Beautifying yourself and products, Bernard Paes

Bernard Paes is an Entrepreneur and Creative Director. In his many years living in Dubai, he was managing his own advertising company. We discuss how authentic advertising is. How much “makeup” a fizzy drink advert needs in order to sell.

There is a certain amount of makeup to beautify yourself in front of people or to beautify a product in front of people.

Watch the full conversation between storytellers Bernard Paes and Albert Bonet.

He compares marketing to dress codes, that we use to be appropriate, to fit in a certain environment. We’re used to that level of appearance, we’re expecting it, and so a good marketer as to present their product accordingly.

You want the outside world to understand you because in advertising there’s a phrase “you’ve got two seconds to catch your consumer”. If you don’t present it in the way that the consumer is already accustomed to, then you straight away have a disadvantage.

We talk about principles, and how he left the advertising industry because of the business practices of big companies, where marketing managers are not commited to the company.

I am committed to a brand for the rest of my life. Like for example I will never drink Pepsi. Never. Because I’ve handled CocaCola for 10 years in the advertising agency. Even today although I’m not an advertising man I don’t drink Pepsi, I don’t drink any other cola.


ALBERT: Here I am in Paris, still. I’m sitting here with Bernard Paes, who is an entrepreneur and creative director. Hi Bernard.
BERNARD: Hi, how are you?
ALBERT: Thank you for accepting this and being so willing.
BERNARD: It’s my pleasure.
ALBERT: You’ve been telling me that you’re a citizen of the world.
BERNARD: I’ve been everywhere. But yeah, I’m I’m an Indian born in Kuwait, who lived most of my life in Dubai. I had a couple of businesses in Dubai, and now I’m a Portuguese citizen living in France. So yeah, I consider myself a citizen of the world. I’ve travelled enough, so yeah.
ALBERT: And you’ve been working for most of your life in creative direction, in advertising, you have your own advertising company. Now you work on packaging for perfumes.
BERNARD: Yes, luxury perfume packaging.
ALBERT: And we were discussing earlier about marketing, because you know that my thing is is authenticity. Authentic Storytelling. And we were just discussing how from my point of view, marketing is is far away from authenticity because it kind of pretends there’s something there that people want to buy and is that something that they it’s pretended that they feel attracted to. What are your views on this?
BERNARD: There are two sides to it. The way the way I look at it is I give equal bias to both, because I’ve seen and done both sides of it. You try and oversell in marketing yes but you also try and oversell yourself sometimes, so there is a certain amount of makeup as you would say to beautify yourself in front of people or to beautify a product in front of people. Because the truth is if I did for example a photograph of a simple can of soft drink I would have to retouch that can to make it presentable. And that’s exactly what advertising is. It would over glorify our product just to make it presentable.
You could interpret it in two ways: they’re doing especially to make it look better than it really is or they’re making a presentation of their product. I find the same thing in the human self and also in marketing.
ALBERT: Isn’t one of the conditions of the human mind that we want to look good? And isn’t ugliness somehow raw and attractive?Just because it’s raw because it doesn’t have any makeup on? It’s like a child that doesn’t pretend to be anything, they just are. Like animals, you’re a big animal lover, right?
BERNARD: I’m a creature lover. I love any of God’s creatures.
ALBERT: Humans are the only ones that overthink how they look and they want to look good. Animals don’t care about that and that beautiful.
BERNARD: It’s really true, and they don’t wear clothes for example. They don’t hide anything.
ALBERT: Yet when we want to sell something like a pet. I know your daughter is working on dogs?
BERNARD: Behaviorist, that’s what she’s aiming to be.
ALBERT: And so if we want to sell a dog, we have to make him look good, maybe retouch him with Photoshop. The lighting is good, that everything just looks perfect. Why is that? If we know that that dog is only perfect in an image and when we get it he’s perfect in his own way but he’s raw. He’s ugly as well in his own way and we love him for that.
