Prakash Gowda
Aug 09, 2019

Blog: Confessions of a ‘small city’ copywriter

If you thought that agency life was difficult in the big cities, listen to what a copywriter in Gujarat has to say.

Actor Naveen Kasturia plays the role of a 'small town' copywriter in the web-series Thinkistan
Actor Naveen Kasturia plays the role of a 'small town' copywriter in the web-series Thinkistan
“You’re so talented, what are you doing here…Why don’t you try your luck in Mumbai?” – a common piece of (unwanted) advice that every copywriter worth his/her salt would have surely heard in a small city. “Digital advertising and social media has shrunk the world, so why shift to the metros?” would be the usual retort or rather ‘cover’. In heart of hearts, a ‘small-city’ copywriter does know that it’s far from the truth. Almost every ‘talented person’ is on social media and has a YouTube channel. Heck, even the ‘Likes’ and ‘Followers’ can be bought!
A small city, however well-connected and cosmopolitan it might claim to be, still remains what it is – a small city. If you ask a copywriter, any city that isn’t Mumbai, is a small city. It has been over 16 years that I have been a copywriter in Vadodara, Gujarat and when I glance at my portfolio, there’s barely anything to update. What’s there to update?
  • social media festival posts, brochure and website copy (let’s not call it ‘content’, please – It’s like calling rainbow a reflected sun-ray) 
  • another social media festival post, radio spot script with the brand name spelled out twice and phone number too (Who writes down phone numbers while listening to the radio?), another social media festival post, a fear-inducing cancer symptoms e-mailer, making you suspect that the one-week old cough you have just might be a cancer symptom
  • another social media festival post, a report theme that runs out of steam midway while you desperately try stretching the theme concept till its 100th page, another social media festival post,
  • proofreading the Ps and Qs with such precision lest you get fired for missing out a comma or full stop or even killed for a typo,
  • another social media festival post, a cancer ad that makes you think that the lump in your throat while watching an emotional scene just might be a symptom of cancer,
  • a jewellery ad with blurbs of ‘Festive Discount’ and  ‘No making charges’ bullying the headline that you had been whacking your head for hours
  • ad film scripts that keep changing in equal proportion with the client’s non-existent budget and the boss’ ever-changing brief and temperament only to be immortalised as a PPT file, another social media festive post that now makes you wonder who the hell invents so many festivals and why on earth aren’t they declared as public holidays? 
  • a Cancer Awareness campaign that now convinces you that you need to chat up more with that Insurance Policy Salesman you’ve been avoiding like plague, another social media festive post... to name a phew!
Once in a blue moon, you get projects that you lap up like a dog devours a bone. Admittedly, I have had the privilege of working with wonderful people, especially bosses who gave me the opportunity of penning song for a Cancer Foundation (My first song), a song on sustainability from the perspective of a kid, film for the ‘Big Lil City’, press ad campaigns for real estate, water conservation hoarding campaigns, a series on keeping the city clean, a ‘still-running’ song and TVC for a cooking oil brand, writing and directing a soon-to-released song video for tourism.
With limited opportunities and the minuscule number of ‘Big ad agencies’, you find yourself shuffling jobs for the want of better projects. Such shuffling is quite common in ‘Mumbai ke agencies’, but if you try doing that in small city, chances are you’d be branded as a ‘Good but Unstable’ or worse, ‘Likhta acha hai lekin commitment nahi hai’ (writes well but lacks commitment) kind of labels.
You try to fill the void of ‘creative challenges’ by streamlining your ‘creative keeda’ to other avenues, by writing blog posts, books, poems, making short films and find solace in whatever adulation that comes your way, even if it’s a simple ‘Like’. But then such ‘multi-talent’ requires time (after all, everyone gets only 24 hours). This means you need to finish your work on time and leave the office ‘on time’, which makes you a ‘clock-watcher’. You often hear comments like ‘Mumbai ke agencies mein to log raat-din pade rehte hain’ (people work overnight in Mumbai's agencies). The ‘Mumbai Ke Agencies’ and ‘#AgencyLife’ have made long hours a norm, while the rest remains the same in a small city. Nevertheless, you wear those badges of ‘clock-watcher’ and ‘unstable’ with pride and still go on with the ordeal. On second thoughts, it’s the lack of ‘big opportunities’ that make you come up with your best and make it all worth it.
You spend over a decade working with almost every cat and dog of advertising in your small city and those frequent ‘why don’t you try your luck in Mumbai’ nuggets of advice keep popping up from time to time. Even a casual browsing of advertising news websites or viewing of web series like ‘Thinkistaan’ makes you ‘think’ about those ‘Try your luck in Mumbai’ kind of suggestions. You are finally compelled to hit the ‘send’ button and mail your portfolio to a swanky ad agency in ‘The Mumbai’. The HR enthusiastically calls you up and after exchanging many a pleasantry; she finally asks you a question any ‘small-city copywriter’ can never be prepared for: “how many Golds have you won?”
Well, isn’t gold meant for wearing? I am a copywriter for god’s sake, not an Olympic athlete to win Golds. There comes another question: ‘never mind, so how many TVCs have you written?’ “Err, two…okay make it three…Is Social Media Viral Video…I mean Social Media Video qualified for being reckoned as a TVC?” you hope against hope and wait for the response that you know even before asking. “Well, in that case, can we get back to you?” “Sure, sure…” you say and hang up, only to receive an offer ‘lucrative’ enough to pay your rent in Mumbai – for a bed, not a room, mind you.
So, it’s just another day checking your job-list, lest being issued a ‘warning letter’ for missing the ‘sacrosanct’ deadlines, and writing just another cancer ad that now convinces you that even as a passive smoker, you just might fall victim to cancer and must be screened, pronto! This time, you can even hear the ambulance, I kid you not! And then comes yet another social media festival post that has to go before a week so that the client can add his creativity too and make that logo a tad bigger.
A casual chat with an acquaintance (a junior-turned-Creative Director just because he ‘chose’ to ‘try his luck’ in Mumbai) again paves way for the ‘a talented guy like you should be in Mumbai, what are you doing here?’ moment. But you know what, I have figured out a way to wriggle out of dealing with such ‘well-wishers’ – I love my dog and she hates Mumbai. Let’s see if this works.
Reminds me of this poem I wrote long back:
Khwaabo ke khilaune bechti hui raat,
Neend ki andheri gali se guzarti hain.
Khwaab saste hain, mein inhein khareed leta hoon,
Subah baazaar mein jaake unhe bikher deta hoon.
Magar khareedaaro ka diya har sikka khota hain,
Woh kehte hain: In khwaabo ke liye yeh shehar chota hain.
(The author is a Vadodara based copywriter.)
Campaign India

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