Shinmin Bali
Jan 28, 2015

Close up: 'There is much to discover in human frailty'

Joy Mohanty, national creative director, Publicis Capital, speaks about the 'stumble', the 'almost-indulgent' advertising, being slaves of classification and more

Close up: 'There is much to discover in human frailty'
One may be able to list Joy’s professional years under agencies such as FCB Ulka, Bates, Leo Burnett, Contract and Publicis, but in no form does he ascribe the start of this journey to a considered plan.
A ‘stumble’ is what Joy describes his entry into advertising as. He remembers taking a bus back home from college, in Delhi. That route is what introduced him to advertising. 
“Close to the bus stand was Edge, an agency which then was a part of Everest. I was in my last year of college and totally clueless as to what I was going to pursue. You get out of school and go into college almost by default and here I was confronted with final year and decision time, totally clueless about what I had to do with my life,” he recalls. 
Passing by everyday only accentuated his interest. One day, he decided to take action. He says, “I walked up to the receptionist and asked, ‘How do I get a job here?’ She asked me what I wanted to do. I said I didn’t quite know, but that I wanted to work in advertising. She asked me to wait and called a creative director out; it was a gentleman called Abhimanyu, I’m sure he doesn’t remember me. He asked me what I wanted to do and I gave him the same answer. He asked me if I knew what advertising was. I answered in the negative but added that I did watch ads. Somehow, he agreed to put me through a copy test. He asked me to take a week and get back to him with the test.”
Joy did take the test. It cleared one thing for him - that advertising is a fun job. “The test had asked me to review an ad, make an ad better, some puzzle-type questions which I don’t remember very well and I took the answers to the creative director. He saw the test, nodded his head, a little sullenly. I didn’t get that job but the copy test got me interested in advertising,” he notes. 
 Not one to be bogged down by the refusal, his aim to work in advertising was stronger than ever. It was then that one of his friends had joined Ulka (now FCB Ulka). At Ulka, he took his second  copy test and got the job. This was 1993. 
1998 saw him stepping out of the agency structure for a brief period of time. This is when Mohanty, along with a friend, decided to get into film production. 
“A friend of mine was keen to be a director so we started something out. This we timed perfectly with the dotcom crash and a general slowdown. It was the worst time to start something new,” he laughs, reminiscing. “We did some small films. We were poor, but free.”
Then it was Leo Burnett for three and a half to four years - a period that he describes as when he ‘had a great time’. “Post that, brief stints at Enterprise and Contract followed. Since 2005, I’ve been at Capital, which later became Publicis Capital," he explains. 
The problem solver
Joy thinks of advertising as a science, the kind which addresses the supply and demand of products and ideas in a willing enough market. The appropriate balance has to be maintained between the two, lest it crosses over to become indulgence, he says. “The advertising process has to be true to problem solving. What we essentially do is solve a marketing problem, creatively. Actually, marketing is creative. If there is nothing to sell or solve, you won’t have advertising. It then becomes indulgence,” adds Mohanty. 
“At launch times, you’re trying to tune in to somebody’s need or you’re creating a need. Like the iPad, which created a need. Post that, you’re in a dynamic world and the brand or the product has to keep evolving which is where advertising comes in, understands your position in the market, helps you with what to do, what to say and how to connect with people’s needs,” he explains. 
The idea-fodder for this comes from all around us, he says: people, culture, emotions. 
“There is enough inspiration from life around us. There’s culture which can inspire you. The way people behave and interact is what gets one going in advertising. What people do, what makes them tick, what they obsess about, what their fears and insecurities are, what makes people happy, what makes them bond, all of this is where our ideas and stories lie. There is much to discover in human frailty,” he observes. 
The long and short of it
The topic ‘long-form ad versus short-form ad’ has already been stretched too thin, according to this adlander, who opines that such compartmentalisation is a smokescreen. 
He rationalises this with the following explanation: “In my view, there is no long-format or short-format ad. These are pigeon holes we create because we are slaves of classification. If the story requires 30 seconds, it should get those 30 seconds.  Years ago, BMW briefed five cutting-edge directors and told them to make one five-minute film each for BMW’s cars. That story required five whole minutes and they kept you engaged all the while. So, if you give me, say, a four-minute ad but don’t engage me as a viewer, those four minutes are wasted. To say that we’ve entered the long form age where on TV we will have a 30 second spot but a 3-minute spot of the same ad goes up on digital is getting the wrong end of the argument. It’s about engagement, not length. It’s about what the idea demands. It should get the time and space it needs, irrespective of the media vehicle.”
What stays with Mohanty long after an ad has been aired and the purpose of it established and conveyed, is registering the viewer’s reaction to the work. He notes, “I think with all this, the one big change is that there’s no place to hide. When your stuff goes live, out there for everyone to see, you’ll know instantly if it’s a ‘yay’ or a ‘nay’. Liked or nixed. Forwarded, or relegated to a colossal digital wasteland. So as a brand or agency or advertising person, you better be sure of what you’re putting out there. The people’s court is the leveler, harsh and brutal, but more often than not the honest truth and the best judge.” 
An extension of ‘people’s court’ in the current landscape, according to Mohanty, is how the recipient of a message behaves when faced with meaningful content. Joy expands, “Traditional and digital media have already started working together. I think as the consumer embraces technology more and becomes a native in the connected world, agencies need to do the same, and the operative thing there is for us to be digital natives. That’s the only way to be. There used to be a time when the dialogue used to be one-way. You beamed content to the audience and they took what you gave them. Today, users modify and sometimes even generate content (I say sometimes because it’s really user-generated only sometimes; very often it is some writers sitting in a backroom banging away at their keyboards) which can be fabulous.”
The creative surmises, “All of this tells you that you have to work that much harder to engage with your audience. That said, advertising is, in the words of one of the early rockstars of the business, ‘still the most fun you can have with your clothes on'.”
(This appeared the Campaign India issue dated 23 January 2015)
Campaign India