Four agencies in seventeen years - pretty uncharacteristic of your fraternity.
My track reads, McCann Erickson: four years, Rediffusion: seven years, Pickle Lintas: three years, Everest Brand Solutions: two years and going strong. I cannot quit quickly. I have a tendency of falling in love with places or people and work for one or both of them. Moreover, I believe that places can't be transformed in days, weeks or three months. It needs time, patience and commitment which I am willing to give.
It’s been two years since you joined Everest. How did Everest come about?
I met Dhunji Wadia, liked him and Everest happened. There was the comfort of coming back to the Rediffusion Group as well. Dhunji pulled me in because there was a job at hand which was to turn Everest around. It’s an agency which has had an historic past. Everest needed to be turned around in profile terms so over the last few years we have widened the base, we have put a lot of solid work in the market and that has started winning awards. All our work is solid genuine brand case studies. Turning a company around for the better is not possible in a weeks’ time, it takes time because you are not dismantling a company but taking what it has and moulding it. It has taken us two years but I can confidently say that Everest is well entrenched in turning around.
Where did you embark on the advertising journey?
I joined McCann Delhi in 1996. These were hunger years - as I wanted to do more and more. I worked on everything. I got to work on a spectrum of accounts, global and local such as, Gillette, Reckitt & Colman, Virgin Atlantic, General Motors, and India Today. At McCann, I won my first award for an ad on Opel Astra (General Motors). There was a clear focus on cutting edge creativity. In 2000, after a stint of four years, I outgrew McCann.
How was it working on Airtel at Rediffusion?
I worked at Rediffusion DYR for seven super years. This was a real testing ground and I literally grew up in Rediffusion. Here, I worked on Airtel and was at the forefront of the brand even as it catapulted in size and market position. It was a crazy learning curve. The scale was huge, work was plenty, and the learning was awesome. The Airtel Panwalla campaign that I did with Chax (KS Chakravarthy) is very close to my heart. That campaign changed things for the brand, and also changed the market. There is nothing more rewarding that creating work that impacts like that.
How did the move to Mumbai come about?
After three years in Delhi, I moved to Rediffusion Mumbai at Chax's suggestion and he also offered a better portfolio. Moving to Mumbai was the best decision I took. The team at Rediffusion was the best in the country. We had a bunch of rock stars like Ashish Khazanchi, Prashant Godbole, Zarvan Patel, Minakshi Achan. We had great work done, swept the award shows and created campaigns that were felt in the market. Under the helm of Chax, Rediffusion DYR was rocking.
Tell us about the Pickle Lintas experience.
After seven years at Rediff, I think I had come to a point where I wanted to do things on my own. Balki gave me that room and freedom. Things clicked and I had Pickle Lintas to look after. I learnt a lot about leadership at Pickle Lintas. More importantly I learnt how to run a place, as opposed to just writing ads. As people often tell me, I like taking tough assignments. Pickle Lintas was a very, very tough assignment as turning an agency around is not an overnight job. Here, there was huge amount of learning as it was not just about creating ads. You have to lead the team, run a company, win new businesses and do great work.
We picked up clients like Dabur, Volvo, Sab TV, Nestea (BPW). We created visible work and won some as well. I ultimately moved out of Pickle because I was not convinced that there was a genuine plan for the agency.
So how has been the journey at Everest?
At Everest, we have a varied brand portfolio. There is a humour channel (SAB TV), news channels (CNN IBN), there are retail clients (Parle, More), pharmaceutical clients (Ranbaxy) and so on. We are not single medium specialists and like to criss-cross between mediums. Thus, we have partnered our clients in creating digital solutions, apps, web games, augmented reality based solutions. We have even created branded content with our clients. I believe our job is to provide creative solutions to real business problems. The medium can be any.
Tell us about your association with SAB TV.
