Spikes Asia
Jan 5, 2021

'Powerless Queen' creators on winning at Spikes and Tangrams

Heeru Dingra and Sabiha NS Khan of WATConsult discuss their award-winning work, 'Powerless Queen', which won at both the Spikes Awards and in the Tangrams Strategy & Effectiveness Awards in 2018.

'Powerless Queen' creators on winning at Spikes and Tangrams

As the deadline for the 2021 Spikes Awards and Tangrams Strategy and Effectiveness Awards entries approach, Spikes Asia reaches out to past winners at both award programmes who have demonstrated exemplary creativity and marketing effectiveness in the same piece of winning work. We ask the creatives and strategists to talk about what made the work stand out to the juries and what winning a Spike and Tangram meant for them and their team.

This time we speak with Heeru Dingra, CEO, and Sabiha NS Khan, VP of strategy, planning and new business, with WATConsult, about their award-winning work, ‘Powerless Queen’.

The 2021 Tangrams Awards will close for entries on Thursday, 7 Jan 2021. If you are concerned that you won’t meet the deadline, please get in touch at [email protected].

Please provide a brief summary of ‘Powerless Queen’, including the client’s brief, how the work was delivered and its results.

Created for Nanhi Kali, a not-for-profit organization focused towards providing primary education to underprivileged girls in India, ‘Powerless Queen’ was a step towards spreading awareness about the importance of educating women. Unfortunately, in India the majority of girls are denied education due to deep rooted misogyny. On the contrary, we have the game of Chess which was invented in India in the 6th century and ‘Queen’ is the most powerful piece.

Leveraging the same, we created the world's first online chess game with a ‘Powerless Queen’ and launched it with a video wherein India’s No. 2 chess player, Tania Sachdev challenged the viewers to play and try to win the game with a ‘Powerless Queen’. The idea showcased how difficult it is to win in chess without a powerful queen and as a metaphor in society as well. Hence proving how societies cannot win if its queens (women) are not empowered.


  • #PowerlessQueen was trending in India
  • The campaign enabled donations worth 40,000 hours of education for underprivileged girls
  • It registered earned media worth 118 Million INR along with 1.1 Million views on the campaign video and 52,000+ game plays.
  • The campaign also recorded 300 Million organic impressions with India's national television channel DD news and NDTV covering the same.
  • International Chess Grandmasters organically got involved and endorsed the campaign and they were:
    • World Rapid Chess Champion Vishwanathan Anand
    • Hungarian Woman Grandmaster Anna Rudolf
    • Hungarian Woman Grandmaster and Ambassador of Chess and Education and UN Planet 50-50 Champion Judit Polgar
    • Two-time United States Women's Champion Jennifer Shahade
    • Four-time Dutch Chess Champion Anish Giri
    • Five-time Danish Chess Champion and current coach to World number one Magnus Carlsen, Peter Heine Nielsen.
  • School students from across the country participated in the ‘Powerless Queen’ Challenge organized by The Chess School of India. The Coach Crew and a chess club in France also hosted a #PowerlessQueen challenge.

Tell us why your team decided to enter 'Powerless Queen' into the Spikes Awards.

Dingra: Talking from the work point of view, in the 21st century too, a vast majority of Indian women are not even powerful enough to get access to basic rights of education, health, safety, etc.

Through our use of chess, we wanted to reach out to an audience that could not only donate to Nanhi Kali (NGO) but also influence others and attract donations. Our use of chess involved visitors to play with a powerless queen (no moves allowed) against the computer which had a powerful queen. This was rolled out as a #PowerlessQueen challenge across social media challenging people to try and win. As people lost, we prompted them to share the message on their social feeds and also donate to the cause so that they can empower a girl child with education.

Since 'Powerless Queen' has been able to make a difference while keeping creativity intact, we decided to enter it into the Spikes Asia and Tangrams Awards. It was an honour to win the Spikes Asia and Tangrams awards as it validated the fact that a simple idea can be impactful, if done right.

Tell us why your team decided to enter ‘Powerless Queen’ into the Tangrams Awards.

Khan: People have become immune to reports of women inequality, lack of empowerment and injustice towards women. Hence, to break the norm and catch attention, we leveraged Chess (a game invented in India) wherein the Queen is the most powerful piece.