BERNARD: I’ve just had a thought. I think it’s a matter of evolution of the person. For example, there would be in my life… There was a time when I was in the advertising business where image was a big part of what I had to be. It is not because I loved it. Of course, when I was living in the world of brands and big brands and all yeah you enjoy it but of course it cost you a lot of money and that takes away from your your bottom line basically. But without that image you wouldn’t be treated as as an equal with another agency that had suits as they call them, well-dressed Armani cuts suits and things like that you know. So there is a certain amount of image that we have been accustomed to as humans and yes part of it has got to be the advertising and marketing because we know how much we retouch in the advertising world. So from that point of view, yes marketing does present things but in a lot more acceptable way I think. Because everybody cannot understand why this dog or this lady has hair that’s covering her eyes, every strand of hair is not in the right place. People cannot understand and I think coming back to what I realize now is there’s a time in your life like evolution where you can accept it after a while.
Most people I think they’ve seen life they’ve been through that image phase which is basically adulthood and you know to go to an office you have to be well dressed, to make a presentation you have to be well dressed, and it goes on. But then you kind of coming towards retirement or you’re an entrepreneur where you don’t really…
ALBERT: You don’t care what others think of you.
BERNARD: You don’t care, yeah. And that’s an important part of the whole evolution process. So yes marketing does make things look more beautiful for example but I think it’s necessary to the consumer.
ALBERT: It has to something with credibility as well, right? If you look good you look more credible to your potential clients.
BERNARD: Exactly you’re taken more seriously. It’s unfortunate but it’s the way of the world.
ALBERT: What do you think social media is doing to that nowadays?
BERNARD: I like social media. Personally I must confess I don’t buy into any of it yet because I signed off Facebook about six or eight years back because it was just getting too much for me. People posting the pictures… For me it was just trying to scream their own selves and what’s happening in their lives and I really don’t care what you’re eating and in which restaurant.
ALBERT: A big facade, they were doing the big marketing for themselves. There was a saying when I started using Twitter a few years ago that everybody used to tweet like a rockstar. I just hated it. Who’s gonna read my tweet who’s gonna be interested in what I had for breakfast this morning. It makes no sense. We’re tweeting and we’re facebooking and we’re instagramming like rockstars.
BERNARD: That again is a lot of the time it’s people who are trying to project a different image than what they are. It’s up to the individual. I signed off because for me it was just too much of me me me. And I got tired of posting pictures of myself and my family and who wants to see… Okay I know to a certain extent you have a new baby, but you don’t have to post pictures every twice a day or ten times a day in some cases. So it was a bit too much and social media for me it’s overkill, after a while. You’ve got Facebook you’ve got Twitter you’ve got Instagram. How much do you participate? Then you’ve got the newspapers, then you’ve got television.
ALBERT: There’s these people, they are celebrities, that they post in social media like they’re live 24/7.
BERNARD: For example I was interested in sailing and I got the most amount of information like hardcore, real life sailing information from a couple that was just sailing with cameras and you realize, yes it is not a rosy picture that you imagined. There are storms, you’re fighting against nature you’re beaten around, and it’s a matter of survival, not sailing, after a while.
ALBERT: So coming from you, an advertisement man, creative director. You have in one hand is the classic advertisement industry and the other hand you have these youtubers that just share their experience in YouTube. What are your thoughts? What is the future of marketing?
BERNARD: I think there will always be a balance between two because there will always be a young person and they’ll always be an old person and they’ll always be different targets and different age groups and different needs. The world at one point will not have the same consumer needs so there will always be that. Of course technology has changed it a lot, now it’s more spontaneous. I like the spontaneity. I like the rawness of the subject matter but at the same time I realize the importance of having that clean up. I need to have lipstick on when I go into a presentation or I need to have a coat on, because I respect the people I’m going to present it. I respect myself because I need to have a right image to the people that I am presenting to. In all hope that they too are well dressed and well presented, because they take me seriously. And that’s the way of the world.
But then again I look at all the billionaires like the Facebook owner, and they don’t really dress up the way we used to dress in the advertising business.
