Raahil Chopra
Oct 05, 2015

Close Up: ‘Keep Thinking’

Kiran Anthony, group creative director, Ogilvy & Mather, speaks about his transition from software to working at one agency, on one client, and under one boss, for 14 years

Close Up: ‘Keep Thinking’
Kiran Anthony is one of those advertising professionals who joined the industry by chance, and hasn’t looked back ever since. His continuing 14-year tenure at Ogilvy & Mather, is his first advertising job, one that he took on after a two-year stint at a software company.
Anthony joined the agency in 2001 as a summer trainee on the Hutch (now Vodafone) account. In 14 years, he’s become group creative director and heads the same account. He recounts, “I started off my career with Ogilvy in 2001 as a summer trainee, on the same account I now head. I’m a mechanical engineer who worked as a software engineer for a couple of years. Even then I used to follow ads – not with the intention of making a career out of it. I used to enjoy ad breaks during the TV programmes I watched. While I was working as a software engineer I used to read a lot of business magazines. I would look at the print ads and I thought I could do a better job than some of them. I was staying with my software friends and I would tell them ‘if I had to do this ad, I would have done it in a slightly better way’.” 
Then, he wrote a headline for a software ad – possibly for Microsoft, recalls Anthony. “I shared it with my friends, and they liked it, I liked it. I then wrote all the ads in the magazine, in my own way. I liked the whole process. Then, I started figuring out something called a key number in ads. Mostly it’s a number. But one ad agency Vyas Giannetti Creative, they had their website instead of the key number. I logged onto the website, got their landline number. I went there and one thing led to another. I got some leads and joined Ogilvy. I came and wrote a copy test. Then, I joined as a summer trainee.”
Anthony joined the agency’s Hutch team under Rajiv Rao and the late V Mahesh. He’s one of those rare young creatives to continue to work on the same brand and continue to report to the same boss. He explains, “I started here in Mumbai under them. In 2003-‘04, they went to Bengaluru as office heads. They called me and I followed them. Then I returned to Mumbai when Rajiv Rao moved here.” What that has allowed him to do is witness four transitions of Vodafone – Orange, Hutch, Hutch Pink and Vodafone. He now heads the Vodafone central team.
While Anthony’s main client is Vodafone, he’s also worked on Federal Bank; the much awarded campaigns for the NGO – Akanksha Foundation; on L&T Finance for around three years and on the Future Group’s corporate business when the agency handled its communication. He’s also up to do work for other brands if his boss Rajiv Rao needs him to.
On his equation with his bosses and how’s it been working under the same team for the entirety of this career, Anthony says, “It’s been great. All these years I’ve worked directly under him (Rajiv Rao). Initially I reported to V Mahesh and Rajiv as a team. During that time I interacted a lot more with Mahesh – maybe because he was a writer, and I’m a writer too. Mahesh was a mentor in my earlier days in advertising. Now, it’s Rajiv.”
When Anthony made the switch from software to advertising, he had no clue about the stature of Ogilvy. He explains, “When I joined the agency I had no idea how big the agency was and how lucky was I to be in the team. I realised the stature of the agency on day one though. It wasn’t a regular agency. I admired Orange’s work and never thought I’d be a part of that advertising team. I was a summer trainee for longer than I expected because of some head count issues. I was confirmed after around six months, but the good thing was a couple of films were released during the period, and we won a pitch too.”
He’s worked on Vodafone since joining the agency, and among landmarks along the way must be the ZooZoos. On this, he says, “The campaign was quite big for me. Year on year we came up the campaign until 2014, and they got a tremendous response. Last year we decided to steer clear of them.”
For 2016 – he remained coy on whether it will be back, reasoning, “I know people still like it. But there’s a fear of overdoing it.” Anthony added that he believed in one of the seasons early on, the films in the campaign may have been ‘overdone’.
Changes in the industry
In his 14-year stint, Anthony believes that the landscape of advertising has changed. He says, “The industry has changed a lot, especially in the last two to three years. I’ve been working mainly on a telecom brand and that has changed even more drastically. In my initial days, we were targeting evolved consumers. There was more freedom back then.  Watchmen didn’t have mobile phones. That has changed. Right now, we’re talking to everybody – the person who recharges for Rs 10 and the person who bills around Rs 10,000. So, the communication has to be mass, but classy.”
