What inspired you to get into advertising?
From a distance, it looked like the only business that allowed people to express themselves and yet draw a salary every month. So, somewhere in my growing up years when a career in pro kickboxing dropkicked me in the face, I mentally traded the dojo for little boxes on a sketchpad.
Can you recall any ad that moved you deeply prior to joining the advertising industry?
‘Mile Sur MeraTumhara’ reached parts of my brain that no other message from television did. It made me aware of the power of communication. Following that was Cadbury Dairy Milk’s ‘Kuch khaas hai zindagi mein’. For the first time on Indian television we saw adults eating chocolates. An idea that truly changed the behavior and consequently the fortunes of the brand.
How did you start out in advertising?
My advertising career started much before I found a job in the business. My first job was that of a store attendant at a fashion store. Then I peddled pagers as a door-to-door salesman. That logically led me to a telemarketer’s job, selling loyalty programs for a reputed hotel chain. After braving telephone breath for a long time I found myself on a shooting floor as a hapless production flunky at Pritish Nandy Communications in 1999. The next shot involved being a content writer and a web strategist as the dotcom boom descended upon us. Finally, I entered Leo Burnett 2001 but had to stop at the planning department. It’s here that I started writing ads, while learning how to write briefs.
Which are the other agencies you worked with before you moved to Singapore?
I met Mahesh (V) and Rajiv (Rao) in Ogilvy & Mather while I was still at Leo Burnett and I instantly hit it off with them. At the time, they were working on the brand transition of Orange which is now Vodafone. But when I joined Ogilvy in 2002, it was a huge shock. My stint in Ogilvy didn’t work out inspite of having such good bosses and it ended in five months. I knew Balki and I had a frank chat with him at an event. He offered me a job at Lowe to work on Bajaj. That was a huge, life changing experience. If I know a lot of things about the business, it is because of Balki. He is a fantastic leader. He is most definitely the golden boy of Indian advertising. I spent three and a half years at Lowe.
I met Ravi (Deshpande) and he left a huge impression on me. At that time he was wrapping up Lemon and going back to Contract so he asked if I and my art partner Manisha Khandelwal would want to turn around something for him. He offered us to work on HSBC and we joined Contract as creative group heads towards the end of 2005.
Tell us about your shift to Singapore and the advertising stints in that region.
I quit my job in Contract in 2006, hopped onto a plane and landed in Singapore and started calling creative directors. I met Calvin Soh of Fallon and was offered a job. But seven months into the job I moved to BBDO and following that McCannErickson. I had a reasonably long stint with McCann. I worked on Mastercard, did the first digital campaign for L’Oreal, Youth Olympics.
Tell us about your experience with Y&R Dubai.
While I was at McCann Singapore I was in touch with Kalpesh Patankar who was with JWT Dubai. He said there is a great opportunity at Y&R Dubai and we got to team up for the first time in 2010. We became creative directors for the first time spearheading brands like Land Rover, Sony, Ford, LG and part of Harvey Nichols. We created a fair amount of decent visible work, including the football World Cup commercial for Sony that ran in the Middle East and Africa.
And then you moved back to Singapore again before returning to India…
Following a 15-month stint at Y&R Dubai I moved back to Singapore for personal reasons. While I was looking at my options, I got an offer from JWT to work on HSBC, J&J and Sunsilk.
From my second stint in Singapore, I’d choose my first mobile campaign Two Minutes of Soy Goodness for Soy Joy, Kit Kat Social Break, Red Cross Rapid Rescue and the HSBC Women’s Champions work for the last two years, all of which I did along with my team at JWT Singapore.
What inspired you to come back to India?
The opportunity to be a part of a great story.
How different is the advertising industry in markets like Singapore and Dubai in comparison to India?
Dubai is a land where ambition wears a cowboy hat. (But) When it comes to advertising, the pace at which work happens is slower than India. Also, it is still exploring its own voice. When it is completely comfortable with its identity, great work will happen across the board. The good thing about working in Dubai is that you get to work with the best of photographers and directors. They make your work look great and you also get to learn the finer nuances of craft in those mediums.
Singapore is small, technologically savvy and a melting pot of cultures. It is the Amsterdam of the East minus the coffee shops. It too is looking for its own voice. Traditionally it is known for impeccably crafted work. That prowess is now impacting the execution of ideas that thrive at the junction of technology and cultural truths. It is surely a place to watch as far as ideas in the new media landscape are concerned. But what’s missing is the culture of storytelling.
That brings me to India. We are a nation of storytellers. It is a huge well of cultural truths and phenomena to draw inspiration from. Our advertising has its own voice and we keep refreshing it. Things move rather fast here so quality is something we need to be mindful of. Another hugely rewarding thing about being a creative in India is that good advertising is revered in our country.
