Radhika Joshi
Jan 02, 2014

Close-Up: An artist engaged in mastering activation, hands on...

Vipul Salvi, NCD, Geometry Global, on his journey from advertising to activation, challenges and learnings. Also view the video here.

Close-Up: An artist engaged in mastering activation, hands on...

Life in advertising

Vipul Salvi, a pass out from L.S. Raheja School of Arts, started his advertising journey with Contract in 1999 as senior art director. He got his first ever award ‘The Typographer of the Year’ at the Creative Artists Guild, which helped him to get into advertising. Talking about his stint at Contract, he says, “Contract was the hot place at that time, some crazy people used to work there. Contract was the default choice, Everest was another option, and no one had heard of Ogilvy at that time. I was very lucky to start at Contract. That’s the beauty of a small place, they have fewer people and you tend to work with almost everything and anything which flows in the agency. I worked on Cadbury, Shoppers Stop, ICICI to Philips. I worked the longest on Shoppers Stop - throughout those five years.”

After having worked at Contract for five years, Salvi decided it was time for him to move on. With all the changes happening in the agency and top leaders moving out, he decided to quit Contract and go abroad.

“As any 22 to 23 year-old thinks at that time, my thinking too was to go abroad and Dubai was this glamour world - they used to pay well and they used to do some great work. Moving to Europe or Singapore was extremely difficult at that time. I think it was Dubai that was much easier and lot of my colleagues had moved to Dubai and they were happy. So that’s how I moved to Dubai and I joined BBDO, then shifted to Grey, followed by Lowe. I spent a good five years in Dubai and got to work on many international brands like Snickers and 7Up, I worked on Coke when I moved to Lowe. Dubai being the way it is, each agency has at least two or three car accounts because there are so many car brands. Automobile was a huge business. So I got to work on Chrysler, and worked on Audi when I was at Lowe”,  he adds.

After spending around 19 months in BBDO, Salvi moved to Grey. He met Mounir Harfouche, who became a good friend, and happened to be his boss then. He followed Mounir Harfouche as he moved to Lowe.

Returning to art

When asked what made him come back to India, he notes, “Art made me come back to India. I was done with advertising - I had quit advertising. I think I will be the first in advertising to have ‘retired’ at the age of 27. My wife is an artist and she wanted to come back. Dubai is not great at art (Abu Dhabi still is). Art was really taking off here. I used to paint as well in between and we did a few shows. So I came back to India, took a break for almost three years from advertising. Then the recession happened and I wasn’t doing much then. So we had to choose - one of us used to work and one used to paint. I always followed advertising and liked advertising from beginning. I joined Law & Kenneth.”

It was based on a suggestion from a dear friend, who advised him to join a small place given that Salvi had been off advertising for four years. He is quick to add that it is by no means a small place now, but an outfit that is doing some great work.

“I was there for seven or six months, but I was not enjoying myself. And that actually reflected on my work as well and I wasn’t able to perform the way I wanted to. So it didn’t work between us and they sacked me. I was involved in ITC, did lot of work for Hungama and did some classic beauty films then,” recalls Salvi.

Before exiting Law & Kenneth, Salvi got a call from Rajiv Rao and Abhijit Avasthi whom he had been friends with since his Contract days. He had showed his work to them before but nothing had worked out.

“I was clear that I didn’t want to join mainstream advertising, so digital was an option. When I got a call from Rajiv, he said, “Why don’t you meet this gentleman Rahul Saigal?” So I met Rahul and we spoke a lot. I didn’t understand any of it but I saw the excitement he had. I was really taken aback by that - the sheer enthusiasm which he had and what he wanted to do inspired me. Now we call it activation; at that time we didn’t have a word for it but it was clearly moving. The initial campaigns like friendship machine and then flash mob - people were going completely crazy.”

Challenges and learnings

Salvi credits the Ogilvy system for stoking the creative fires continuously. “Ogilvy gives you freedom. I have not seen any agency where the servicing guy or the account guy is equally excited about creative work as the creative guys themselves, sometimes more. When I speak to Abhijit or Rajiv or Hephzibah or Rahul or anyone, they all are so excited about more great work than anything else. The biggest barrier for a creative guy anywhere in the globe is to convince your own people. If they all are on one page, if they all encourage you to do some great work, then half of your battle is already won. You just need to sit down and crack some great work and they will help you to sell your work,” he explains.

He admits fearing that lack of such support might be the biggest challenge, but realised soon that this was a different ship. The sailing, as Salvi says, was mostly smooth.

