Pooja Ahuja Nagpal
Sep 16, 2013

Close-up: ‘If anything, designations actually help people grow’

Zenobia Pithawalla, executive creative director, O&M, tells Pooja Ahuja Nagpal why she looks forward to coming to work everyday, and why she will stop working the day she quits Ogilvy & Mather

Close-up: ‘If anything, designations actually help people grow’

You joined Ogilvy & Mather in 1994 and will complete 20 years at the agency next year…..

I joined Ogilvy in 1994 as a trainee when I was 25 and there has been no looking back. I learnt everything I know today thanks to Ogilvy. I have grown up here and it was my life for a lot many years. It is the best school for advertising and my entire evolution as a person, my tastes in life, everything I have - is thanks to Ogilvy. When you are growing up you have certain dreams and I think Ogilvy actually made all my dreams come true. I love Ogilvy more than I love advertising. 

When I walked into Ogilvy, and met the HR head, the only vacancy available was in the promotional campaign department. And I didn’t know any better, so she told me take it up and that I could always move to mainstream advertising later. So, I took it up and three years down the line I got my transfer into mainstream.

You have worked on the Dove account for nearly 15 years…

Dove is one of my favourite accounts till date. It’s very close to my heart. There are lots of memories attached to it. But the one that stands out is when I was a senior copywriter and reporting to a group head at Dove and then my group was changed to one which no longer handled Dove. I walked up straight to Piyush and asked to remain on it. He was very sweet and he allowed me to cross report. There has been a lot of blood and sweat gone into this account and I am almost possessive of it.

Fashion and beauty brands seem to be a favourite…

I like creating ads for women related to fashion, jewellery and beauty. It is my strength and a major part of my portfolio comprises of these accounts. I do not like the basic brands but I like working on ‘beauty with panache’. It is great to come up with different ideas for those brands because I think there is a gold mine of insights when it comes to women. And I like to touch upon them. Further, I find it very easy working on these categories.

You also handle clients from the finance space such as SEBI, SBI Life to name a few….

In the creative sphere, none of us is highly savvy with finance anyways. It’s a learning process for all of us but once we get onto it we definitely know what we are doing.

The recent Bournvita campaign - ‘Taiyyari jeet ki’ - stands out as one that promotes unconventional parenting style…

The brief given to us was on the importance of good habits. My team came to me with the creative thought that there is a mother who does not let her kid win. I thought it was a great one as more often than not parents indulge their kids and they believe that they should let the kid win and make him happy. A mother who doesn’t let her kid win is novel. So when I heard the thought I got super excited. The initial insight that came from the team was a winner. 

Any campaign that you wished you had done?

I love Ogilvy Brazil’s ‘Immortal Fans’ campaign for Sport Club Recife that won at Cannes this year. The campaign is about organ donation and I think we can so very well do it in India around cricket.

Your first big award...

We had done a campaign for Pond’s Blackheads. We took it for an internal international workshop and everybody was going gaga over it and picked it up as the best piece of the seminar. I was happy. I remember that I was in the Lower Parel office and Piyush came up and announced that we had won an award at Cannes. At the time, I didn’t even know how big Cannes is. For me, it was just a little victory where I was happy I had won something. In those days, one did not go about saying, “I am going to make an award winning piece”. It just happened. Much later, I realised how big the win was.

Cannes experience ….

One of my favourite things to do at Cannes is taking a walk in the gallery where they put up the print and poster showcase. Because I think just by seeing all that work you get inspired. It’s like you see all that and you want to sit up that night and crack ideas. I think that’s what Cannes does to you and that is the ultimate motivation.

What have been your learnings so far?

With Piyush,  you learn to respect people across levels. At Ogilvy, whatever your designation... even a junior copywriter can walk into Piyush’s room. Everybody is treated with equal respect and this is one of my greatest learnings at Ogilvy. Even at the client’s end, whether it’s a brand manager or a CEO, there is no discrimination in the way you conduct yourself.

Secondly, if you believe you are right and you fight it to the end, even if you are all alone, things fall in place. The ‘Bell bajao’ (ring the bell) campaign for Breakthrough on domestic violence is an example. The idea was if you hear a woman screaming for help or you hear sounds of violence, the first thing a person needs to do is just ring the door bell because at least at that point the woman gets relief. Ryan in my team came to me with that idea, but within the team itself people were not sure if this was the idea to go with. I spoke with a few colleagues and they too didn’t seem too kicked about it. But I felt that this was the best thing we had and finally, I decided to go with the gut feel. The campaign went on to win awards with the same creative strategy for two years in a row. So, sometimes you just go with your gut feel and it works out.

