Pooja Ahuja Nagpal
Jun 26, 2013

Close - Up: ‘No language barrier for ideas’

Anurag Agnihotri, group creative director, Ogilvy & Mather, Mumbai, tells Pooja Ahuja Nagpal that ideas walk away when you stop having fun. Edited excerpts from the conversation.

Close - Up: ‘No language barrier for ideas’

How has it been working on the Perfetti business?

Since 2007, I have been working on the Perfetti account - Mentos, Center Fruit, Center Fresh and Alpenlibe (lollipop). These are four umbrella brands for which there are variants also; they keeping launching new flavours regularly.

I really enjoy working on all of the Perfetti brands as there is no formal brief, research. It is an open field and you are deciding what the brand should do, in which direction should the brand go. You are an active participant in the business. At the same time, you are a businessman and a marketing person. Overall, the candy business is really fun. The moment you get serious and start deliberating, it doesn’t work. So you just have fun and things happen automatically. It’s very different from the other business... it’s a very informal client.

It’s a dream come true for any creative person to work on this account. The same applies for the Pidilite account as they really respect Ogilvy & Mather, and go by what we say. I am very lucky in that sense that I work on some of the great Ogilvy accounts.

How did you start out in advertising?

My journey in advertising is a bit unusual. I did my MA from JNU - Delhi, after which I went ahead to teach at the Gujarat University. While there, I felt that the atmosphere was not as vibrant as JNU and my work was not what I expected it to be. It was quite boring and I didn’t like the profession. I was looking for a change when I came across an ad of Contract Advertising for the ‘Windows’ programme, under which they would invite people to train there and if they were good they would hire them. So I went for a copy test and I joined Contract in 1997 as a Hindi writer.

One year down the line, I started liking the work and found it better than teaching. I was there for four years of which for nearly one and half years I was in the studio and writing in Hindi. Then my CDs thought that I was good and I moved up. Post Contract, I spent three years at a small agency - Lemon - from 2002. And it’s there that I actually learnt a lot of stuff of advertising like writing and so on. Though Lemon was a start up, we had many accounts and for a while I was the only Hindi writer there, so I did a lot of work. Today, I can write anything from a leaflet to a film to whatever comes my way. These things I learnt at Lemon; as a writer, I became better at Lemon.

When did you move to Ogilvy? And how was it working here? 

I joined Ogilvy as associate creative director in 2005 and now it’s almost like my home. Clients respect us for being Ogilvy. If you are good, your work gets out. For me, the scale got bigger suddenly - you meet big clients, celebrities, great advertising guys. You just learn to operate on a bigger scale.

How different is it working in a larger agency?

Though I have learnt a lot at Lemon, I feel that the work I did was not that good. One of the advantages of being at Ogilvy is that the work you create gets released. You do not have to go 10 times to present it to the client; you do not have to make innumerable changes in your work. While at Lemon, whatever you have created would be cast aside as the clients would make constant changes. So, according to me, eventually what would be released would not be up to the mark.

Which campaign would you hold close to your heart?

The campaign for Gujarat Tourism is a very memorable one. It is such a popular campaign especially when you go to Gujarat and tell people that you have done it, they give you so much respect. I have also created the radio spots for this campaign that were recited by Amitabh Bachchan. This campaign has resulted in a phenomenal increase in the tourist traffic to Gujarat so much so that despite having great infrastructure, GTDC is unable to accommodate the ever increasing tourists.  There are more tourists than places to stay.

Working on radio campaigns...

I love working for radio. It requires a lot of research and home work. I go out and hunt for voices, asking lay people to come and record for us. It is a very candid medium. As compared to television, it is easier as the scale of production is not so large and decision making is simpler. Further, the client is also not too demanding. I consider radio an opportunity in terms of being able to do really great work without investing in anything other than your time, talent and hard work. The logistics are simpler.  

What is your belief on the awards culture?

I have never been an awards chaser. Initially, when you are trying to establish yourself in the industry, awards are important. But in the last few years, they don’t seem so important and I am happy that I work without keeping awards in mind. And that is the culture at Ogilvy - nobody works keeping the awards in mind. The work is solid that works for the client as well. Everyone, especially the creative people, are completely involved with the brand. The work created is liked and approved by clients, appreciated by the public and eventually goes on to win awards.

