A quick recap of your career so far...
I passed out from MSU Baroda in ’92 and at that time I wanted to do exhibition design. I joined a small design shop called Designcore in Bangalore, started by Suryaprakash Gowda, who did his exhibition design from NID. I was with him for about a year, and then joined Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) in Bangalore. In 1996, I took a transfer to O&M Mumbai, and I was with them for 12 years. In 2008, I quit and then I joined Rediffusion Mumbai where I was national creative director. After almost three years with them, I’m at Bates since the last two months.
What do you think about the cultures of the three agencies?
The culture and philosophy normally comes from the top guy or your networks. Ogilvy is a pretty strong network agency, but at the same time, the culture is clearly set by Piyush Pandey. It’s a very casual culture, with like-minded people coming together in a way. You’ll see that all the guys who passed out of that place are now heading other places. A lot of times culture also gets influenced by the kind of clients you look after. Most of Ogilvy’s clients have been there for a long, long time; that’s where the magic happens. At Rediffusion, we did try to copy the culture of Ogilvy, but we tried to come up with a new culture as well. I think we were quite successful for the first two years; the kind of consistency and good creative work that came out of Airtel, people really started appreciating that. A similar kind of effort is on here [at Bates141].
In a place like Ogilvy, it’s also a much bigger talent pool. A creative director at Rediffusion said when I joined, “When we used to come for award shows, we
wanted to see who’s winning in Ogilvy.” You get to see brilliant campaigns coming from the other group which makes you really insecure, which is very good for creative people.
What’s your award attitude?
I like what Piyush used to say, "Awards are like the icing on the cake." I always say awards are like two-and-a-half minutes of glory, that’s how long it takes from your chair to the stage and back. I really don’t know how many awards I’ve won and I don’t count them. But it’s a huge motivation in the agency. And it benefits the clients most, in terms of the amount of PR they can get. Scam is not necessarily a bad thing; you’ll never see F1cars on the road, but what the automotive industry learns from them is aerodynamics and engineering. If you think of a proactive idea that can fit in with your brand strategy, what’s wrong with that?
Do you think of yourself as art or copy these days?
I come from an art background, and I always used to question myself at middle management level, "Why do I need to change my skills?" But if you want to be a good captain, you should promote yourself from art level to idea level and then to the writing level. And this is what Piyush taught us, "If you want to be the next captain, you should know keeping, batting and bowling, and how to look after people."
What do you still love about advertising after so many years?
I still enjoy doing my art; even designing logos for my clients. You’re trained to see visuals when you’re from an art background and that really helped me when I was designing my films. Especially in a country where we speak so many languages, if you can see a film visually and write it, and if they can be understood without language, they’re brilliant films. Not taking anything away from writing, language isn’t really important; what you feel and what your creative idea is, is.
What’s the way forward for Indian advertising and Bates 141, according to you?
What will remain most important is the idea. When you have a good creative idea, it doesn’t matter what media vehicle you use.
Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar’s Creative highlights
2003 - Amaron Last long. Really long. Ting tong. Thanks to Vaibhav, E. Suresh and Chetan, the VO artist.
2003 - Close Up Kya aap Close Up karte hain? My five year old daughter Sana used to sing this jingle. And my mother-in-law used to buy Colgate. Why? Because there was a spoon free. Amazing. Director : Prasoon Pandey.
2004 - Tata Safari Reclaim your life. "I always wanted to quit on a Monday morning." After this ad, people used to call me and say, "I quit on a Monday morning". In fact, even I did that. Twice. Director: Abhinay Deo.
2005 - Bank of India While working on Bank of India, I understood the importance of client relationship. It was indeed a relationship beyond banking. Director : Sujit Sarkar.
2005 - Tata Sumo Kuch log Sumo chalate hain. One of the most important things about this film was the voiceover. Ajay Naqvi, a Servicing guy, gave his voice to the film, and magic happened. Director: Abhinay Deo.
2005 - SBI Life Insurance A diamond doesn’t know your age? Heere ko kya pata tumhari umar ka. Piyush said this line to his mother while gifting her a diamond. Director: Prasoon Pandey.
2008 - Airtel Worked on this business for two and a half years with Ramanuj Shastry. While there were constant challenges on the way, it was also fun. It also provided important learnings. For example, how to write stories that will suit the celebrities. Director: Vinil Mathew and Sippy from Corcoise.