A pitch that stands out...

We were pitching for a pharma brand and it turned out be a remarkable pitch for all the wrong reasons. My boss Sumanto was travelling, so my art partner Sandeep Bomble and I were really excited that we were going to do the pitch. We decided to do it by ourselves and not include anyone else. When we presented the work to Piyush, everything went out of the window and we had to start all over again. The second time too we thought that it would be best if just the two of us worked on it. We created three long copy press ads and we had some scratch films that were Piyush’s idea. And we had this one big model of a garden with branding of the company all around. At the time of the pitch, we were in the office at Lower Parel and the entire top brass of Ogilvy was already at the client’s office, waiting for us. Being in the office the entire night, I had no presentable clothes to wear. I found this black jacket hanging on a fire extinguisher and I wore it to the pitch. Piyush presented and we got the account the same day. Somewhere we got very lucky.

Who are the people you look up to in advertising?

Three people that I am very grateful to are Piyush Pandey , Sonal Dabral and Sumanto Chattopadhyay. From Piyush, one doesn’t just learn about advertising but about life. Sonal because when you are a junior writer, you need somebody who builds up your confidence. And if at that time you have a boss who does all your work, cracks ideas on every brief in five minutes and makes you believe that you have done it, then you have nothing to lose by believing that you have done it.

I was really lucky to have Sumanto as my immediate boss. As he would let you shine without any feeling of insecurity.  Whatever I know about advertising I owe to him.  These are the three people I am grateful to.

If not in advertising…

Once I got into advertising, and experienced life, I got to know of jobs that I didn’t know existed earlier. There is one which I think I could have done but I found it really late in life. It is the job of a ‘nose’ in the perfume industry as I am absolutely crazy about perfumes. The other thing that interests me is jewellery designing because when it comes to real jewellery, I don’t get the designs I like. So I wish someone made those designs that I would want to wear. 

I don’t think I have ever had a backup plan in life. If I quit Ogilvy, I will stop working.

What is your opinion on the numerous designations that exist in the advertising world?

Personally I love having designations because it is a reward. I know different people have different opinion on this but my personal view is that I want that reward at the end of the year so I look forward to the designation. I don’t think that designations have ever curbed anyone’s freedom because at the end anyone is free to bring their work to a creative meeting and share it with any of their bosses. And at Ogilvy, everyone’s doors are open to everyone else. So I don’t think designations hamper progress.

Another thing is that if Ogilvy sees a star in a senior copywriter or a supervisor and thinks that girl or boy is capable of doing things, then the person is selected and given more responsibility. You identify talent like that. If anything, designations actually help people grow.

Advice to youngsters

It would be something that I learnt at a workshop at Cannes by Marcello Serpa. He said when you are young and building your career, make sure you are associated with a good agency and don’t chase money. If you keep doing what you love, and believe in what you are doing, money will follow.

You look forward to…

Coming to work and sitting with my team. There are so many things I know because of them. Had I been socialising with friends who are of my age group, then I wouldn’t know half the things I know. My greatest motivation to come to work is that I get to sit with at least one of my teams .


Apsara Colorama In a very simple way, this campaign illustrates why it matters what colours you see. Won Abby for Print Craft
Dove Hair Women believed it was impossible to get the kind of hair you see on television. Starting with this TVC, Dove changed that, by showing every kind of hair could be beautiful.
Marlex pressure cooker Always make a woman feel feminine. Even when you are selling her a pressure cooker. 
Pond's Age Miracle Women tend to hide their year of birth. By sharing with them milestones of that year, one gave them reasons to show off the year they were born in. And hats off to Mihir's art for the way he brought it alive.
VIP underwear To get a long body copy ad past Sumanto, the master of copy craft, meant a lot. Also it mae it to the copy book.

Bournvita Who says you have to be a womanto understand mothers. The under 30 boys in the team came up with this



Kanchan non-stick cookware Love this one, beacuse it is so crazy.



Breakthrough (Domestic Violence) While working on it, I don't think any of us had an inkling, it was going to make us so famous ;)



Onida KY Thunder - TVC No film maker was willing to touch the script. Thank you Pradeepda for coming to the rescue. Won at the Abbys.



World Gold Council - Collection G Till date this remains my favourite.

Campaign India