How did you get into advertising? Was it something that always interested you or by chance?
I had just scraped through my B.Com, and was jobless for about a couple of years. I was so desperate that I was ready to try anything. I had also learned typing and shorthand in the hope that it would land me some job. Then my brother came up with something called copywriting. He heard of it from a school friend who was an illustrator and that’s how we learnt of advertising’s existence. So I found out some more about advertising, joined XIC and was jobless again for a year - did assorted odd jobs for sometime before finally getting lucky with an an agency called DART.
Could you tell us a bit about your stints at your previous agencies, and things you remember about them today?
I started at an agency called DART. I moved on from there to Interpublicity Pvt. Ltd. under Nargis Wadia who really took me under her wing and taught me all the basics. It was there that I also met Nandini [Dias], I must have been around 23 or 24 at the time. I then moved to Speer for a few months before Nandini (she had moved to Lintas by then) put in a word with Kiran Khalap whom I finally ended up meeting on his first day in Clarion. So Kiran spoke to Girish Rangan (GM at Lintas) and Kersy Katrak who was Lintas’ Head of Creative and that’s where I landed up. I started working under Girish initially, since he did not have a creative head for his group. Some months later Chax [KS Chakravarthy] and KV Sridhar [Pops] joined as a team and I started working under them. A few years later when they went to Chaitra Leo Burnett, I tagged along, stayed there for 13 or 14 years, got whipped into shape by Chax, Arvind, Pops and gang and then joined JWT in 2006. At Lintas, I worked under Alyque Padamsee on a big Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital project which was a huge thing for me since Alyque was this big, larger than life figure. Soon my salary was hiked to Rs 4,000 per month. I was so happy I went and got married to Nandini. Meanwhile Chax, for some mysterious reason, plucked me out of relative obscurity and trusted me with a couple of big campaigns - Parachute, and the launch of Walls Ice Cream. Eventually, when he asked me to come to Leo Burnett, it was the first time ever that anybody had ‘offered’ me a job. Till then, it was me who kept applying and getting rejected all the time.
What was the experience of being NCD at JWT like? What are your views on the two-NCD system?
I knew that some hardcore creative types had written me off the day I decided to join JWT. Some well-wishers passed the word through common friends that I had a promising career and that I should not give up hope so soon. I felt JWT was, and is, a fine agency and that I should give it a good shot at least. Anyway, the next 3 years were quite action-packed and here is where we are today. Life evens up in the end. On the two-NCD system, I don’t really have any views. If the people make it work, then any system is good.
This may be from a while back, but how confident were you of ‘Lead India’ at Cannes and what did it feel like to win the Grand Prix?
Obviously, you’re never really ‘confident’ of winning a Grand Prix unless you’re from the US. I was hoping it would do well but surely never expected it to do so well.
When you decided to start your own place then, what were the learnings from your previous stints that you wanted/definitely didn’t want in the workplace?
I think it’s hard for people to believe there was no really strong trigger for leaving JWT nor was there any grand plan or vision in place for Taproot. But it’s true. I’ve always looked at it as an experiment in doing something new. And it still is, I just want to see where it goes. I am not seeking redemption or trying to rectify any real or imagined defects in any system.I have no hesitation in saying that in a few years from now, if it’s not working out, I will quietly go back as an employee to some agency with my tail between my legs. Not planning for anything is the same as being ready for everything.
How much of a threat are the small, independent agencies to the networks? Do you see Taproot ever becoming part of a network?
No agency really ‘wins’ a client. Agencies always lose clients. So the biggest threat to any organisation starts from within. After that, it doesn’t matter whether a small agency or big network comes along and exposes the failing. And of course, if it’s on terms that work for everybody concerned at that point in time, it is not impossible that Taproot becomes part of a network. Life is all about never saying never.
Is there any advice you’d give to anyone else out there planning to start an independent agency?
I don’t think I am that delusional. The dynamics of every individual in every situation are unique so I don’t think anyone, least of all me, is in a position to give anyone any advice on this. The broad rule of thumb is to not expect too much based on the past. One has to start from square minus one.
For a relatively young agency, you’ve won quite a few awards so far. How much of importance do both of you give to it, and how do you manage it?
I would say they are important but not critical. Sometimes you win on bad work. Sometimes you lose on good work. It’s a bit like close umpiring decisions- the highs are as high as the lows are low so staying balanced is the key. As for us, we don’t really manage it, we just hope.
Though they are competition, what advice would you give to young people in advertising who want metals?
If I knew and it worked, I would sell it for money.
Thums Up Thums Up ‘Bungee’ and ‘River Rafting’ was a campaign that launched its revival after it was bought over by Coca-Cola and set the template for the brand which is more or less followed even today.
Indian Oil Indian Oil’s ‘India Inspired’ campaign was the company’s first and I think to date only corporate campaign which brought the stories of unsung Indians into the national spotlight. The commercial had an elephant caravan delivering fuel to the defence forces.
Bajaj Caliber The Unshakeable for Bajaj Caliber came out of a super insight: Loser’s pride and in 3 years there were 3 very nice films starting with the boy who goes in search of his childhood love in order to gift her a puppy only to find her already married.
Pepsi The new one on the block. Let’s hope there are some more game changing performances from the Indian team.
Nike Cricket Besides the incredible ‘Gutsy Cricket’ brief, the other objective I had was simple. How would the cricket ad look in a Nike showreel of all the great basketball, athletic and football ads that they had already done around the world.
Teach India I had the visual of people coming together, joining up etc to form a single letter first. But I didn't want to use any of those metaphors in the baseline.
Brylcreem I could not make it to the shoot but when I had the script idea, it was born out of a simple line in the brief that said something to the effect of ‘The democratization of style’. And from there came the line (Style is for everyone) and the idea of Dhoni going back to his hometown to find everyone even more stylish than himself.
Aman ki Asha The most courageous of all The Times of India campaigns.
Lead India A single press ad that started a movement. The year before, I had done the Pakya film for TOI and initially I felt Lead India was a bit of a climb down from that. But was I proved wrong.
McDonald’s A nice example of a local insight adapted seamlessly to an iconic international brand. For McDonald’s home delivery.