We created the World’s First Online Chess Game with a ‘Powerless Queen’, i.e. a queen who cannot move or kill and was stationary while the competing player’s queen had all her powers, thus making the queen irrelevant and created an analogy which helps drive home the powerlessness of the girls in Indian society when they are given no education.

A simple subtraction became a strong and effective way of driving home the point. Tangrams and Spikes Asia awards are all about creating impact and effectiveness. ‘Powerless Queen’ got international chess grandmasters involved organically—which is a testimony to the power and impact of the idea which resulted in the sponsoring of 40,000 hours of education for underprivileged girls.

Every team has their own way of coming up with a campaign idea. In the case of ‘Powerless Queen’ how was the idea conceived? Was it a collaboration between the creatives and strategists from the get-go? How would you describe your working relationship?

Dingra: Sometimes the best ideas are conceived just by everyday observation. Chess is a game played by the educated and elite in India but watched by millions. India is among the top 10 chess playing countries in the world. As of 2017, India has more than 47 chess grandmasters. 80 to 100 million Indian viewers watched the 2013 match between Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen. The idea and its manifestation is the fruit of a collaborative work force that believes in each other.

We work hard but we also work smart and are not afraid to do whatever it takes to bring an idea to life in the best possible way. “Collaborative”—that is how I would describe our working relationship.

Khan: At WATConsult the strategists and the creatives are a cohesive unit and are defined as one team. Our North Star is to ‘Impact what matters, create what lasts’. As such it guides not just our day to day operations at the agency, but also our vision for ourselves and our partners.

It comes alive in every interaction you have with WATConsult. Every creative, every planning exercise, every media outreach, every content strategy and every call. When this idea was conceived, we had a team of strategists, creatives, operations and business people all working together from the get-go, which is what led to the success of the campaign.

At any point of conceiving the idea and planning the execution of ‘Powerless Queen’ did either party (creative versus strategist) oppose the creative idea or how the campaign should be executed? How did this affect the campaign results?

Dingra: We always ensure that a proper brainstorm is done with everyone onboard to ensure that the final vision is achieved to the T. We encourage team members to be the devil’s advocate and share thoughts on what might not work. This ultimately helps us sculpt our ideas better and make them stronger.

The game was launched through a campaign video on YouTube and a campaign website. Well-known chess social influencer Woman Grandmaster Tania Sachdev shared the video via social platforms (Twitter, Facebook and YouTube) in which she challenged people and fellow chess players to play the game on the website. We wondered if website as a channel would be enough for the masses. We decided that given that mobile is increasingly becoming the preferred mode of digital consumption, we should consider building that too.

And rightly so, people accepted the challenge and soon it spread across social media. Those who lost could take two actions—they could share their experience on social platforms like Twitter and Facebook as well as donate to the cause of Nanhi Kali for the education of girl children. Along with the mobile friendly website, we also launched a mobile app where one could play the game and donate as well. Not just global chess influencers but Ace Photographer Atul Kasbekar too shared and endorsed the campaign. Chess Celebrity Anna Rudolf created a YouTube video showcasing how she lost with a powerless queen.

Khan: Opposition to any idea, helps make the end result sharper, provided it is structured towards the greater goal. With strategy and creative being a cohesive unit, we often battle out the creative idea and it goes through many rounds of discussion which is actively encouraged. As a result, it helps the campaign results get richer. For instance, there was a lot of discussion on how we should look at promoting the campaign, whom should we consider as a key influencer, often the obvious choice is the No. 1 player in the industry, but here we went ahead with Tania Sachdev who is India’s #2 Chess Player and Woman Grandmaster, and it was the right decision. #PowerlessQueen trended overnight on Twitter. Hungarian Grandmaster ‘Anna Rudolph’ posted a video of herself playing the ‘Powerless Queen’ game and losing it and commended the campaign and the idea—this was completely organic. A chess club in France hosted a #PowerlessQueen themed game at their monthly tournament. Grandmasters and champions like Vishwanathan Anand, Anish Giri, Judith Polgar, Jennifer Shahade, Peter Heine Neilsen all applauded the campaign and tweeted out in support. We actually got 58.5 Million Impressions and 7,465 Tweets in just one week with earned Media worth 118 Million INR. All of this would not have been possible without some heated debates, arguments and constructive discussions.

As the coronavirus swept through the world and Asia-Pacific hard, everyone’s way of working and collaborations have been forced to change. Do you think you would have been able to pull off ‘Powerless Queen’ the same way as you did now? How would it have affected the way that the campaign was rolled out.

