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Unexpected Intros: Archana Mahadevan
Advertising Agency
Chicago, USA
DDB Chicago's VP, strategy director on hopes for the future and the creative work that keeps her inspired

At DDB, we have a simple belief. That Unexpected Works. It means that the best idea is the one you never saw coming. The thing that catches you so off guard that you can‘t look away. And the only path to genuinely unexpected works is through creativity. 

And in order to create awesome works, you need awesome people. Because you can’t make the unexpected if you only work with the usual suspects. In this Unexpected Intros series, we take a peek behind the curtain at some of the diverse thinkers that make up our network, and validate Bill Bernbach’s notion that an idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it. 

1. Name, Title, Office

Archana Mahadevan, VP, strategy director, DDB Chicago

2. Introduce yourself in three emojis. 


3. What was your very first job? 

I was 12 when I got an opportunity to work as a student journalist for a local newspaper called Mylapore times. I interviewed local artists, celebrities, and good samaritans in the neighbourhood. There was something surreal about being able to connect deeply with people. A comedian who almost always cried before he got on stage to let out his emotions, the actress who worried she wasn’t being the best mother, the good samaritan who takes too much pressure in keeping the community safe. It’s fascinating what people will tell you if you’re willing to listen. It is such a gift and learning that I apply every day in what I do – the simple act of listening with empathy.

4. How did you wind up in advertising? 

I actually didn’t ‘wind’ up in advertising. Looking back my whole life was one grand plan to get here. I was 13 when I was watching an ad interrupting a movie. I watched the now iconic Cadbury ad in a theatre. I don’t know what it was about the ad, I was so drawn to it. I didn’t even know it was advertising, but I instantly knew I wanted to be part of it. I dabbled in copywriting, art direction and account management before realising that there’s a job in the world where you get paid for observing people and questioning everything. Even on tough days, it is the feeling of “I can’t believe I get paid to do this!” that keeps me going.

5. Piece of creative that inspires you? 

I saw a huge billboard of the first ever Dove real beauty ad in my hometown Chennai about a decade ago. I had never seen anything like that – women questioning outdated beauty standards set by society. The ad was ahead of its times and in a way shaped culture. I am always excited to see the different versions of the campaign and what it means to scores of women struggling with predetermined standards of beauty. However, at that time, it empowered me in my everyday life. That’s what a good piece of art does, it creates an impact.

6. What are you currently reading, watching, and listening to? 

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A book on defiance and the profound exchanges that a group of women have in an underground book club run by a professor. 

Watching: To me TV is comfort, re-watching the wonderfully weird yet delightful characters from Schitt’s Creek.

Listening: Always listening to AR Rahman Tamil songs from the 90’s on repeat. Obsessed.

7. What’s a goal/hope/dream of yours?

My professional goal is to create work that has real world impact. 

My personal goal is to be more present for my children. 

My hope for the future is to live in a world where women aren’t questioned or penalised over our rights to bodily autonomy. 

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