‘Whenever I face a challenge, I tell the client honestly, and they are more than happy to help’, is the mantra Sabuj Sengupta, NCD, Hakuhodo Percept follows. And that seems to have worked as Sengupta completes 20 years of an advertising journey that began as a trainee with Contract Advertising.
Sengupta isn’t one of those creatives who got into advertising by chance. He always wanted to join the industry and was fascinated by art. “I was pretty clear that I wanted to join advertising. My dad was the principal at College of Art in Delhi. I was very fascinated with advertising and art. I didn’t waste time and tried my hand in advertising. Like anybody else, I went around looking for a job. Contract was kind enough to give me one as a trainee and it was a very good place to be at for a new person. My first boss was Bhupesh Luther, a really nice guy. I had no idea what happens at an agency. The first three years were a very good learning for me. It taught me about advertising and what looks good visually. I worked with a lot of talented people and that got me even more interested and I have been going at it since then.”
The early days
The first piece of work Sengupta released was a 20-cc ad for NIIT. During his stint at the agency he also worked on Park Hotels. “There was a lot of independence at Contract. The agency was heavy with respect to art and concepts. It was fun too and we won a few awards at the time. We won an A&M, the hottest award at that time and a NYF,” he adds about his time at the agency.
His left Contract in 2000 to join Bates, an agency where he would eventually spend the next seven years. “Bates was a very nice place to work. I don’t know what’s happening to them now, but back then, among their top clients was Nokia. The agency was slightly smaller than Contract, but the environment was great. The people had attracted me to join them. We also had Hyundai as a client. We even won a D&AD for our work on Nokia. I was very comfortable there, but then I think I got too comfortable. So I moved out.”
A stint at J. Walter Thompson followed. Josy Paul, who was the NCD at the agency told Sengupta about an opportunity to work at JWT. "I spent four roller coaster years with lots of work releasing for clients like Sony, Mountain Dew, Tropicana and Hero Honda," he recalls. Then, Dentsu Creative Impact came calling. I headed creative for about a year before moving to Hakuhodo.
Along with handling creative across the agency’s offerings in Delhi, Chennai and a small Bengaluru office, Sengupta also leads the agency’s digital offering. He manages a team of six people, and he is looking at expanding this.
On the agency’s digital offering, he says, “We work with a lot of technology partners. The most important thing for an agency to own is 'thinking'. So, we want to have all the knowledge. We are expanding our digital team by taking small steps. One great piece of digital work that stands out is the ‘musical car’ created for the Ignis launch.”
Client-agency partnerships, collaboration
While most creatives have a grouse with clients, Sengupta believes collaboration is the most important.
He explains, “We are in the business of finding solutions. I hear stuff like ‘the client is not listening’ and other complaints about the client. I don’t think they’re to blame. The client is also trying to communicate what he wants. If the problem could be told specifically, then he or she would be a creative person or a planner. If we collaborate, and I’ve seen this working across agencies, things get better. Most of our clients have been wonderful, extremely collaborative and supportive. If you’re a closed person and think that ‘nobody knows anything’ and ‘I’ll do it on my own’, then it doesn’t work. Working together helps with anything you want to do. If you want to create some great stuff, take the client into confidence, and it works. You have doubts then speak with them again. Ultimately, it’s their brand and the way they know their brand, nobody does. Eventually, the client also wants success, glory and if you do the journey together it’s the best. My biggest learning is work very closely with the client and be as true and honest as possible with challenges and issues. At the end of the day you’re creating advertising, not creating rockets!”
Advertising is getting its mojo back
Sengupta believes that the advertising industry is currently better placed with respect to talent issues than it was about three-four years ago, but still has a long way to go if it has to return to being the ‘exciting’ prospect it was back in 1997, when he began his journey.
He explains, “If you want to join advertising, you really want to do it in today’s time. About three-four years ago what I saw when I was hiring people was that the industry became a destination for people who didn’t know what to do with their lives. People would think ‘I don’t know what to do. I’ve just finished college. Let me become a copywriter.’ Art needed a skill-set, but client servicing and copy saw a lot of people join it. When I joined Contract, the client servicing guys were IIM graduates. I used to look around and see super intelligent and well educated dudes.”