Name some of your memorable campaigns done in Indian agencies.
Like they say, you never forget your first campaign. And the first big brand that I got to work on was Heinz Tomato Ketchup at Leo Burnett. My partner and I did around five campaigns, none of which saw the light of the day. The goal post kept shifting and by evening the ball was lost. Whilst working on that project I read 57 Varieties - the definitive book on Heinz. I also remember working on the soft launch of Tampax, not the ideal project for a 20-something guy. But it taught me a lot too.
Then, I have fond memories of working with Balki on numerous Bajaj campaigns. Especially, creating the first animation spot in the automotive category, which didn’t look exactly the way we wanted it to. Launching Chetak with WonderGear is among others.
The campaign for HSBC home loans is also special to me. We created a hoax organisation, 'Society for Home Loan Disorder'. It was fresh at the time in the category and it wasn’t easy getting this campaign off the ground.
Tell us about the various awards that you picked up along the way.
My first award was the runners up at the Young Cannes Lions. Post that, I have won four Cannes Lions and quite a few metals and citations at Cannes, Clios, One Show, D&AD, AdFest, Spikes and Effies. While I was at Y&R Dubai I picked up three Cannes Lions in the same year which was split between campaigns for Paras Pharmaceuticals and Harvey Nichols. I won a Grand Prix at Dubai Lynx in 2011, the Digital Grand Prix and Best of Show at CCA Singapore 2012, and the Mobile Grand Prix at AdStars 2012.
What’s the mandate for TBWA India?
Making TBWA India one of the most creative and progressive agencies in the TBWA network. And to integrate the creative offering of all our group companies, including TBWA advertising, Integer (shopper marketing) and Magnon (digital).
What is your take on proactive work?
A lot of great work is proactive by nature and not reactive to a brief. The best of agencies make an effort to know the client’s business well enough to be able to solve the real problems.
Awards are a result of great work. So, they are essential to the creative reputation of any outfit. The idea is to do work that’s fresh enough to work in the market and also win awards.
We will pursue awards to measure our strategic thinking, creative execution and crafting prowess against the best in the world.
What are the emerging trends in advertising that you foresee?
Advertising has always been a business in flux. Judging from the way things are going, the following could form a part of what we might see in the near future. We might see the beginning of the end of silos in advertising strategies as we get closer to behavior of people and let that dictate our marketing efforts. It will possibly result in integrated relevance for brands through a multi-platform experience for people.
Businesses will measure more of what they do and that could change the way our creative presentations end.
That brings me to the new fuel - data. I think accurate data will start becoming a key currency in advertising. Location-based services will play a big role in how a brand navigates through an ever-increasing clutter of brand messages. We will see new online video and mobile platforms and consequently ideas that manipulate these platforms in interesting ways. User-generated content will provide opportunities for brands to create more likeability. Mobile will be a key medium for marketers in most categories. It will be interesting to see how that shapes up in India. I think it will be very different from any other market where mobile is already playing a key role in marketing.
What are some of your biggest learnings?
Mistakes are important. They have been the best teachers I’ve had. Talent is hard work. To get to a great idea you have to cross the pain barrier. The best ideas happen mostly at unearthly hours when there’s nobody else to bounce it off. The culture of a place lives in the hearts of its people. Happy people make for a shiny awards cabinet. It helps to find your own expression. Miles Davis put it nicely: "Sometimes you have to play for a long time to be able to play like yourself."
Where do you see yourself three to five years from now?
I see myself smiling, hopefully at TBWA India, in front of some Titanium trophies.
Time Magazine: Print campaign for the Time magazine. The idea was to create static ads that forced people to think of the issues facing people in various part of the worlds.
Red Cross Rapid Rescue: An app that put all the first-aiders trained in first aid by Red Cross Singapore in a tab on a smartphone.
Protex: A way to tell people to wash hands after touching something they wouldn't necessarily put in their mouth.
Harvey Nichols: A part of a two ad press and outdoor campaign to announce the much awaited HN sale.
Heinz: Part of many ads that we worked on for the launch of Heinz Tomato Ketchup. This didn't see the light of the day.
Screening Room: It announced Screening Room's initiative to pair a meal with a film. It features original art created by one of Singapore's top porcelain artist.
Stopache: An ambient campaign to deliver the message that Stopache can cure the most stubborn of headaches.
Levis: A billboard for reversible clothes from Levis. A clever play to make people do double take.
LG: Part of a campaign for the first phone camera that could recognise up to 16 faces. Can an ad be a riddle too?
Kit Kat: A project we did out of JWT Singapore for Nestle. The Social media answering machine addresses a growing stress in the TG - Social Media Stress.
K Travels: A funny take on people needing to get out of some place quickly.