Arati Rao
Oct 31, 2010

Close - Up: “Blood, sweat, success for our clients — and then glory”

Senthil Kumar, chairman of the JWT India Creative Council and executive creative director - Bangalore, Chennai & Kolkata, discusses, among other things, awards – the ones he’s won, the ones India can win and the ones JWT hasn’t won as yet.

Close - Up: “Blood, sweat, success for our clients — and then glory”

Tell us about how you got into advertising.

Blame it on sixty surrogate subjects during four long years of Mechanical Engineering at Bangalore University. Fortunately, somewhere in the middle, yours truly was voted Cultural Secretary. Soon, all the cult campus festivals like Incident at REC Suratkal, Madigra at IIT Madras and Vibrations at IISc, forced me to take part in some creative sport or the other. When everyone was doing flat paper collages, I would bravely mix media and attempt 3D collages. And I started winning prize money in Collage, Creative Writing & Mad Ads at times when pocket money was taboo. Guess I was lucky to find the commercial potential of an idle right brain and as soon as I got that Bachelor of Engineering tag, thanks to a distinction for my final year project on the engine of the Prithvi Missile, I jumped ship into the unknown waters of advertising, where no man in the family had every gone before.And my Chief Engineer Dad has never forgiven me since.  “When you want something, the whole universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”  –

Paulo Coelho in 'The Alchemist'. It took me six months of relentless pursuit but I got my first job as a writer at a small agency in Bangalore. 18 months later I was offered a job by the hottest creative agency in 1997, Trikaya Grey. And was soon packed off to set up Trikaya Grey in Sri Lanka as Creative Chief at the ripe age of 25, since none of the CDs wanted to risk their lives on the island, in the middle of a bloody civil war. Blame it on the millennium bug and a certain Colvyn Harris, but I returned home in 2000 to join JWT Bangalore as Creative Director… 

As someone who’s worked at three offices of the same agency in India, is there a difference in the vibe in different cities? How did you adjust to the same?

If Life is a Roller Coaster, I am a Rolling Stone. Travelling is a primal passion and something that constantly blows my mind. I have worked in all the offices of JWT India on several projects but have lived in the JWT Mumbai office for 3 years, JWT Chennai for 3 years and JWT Bangalore for over 4 years. Of course, each city has a different vibe and myriad moods but thank God every stint has been deliberately different. You don’t adjust to a new city, you have to blend in and live like the locals do. I believe it’s always the people that make the city happen. And fortunately I have made more friends than colleagues or clients in all 3 cities. 

You were the youngest ECD in JWT at the age of 33. What do you think worked in your favour? 

I have always pursued the big idea at the centre of our universe and have fought hard to bring ideas to life. Guess this passion helped me earn the respect of my team and seniors within the agency. And of course my work definitely speaks for myself. A few years ago, I was identified by the agency among the top 10 High Potential Creative Leaders across JWT worldwide and kickstarted the Creative Transformation at the agency from the very beginning when J Walter Thompson shed its old skin and rebranded the agency JWT. So ECD at 33 is not a big surprise but Chairman of the JWT India Creative Council at 36 was bigger. 

What is your work attitude – pleasing the juries, the client or the TG?

The task is definitely to solve a client’s marketing problem with a simple idea that delivers the solution and engages its audience to consume the communication, inviting them to spend more time with the brand and its proposition. We are in the business of commercial art, where art has to drive commerce and earn rewards for the Clients first. And every idea is exhibited in the market place first, where the Consumer is your Jury.

Creativity thrives on recognition but you never start working on a brief by thinking awards. But when you push the idea beyond its first execution, when you want to create something original, something that’s never been done before, something that will not just work in the marketplace but also be a milestone in communication, then you are bound to reap a few rewards for all your hard work. It’s always blood, sweat, success for our clients - and then glory. 

As someone who’s been on international juries as well, what do you think about Indian work that comes in?

We just have to be more Indian in our expression than ever before. Look around you and India is more interesting than advertising. We live in a nation, where a billion different stories happen, all at the same time. And if we dig deep into our own lives and rewind to our past experiences, there will be many insights that could be propelled into an idea, that Indians would love to consume and engage with. Remember that every international jury is actually looking up to us, wanting to see something Indian they have never seen before, wanting to be moved like the consumers when they first experience your idea. 

You directed a commercial earlier this year, for Khaitan. Tell us more about that experience and is it something that you would want to do more of ?

I direct films, usually when the budgets are low or when my Clients need it done in a week and none of the hot shot directors are available. My own reel includes commercials, documentaries and virals for several clients like Ford, Pepsi, Sri Lanka Tourism, Hungama TV and The Khaitan ‘Wind Instrument’ film was the last one I directed with a decent budget. If I believe in the idea, I usually give it my best shot and bring it to life as director, cameraman, photographer, choreographer, whatever… 

Do you think Indian agencies are making enough of an effort to understand the web and its potential? How do you keep your skill set updated for new media?