Being from the Hindi hinterland, do you find it difficult to create work in English?

This business is more about ideating. If you look at ideas, there is no language barrier. The best example for this is Piyush. Over the years, I can write in English but I will be better in Hindi as it is my mother tongue.

Who have been your mentors through the years?

When I was not in Ogilvy, I always aspired to work with Piyush. Now that I have worked with him, I am happy. Being a writer and creative person, Piyush is one person I respect the most. Like everyone in Ogilvy and outside, I look up to him. I have learnt a lot under Abhijit (Kinu) as he was my boss when I joined. I have tried to learn from the way he manages his life and operates his work. And he is a fantastic creative person. I constantly learn from people who work with me as well.

What is the best thing about your job?

The best thing about advertising is that you are placed on a vantage point as you are working on many brands across product categories. Sometimes they are not just brands, they are lifestyles, popular culture and so on. In advertising, you are aware of the latest developments in technology, current affairs and the like. You get to be in touch with so many aspects of life that that there is no time to stagnate. Advertising has huge power to influence people beyond brands.

Any campaign that you wish you had done?

I love all the work done for Nike by Wieden & Kennedy. It is so stylish, simple yet evolved piece of art - not dumbed down in any way, not air brushed or diffused. Closer home, I wish I had done the latest commercial for Bournvita - ‘Taiyyari jeet ki.’ This stuff is right up my alley and I can easily create it.

Something that you regret in your professional life...

One wastes a lot of time in the initial years not knowing what to do. If I could reverse the clock, I would have come to Bombay and joined O&M right away rather than working anywhere else. I feel I wasted a lot of time.

Your hobbies...

Photography is a passion which I discovered only as recent as 2009. Whenever I travel for shoots, I carry a digital camera. For a shoot, the locations have already been selected, the sets are ready and the cast is present; so all I have to do is click pictures. I started enjoying photography. I have done a bit of commercial work but it is primarily my hobby.

If not in advertising

I would be probably teaching Hindi to the students of BA or MA ... the works of poets like Mirabai, Tulsidas, Surdas and so on. May be, I would have penned a book by now.

What is your mantra for life?

I don’t like to accept any compromises related to work and am a bit of a perfectionist. I put in my soul when I work but beyond a point, I let it go. I don’t think that I am a scientist at NASA. I believe it is important to be happy and do not take yourself too seriously. This is the truth about advertising - the minute you get too serious, the ideas leave you and do not come by. So if you stop having fun, I am hundred percent sure that your best ideas will walk away.

What advice would you give youngsters?

When youngsters come up to me and show me their portfolios, I ask them to go travel and experience life for it is only these experiences that will make you better writers and creative people.

I also believe that it is great to look at international work but the better way of doing good advertising is to interact with the common man, and indulge in passions like photography and trekking. All this translates very well in advertising. The minute you get stuck in a box, you will find that in six months you run out of ideas.

What is the one thing you would want to change in advertising presently?

I wish that there was less poverty in India so we would get the chance to create ads that we call ‘more evolved’. I don’t mean that the Indian audience is not evolved enough and I am not belittling the intelligence of the current audience. But the reality is that most of the international work like Nike’s is appreciated by people like you and me but not by the common man on the street as they do not understand it.

This is the dichotomy of Indian advertising which we are trying to solve through our work that is great as well as has mass appeal.

On the road ahead

I want to do a 'Sholay' in advertising... an ad with a huge mass appeal... I don't think I have been able to do that, but that's a dream I must chase.



Center Fresh (Bank robbery): 'Foot-in-mouth' taken to another level.

Center Fruit (Waiter/south): The secret of the legendary menu-rattling South Indian waiters.



Center Fruit (Jugalbandi): What happens when a tongue wags faster than the speed of light.


Center Fresh ( Baatein kam kaam zyaada): A mock social message. The message was as relevant as the commercial was funny.



Fevikwik (Rs.5/Vase): No matter how much a broken thing costs, Fevikwik costs only Rs.5.



Cadbury (Kenya jeet gayi):  A win is a win. It's also an excuse to have chocolate.



Mentos (Riddle): We got more than 5 lakh entires for this. And one of them did win Rs 25 lakh.



Amul Body warmer: Dada ji se pyaara, dadaji ka palang...

Gujarat Tourisum: Gujarat was the best discovery for travellers. And for us too.

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