He adds, “At that time TV used to be the main point of consumption of video. If one had to see or show an ad, the main point of consumption was the television. Right now there are many opportunities to consume content.” 
“Now, I see the phone has become the first mode of video consumption – for me. It’s going to be like that for others. I’ve seen people in trains consuming video content on phones too – albeit some stored content on a memory card or something like that. TV ads will not die. But as 3G penetration is growing, digital and TV will co-exist in our country in my opinion. The rest of the world may not see this (co-existing pattern), but I firmly believe India will. A couple of years back we would only think about television. Right now we think of an idea – then it comes down to whether it’s long-format or short-format. Where it can be done is secondary. We are all storytellers. The internet gives us the freedom to do a longer story. It’s about the idea more than a medium. And I see this carrying on. The kind of stories we are telling now has to change. We all love stories and the way it’s said has changed. The 30-seconder, of which 20 seconds was a story and 10 seconds about the product – that can’t work on digital. We’re seeing that, we hardly see a product in most of the ads. It’s some brand connect we see,” he explained.
Long format ads
While the internet is giving brands an opportunity to release long-format ads, Anthony believes that around 20 per cent of these ads fail to establish a connect with consumers. He contends, “Every brand manager and brand is doing this (long format ads). There are a few which are done just for the sake of grabbing eyeballs. I don’t know if that works for a brand etc. I don’t know how many of the views these ads get are real and how people are connecting to them. These are about 20 per cent of them. 80 per cent of the long format ads are liked by people. So they must be working at some level. It’s not an overkill, but in an effort to be on digital and do long-format films... Luckily, I don’t have a client who has told me to just make a long-format film for the heck of it.”
Working with Piyush Pandey
When asked about the one person from the Indian industry, he’d like to work with, one sees the Ogilvy loyalty here too.  He says, “There are so many great minds in Ogilvy itself. Piyush – I’ve worked with him on a couple of projects, but I love the aura of working around him.”
It’s no surprise when he picks the FeviKwik film done by Pandey as the one piece of work he wished to have worked on. “I saw the fishing rod ad aired somewhere about two to three months ago and it proved it was ageless. It worked in the ‘90s when it was released. And it still works. It’s product-centric, short and humorous. It’s timeless.”
Challenges in the industry
Like many in the industry, Anthony too believes talent is the major industry issue. “According to me, the biggest challenge is finding and retaining talent,” he notes.  
There are several other creative options outside advertising, explains Anthony. He says, “It could be writing feature films, direction, photography, digital content and just so much more. In fact with digital, you can be famous overnight! Who wouldn’t want that? Advertising needs to keep up with these restless minds.  And these other options are a lot more rewarding. There’s more freedom too. I see this as a problem in the industry. I head a team of about 14 people. I have management trainees reporting to me. One guy who joined us five years ago from Portfolio Night didn’t leave even though he had many offers, but now is leaving to move to Singapore as he’s got some offer to work in a digital team.  But, yes, attrition is a problem. Patience is a problem.”
Message for youngsters
His message for youngsters is one that he was told as a junior himself: “It’s essentially just two words – ‘keep thinking’.  We are after all in the business of ideas. And while ideas can just pop anywhere anytime, it is important to be in that thinking mode at all times. Keep thinking, even if the script is in production, we can always go back to the client with a better idea. And no client has ever rejected a better idea. Also it is important not to get bogged down by checkboxes. Be creative. Not just correct. We are anyway intruding on people’s time with our TV and radio spots. We better be entertaining. Success of a campaign is not just measured by the buzz in the industry corridors but also by the guy in a Dahisar East bar who’s down two Old Monks.”
So what does the future hold for the software engineer-turned-creative? 
“Eventually I might open my own shop, but for now it’s about great work at Ogilvy. Right now I enjoy the space I’m in. Work is good. It’s a cliché – but there’s never a dull moment. The people – my colleagues etc, the brand and my bosses – don’t make me feel like I’m coming into work. I know everyone since I’ve been around for this long. There’s something nice about being in Ogilvy. And I’d say it’s also about the brand (Vodafone). I’m too attached to it,” surmises Anthony.
(This article first appeared in the 2 October 2015 issue of Campaign India)
Campaign India