Inside View into the World of Advertising


he vocal critic of Sri Lankan ad industry : Shyan Gershon, South Asia’s Young Achiever of the Year.

Imagination can spark ideas that can cross continents and inspire the world. When unleashed towards triggering a positive change, creativity can be channeled towards impactful problem solving, and develop work that connect with people better. Creativity for a positive change is a belief that has fuelled Shyan Gershon, as he continues to invest his imagination to develop creative content that drives social betterment.

 At the tender age of 27, his efforts have earned him global spotlight at award ceremonies across the world. He brought glory to the country when he was crowned as the Gold Winner for South Asia’s Young Achiever of the Year at the Agency of the Year Awards 2020. Amongst several iconic campaigns he has done, ‘Aura Incense Barricade’ is his most awarded work which addressed the human elephant conflict in Sri Lanka, made headlines across the globe at major award ceremonies including Spikes Asia, Adfest, Epica, Art Directors Club, One Show by One Club, The Work, Ad Stars, PHNX Awards, D&AD festival and One Show Asia.

Shyan is an inspiration to the youth and never shies away from sharing his knowledge and wisdom with anyone who is willing to learn. He joined with us to express his thoughts on how Sri Lankan advertising industry can continue to evolve and become a force to be reckoned with in the global advertising arena.

Most youth aren’t aware of how to get into the advertising industry. Do you think that the industry should have a proper talent hunting mechanism to bring in capable individuals and harness their potential?

Even I wasn’t aware of the advertising industry and how it functions, before I joined. It happened purely by accident and I learnt everything from the scratch. Yes, you could say that sufficient awareness has not been created to attract the youth. As individuals who want the industry to grow, it’s an issue that we have to address collectively. Rather than a mechanism, I strongly feel that we need to repackage and popularize our industry, and welcome youth with the right attitude and talent. Creativity can spark from any individual, and it is our responsibility to identify that spark and give the exposure he or she needs to excel in the industry.

Do you feel that youth are given necessary guidance and nurturing by seniors as they enter the advertising industry?

If necessary guidance and nurturing is given, the local ad industry would have evolved and become stronger than what it is now. Therefore, the need of the hour is to invest our collective efforts to reshape Sri Lankan advertising industry and get it back on the game, which will enable us to make our presence felt on the global stage. We are taking steps to ensure that we get there.

Do you think it would help to have education institutes that could groom young talent who want to enter the industry?

It could, but not necessary. I don’t believe that creativity can be taught. You can guide and teach up to a certain extent, but the rest is up to the individual. If you study great creative personalities who have made their mark in the world, most of them did not come from academic backgrounds. There is a quote from Bill Bernbach, which says, ‘the memorable have never emerged from a formula’. There’s no such formula that tells you what you need to do here. Even I didn’t come from an institute. I learnt everything from the industry. I believe that the industry itself is the best place to learn and expand your skills.

In your understanding what are the key traits that a good ad professional should have in order to excel in the field?

You need to be passionate and have the right attitude to succeed and make your mark in the industry. If someone has those key traits ingrained within them, the rest can be found.

 How important is it to have a good understanding of the local culture, language and insights when you work in the industry?

Getting our client’s products known is not our job. Getting them wanted is our job. Without understanding the culture, language and the local insights you can’t get people to want anything. If you don’t know how to make it relevant and produce creative work that moves people, you are in the wrong industry. The importance of knowing your culture and insights cannot be stressed enough.

Your thoughts on the current Sri Lankan advertising trends and how would you compare that to the advancements that the industry has seen globally.

We shouldn’t compare global trends with ours, because the market dynamics vary from one country to the other. However, as an industry we have to admit that we are not trying hard enough to improve the quality of work in terms of creativity, execution and strategic thinking that are needed to make our brands stand out and relevant to people. Having said that, we should definitely study global work, learn from it and channel the knowledge we acquire towards our work. Sadly, this doesn’t happen often enough, because of the lack of exposure and guidance.

Digital Medium’ is seen as the future of advertising. Your thoughts on the trend.

It’s wrong to interpret the Digital Medium as the future of advertising. Yes, digital will change the characteristics of marketing in a completely different way, primarily because we are in a world where everyone and everything is connected in real-time. However, 90% of the marketers and advertisers today in Sri Lanka are confused as to what people expect from digital. They treat ‘Digital’ as another traditional medium like TV, Print or Radio, which they shouldn’t do.

Do you feel that Sri Lankan culture and tradition restrain our creative freedom?

No, I don’t think it restricts us. In fact it enables us to develop creative work that are truly unique. Ideas that stem from our cultural roots and insights enable us to create impactful solutions that connect with our people better and stand out to be unique. If you are smart enough, you would know how to use culture and tradition as a tool to solve problems. ‘Aura Incense Barricade’, which is an idea that turned a regular incense stick into a powerful elephant repellent is a great example on how you can use a cultural insight to solve a burning national issue.

What is your message to other youth who wish to make it big in their chosen fields?

As I said before, it all comes down to the passion and the right attitude that fuel you as an individual. You have to have the hunger to learn new things, work hard and stay focused. It is important to be surrounded by likeminded people who share the same love for the industry. There’s a quote from Steve Jobs, which sums it up perfectly, “Do what you love to do. The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”