A degree in botany, a course in Kolkata at Clarion College of Communication and training at Mudra Kolkata later, Anupama Ramaswamy found herself in the world of advertising at Ulka in 2001.
The first job
Ramaswamy remembers her two years at Ulka fondly. “Ulka is like home to me. It was my first big job. Ulka is the only place where I still believe that the environment really hasn’t changed. It is very homely and makes you feel fantastic, comfortable, where I had a great boss, Sanjay Sharma. I don’t think I can teach people like he did. He used to stand behind me with a rolled up newspaper and hit me with it if I made a mistake, just like a father does. Everything I’ve learnt can be credited to him.”
Her time there involved working on Whirlpool, Compaq and Mother Dairy. She eventually decided to move out. But why? She explains, “I think I had learnt everything that Sanjay had to teach me and I had started to do things exactly the way he wanted. I could do the layout the way he wanted before him having said anything. This made me think whether that is how I would’ve done it. I had to move out of the agency to find out what I wanted to do.”
Ramaswamy’s move from Ulka to Rediffusion in 2003 was a change from working on consumer durables to working on telecom during what can be described as an 'ad-war period'. Airtel and Vodafone, then, were trying to best each other’s ad strategies.
“Airtel was a big thing at that time with its incoming free messages, the brand was on the way up. It got a little tough then as I had enrolled myself for an MBA. I would leave at 6 pm to attend classes and returned to office by 10 to finish the artwork considering Airtel was a very demanding client. If they say there is a full page ad that needs to go out tomorrow then it very well will. They would not be bluffing like some clients do. They could do this because they had the money and there was a huge competition between Airtel and Vodafone at that time. If Airtel found out that Vodafone was releasing something the next day then they would absolutely have to too, that too in the same paper. That’s just the nature of the business.”
The biggest change in working atmosphere from Ulka to Rediffusion was the pace of work: “I absolutely enjoyed the rush and the best part was that it was for real. You’re working hard for those two hours and you knew you will see that out in paper the next day.”
She joined Lowe Lintas in 2005 and was there for about three years. “Lintas was a great experience! I used to work with Preeti Nair; Balki, of course, was fantastic as always. He was great in terms on insight, in terms of image. He would come in at 12 in the night and change everything for next morning’s presentation. But then he would have a strong point for having done that.” Lowe Lintas, particularly, has a way of approaching work that is very logical, she adds. This is where her exposure to international advertising began.
The gender divide
Moving to JWT gave Ramaswamy a taste of how different it is to be working under a woman boss. “At JWT I got to work with fantastic people, starting with Anuja Chauhan. She was one of the greatest influences in my life. She just knows the pulse of the people. After Anuja left, Preeti Kapoor came on board. I had heard that working with women is not easy as ideologies might clash but life proves you wrong sometimes. Anuja is completely into mainline advertising with a great knowledge of how to connect with the consumer. Preeti on the other hand comes from Singapore and would evaluate work in terms of whether an ad would work internationally or not. Working with both have been fantastic learning experiences.”
She notes the stark differences in how both genders approach work and how that affects advertising: “The insights that come from women are different than those coming from men. The same client brief will see men approaching it one way and a completely different fashion in how women look at it. There will be ‘mush’ when you work with women.”
The power centers
At one point of time, you had that one marketing head who would take the decision, she recalls. Adding: “Now, there seems to be a huge involvement from the sales team, from the business team. The involvement from so many people affects decisions and because advertising is such a subjective thing, what you like, I might not. So to have a consensus is becoming a difficult thing because everyone wants to make a point.”
Ramaswamy also makes the observation that client briefs are not as sharp as they used to be: “The client briefs were also much clearer at that time. There have been instances where we had taken the brief over phone and executed an ad exactly in compliance as what the client was looking for.”
Quality control is an aspect the industry needs to retrain their attention on. “There was no chance of errors then unlike today when we send something in pdf form. At that time, 'checkings' were thorough. The involvement with servicing has gone down, these days we just send an ad but are not aware about how it finally goes out,” she notes.
This, she says, could also be because of the processes involved. While the industry 'back then' was very process driven, client pressure is leading to ads going out currently with errors, she contends. Under a process, the studio wouldn’t accept anything without a signature of approval, points out Ramaswamy.
The ‘Samsung’ agency
To come into Cheil, an agency focusing almost all of its attention on Samsung, wasn’t as daunting as Ramaswamy had imagined. She reflects: “I am not petrified. Samsung itself has so much that you don’t see from outside. Plus, Samsung is not the same that it used to be, say three years ago. They are doing more and more Indian work. Samsung as a brand does not need advertising. Now the job for advertising is not to say that this is a good international product. But what we are trying to do is have conversations with the consumer.”
Cheil is all set to play a much active part in pitches and bringing in new business, Ramaswamy adds: “We (Cheil) have reached a particular point because of Samsung, in terms of sales, profits etc. Now, it is time for us to prove ourselves to others. Samsung is so heavy in terms of everyday involvement that it becomes difficult for what we want to do. But we have set our goals for the next couple of years so that we will not be called only a ‘Samsung’ agency.”
Everybody is interested in digital. Neither the client nor the agency can ignore it. Ramaswamy advises cautious use of the medium. “A story told well will find takers that sit with it for three minutes or more. Does it always have to be a tear jearker? No. But the last six to eight months have seen a trend developing where everything is suddenly about the family, about emotions. Sometimes even the briefs come that way, ‘Isko dekh ke rona aana chahiye’. This trend will pass,” she foretells.
Ramaswamy reminds us that a few years ago, everything was about being a smart alec -- about one upmanship, one-liners. Just like that passing phase, the emotional flavour too will soon be passe, she adds.
Once you get into the award fervour, it drives you to look at everything in that way, the creative alleges. She explains, “You start evaluating the different possibilities of execution with which to approach the brief. You start looking at it in terms of categories. Clients are not interested in awards but you would still like it to be effective. So if you can turn the work around in a way that it works for the client and you then you would be in a win-win situation.”
Taking the median approach, Ramaswamy doesn’t term the practice of creating award winning work as something unbecoming as long as that isn’t the only aim driving the work’s creation. The problem arises when something is created for a brief but for awards, according to her.
She surmises, "Even then there’s nothing wrong in that too but only when you start doing it too much. You have to try to sell a product by putting a messaging to it. It’s a problem when you ignore the brief and start creating work solely to win an award. If a particular brief allows you to think out of the box which will make people take notice in a different way and it can be entered in a particular category, then there’s nothing wrong in it.”