“Small bits like getting the right team, making sure that the team was in place, making sure there was understanding what activation is, that was a bit of a challenge. It took a little time for me to understand as well,” he confesses.

Talking about his learning, he says, “The international stint really helped me. Art directors are known to be very shy and quiet. And I was exactly like that - I was shy, very unsure about how people are going to take me, if people are going to like my ideas. At the end of it, if you can’t communicate your own ideas, nobody’s going to understand and that’s the problem most of the art guys face. What a stint like Dubai or any other international stint does to you is it boosts your confidence to a certain level. You are not scared of anything anymore. It clears a lot of self-doubts you have when you are thrown in an international market and when are put in front of an international group - you are supposed to make sense when you open your mouth.”

He points that out as an interesting change Dubai made in him, and adds, “In India you are still very much shielded. If you are not making sense, your boss will shield you in front of clients and you are expected to act in a certain way. In an international market, it is just about making sense. No matter how junior or how senior you are, as long as you make sense it’s absolutely fine.The fear of stage fright was gone - Dubai took that away from me. And hence I was confortable with anybody and everybody. I think Dubai played a very important role for me.”

Activation, a different space

Salvi believes that there is not much of a difference between advertising and activation. Activation, advertising, design, digital and marketing all fit under the big umbrella of communication, he underlines.

“There are certain media we don’t work with like a press ad or a TV ad, but having said that the gap will slowly close. I think you can activate a brand through a press ad or a television commercial. That’s what exactly we are striving towards; we are trying to bridge that gap. I think activation and advertising both complement each other, that’s just the way we see communication actually moving towards” he explains.

When asked if he misses mainstream advertising, the Geometry Global NCD said, “Sometimes I miss mainstream advertising when I see campaigns like Google, 5 Star and Cadbury. I know these guys are having fun and I am stuck doing danglers. But I am sure we will also do that at some point - not the TVC, but that kind of great work. When we were shooting the Lifebuoy Roti campaign, it was great a time for me. It’s still the same, shooting, editing, sound, music. But this is the choice I have made.”

Use of technology in activation

Salvi believes the ‘new age’ has arrived already. Social makes it far easier to reach out to many more people than before, he reasons.

“We have specialised people for specific things, like a digital planner, a position which never existed before. That’s a clear sign of how the market and all agencies are evolving. We are creating new positions, which never existed. And we have great people heading it.  There are specialised people in the industry whom we can pick up and ask them to do certain things,” he adds.

From artist to ad pro

He managed a few shows during the three years when he moved full time to painting. So is that a part of him still alive? And how does it link back to advertising?

Salvi explains the connection between two professions: “I have been a commercial artist as an advertising professional and was not into fine art. But when I moved to fine art and started painting, it opened up a different world. When you paint or do a sculpture or an installation, it’s very lonely. Art is a very lonely profession; it’s a very individual-led perception kind of a space. Your art dealers buy you; they are buying your thought. As opposed to advertising, it’s completely different.”

But he emphasises that while the dynamics are completely different, the idea at the core of it is the same. “So art helped me to think in a completely different way. At the same time, my advertising background helped me to keep my thoughts grounded, helped to keep my thoughts real. So it was like a dual personality that existed in a good way, because art tends to go little abstract at times. You can think of things which don’t make sense to anybody else but the advertising person in you brings you back to life, saying, ‘You know what this sounds great but need to build some logic to it’,” surmises Salvi.


Shoppers Stop: For their 2003 brand campaign, they wanted to reinterpret their esoteric 'Feel the experience, while you shop' positioning by focusing on occasion specific merchandise.



Vodafone Muscial Ear Muffs: At the Kumbh Mela we decided to promote devotional music from Vodafone's repertoire of value added services. To do this, we embedded a devotional music player into a vital winter accessory - earmuffs.



Lifebuoy Roti: At the Kumbh Mela 2013 in Allahabad (India), we decided to spread the message of handwashing by creating a special heat stamp and stamped 2.5 million rotis with the message 'Did you wash your hands with Lifebuoy?'




Platinum: This campaign spoke to the Platinum woman in a voice she would understand, setting her apart from the crowd.


Bru World Cafe: A new range of Bru Exotica coffees was launched as well as a chain of coffee parlours called Bru World Cafe. Our job was to bring the parlours to life with an end-to-end solutions starting with the name and the logo to delevoping the look and final implementation of the interiors. 


Audi: Print campaign for MENA region

Campaign India

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