It is easy to presume that an advertising office in NCR would be located in Gurgaon. But Viral Pandya, co-founder and chief creative officer of Out of the Box, prefers travelling daily from his Gurgaon residence to his office in West Delhi. An unusual place to have an office, but it helps his association with Marvel Group, which runs Mother’s Pride pre-school and Presidium school in the same campus.
The Osho follower passed his sixth standard in his second attempt, and decided to quit studying in class seven. With his parents supporting him, he went on to study typography and packaging design in London in 1987. In 1988, he began his journey in advertising with FS Advertising – a creative hotshop in Delhi.
When Ajit Shah of Dhar & Hoon moved as branch head of Mudra Delhi, he pulled out Pandya as well. From there, he went to Mudra Hyderabad. In 1995, Sista Saatchi & Saatchi was becoming Saatchi & Saatchi, and it roped in Pandya for the Mumbai office as associate creative director.
“They gave me good monies,” says Pandya cheekily. In December 1999, he was promoted as creative director, and shifted to Delhi to handle the agency’s biggest client, Hyundai. When Hyundai moved out, Pandya resigned, took an appointment letter from Bates, and ‘went chilling’.
“But I got a feeling that I am not doing a right thing, so I called our MD V Shantakumar telling him that I am coming back to Saatchi. We then pitched for Wagon R. We worked on it, and won many accolades like Campaign of the Year, Commercial of the Year, AAAI’s. We revived Saatchi & Saatchi. Then we sacked Wagon R, and got back Hyundai,” he recalls.
In 2003, Pandya moved to Grey as creative director for 10-odd months. After Grey, Pandya moved back to Saatchi Bangalore before coming back to Delhi as creative director. He moved out of Saatchi &Saatchi in December 2005 ‘because Hyundai was moving out’. Again.
On 17 January 2006, Pandya and his partner Sabu Paul started Out of the Box. It was in the same year that Pratap Suthan asked Pandya to join Cheil as ECD (consultant) to revive Samsung in India. “We were instrumental in getting Bollywood actor Aamir (Khan) and doing the ‘What is Next’ campaign for Samsung, which saved the brand,” he says.
Out of the Box, and how
On how Out of the box happened, Pandya reveals with a glint in his eyes: “I met a friend who was a common friend to the Mother’s Pride owners, and we started talking. We wanted to build the brand because they were already nine and a half years into existence in Delhi.”
He admits that running the agency was difficult in the beginning, especially ‘because you are used to ruling the roost and enjoying the perks as creative director’. The first three years went in a haze, but the fruits of hard work – awards and recognition – started adorning the white walls of his office located on a terrace.
In a career spanning 25 years, Pandya has understandably worked on several global and Indian brands. “We won Cannes Gold in 2011. We sent one entry, and had 100 per cent ROI. We are lucky to be in One Show Design book for the past eight years. Even as India’s jury in One Show Design. Last year I was judging New York Festivals. We lie very low. We do not harp about ourselves. We do not have to, because what gives us the kick is great work,” says the man who loves reading Asterix, Hardy Boys, PG Wodehouse, Tank, Esquire and GQ.
When Pandya and his four-member team started work on Mother’s Pride nine years ago, the Marvel Group was told to stop all its advertising. The intent was to help the brand craft a new identity. Today, the 12-member agency is responsible for growing all brands of the Marvel Group.
“We are not strong in films, or design, or advertising. We are strong in ideas. We are not that big but are focusing on smallest of things that helps enhance the brand. We are solution providers to any kind of problem, which the brand faces. It can be digital – and we are doing pretty good in digital,” elaborates Pandya.
Mantra and mentoring
Pandya is happy living for the moment now. “I have a very peaceful life because I handle smallest account in the world,” he remarks. However, he is concerned about the challenges that face the Indian advertising agency, mentoring being one of them.
“One Miami Ad School in Mumbai won’t help,” says the ‘Saatchi boy at heart’, adding that a lot of the money spent on awards could diverted towards mentoring and training.
Asked if he misses being a part of big agency, he says, “No, I do not miss the big agency buzz. Tomorrow if I get a good opportunity to sell Out of the Box, I will. But I will not sell it to any agency. That said, no agency has approached me yet because I am lying low. We do not have a site of our own. We do not have a place where we can dump all our work.” Yet, the agency’s work has ensured Pandya is on global award juries consistently.
Despite the ‘creative work being churned out today’, Pandya is all praise for O&M. “For Out of the Box, the benchmark of good work is O&M. That is the only agency that is doing above-benchmark work, in authenticity for their clients. And that’s what we are doing,” he says.
The other challenge he cites is ‘agencies not pushing the boundaries of creativity’.
“Agencies are dead. People are fighting to hold onto their own seats in agencies. What are they doing new? Earlier people made an effort to push the boundaries of creativity and of clients also. Even clients were knowledgeable. Every advertising spread was sparkling in India Today or Outlook. Today, nothing is sparkling. Brands are putting lots of monies in media, and they want to put monies in digital, but see the work. The client is looking only for RoI. Where are they pushing the boundaries? Today, when you see a small hoarding of Vodafone or Housing’s new campaign – that seems refreshing. Creativity in newspaper advertising is dead, and the amount of ads in newspapers is double now,” he observes despondently.
Now and beyond
While winning awards does motivate Pandya, they act as a scale that ‘tells you every year how far you have reached’. And the awards and recognitions have been plentiful, from the Abbys to those at international forums.
“It is nothing but self-appreciation. You are the one who pays for entering the award and then you give a party to the whole world if you win,” says the 43-year-old.
While acknowledging undercutting as a trend, Pandya says he is happy ‘being costly’ for the services offered. He asserts, “We are open for business if someone wants to approach us. But we are costly because I take my own sweet time and do it. We are not a Rs 50,000 or a lakh-rupee retainer. We have done seven to eight projects for Haldiram’s. When you work on a project, the client has to be serious on what he wants to get done. The kind of monies we charged Haldiram’s, many big agencies don’t charge that as their retainer fees.”
When asked about the immediate focus area or the agency, Pandya points to focusing energies on creating system management software. “It has taken us two years, and might take two more. It will never win us an award, but it is important. We are creating apps. We are not in a hurry. Whatever we do here involves six to eight months of advance planning,” says the upbeat man.
“When I joined, Mother’s Pride was five or six branches. Today, we are 82 branches. We have seven Presidiums. When I joined, we had no Presidiums. Another seven are coming up by 2015-'16. The focus is 100,000 children in the next 10 years. I think the bigger the client gets, the smaller the stuff he wants because that is where the hiccups are. We are expanding the business. We as a group are growing. When I joined we (Mother’s Pride) were Rs 18 to 20 crore. Now we are Rs 350 crore. The path and focus is very clear,” he surmises.
(This article was published in the 1 May issue of Campaign India)