Well, I work for Google on all their brands including YouTube, Orkut, Google Mobile and Google Chrome. So watch out for us in the digital space, where we are thinking of new ideas every day for clients like Nike, Levi’s and Ford who have already shifted a sizeable chunk of their marketing plans into digital media.

Learning on the job is the best solution right now.Understanding the constantly evolving medium of the internet is only possible by trial and error. But if we shy away from leaping into unknown spaces or attempting the impossible, we will never know what is possible. Also it's important to keep experimenting with new media on a regular basis to grow our own capabilities and discover our strengths. We are the biggest nation in the IT business but lack lustre in our ideas for digital media. It’s about time India won the Grand Prix at the Cyber Lions.

 What’s your vision for yourself and JWT now? 

Even Elephants Can Dance and how. Ever since we transformed into a hungrier, more creative JWT in 2004, the agency has won several new businesses purely on the strength of its Creative Firepower. And most clients out there are happier with this shift in focus to Creative. The results have gone beyond  successful marketing case studies with JWT India winning India’s first ever Grand Prix at Cannes and first Gold Lions in Film, Promo, Design and Direct. And in my first year as Chairman of the Creative Council, JWT India won the Asia Pacific Agency of the Year title at Adfest 2010. I think the journey is never over in this business and we have to keep pushing on the creative front, deliver hard working solutions for all our clients and create ideas that engage more people to spend more time with our Clients' brands. Agency of The Year at Cannes would definitely be a dream that I’d like to realise for JWT India.

Pepsi "Indian Huddle ki Pyaas hai badi' (2004) Pepsi's biggest cricket film ever and captured a novel point of view what actually happens inside the Indian huddle every time a wicker fell. A cool drink waala & even Big B came up via an underground tunnel to join the huddle, unseen by the crowds to satisfy the pyaas of the Indian players for Pepsi.



Levis 'Slim Figures: As slim as the red tab on a stick figure' (2005) Grand Prix Runner Up & Gold Lion Campaign Winner at Cannes 2006. The Campaign included Print, Film, Viral Video, Signage & Posters. 



HP Turbojet Diesel with Energy Boosters 'Keep Distance' (2005) Old Jungle Saying: When a powerful beast arrives, the rest of the jungle keep distance.


Sri Lanka Tourism 'Small Island Big Trip' (2006) Aerial Photography & Birds of Paradise: the first aerial documentary of the island.


OMO 'Bring Old Whites Back to Life' (2006) The Asiapac regional campaign for Unilever detergent OMO brought to life over 100 Elvis Look alikes in Bright Old Whites across Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines & Vietnam. 


Pondicherry Yoga Festival Campaign 'Stretch Festival' (2007) Celebrating yoga and promoting it as a daily ritual on the streets of India. Promo Lion Winner at Cannes.


SUN KIDS TV Channel 'Launch Campaign' (2007) Featuring children playing with a mini TV, a television made for kids by the kids. 'YELLOWRIPPERS' (2007) Interactive Campaign in the US & India inviting people to R.I.P their local city yellow pages, promoting online yellow pages. It was Youtube's 'Most Responded Video Challenge' with over 3000 video responses.


Ford Endeavour '4x4' (2008) A Whole new design and identity for Ford by using the logo to the power of 4x4. Four different 4x4 terrain landscapes were created using just the letters 4 & X. Featured in The International Archive.

The Times of India 'Naala Mukka: A Day in the Life of Chennai' (2008) India's most awarded commercial ever, winning India's first Gold Lions in Films Lions & Film Craft Music at Cannes 2009. Asia Pacific Lotus Roots Grand Prix & Gold National Award for the highly successful The Times of India launch in Chennai. 'Arjun The Archer: A bridge between mythology and technology' (2008) A short film initiative to revive a thousand year old art form selling online classifieds. Design Lion at Cannes 2009 & Gold at the Holland Animation Film Festival.


The Times Of India 'A year In The Life of Chennai' (2009) The entire campaign was created using recycled TOI newspapers.



Sunfeast World 10k promo with Nike as running partner 'Sport Needs No Spectators' (2010) A campaign that invited spectators to stop watching and start running in the Sunfeast World 10k marathon. 


Nike 'Bleed Blue: The Nike India Cricket Campaign' (2010) Featuring gully cricket, training videos and athlete stories of blood, sweat & blue.

Campaign India

Related Articles

Just Published

13 hours ago

ABP Network joins the creative bandwagon with ‘ABP ...

The content division will create pan-Indian stories for audiences globally

13 hours ago

Hindware showcases smart range of bathware with ...

Watch the film conceptualised by MagicCircle Communications

14 hours ago

P&G's Pampers gets fathers to share the parenting load

Watch the film conceptualised by Leo Burnett India here

16 hours ago

Unilever inclusivity plan to tackle living wage, ...

CEO Alan Jope said commitments to address social inequality "will make Unilever a better, stronger business", and pushed for "collective action" in addressing widening social divides