Blog: The bone I would like to pick with the AAAI

Of human brands, designer brands and indestructible brands

Jul 18, 2017 11:24:00 AM | Article | Sandeep Goyal

It has been a busy week, this last week.
Three invites. To three important events. Two of which I attended. And one which I am most likely to miss. And miss, with some regret.
The first on the calendar was the AAAI Lifetime Achievement Award event on Friday last. Then on Sunday evening, the 20 years of Gallerie magazine event at The Royal Opera House. And this Wednesday(19 July) is going to be the launch of The Indestructible Brand, a new book on social media by Star TV’s Venke Sharma.
The AAAI Lifetime Achievement Award this year was conferred on the ‘Empress of Media’, Roda Mehta. It was a very well attended evening at The St. Regis with a large turnout by Mehta’s pupils and protégés, testimony to her enduring popularity and professional eminence. Also there were a large number of attendees from Ogilvy (many of whom were OBMers of the 80s), an agency where Roda spent most of her media years. And there were many an advertising veteran, including Alyque Padamsee and Gerson DaCunha.
I was far too young, and too junior, when Roda reigned over the industry, especially media in the 70s, 80s and 90s. And I never worked at Ogilvy Benson & Mather (as Ogilvy was then called). So our paths never crossed. I did see her a few times from far at industry events but never dared to go up to her to say ‘hullo’. She had a formidable reputation. Minions in the agency, and media vendors, shuddered at the very mention of her name. She was supposed to be a hard-task master. Tough. No-nonsense. And very very good at her work. I am happy Roda’s years in the industry have been recognised by the AAAI. It is an honour well deserved.
Roda became the 25th recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award; the first ever woman in Indian advertising to do so. And this is where I have a bone to pick with the AAAI. Roda is of course a doyenne of the business. But the first woman to have been conferred the award should have been Tara Sinha. Yes, Ma Sinha, as she was popularly called, was the first woman to set up a national advertising agency… Tara Sinha Associates (TSA) in the 1980s. The agency became Tara Sinha McCann Erickson in later years and handled prestigious brands like Nescafe during its time. Starting out at SH Benson, London in 1952, Tara Sinha was the founder director of Clarion Advertising Services through the 60s and 70s. Sinha worked at Coca Cola in India and in the US from 1973 to 1983 before returning to run Clarion till 1985. Ma Sinha was in the advertising business for more than half a century. And she belonged right up there with Subhash Ghoshal and Subroto Sengupta, half a generation ahead of Alyque Padamsee, Mike Khanna and Diwan Arun Nanda. I wish AAAI had given Tara Sinha her due. In fact when it comes to women winners of the award, Roda’s eminence notwithstanding, after Tara, another rightful recipient ahead of her in the queue would have been Sheila Sircar, the advertising heavyweight of the 1980s who set up Milestone Advertising more than 25 years ago. She too was a true blue advertising brave-heart. The Advertising Agencies Association of India has not been fair to Sheila too.
I am a bit intrigued why AAAI chose to confer Lifetime Achievement Awards to the likes of Sam Balsara, Piyush Pandey and Sundar Swamy when all of them are still very much active and in full control of the day to day affairs of their respective agencies. Each one of them is surely a deserving winner but this is one award that should only be given out when someone has truly retired from the profession. Which is why Ram Ray, Ashok Kurien and Shanta Kumar were ahead of the earlier mentioned worthies for this coveted award. In fact I would have put Kamlesh Pandey far far ahead of Piyush Pandey as a creative veteran. Kamlesh was creating epoch-making campaigns like ‘Whenever you see colour, think of us’ for Jenson & Nicholson, ‘Hum Red & White peene walon ki baat hi kucchh aur hai’ for Red & White cigarettes, was creating the Garden Vareli woman and creating the ‘Give me Red!’ blockbuster campaign for Eveready in the 70s and 80s when Piyush was still an account executive at OBM. The Lifetime Achievement Award needs to respect both seniority and extraordinary talent. Kamlesh has both.
I am known for my past battles with the AAAI. But I never have and I never will have a personal axe to grind. I just think industry bodies have no choice but to be like Caesar’s wife: they should not only be fair but also be seen to be fair.
The 20th anniversary celebration of Gallerie magazine was a very classy affair. Much like the magazine. And the venue, the Royal Opera House. I have been an admirer of Gallerie since I first saw its first copy way back in 1997, presented to me by my friend Mangesh Rane who designed the issue and has remained involved with the magazine over the last two decades. Editor Bina Sarkar Ellias was at her graceful best. Poet Gulzar read out some heartwarming poetry. Actor Nandita Das spoke, and spoke really well. But the highlight of the evening was ‘Elephant in the Room’, a solo theatre performance about the whimsical adventures of a young boy in search of his missing head. Bina’s daughter, Yuki, put up an outstanding performance. But the evening belonged to Gallerie, the gold standard in magazine design in India. Mumbai’s highbrow intellectual elite was there in full strength to applaud a magazine that has stood the test of great creative for 20 years now. Elegant. Stylish. Chic. Yet, deep and profound.
Wednesday this week will see the launch of Venke Sharma’s book, ‘The Indestructible Brand’, a handy-book on ‘crisis management in the age of social media’. I am going to be travelling and will miss the launch. But I have had the privilege of receiving an advance copy from Venke and have loved reading the thin tome over the weekend. Venke’s book has some really nice current and contemporary examples both from India and abroad on companies hit by crisis. Venke takes you from the September 2003 Cadbury chocolate controversy to the May 2015 FSSAI Nestle crisis on Maggi. He also narrates the horrific story of Justine Sacco of InterActive Corp, as also the global headline grabbing United Airlines Flight 3411 story of Dr. David Dao. The case studies are crisp. The narrative is focused. The learnings are sharp and lucid. I cannot steal the thunder from the book launch. Hence, cannot preempt the unveiling. But The Indestructible Brand is a book worth a good read. Heartily recommended.
As I said, it has been a busy week. A week full of celebrations. I think the businesses of advertising and media need a lot of that. Because, we are a tough profession. And any reason to celebrate is a welcome departure from the tedium of daily routine.
(Sandeep Goyal is chairman of Mogae Media. A 30-years veteran of advertising and media, Goyal was the first Indian juror on the Global Emmy Awards.)