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Dipti Bramhandkar, executive planning director for North America at Iris Worldwide and an award-winning playwright 


I am a bundle of contradictions. I am a third-culture person. An aerophobe who loves to travel. A playwright in an advertising strategist’s life. An American and a South Asian woman. And while occasionally difficult, these conflicting and melding identities give me plenty to think about.

From an early age I knew I had to find a way to record and digest the many conflicts within me, so I started writing. My writing began as an act of survival, as a means to understand and interpret an unfamiliar new country. When we moved from Mumbai to rural upstate New York, everything was an enigma and writing made life easier to understand.

This desire to study, to emulate, change and record my environment hasn’t stopped. It is no wonder that I went on to study literature and then create a career in an industry such as advertising: both require an appreciation for, and understanding of, human behavior.

As strategists, we’re often asked to serve as the ‘voice of the consumer’, and yet we normally live in urban bubbles surrounded by people and media that reinforce our beliefs. How do we expect to represent people we have no interaction with?

For me, observation is not only an occupation, it is a necessary skill for making

my way in the world. As a child, I observed people and culture around me so that I could fit in. As an adult, though armed with more confidence than my much younger self, I still find myself skating on the edges of many communities.

Looking in from the outside makes you root for people. The edge is where culture is created. The edge is where the best of two things come together in unique combinations. The edge is where creativity lives.

These days, I see that Google has replaced conversation and observation as the first port of call for examining the forces that shape how people respond and react to culture and brands. The problem with this approach is two-fold: first of all, it relies on others as a lens to experience. We have to really seek out the raw materials we need. Second, the ‘searcher’ is a passive participant.

I always recommend that the best place to start when addressing whatever brief the client has put forth is to get out into the real world. That takes courage and tenacity – two characteristics that being an immigrant gives you in spades.

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