How did you enter advertising?
My entry into advertising was an accident of sorts. In the early 90’s, people did not know much about advertising and we were trained to follow the conventional career paths of medicine or engineering. After doing my B Sc, I came to Bangalore with the intention of doing my Masters in Agricultural Science. I met a friend from advertising at a party. He was with his colleagues and while talking about their work they all seemed very excited about what they did. I found their talk interesting, as it was something completely new for me. Their talk made me change tracks because I was not very sure of what I was doing. Intending to join the advertising industry, I enrolled for a short-term course that eventually turned out to have nothing to do with advertising and was of no use.
So, I decided to take a plunge and enter the industry without any formal training.
Take us through your first stint...
I started out at a small agency started by Kirloskar Brothers because everywhere I went people asked for a portfolio and I had none. So, I decided that I would work there without receiving any pay, build my portfolio, and later look for a better job that paid.
I moved to MAA Bozell that was considered the ‘school for advertising’ and where people spent early days in their career. It was a big agency, had collaboration with Bozell Worldwide and had interesting accounts. It is where I learnt the basics of advertising.
How was the journey thereon?
I spent three years here before I moved to RK Swamy BBDO, which I joined because they were handling Apple. But, I soon realised that most of the work they did for Apple was an adaptation and there was no room to create anything new.
So, I moved to SSC&B Lintas where I got a taste for awards. Ajay Chandwani, the then head, was instrumental in making Indian agencies aspire for international awards. The environment here was very creative focussed and award oriented. I won my first international award here for a Madura Coats brand: Aptan Threads. We won at the London International Advertising Awards and New York Festival.
In 2000, I moved to Contract Bengaluru that was handing many big brands. I remember doing good work on Ayurvedic Concepts (now Himalaya) where we created a character called ‘Dadima’ who is the equivalent of Lalitaji. I joined as a creative director and within six months was promoted to being an associate creative director and had to lead a team.
How did the first Cannes win come about?
After working here for three years, I moved to JWT Chennai. Initially, I was reluctant to move to Chennai but as I always wanted to work in the auto and fashion segment and since JWT handled Ford and Lifestyle, I joined them.
At JWT, I won my first Cannes (Silver) for a poster I did for Red Cross. The Red Cross poster campaign won for its brutal simplicity as it was stark and said everything with one simple visual metaphor. The tagline said, “When you give, we give.” This also happens to be the first Cannes for JWT India in their 70 odd years of existence. This was my first recognition, and it made Chennai visible on the award map.
The next year, I won Gold at Cannes for a promotion I did for Kurkure named Firestarter. We got a person and lit him up in flames for which many people gathered to watch. We used the power of Indian street to our benefit. Therefore, we created this innovation using Indian nuances. Overall, it was a great stint at JWT
What was your experience of revamping Mudra?
I always considered myself a Bengaluru boy and wanted to come back. So, in 2007, I moved back to Bengaluru and joined Mudra as executive creative director for South. At that time, Mudra was not really in its best shape especially the south. I rebuilt the agency; I even designed the office furniture, 90 per cent of the people were recruited by me, and I made sure that I hired people that were slightly different from the typical art and copy people. I wanted people with different skill sets to bring new ideas to the table.
How did the move to Leo Burnett Sri Lanka happen?
I have always had three-year stints at agencies, which is the period I require to achieve my goals. At the time of my third year at Mudra, I got this feeling of sameness, so I decided to try something else and that is when I joined Leo Burnett Sri Lanka.
It was never the plan but I met Pops at the GoaFest and he suggested this move. Though SL is a small market, I have always loved the focus on creativity and discipline at Leo Burnett. And I have always enjoyed building an agency; doing something new like I did for JWT and Mudra. So in 2010, I moved to Colombo.
Like any new market, it presented new challenges. One of the main challenges was that though there was a lot of talent they were not groomed enough. I had to inspire them to enter for awards and instil the belief that they could win internationally. The eye donation TVC we did was greatly appreciated and won awards at Spikes Asia and Adfest.
How different is Sri Lanka as a market?
Sri Lanka is what India was in the 90s. There is a lot of potential and the country would have been far ahead of other countries if not for the war that lasted 20 years. As a market, it is going to be one of the most exciting markets in the coming years as many international companies are setting base. It is a challenge as the budgets are small and you have to find solutions within the constraints. As of now, the market is more TV oriented. It is a young country with people being tech savvy and high internet penetration rates. Digital is going to be a very strong medium for Sri Lanka. Moreover, with cheap handsets and tariffs, mobile content as a medium will be strong.