ALBERT: They’re Americans anyway, they wear T-shirts every day.
BERNARD: It’s not only that. I think it is also a change in psychology. The human psyche is changing with this new generation and with digital. Because you’re not in front of the person. It’s also about the digital age where you don’t really need to be there but you still make a presentation, and it’s like news readers, they have they have their running shorts on and they have a worsted blazer.
ALBERT: So they’re only pretending from waist up. So you told me about the environment, about being well-dressed. If you go into an environment that expects you to be well-dressed. I was remembering this experiment they did with this famous violin player in the Underground in London. Of course nobody stopped. Maybe some people just gave him a bit of change. But it’s all about the environment. If that person plays where he usually plays which is in a big hall where you have to pay a big price to see him play, the expectations are very different.
BERNARD: Like I said, image does play a big part.
ALBERT: What is your definition of two words. Spontaneity and authenticity.
BERNARD: Natural and natural again. I think authenticity is a state of mind. You have to evolve. You cannot be authentic a lot of the time, because the system or society or the moment demands it of you to be, to represent yourself in that way.
ALBERT: Isn’t that evil?
BERNARD: I don’t think it’s evil. Why does a white man and a black man, and why does a poor man and a rich man, you know it’s like these differences. I like to be presented well whereas someone else might not like to be presented well. They’re just like that. They might talk badly they might behave badly in public, they’re not worried about the image, that’s the way they are, and they expect you to accept them that way. But I cannot do that because I have to have to be nice to my fellow human, I have to be dressed because I expect to be seen in a different light or be seen in the light that I really am. I don’t overdress, I don’t wear jewellery for example because I don’t want to be seen in that light.
ALBERT: But then what dress code do you follow? We don’t have one unified culture in this planet, we have like thousands of cultures, of codes, of ways of following and doing things. So then you have to be like a chameleon. If you go to Paris you have to wear like this, if you go to India have to wear like that, if you go to Barcelona I have to wear like that. Authenticity is diluted.
BERNARD: It is diluted to the point where it’s acceptable to you. If it’s not acceptable to you I don’t expect you to change the way you are that drastically.
ALBERT: But then I will be banned from certain environments.
BERNARD: Then you have to decide if that environment is really what you need or not.
ALBERT: So there’s a price to authenticity.
BERNARD: There is a price to it, yeah. I definitely think so. As a supplier, I would go into a meeting in the advertising business or even in my the perfumery business, I’d go into a meeting and the customer was late. And if it was more than 20 minutes I would get up and walk away. Then I realized I could stay longer because I would read a book or write a plan or do some creative because I always had my agenda with me so I just sketch and things like that. So as I grew older I realized that since I’ve taken the time to go to someone’s place if they’re late I would rather sit and do some thinking I’d not just sit and get upset. So there’s another way how I evolved to suit my customer but at the same time take advantage of it.
ALBERT: So I guess age gives you flexibility, right?
BERNARD: Age gives you wisdom. I would consider myself hot-blooded young entrepreneur in those days, and I’ve walked out of meetings I don’t care whether you’re the CEO of a huge brand. That’s the way I was and I would tell them straight to their face, if you hired me it’s for my expertise, so don’t try and design. I’ll do your designs your communication and you do what you do, trading.
ALBERT: Would you say that’s a pretty Western mindset?
BERNARD: I think yes, it is. Because the Asian mindset is to be a little a lot more passive and in my opinion it’s detrimental to the relationship because I think in a relationship, any relationship it has to be honesty and authenticity of course. But if I tell my client that you’re doing this too often and I’m gonna stop coming, I lose the job, I lose the project. So there is a sacrifice in authenticity, yeah. And I have sacrificed because of that.
A typical example is I would refuse to give anybody commission. And this in business it’s a very common thing, if you are with a brand and I’m doing a product launch for you, you say “Okay Bernard, I’ll give you the product launch, the budget is 100.000 dollars, keep 10% aside for me”. And I would do one of two things. Either you give me the project and you don’t get a commission or I find another client. And so I lost a lot of business like that. And as a young entrepreneur I don’t think it was the right thing to do, in retrospect. There could have been another way around it. I’ve had all thoughts about this.
