Unlike many in the industry, Swati Bhattacharya, one of three national creative directors at JWT India, admits to being ‘born into advertising’. The mother of two has spent most of her 22-year career at one agency. Here's why.
She recalls how she got interested in advertising, “I often met people from agencies at home when I was a kid. As a child, when I liked an ad, I asked my dad (who was employed with the Indian Newspaper Society) which agency had done it. We used to have conversations like that at home, so I had a fair idea about advertising. I was focused to join it, except that in my course I topped in media planning and not creative.” A graduate in English Literature and a post graduate from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, she trained at Trikaya (now Grey), Mumbai, for three months. Wanting to be back in Delhi with her family, she realised that she didn't want to move to Grey Delhi, as Freddy (Birdy) and Naved (Akhtar) had moved on. She joined JWT as a copy trainee.
Life in advertising
She reminiscences that Denis Joseph, the then Delhi head of JWT, was the best thing that happened to her in advertising. Bhattacharya says, “He got me to work on the Maggi ‘Hot and sweet’ commercial. Within a few months, I was with Prahlad Kakkar doing the funny ‘Hot and Sweet’ ads. He was my boss. So even if my client was okay with the script but Javed (Jaffrey) and Prahlad didn’t like it, it meant that I couldn’t do it.”
She adds, “My relationship with Javed and Prahlad is very sacred. It happened to me the moment I stepped into advertising. "
A self-proclaimed ‘die-hard romantic’, Bhattacharya has loved working on brands such as Maggi , Sunrise Coffee, Mirinda and Nestle. She says, “When I got married, I was okay that I could’t work on Pepsi (as my husband was working with Coke). Around that time, I started working for other offices, so I would go to Bombay, Calcutta, the South; and then I settled down with Horlicks. That was the account I got married to, so to say. I am also enjoying working on Slice - for the past two years. As a kid, I was a big fan of Garden Vareli ads and its aesthetics. With Slice, I am trying to do that bit.”
“I can’t think of a brand that I haven’t worked on. Over the last few years, I have worked on brands that have a close connection with women. I would love to do a Femina film. This year, I was terribly jealous when I saw the 5 Star digital campaign - #NoHardFillings. I loved Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board’s work. I was also very jealous of the guy who made Lunchbox. Every day you get a reason to get jealous of someone, which at least means that you are living,” surmises the ad veteran.
Learning to be brave
Bhattacharya emphasises on learning to be brave. “Actually you don’t even have to learn from the industry, it is something you learn more from the clients. For me, brave clients are people I’ve have learnt a lot from,” she reveals. She believes that advertising teaches 'compression and distillation, clarity and brevity'. And adds, "It sharpens you. You know that when you have to say something, you can’t beat around the bush. My different target audiences have taught me how they can be so forgiving if you have told them the truth.”
After over two decades in advertising, she lists the post-motherhood period as the only challenge as a woman. “The industry never challenges you. If your organisation decides not to cooperate with you, then it is a problem. My loyalty towards JWT stems from the fact that when both my daughters were born, JWT was supportive. I could work from home or travel with my kids on shoots. Sometimes freedom is the absence of choice. It is sad when women think they have a choice. Don’t give yourself a choice of leaving work and being a mother. I think I was most productive in terms of the number of assignments I did (then). I worked on Pepsi, Horlicks, Brooke Bond, Monte Carlo, Hero cycles, Junior Horlicks. It was a crazy year but because I managed to do it, I fooled the organisation into thinking that the motherhood was the best thing for me. When people start buying into that model then they don’t feel 'she is not coming through'. So as a woman, be very okay asking your organisation for things,” she advises.
It isn't surprising then, that she sees herself working only at JWT for as long as she chooses to work.
On awards and scam ads…
“For me, awards don’t have such a long shelf life. I feel when people chase awards, they work too hard in making it different. I chase bigger things such as lots of people liking my work or lots of people talking about it or women liking it. Awards are good but in my dreams I am not going up and down the podium. I love it when people in the office win. If through my work somebody gets an almost true picture of me, I find that very exciting. I am old now and for me awards is basically one night of drinking and feeling good,” she reflects.
On the subject of scam ads, she explains her take thus:, “Awards are a little bit of an internal play. There are people who do it and do it very fine. And when they do it, sometimes it’s a piece of art. Who am I to judge it?”
She further explains, “I don’t understand when people get so sanctimonious about it. People are just hungry to express themselves. I think if you have something nice to say, we should have award entries in which we have make-believe brands, because if we are only going to gauge a person’s creativity - you just called it a creativity thing. This lying and cheating is only because they have no other way out. The moment you have a way out, you don’t do it.”
On Bobby Pawar parting ways with JWT over a scam ad issue, Bhattacharya notes, “I felt very bad, it was like an accident. Did they even have a clue that it is going to hurt so many sentiments? This is like being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Advice for the ‘Youtube slaves’…
“Often I feel that kids have become such YouTube slaves, you are constantly picking up things from other people’s stuff. But there is so much to pick up from what you have lived through. If you read a lot and express yourself a lot, then you pick up things from your own life; develop a voice. If you are a woman, then be curious about women’s issues,” she offers. Her advice to the young is to have 'a relationship and companionship with words'.
“Make your updates nice, tweets sharp. The more you play with them, the words will come so much easier at work. I like people who are inventive at language. I feel these things are important when you're in advertising, apart from the love for it. Advertising is a beautiful melting point. You have to use it to your advantage to bring out other things in you," surmises Bhattacharya.
Horlicks Epang Opang, Director: Pradeep Sarkar: How do you make a 100 -year old brand attain puberty? In the year 2002, 'Epang Opang Jhopang' became a popular drinking chant for tweens whether it was while having Horlicks, milk or any other drink.
Double Shift – Hanuman, Director: Amit Roy: Shortlisted in Vancouver Film Festival, Toronto and Miami Shorts. This film won the best short film in the Kolkata International Short Film Festival.
Hero Buzz, Director: Sunhil Sippy A lovely sensitive film made by Sunhil Sippy. It went on to win lot of awards.
Horlicks Konkona Sen, Director: Sunhil Sippy My favourite actress on my favourite brand. Of all the lines that I’ve written, ‘Apne hi list mein apna naam nahin..’ would be my truest.
Airtel Army, Director : Vinil Mathew An ode to my own mole. Soumit and I enacted it as we wrote it one morning over coffee.
Horlicks Lech, Director: Sandeepa Rakshit A winner at Goa, this film tells us that how things haven’t changed for women in all these years.
Red Ribbon Express: A One Show finalist and hordes of Effie wins. This piece of work touched more Indians than any other campaign done for HIV AIDS.
Horlicks Lite Health Test, Director: Oni Sen An integrated metal winner in Goa. This ad shot guerilla over two days in Calcutta.
Maggi Hot & Sweet Sauce, Director : Prahlad Kakkar Never underestimate the power of a copy trainee. This campaign was my first work in advertising and still my favourite.
Pepsi Amitabh - Ullu, Director : Rakeysh Mehra ‘Kya aap mujhe ullu samajhte hain?’ It won a Bombay Ad Club Silver and other awards.
Polio – Amitabh, Director : Santosh Sivan If India is polio free today we have a lot to thank Mr Bachchan for…he would take time to do these films for us absolutely gratis.
Slice 'Ab Ras Barsega', Director : Prakash Varma Every year, the Slice film challenges me…how do I make this beautiful woman fall in love with a mango!