Why did you move to O&M after that?
I regret not spending enough time at Sri Lanka as due to personal issues I had to return to Bengaluru where I subsequently joined O&M. It is a large institution and for any creative person, working at Ogilvy is a dream. It is the most decorated agency in the country and has a great legacy. So, I was excited to join. Another attractive aspect for me is that O&M Bengaluru has large brands such as Titan, Allen Solly, and IBM and so on.
O&M has a strong culture of doing outstanding work on TV and Bengaluru being Bengaluru, it is more tech oriented as a city. Thus, I feel there is more scope to do digital oriented work.
The world is changing; though communication has become more complex the challenge is becoming simpler and it is in creating great brand experiences for the consumer. It does not matter how you do it. It can be offline, digital or all together. My first year here has been using ideas that are media neutral and can be amplified socially and provide people new and great brand experiences. Tweeple- the activation done for Allen Solly has received great reviews in India and internationally too. The Hindu TVC that was a rebut to the TOI campaign won Gold at the Effies last year. It garnered a million views on YouTube in two months time.
Who are your mentors?
I have always been blessed with good partners, teachers, and mentors. It is important to find a mentor at the right time in your career. I believe that though the world of learning has become simpler with digital help, there is always room for a mentor to guide you. Ravi Adhivalekar at MAA Bozell was a great teacher and I learnt a lot from him. Mahindra Bhagat at Lintas taught me a lot about craft and ideation. He inspired me to enter for awards. I owe a lot to him. Bobby Pawar has the advertising instinct and has a sense of the modern world. We connected very well and did many crazy things at Mudra.
At Leo Burnett, I had a very short but valuable experience with Pops. It is inspiring to see him being so passionate about what he does. Ogilvy is a big hall of fame in itself and it is an honour to be a part of an institution that Piyush is a part of. What can I say about someone who has inspired the junior most and senior most people at Ogilvy? He is a living example of such greatness in the world. Abhijit (Avasthi) and Rajiv (Rao) inspire you with work done with great ease and they do it every day. I value and cherish the experiences I had with these fabulous people.
One piece of advice for youngsters...
It is very important to understand the things that you are good at. Secondly, it is essential to know exactly where to use the skill. For which, you have to keep an open eye to spot the opportunity. Finally, there is no formula and shortcut to success but the old-fashioned way of working hard.
What's your backup plan?
In our business, you need to have a gut feeling to understand the consumer, his behaviour, and needs. As a person, I am very intuitive and would want to be in any field, which allows me to use this power and solve problems. May be, I could have been a doctor saving lives and help people.
Pro-active work are contentious issues. Your take...
This is a necessary evil. Firstly, it helps creatives to hone their skills. Secondly, they help recognise the advertising craft that is involved. Having said that, today, most of the jury members are aware of scams and such work, so they can spot work that is very flaky as compared to substantial and meaningful work and they promote meaningful work.
Greenpeace “I’ve always liked ideas that have an element of audacity and scale. I’d rather dive into the water than wading into it.”
Titan Raga' “ I think Raga used Katrina as a celebrity very well.”
Kurkure' “This is a stunt that really pushed the potential of Indian streets. We were playing with fire; literally.”
Jockey “One of the few print campaigns to win an Effie. In an age where print is fading away this campaign stood out and helped the brand hugely.”
The Hindu “I like the disruptive quality about it. I’m glad we didn’t take the edge off.”
Allen Solly “The Physical-Digital hybrid quality is what is making this special.” (View the campaign here: Allen Solly's Tweeple-powered billboard)
Bangalore Traffic Police “Posters got Mudra Bangalore a lot of recognition internationally.”
Fortune Oil “A lot of people told me that they had tears in their eyes while watching this spot. That was very satisfying.”
Red Cross “It’s special because it got me and the agency the first metal in Cannes.”
Amrutanjan “I always liked ads that borrow from the popular culture. We did 12 bloopers warning people that ‘pain can hit you anytime so be ready with Amrutanjan’.”
Eye Donation Sri Lanka' “This campaign won a lot of awards at Spikes Asia and Adfest.”