ALBERT: Where did you get that? Why did you start doing that?
BERNARD: I was always like that. I was brutally honest from as far back as I remember. That was me.
ALBERT: Where did that come from? Because you went against your culture.
BERNARD: I was born out of India, but I don’t know. My dad was also a businessman and he was like me, he would speak his mind no matter who it was, an I think I got that from him. I think it’s in the genes. My daughter is like that.
After a certain while you realize you have become wiser with age. You have mellowed down, you are more accepting of other people’s faults. But strangely enough when it comes to your own family you’ll love more brutal at least that’s the way I feel. If it’s a stranger you can get away with not telling them, it doesn’t matter because you’re not gonna meet them again. But when it’s your own son or your child or your wife or whatever or your brother or your sister, you feel like you want to make them better people. But it really doesn’t work like that. I’m still learning. We’re learning till we go to the grave.
ALBERT: Going back to media. As you know I’m a documentary filmmaker, and I’m changing that label for storyteller. From a storytelling point of view, how do you achieve authenticity? How do you communicate, express authentically through this wall that is the medium? Whether it is public speaking or writing or filmmaking or photography, art.
BERNARD: I would be myself, and I would make a decision, a conscious decision to be myself no matter who the public is or who I’m addressing. And that’s how I would achieve my sense of authenticity. And and that’s how I normally am anyway. I don’t change because of a situation. I try as much as possible to let the situation revolve the way I want it to.
ALBERT: But you accommodate your language to the situation. Earlier for example when I was very blunt before recording the interview, I was like “I have a problem with with marketing, I have this resistance with marketing, it’s pretending, it’s not authentic, it sells you something and then under delivers”. And I noticed you were toning it down and managing your language. Is that a part of being authentic?
BERNARD: It is being authentic because you can’t change what’s inside, for example. But you can change what’s outside, and that’s what most of marketing is. What’s the preconception of the outside world? And you want the outside world to understand you because in advertising there’s a phrase “you’ve got two seconds to catch your consumer”. If you don’t present it in the in in the way that the consumer is already accustomed to, then you straight away have a disadvantage.
So it’s not a matter of being authentic or not. Some advertising or marketing is really truly misleading. And that’s that’s done by people who really don’t have anything to sell or they’re just trying to make it up. It’s a joke. But you do have to adapt to your customer’s expectations. Marketing it’s basically giving your consumer what they want.
ALBERT: If you’re in the business of persuasion, you can always choose to persuade from a place of integrity.
BERNARD: Of course, yeah, and that’s the way it should be.
ALBERT: You were sharing with me earlier that when we were living 33 years in Dubai and you had this big advertising agency that you had international clients, big companies, big brands that you were promoting. And now you’re actually working with the people that create the perfumes, so it’s not like you’re selling your soul, selling your services without caring if that promise is there to be delivered. Now you know the promise is there, it’s gonna be delivered because the products you are advertising and you’re creating packages for are good.
BERNARD: Yes. You know, the funny thing is the reason why I left advertising was because I was disenchanted by not the industry itself. It was where I was and how it was being conducted which was which was against my ethics. For example I was dealing with the marketing director of big pharmaceutical brand, and I know that the marketing managers will leave in one or two years for a better salary. So they are not committed to the brand at all. On the other hand, with my working ethics I am committed to a brand for the rest of my life. Like for example I will never drink Pepsi. Never. Because I’ve handled CocaCola for 10 years in the advertising agency. Even today although I’m not an advertising man I don’t drink Pepsi, I don’t drink any other cola. And I’ll go to a fast-food chain if I do fast food at all, I’ll go to a fast food chain that has Coke. But my customers don’t understand that.
ALBERT: You talking about values, in the end. Following your values and not betraying your own values. That’s what integrity is, right? The way I understand integrity is sticking to your values.
