‘It’s almost like kidnapping an audience’ – FCB’s Swati Bhattacharya on Ted Royer at the LIA

Mumbrella spoke to FCB Ulka chief creative officer Swati Bhattacharya who was supposed to be on the jury at the LIA this year, about former Droga5 creative Ted Royer’s controversial appearance and speech at the festival.

What were your first reactions to news of Ted Royer’s controversial presentation at LIA?

“I didn’t attend LIA because my mother was unwell, but of course the festival could have handled things better. 

“Whenever you do anything unconsciously – letting a speaker present, for instance – it shows a certain degree of entitlement. Just because you are an award and creative people like being awarded,  and the belief that when you are in Vegas, you can do anything. 

“Wherever there is power, it is taken for granted. But you cannot have 10,000 rules for people coming to judge or attending – and they had some very strange rules – and not have any rules for yourself about who is being given a platform. It is foolish of an organisation. 

“People in the industry know why this man who was a shining star of Droga5 was asked to leave.”

What do you make of FCB’s decision to end its association with LIA? Do you endorse it?

“Yes, I do. If we create campaigns like ‘Sindoor Khela‘ (for The Times of India) and ‘Go Back To Africa’(for Black & Abroad) and if we don’t stand by those things, there will be such a  gap between what we say and what we are.  (FCB worldwide chief creative officer) Susan Credle is not that kind of person.

“It makes me proud that I belong to this institution. There’s a reason why FCB is doing the sort of work it is doing whether in Chicago on gun control or what I am doing in India. It is coming from that one source. It is a kind of work and voice that gets huge support. And so, why should that voice be mute? Why should we have a voice only when a client is paying for our work?”

There is a point of view that suggests that not allowing Ted Royer and people in similar situations to speak prevents them from addressing the situation and reckoning with what they have done. The other says that the sort of speech that was made was not really a reckoning. How do you believe such situations ought to be handled?

“These things happen because the men involved have been so powerful. I don’t want to know what happened to Prince Andrew as a child. I know the life of privilege he had and I know he was a friend of Jeffrey Epstein.

“I am not about revenge or an eye for an eye. But in such situations, the organisers have to understand if the audience wants to know about it. When you put him up as a speaker, it is almost like kidnapping an audience.

“When it comes to consent, I don’t see things as black and white. The nature of attraction and love is such that yes can become no and no can become yes. People might call me a ‘feminazi’ or whatever, but whenever a person has used power or money, I look at things very differently. Because then, the coercion is at many levels. I am against coercion.”

It is also a year since the #MeToo movement in India. One year on, has the dial moved at all?

“I like to see #MeToo as a whole – not just in advertising, arts or academics. The most important thing about the movement is that it shows you it is a part of every world.

“Every woman has a #MeToo story. In a world that likes to break things down into numbers, that is the big data.

“This has been a year of awareness for everyone – not just men and women. When I connect with the trans community, their stories are just as horrifying. It’s a human affliction and as I’ve said before, it gets worse when people in power do this to you – your employer or professor.

“A man in power becomes special and everything becomes a privilege. It is a God complex and men have it. Why is it that (former PepsiCo CEO) Indira Nooyi with all her power, never wanted to feel up an intern in an elevator? Men need to be taught. Shame never bothered them so much but they understand danger. #MeToo has taught them how dangerous it can be. 

“From here, will come a kind of activation. For me the theme of sisterhood has become so important. After the movement leaves, what do you build with? How do you build support? Sisterhood solves a lot of these problems. How women look out for other women and give them opportunities. How we put more women in our offices, so they are safe.

“That is a solution. Just awareness and statistics about a problem can’t do much. I find myself needing to hear stories that eventually have a happy ending. It’s what I try to do through my work. 

“I am a romantic feminist. I don’t think of men as the enemy. We can build amazing things together. We just have to know and be aware of the problem.”

Do you see a greater push towards sisterhood across your agency?

“I find my clients are very open to what sisterhood has done for The Times of India. It cannot be debated. I think 80% of my FMCG clients are talking to women.

“Right now, I am working for an anaemia campaign and it was important to show women eating. It seemed like a radical thing because either they are cooking or serving. Even if you Google women with food you see her smiling at a salad board. We have to change some big themes around women to connect and talk.”


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella Asia newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing