Ananya Saha
Aug 27, 2013

‘Creative people are very vulnerable’: Titus Upputuru

The Dentsu Marcom NCD, who wanted to be a doctor, singer, poet and fashion designer at different points in time, isn’t doing too badly in advertising, finds out Ananya Saha

‘Creative people are very vulnerable’: Titus Upputuru

Upputuru is a well-known second name in advertising circles today. In fact, there was a time when all four Upputuru brothers – Emmanuel, Titus, Joshua, and Daniel - were in Ogilvy, and the joke was that O&M should be renamed U&M. Titus Upputuru, national creative director, Dentsu Marcom, wanted to be a doctor, singer, poet and fashion designer during various phases in his life. However, joining advertising never occurred to him until his other plans failed. A post graduate in English Literature, Upputuru started his 18-year career in advertising with Madhyam DMB&B (now, Publicis India) and has worked with Trikaya Grey (now Grey Worldwide), TBWA Anthem (now TBWA\India), Ushak Kaal and Ogilvy. 

The beginning

“My father was an advertiser, though not in creative but on the financial and commercial side,” recalls Upputuru. “So a lot of discussion on our table used to be around advertising but it never crossed my mind to join advertising.”

Fifteen years later, Upputuru sits comfortably in his glass cabin on the 10th floor overlooking the streets of Gurgaon. The journey has been “quite amazing so far, with God’s grace,” he says. His table has two copies of ‘Holy Bible’ and each day in his calendar carries verses from the Bible. “This motivates me,” he says, beaming.

This is Upputuru’s second stint at Dentsu. The first, albeit very small stint, happened in 2009. “I did not enjoy it one bit. Things I was told were very different to what was when I joined and quit immediately,” he reminisces.

The journey began when a young Upputuru saw an ad asking for people interested in advertising. Two months later, he was called into Madhyam’s office and was handed over a cheque. “It was really funny. They had not appointed me and yet handed me a cheque. I was then told that one of the lines that I had written in my copy test was used in an advertisement. And since they had used the line, they were paying me,” he elaborates.

Upputuru was appointed as trainee, and within three months went onto become junior copywriter. He also won an award for a public service ad he had created with his friend from another agency. But little did he know that it would spell an end of his journey with the agency. He says, “I went onto the stage to take the award with my friend who was representing another agency. Though my boss knew that I was working on that ad, the very next day I was questioned as to why I went on the stage (to represent a different agency).” He quit. And after a short stint at Grey, he moved to TBWA as senior writer.

The learning

“TBWA was a great learning experience. It believed in the power of disruption. If there is a market dynamic behaving in a certain way, you just disrupt it to get in. It was a great model to follow,” says the man who then created disruption with his ads for Somany Tiles, Inalsa, Electrolux washing machines, Sony Music systems and L&T. His work on JCB Earth moving machines also won at the New York Festival. “What I also remember fondly is working with Trevor Beattie (former chairman of TBWA London who worked on the Fcuk campaign). At TBWA, we were a charged lot always doing exciting work,” he adds. He is quick to point out that he is inspired by King Solomon, and his creative way of dealing with problems. The workshops with Mike Fromowitz also added to his learning.

He recalls how as a group head in Delhi at TBWA, he was asked to go to the Mumbai office. He did, and was surprised to find that the creative director and his whole team had quit, except for one girl. “We took charge. That incident catapulted me into a different zone and prepared me so well to do all the more in the future, when I was not even a creative director. Kurien Matthews asked me to stay back and offered me a post of creative director in Mumbai.” But Upputuru wished to return to Delhi, for accounts he was working on, and family.

When TBWA's Abhijit Basu quit and joined creative boutique Ushak Kaal, Upputuru was made an offer. “They just wanted to do work that won awards, and do absurd creative stuff. It was very tempting to do only path-breaking stuff. Also, people like Freddy Birdy and Naved Akhtar were associated with that place as freelancers,” says Upputuru who joined Ushak Kaal as creative director in 2000, ending his five-year journey with TBWA.

At Ushak Kaal, Upputuru got a chance to work with lot of retail clients whose main motive was to get the product off the shelves. He also got a chance to work on the promotion material for the movie ‘Khosla ka Ghosla’, which was being produced by their sister concern, Tandav Productions. Director Dibakar Banerjee also wanted to cast Upputuru in his movie but the adman refused.

Upputuru quit Ushak Kaal when he found that the agency was not doing the kind of work they wanted it to. In 2003, he wrote a letter to Piyush Pandey and got a call from Ogilvy’s Sanjay Thapar. Since the post of creative director was not vacant, he joined as creative consultant and group head. 

The work

At Ogilvy, Upputuru worked on Sprite's irreverent ‘Seedhi Baat’ that took on Pepsi; Hutch Dilli Half Marathon (for three consecutive years); KFC's Institute of ‘Lickonomics’ and ‘Finger Lickin' Good’ (where he worked on the brand from scratch and shot with Bharat Sikka); Grasim; and Afghan Telecom (‘Old things have passed, let's talk something new'). 

“I met some really iconic people there who taught me so much and had a great impact on me,” he says humbly. He names Piyush Pandey ‘ji’ and Neil French, who used to come and do creative workshops. “He was so hard on us that we used to sweat physically when presenting our work. That said, it was a great experience, and we used to learn so much even in those few days,” adds Upputuru, also crediting Nitin Srivastava with teaching him a great deal about detailing.

After quitting Ogilvy as senior creative director, Upputuru joined Dentsu in 2009 as creative head, where he worked extensively on Honda but quit soon after. “I was asked by the Japanese guys if I would consider returning to the agency if management changes, and I said, ‘Why not?’”

He joined Saatchi & Saatchi as executive creative director in early 2010, working on brands such as Harley Davidson and Ranbaxy, before returning to Dentsu in the same capacity for his second stint in 2011.

Life at Denstu

On his return to Dentsu, Upputuru says, “When Dentsu called me back, I was not sure. However, they just wanted a yes or a no without having even discussed the monies or the designation. I prayed and said yes. And I am so glad that God made me say yes. Dentsu is the hottest place to be. Everyone is aligned about the work here.”

But doesn't handling conflicting business get in the way of being aligned? Upputuru informs, “We have a model based on conflicting businesses. We handle Toyota, Honda, Maruti. We are aligned but we do not share information or resources. Taproot has joined us. So, there are no walls but information is guarded where it is required and resources are aligned where it is required.”

At Dentsu Marcom, Upputuru leads agency’s creative efforts on various brands including the recently won Indian Army account, for which a TVC will go into production very soon. Other clients he’s handling are Toshiba (laptops and TVs); Canon (cameras and printers); Honda (cars and bikes); and DS Group’s Chingles, Paas Paas and Tulsi, for which a TVC will go on-air soon. His work for Dainik Bhaskar’s ‘Na se bane nayi duniya’ was also much appreciated.

A staunch believer in wisdom as a prerequisite in advertising, Upputuru says, “This is a creative field and the master creator is God. You have to get into the thick of things. You cannot afford to sit by yourself. There are a lot of myths; that in advertising, alcohol or ponytails or coffee helps. It doesn’t. At the end of the day you are sitting in a market and your motivation has to be to write to resolve a problem in a refreshing manner. People do not switch on TV to watch your ad. I like to bring value to marketers, to grow their businesses and resolve their issues.”

To motivate his team, Upputuru gives them examples of path breaking work. “I work anti of how Neil French taught me. My model is very kind,” he says, laughing. He adds, “Creative people are very vulnerable. They need to be dealt with like that.” He wants to lead his team by example.

The reward

Upputuru has won awards at the New York Festivals, The One Show, D&AD, Communication Awards and The Abbys. His work has been published in Lurzer's Archive. KFC's Institute of Lickonomics campaign that he did was adapted across 14,000 stores worldwide. His print campaign for Afghan Telecom was exhibited at the White House.

“I have not counted the awards I have won. But that does not mean I have won countless,” he says unassumingly. He adds, “I have learnt that beyond a point, you cannot get vain about it. I have learnt from ‘Sir’ Piyush Pandey who told me, ‘Go after the people, and do not go after the awards’. Personally, I love the view from my place (office) here. I look back sometimes from my desk and think if my work will help the person walking down on the road. If you are doing some work to wake them up refreshingly, chances are that you will win awards for it. I do not consciously work for awards, but they keep coming.”

Calling it a rewarding career so far, Upputuru aims to be creating path-breaking work. "And make this agency hugely profitable," he surmises.

 

 
KFC Institute of Lickonomics I remember the day when the client and us were at the Saket store in Delhi, when there was no Saket store. We were standing on soil and thinking what to do with KFC in India. We came up with everything from furniture ideas, cutlery, menu board, to the Institute of Lickonomics campaign. We designed the crew uniform with 'I am a student of Lickonomics' on the back of the T-shirts.
 
Afghan Telecom-Print The print campaign brought the optimism out without ignoring the reality. This caught the attention of America – the work got exhibited in the White House.
 
 
 Better Delhi This won me my first advertising award. This is part of a campaign, which spoke of things that needed improvement in the city. One of the other ads had to with the killings of elderly people in the city. As I was writing it seated in a bus, my co-passenger peeping into my writing pad, asked if I was a crime journalist.
 
 

▲ Somany Tiles

This is one in a series of five. Each ad talked about a feature that the client wanted us to highlight. This for instance, demonstrated how the tiles were heat resistant because housewives were hesitant to use them in the kitchen. Those days, tiles were largely used in bathrooms and the client wanted to get them out of it in order to expand the market.  

 

 
Source:
Campaign India