BERNARD: True. And this is why I left the advertising business, because for me I had to pitch to the same clients, the pharmaceutical company, every two years. And that was ridiculous because the marketing manager goes, the new marketing manager comes, he comes in with his own views and I have to convince him that I’m the right company for him all over again after working with the brand for two years. So when I had an opportunity to work in the perfume business in packaging, I realized that I’m dealing with the grandfather, the son, the grandson, and they left me to do what I do and they would just do their what they. And that was fulfilling, from not as much as a monetary point of view as in the advertising, of course advertising there was love of money. But what I wanted was fulfillment of just work. Creativity and personal relationships. Today we are like an extended family. Again it comes back to being authentic. I even changed my field because I wanted to be authentic. And I wanted fulfillment.
ALBERT: What is the price you had to pay and would you pay it again?
BERNARD: The one thing that I’ve always stuck with in my life is my ethics and my beliefs. I have never changed them. I may have adapted or adopted in a situation to one or two people or whatever if they were demanding, but most of the time I ended up with clients who would just let me do what I wanted because that’s what I do. And if they didn’t accept my honesty, my authenticity and my frankness, then they were not made for me. And I would actually resign the account. So yeah, authenticity does cost you.
ALBERT: We were talking earlier with your wife, Genefa, and she was saying “oh I’m an intuitive one” and she was saying “if I’m talking to somebody I don’t connect with I can always tell there’s something wrong”.
BERNARD: I have been blessed with that kind of thing. I have actually given up certain clients from the first casual meeting, not a business meeting just a casual meeting. I’ll be invited to pitch and I’ll just either decide not to do it, make an excuse, or give a quotation that’s unrealistic. Just to avoid working with him. I found that I’ve proved myself right. And I and I’m the kind of person actually who doesn’t have regrets. I tell the children too. I say make a decision and stick with it no matter what.
ALBERT: That’s taking decisions from your heart.
BERNARD:It’s not changing your ethics. That’s the main thing, you take a decision based on your ethical judgment and then you just stick with it and then life becomes really easy because you’re not playing games. It’s either yes or no. And then when it is yes you’re chasing it with your life.
ALBERT: It’s it’s risky, though.
BERNARD: Life is risky. I did not even fathom what would happen to me when I moved to France. I landed up in hospital. When I was in hospital I realized there are a lot of people who need help even though they don’t ask for it. So it’s very important to be mindful and aware of the people, even your friends circle. Like you said some friends not authentic. They show that they’re having a good time at home but they are coming from broken families or broken relationship and you need to be aware of this and then you can offer help.
I always broke my life into thirds. Your first third is your studies and your youth, the second third is your working life and your marriage and your bringing up your kids, and then your third is giving back all that you’ve enjoyed over the last two thirds. That’s what we came to France for, that’s how we, my wife and myself, wanted to see the third part of our life spent. My mother actually taught me that I cannot go to sleep without apologizing to the person who I harmed or going to sleep with any anger. And this is what I’ve also transferred to my children.
ALBERT: And most of us, I would say, carry our shame and our regrets from many many years. And some of us to the grave. So it takes courage. Of course if you do it on a daily basis you don’t let it grow and accumulate. It takes courage.
BERNARD: I don’t think it takes courage. I think it takes humility. All of us are too wrapped up and projecting an image, like you said, authenticity. We are projecting an image that we are not. You try to be bold but you’re not being bold, you’re being coward. A simple thing like saying you’re sorry it doesn’t take courage, it takes humility. And once you say sorry, the feeling, you cannot replace it with anything else. Because sorry is a complete abandonment of your own reservations. And this again is what I’ve passed on to the children. You don’t go to sleep, you don’t go to bed in the night without apologizing to your family, who you’ve hurt today. So you get up in the morning and you’ve got a brand-new slate to start off it.
ALBERT: That’s great advice. And I think that’s a great note to end with.
BERNARD: Thank you for letting me share.
ALBERT: Thank you for accepting my invitation. Bernard Paes, entrepreneur and creative director, thank you very much.