And like others in the industry, Sengupta attributes this to remuneration within agencies not matching other industries, and the fact that avenues have opened up. He explains, “There are multiple issues with respect to talent. Money can’t be compared to the FMCG space. Secondly, digital has also become very big and there are so many avenues. People prefer creating apps, writing blogs. Two-three years ago, we were totally lost, and random people wanted to join advertising. Now, you’re seeing talent improve, but still far from what we had a few years ago. Today, it’s extremely difficult to find planners and creative people.”
He adds, “A lot of people who joined digital agencies a few years ago, now want to come back. They can’t really sustain in those small agencies. So, it’s about identifying and quickly hiring them. I see more people who are more interested and genuinely want to do advertising. Today, if you see advertising it’s a combination of advertising plus tech. it’s about finding solutions. It’s not a TVC or print ad anymore. That’s a hygiene thing. It’s about something else too.”
Nexa, automobile advertising
As Maruti expands its premium brand, Nexa, most of Sengupta’s time is consumed on this automotive brand. “Nexa in itself sounds like a word, but it’s huge. We have the parent brand, the S-Cross, Baleno, the Ignis and now an upcoming launch. That portfolio is extensive to manage,” says Sengupta.
He adds, “Jayanto Banerjee (national planning head, Hakuhodo Percept) and I have been working very closely ever since Nexa started two years ago. Nexa is driven by experience. When we opened up our first showrooms, the brand had only one car (S-Cross). And the car wasn’t cheap either. But the faith shown by dealers was amazing.”
The agency has been looking to change perceptions about automobile advertising, as the category is perceived to not be very creative. Through its work on Nexa, Hakuhodo Percept claims to be changing that perception. “There are companies that are still into selling cars. What we are trying to do, with Nexa is building an experience. Maruti doesn’t have a problem selling cars and we all know that. It’s a market leader, and shall soon have 50 per cent market share. All the communication has helped us redefine automobile advertising. We want to show consumers that when a car is bought, a lifestyle comes with it. The kind of programmes we do with our consumers are experience driven.”
He adds, “Other than the premium brands, most of the experiences between car companies and owners would be transactional. One buys a car, and then comes to the service station for its regular services. We are changing that. If one goes to a Nexa showroom, it looks like a premium car showroom. We’ve had feedback from people who have been amazed. The showrooms are big, classy and clean. The staff is courteous and well-trained. After you buy the car, the company stays in touch with invitations to concerts, parties, makeovers etc. We have seen companies like BMW, Mercedes and Audi do that and this is the space we want Nexa to be in. That’s the brand we’ve been able to create and the communication around that was about experiences. Nexa has 200 showrooms in 2 years, and it shows the dealers are taking to it. The word-of-mouth buzz has helped with that.”
He further explains that the agency along with Maruti has built the entire look and feel for the brand. Care has been taken with regards to everything including the tiles, sofas, carpets and more. “Not many agencies do this. We’ve helped with stuff like the colour of the suit a representative wears, the coffee mugs and more. It’s been a lot more than just advertising. We have built this together and total respect to the client, who has been amazing and supportive. Nexa has supported the ‘Black and White’ style of advertising and they’ve believed in us. The kind of collaboration we do is extremely high.”
There’s been a churn of creatives moving out of advertising to write films or move to an alternative career, but that’s not on Sengupta’s mind.
He surmises, “I have survived 20 years. I don’t want to leave. 20 years is a long time. What drives me is self-motivation. Coming to office everyday with something new to think. A lot of people come to office and go like ‘Oh My God, I have to think today’. Our business is about thinking, and thinking about new things every day. I think that’s fun.”
"One of the initial Bravia TVCs, the idea was to celebrate colour in the most spectacular way."
"First in a series of multiple TVCs for Sony Bravia that celebrated the festive season in India. All the commercials were based on a kid’s fantasy about light and colour."
"The second TVC for Sony Bravia that celebrated colours using a kid’s fantasy. We made 3 more in the whole series."
"This was the teaser for Maruti Suzuki Baleno just before it launched. The thought was that the car will give you a high and make you experience the surreal when you touch it."
"Phive Rivers is a company that makes leather products. We did this commercial for their womens handbags. The ideas was that five sexy men handcraft every bag. The campaign line was MANCRAFTED."
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"This is the launch ad for Baleno which has a tagline ‘Made Of Mettle’. We positioned Baleno as Bold Car. The idea of the commercial was to portray the boldness of the car in a very unique way."
"Ignis is a unique car. The launch commercial talks about people who think differently and drive the Ignis. The tagline is 'None Of A Kind.'"