 50 million deaths (more than those of World War I) by changing society positively and permanently? Sadly, even the name Spanish flu was based on America’s denial of its seriousness, even its existence. Denial of the fact that its soldiers were spreading it through Europe. And because Spain reported its toll honestly, America, its allies and the media happily dubbed it the Spanish flu—and washed their hands off it. Alas, only figuratively. Will the Indian media do better?

If 2020 is to be counted as our Annus Mirabilis, there needs to be a vaccine against dishonesty in 2021: Sumanto Chattopadhyay

One has to go further back to another pandemic, the Black Death of the 17th century, to see the true light. During that pandemic, Sir Isaac Newton invented calculus among other things—while working from home. In fact, so many were his achievements in that year of ‘lockdown’, that it is called the Annus Mirabilis or ‘year of wonders’.

If 2020 is to be counted as our Annus Mirabilis, there needs to be a vaccine against dishonesty in 2021. A vaccine against misrepresented numbers. Against misrepresented protests. Without it, where will the numerical accuracy of digital perfection be? Will it bury the light with a specious algorithm?

Or will the light expose those who just called for pitches when they had no intention of moving their business? What about the ones that did it just to get a barrelful of ideas for free to work into their annual marketing plans?

Will the light expose those who just called for pitches when they had no intention of moving their business? What about the ones that did it just to get a barrelful of ideas for free to work into their annual marketing plans?:
Sumanto Chattopadhyay

Will creative souls be able shine the light of their imaginations on brands again? Or will layers and layers of mindless backboneless marcom-babble not let the light penetrate? Some brands displayed their moral compass in 2020. Let’s build on this consciousness. While these brands wish to foster safety for all, it’s not ‘safe’ ideas that will help them do it. Let’s carry a torch for brave concepts that can benefit brands and benefit humanity.

In 2020, there was, for me, the notable exception of the founder of a refreshing start-up brand who truly appreciated creative concepts—like the great, perceptive and generous marketers of yesteryears who seem to have all but receded into the darkness. And yet, suddenly, a word of praise, gratitude and ‘getting it’ from this new-age entrepreneur bathed us in shafts of god light.

On November 30, 1244, Rumi had met the wandering dervish Shams al-Din of Tabriz. He was dazzled by the dervish’s light, which revealed to him the mysteries of the Universe. He submitted himself heart and soul to Shams and poured forth his inspired and inspiring poetry.

Shall we allow ourselves to be dazzled by the light of 2021? Shall we let ourselves be vulnerable? Shall we let our poetry pour forth? Or shall we—once Covid is done and dusted—revert to a shadow version of the old normal?

Your thoughts, please