After being away for 12 years, what changes do you see in India?
I find that India is going through a fantastic change; there is so much happening economically. And also the way the youth is - braver, stronger, and confident. We are just happier being Indians. I think the little bit of colonial hang up is going and advertising of course is reflecting it. We are proud to be Indians. This was the perfect time to come back because here was the celebration of a whole new India. In the advertising industry, the work being accepted is better, the clients want to do braver work, and the brand work is stronger. I am loving it!
Tell us about coming back as NCD at Rediffusion Y&R...
The offer made to me was very exciting. The mandate is great! Sam Ahmed and I have worked for nearly 10 years at Y&R Dubai and he is one of my mentors. So when he asked me to come back to India, I took it up. It was a perfect set up for me. I have worked with him; I know his vision and am comfortable with him. We work very well as a team. One of the other reasons I moved was that I wanted to do TV work. It was time to build that part of my book. I want to some solid commercials.
What differences do you see in the way Indian advertising works, as against the industry in Dubai?
I think the difference at a very ground level is the basic systems prevalent here. Dubai is much more organised. Something I miss the most is the function of ‘Traffic’. A traffic person manages the work flow as he is in between the creative and the servicing. So there are some systems that are missing that one hopes to bring into India.
Apart from that, India is a lot more complex and a lot bigger. The pace of work in India is incredibly fast, so I am looking after multiple offices. It’s like being flooded form all sides. Further, the industry in India is a lot more dynamic, I am not saying Dubai is not dynamic but the region is smaller. Here, there are so many big shops all doing great work, the competition is so much more and you have to stand out amongst the plethora of ads that hit you every day. So your work has to be phenomenally good.
Dubai, like Singapore, is print heavy. That’s one of the big differences between Dubai and Mumbai. Here it is very TVC heavy and there is a huge push towards television as a medium.
What is the one thing you would want to change in the Indian advertising scene?
We need to get a lot more detailing in our work. Our print work is not as strong as our film work. I think there is a real opportunity there. That’s something I would like to see as I love print. So when I open the newspaper, I say, “Oh God! We could do this better!”
How did you start out in advertising?
I always wanted to do something with design - architecture, furniture design etc. I enjoy things that are beautiful, nicely done and finished - from a building to a chair, anything that looks good and makes the world look good. I went to MS University in Baroda to pursue my Bachelors in Fine Arts and in the first year somehow I opted for advertising. Advertising was fantastic because it was in your face all the time and I wanted that.
After my course, I joined Trikaya Delhi which was a place where all the ‘cool people’ worked. I won my first CAG (Communication Arts Guild) Gold there for a direct mailer. I got a scroll along with two wine goblets that I have yet kept as mementoes and no one is allowed to drink out of those. After three years, I wanted to relocate to Mumbai and work with Mohammed Khan at Enterprise. My decisions have never been based on how much I earn but always based on who I work with - because if your work is good, your money will follow.
At the same time, my to-be-hubby proposed to me and I had to stay back in Delhi. So, I joined Enterprise Delhi instead. A few years later, when my husband shifted to Kolkata, I moved to Euro RSCG. Likewise, in 2000, when he had to shift base to Mumbai, I joined Quadrant and worked with KS Gopal.
The good thing about all the relocation was that I got to work in different metros of the country - Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata.
How did the move to Y&R Dubai come about?
All my relocations have happened because my husband had to move for work. As a woman, that’s the best part of the story - I got married, moved wherever he moved, yet made a career for myself. I shifted to Dubai in 2002 kicking and screaming because at that time Dubai advertising was not what it is currently. I started out in Y&R because I knew Shahir Zag whom I had met at Cannes earlier. This was my first job interview at Dubai and they hired me on the spot.
You were in Dubai for eleven years...nine years at Y&R and then at Lowe MENA...
I don’t believe in regional restrictions. Creativity lies within us. You can create magic if you want to, if you believe in it and are passionate about it. Dubai was great; I won a lot of awards, and I did some of my best work in Dubai. Work for Harvey Nichols, Colgate, Land Rover, Microsoft, and Burjuman got me recognition.
Another good thing about Dubai was the complete multi-culture set up; it makes you so much more rich, culturally. I don’t regret it all as it was a fantastic experience. Further, it gives you an international perspective as you mingle with international directors, photographers and so on. I hope to bring in the same best practices and things that I have learnt to my current work.
I worked for nine years at Y&R and it is a long time. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to spread my wings, get to know other people, and work in a different organisation. It’s good to step out of your comfort zone and work with different people, new accounts, get to know a different set up. So I set up a small shop to do some experimental work. And then I was retaining with Lowe as executive creative director handling the Bloomingdale’s account. Lowe was a fantastic stint though must shorter.
Which is your most special campaign to date?
My most special campaign was the Harvey Nichols one called ‘Accessories Required’. It was special because it broke category norms. Being a fashion campaign for a high-end brand, it was a great idea and beautifully executed. It was very refreshing and surprising for that category as it was not just a pretty girl standing wearing a beautiful dress. It was a wonderful, fresh take on a fashion brand. I enjoyed doing that campaign.
My most special win was the Gold Lion at Cannes for the Harvey Nichols campaign. The Gold Lions are always special as you grow up looking at them and they look completely out of reach. Moreover, this is not something you buy, but something you’ve got to earn. The Golds are always special. The beauty of the campaign was that it was a real brief, and the client was not small - it was for a big brand with real problems like budget issues, etc. At the same time, I feel that she is a brave client to have bought that; all respect to them for having bought that and backed it. All the Golds that I have won from Cannes to One Show are for Harvey Nichols.
Which is the one campaign that you wish you had done?
Old Spice work by Wieden & Kennedy, because they have reinvented the brand completely. Old Spice was an old brand used by my father and grandfather. These guys just made the brand new and brought it back. It’s such a fantastic thing for advertising that you can take a brand, change it and touch people and they appreciate it. And here's an example of good work working. The client bought it, everyone enjoyed, and it won big. How fantastic! That’s real respect.
Who are the people you look up to in advertising?
Learning never stops, you stop learning the day you die. I have had fabulous experiences with people whom I have worked with. Mohammed Khan is fantastic and I look up to him. I was so nervous when I met him for the first time. He is a legend. K S Gopal was my writer when I was at Quadrant; he was a big influence in my life. Sam mentored me in Dubai and then hired me at Rediffusion Mumbai. Shaheer Zag, my partner at Y&R, is someone who I have immense respect for. And now Mr Nanda – he is so sharp and his insights are so fantastic.
What would be a backup plan? (If not advertising...)
After 20 years of advertising, I am still having fun. I don’t know how to do anything else. I never work with a backup plan.
What advice do you give your juniors?
There are no shortcuts to fame or success. I would tell them to put their head down, do 100 iterations for one final piece of work that they would want to put out. Of course, clients will change it, it’s their prerogative. It is our prerogative to go back with a better idea.
You have to be self motivated. People will help you hone the ideas, make them better, sharper - but you have to be self motivated. So stay motivated, stay in love, read, watch movies, get a lot of stimuli. Do things on the side - go paint a wall, join a band.
Stay inspired, have fun, but don’t get bogged down.
EBAI-Book: India has the largest blind population in the world. The aim was to help build awarness and substantially increase eye donation.