I'm very fond of the body of work we have done for SAB TV ‘Asli mazaa sab ke saath aata hai’. Being a main stream channel it talks to a varied audience, and so you have to talk in a language which everyone can understand. My association with the brand is now over four years old and unlike most players in the domain, SAB has stuck to its positioning and been consistent on this brand promise and it's grown. I have seen the communication deliver result year after year. And along the way the work has won at the award shows as well.
Could you share a few of your earlier memorable campaigns?
The Tata Ace (baby elephant) is a memorable one. Rediffusion helped Tata Ace become a truly powerful brand in the category. We brought the Devil back for Onida, although in a new form. I remember a film I did for Onida Air conditioners – it helped take the brand to the number two position in the segment in no time.
Tell us about your Cannes Lion wins.
My first Cannes Gold was for a direct mailer for Businessworld. It featured in the One Show as well. I was extremely kicked when a radio spot I wrote for Tavera got shortlisted at Cannes, because it was in Hindi and that made me damn proud. It probably may have been the first Hindi spot to do the same. We don’t need to create work to win at Cannes as long as it is genuine work it will win.
Who are the people you have looked up to as mentors?
There are two people whom I consider to be my mentors, Gullu Sen and Chax. Though Gullu Sen was a creative head, he could take the pants off the best strategy guy and he believed in solid solutions to brand issues. Gullu taught me hard core strategy and how to solve a brand’s purpose. Further, Chax taught me what it means to be a creative director in the true sense. He taught me that being a CD, if you do not respect yourself then no one else will. Our work is not just about creating a copy but providing real solutions to our clients. A lot of whatever leadership skills I have, are thanks to what I learnt from Chax. I'd call him my industry godfather, if there's such a term.
What is you view on scam ads?
I keep seeing this talk of real work, scam work and proactive work. We are just fooling ourselves with nomenclatures. What is proactive work? You had a great idea that's good for the brand and you go to the client with it. Well if it's good for the brand and the client's business, no client will say no to it. You won't need to 'scam' it.
Do you have any concerns for the future of the ad industry?
I have often read and heard youngsters say that advertising is a sad profession now. Nothing worries me more than that. This is a talent based industry and losing future and potential talent is the end of the road for us. What's the barrier for these kids? If this scam nonsense is making advertising look bad and less meaningful to them – then these scams definitely need to go. Our and the industry's reputation is a bigger cause than a metal number race. In any case there is no greater joy than winning on genuine work. People walk taller when they do that.
What would have been your alternate career if you were not in advertising?
I'd be in a wildlife sanctuary shooting birds and animals with my camera. I wish I had discovered this passion earlier in my life, but it's now here to stay.
Do you have a backup plan?
I run a page and website called No Pin Code. I try to share the wildlife I see with people. One day, if and when I am deemed too old or unfit for this profession, that's what I'll build and take to the next level.
Your advice to youngsters
Advertising is a people’s profession; no single person can do anything on his own. It is the result of a team effort. Hence, be nice to people. It's a great attitude. Be fair and more importantly, give credit freely to who deserves it. Further, clients buy creative solutions, not ponytails. Focus on genuine brand work; it'll pay in the long run.
SAB TV 2013: Consistency can be a great challenge. We tried a new angle to refresh the core brand promise of Asli Mazaa Sab ke saath aata hai.
Londonderry: Dancing cow, painting beard, the intent was to be quite un-Parle in treatment. Kids loved it.
Canon Gurukul: Use it the way you like it: Technology made friendly, fun and usable by Canon.
Parle Gold Star: The trick was to not let Big B overshadow the new brand. I think it worked out just fine.
Airtel: Anyone can go mobile. This campaign changed a lot of things for Airtel and the market.
Airtel 121: You are more than just a number. The film flagged Airtel's seriousness on customer service.
Onida AC: Sometimes it's good to be absolutely direct and no-nonsense. This film worked wonders for the brand.
Tata Magic 1&2: Har safai main kahani hai. These simple, down-to-earth films ran successfully for years.