Dingra: Coronavirus has taken the world and Asia-Pacific by storm. It forced us all to adapt to a new way of working now that personal / conference room brainstorms weren’t going to be possible. We surely would have been able to pull off powerless queen in the same way as we did then because for the purpose of the campaign we had team members travelling all over the country to ensure various activities were checked off. The shoots with Tania were happening in a different location, the tech piece was happening in Mumbai. We were able to pull off the whole campaign without a glitch by ensuring that our communication was on point.

Khan: I agree to the fact that 2020 has been an interesting challenge for us, whether creative or strategy, the entire ecosystem was affected. Funnily though, the strategy and creative team was among the first ones to get comfortable with brainstorming with each other from remote locations. It does need the added effort with respect to preparation and yes at times if everyone’s thinking together, the silence on the calls tends to seem eerily long and weird in a funny way, but it hasn’t deterred us from being able to be effective. I am confident we would have been able to pull off the campaign equally well even in these times. It would though have needed a lot of us to be solely working on the campaign which given the intensity required, would be deemed essential.

Question to creative: If you had to pitch a solution to the same brief from the client today, how would you change your creative idea in light of the economic climate and new way of life caused by the coronavirus?

Dingra: If we had to pitch a solution to the same brief from the client today, we would definitely bring in all the new features of Instagram like Reels to further make the idea massy and reach out to the GenZ as well. Given the new way of life caused by the Coronavirus we would definitely consider zoom tournaments over on-ground ones. However, the very fact that Chess grand masters from across the globe noticed us, is a proof that our idea would have been just as effective in the current pandemic too.

Question to strategist: If you had to pitch a solution to the same brief from the client today, how would you execute the campaign in light of the economic climate and way of life now caused by the coronavirus?

Khan: The campaign was designed from a completely digital lens. Given the current economic climate, and way of life, we would have possibly introduced more online championships or possibly workshops for girls for chess. The essence and conduct of the campaign would have stayed intact, but we would have considered more avenues from a promotion lens and would have definitely looked at a longer duration in terms of commitment for the campaign.

Question to creative: From your point of view as a creative, describe the role of a strategist in a campaign.

Dingra: Creative and strategy go hand in hand. As mentioned earlier, 'collaboration' is the one key word that ensures that our work stands out. You need an idea as a starting point, but you also need to ensure that the execution of the idea is beautiful. They are so intrinsically tied together that one cannot thrive without the other.

Question to strategist: From your point of view as a strategist, describe the role of a creative in a campaign.

Khan: Strategy and creative are two sides of the same coin. Both are essential for a campaign and a brand. Where strategy helps design the blueprint, the framework, the direction; creative breathes life into that blueprint and helps that vision come alive, and only when those efforts are combined will there be creative effectiveness built in.

Question to creative: Have you ever thought of switching roles to be a strategist/planner instead?

We do not have bifurcated roles here at WATConsult. Everyone wears multiple hats. It’s a unique way of functioning but it works for us as we help everyone build their portfolios in a more holistic manner.

Question to strategist: Have you ever thought of switching roles to be a creative instead?

Khan: At WATConsult, because of the cohesiveness of unit, we all have played the roles of creative and strategist interchangeably at some point or the other. So I am lucky to have been on both sides of the table (which is a rare opportunity for most). In my opinion, the need of the hour is ‘creative strategists’, especially in the digital space where the roles cannot exist in a mutually exclusive manner and have to find a way of blending seamlessly.

Question to creative: Which piece of work did you win your first Spike for? What did winning your first Spike mean to you and what does a Spike mean to you now?

Dingra: Winning your first Spike fills you with both gratitude and pride. It is a well-deserved validation of all the hard and smart work put in by a team of creative and agile members. Winning one in 2020 would be a testament that nothing can stop you if you believe in your idea, in your team and in your Goal, not even a pandemic. If you are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve you goal, nothing can stop you.

Question to strategist: Which piece of work did you win your first Tangram (previously known as the AMEs—Asian Marketing Effectiveness Award) for? What did winning your first Tangram mean to you and what does a Tangram mean to you now?

Khan: Winning a Tangram is prestigious in many ways, but the first is always an acknowledgement—that yes your work has made it into an esteemed circle shared by few, and today a Tangrams would be a celebration of continued effort, unwavering belief and repeated success, despite the world going through a seismic shift given 2020.

Campaign Asia

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