"I haven’t worked a single day in the last 40 years. The Chinese philosopher Confucius said, ‘Choose job you love. And you will never have to work a single day in your life.’ I was fortunate to find that job very early in life.
Ever since I remember, I wanted to be in marketing and advertising. In fact, my passion for advertising led to my one and only disagreement with my father. My father worked for the government, and was keen that I follow in his footsteps. As always, I listened to him, and went to St. Stephens College Delhi, because that was perhaps the single largest contributor, the place from where people went into the Civil Service. So I was a good son till then. But after joining St Stephens College, the script went awry. Not only did I grow up, but I also discovered the world of industry which I knew nothing about, having lived in a government servant’s house. By the time I was in my second year in college (I was 17 years old), I decided to make my career in industry, and specifically marketing and advertising. So, instead of doing an M.A. and then applying for the Civil Service, I decided to do an MBA and join the industry. I duly applied to IIM Ahmedabad and somehow managed to get selected. Things might be different today.
In Ahmedabad, my passion for advertising flowered. I immensely enjoyed all the advertising classes and took little or no interest in most of the other subjects. I don’t know why I wasn’t thrown out. But those were the earlier days, I guess. On completion of my MBA, I was among the first IIM graduates, to join an advertising agency. Most people those days used to say, ‘Advertising what? Advertising who?’
I joined MCM – Mass Communication and Marketing. Most of you are too young to realise that it was the second largest agency of the era. To put it mildly, MCM did great work, but had very poor financial management. And unknown to me, it was already on its last legs. Therefore, the salary was meagre - and infrequent. You were lucky if you got a couple of hundred bucks a week. That too after persistently pestering the chief accountant, who happened to be deaf - and was very good at switching off his battery when you talked to him. So you never knew whether he was lip reading or not. E-mails were not discovered.
But in spite of its financial ill health, it (MCM) was the creative hot shop of the era. It had, perhaps, the largest collection of creative talent ever collected under one roof in this country. For those of you too young to know (which is most of you), this was the agency which gave the industry Ravi Gupta, Arun Nanda, Panna Jain, Arun Kolatkar and Mohammed Khan.
Most youngsters would not know that this was the agency that spawned Rediffusion, Trikaya and Enterprise. Most of you would also not know that none of these three names exist today – but the agencies do.
MCM was the hottest agency and had served the largest clients. It was winning more creative awards, not just more than other agencies but against all the other agencies put together. Yet, one fine morning, I drudge up the stairs to the fifth floor to our office, and find a huge padlock on the door. That’s how we discovered that we had no job.
That day, I learnt a vital lesson, which is: ‘The difference between a good agency and a bad agency is, finance.’ Simply stated, good agencies make profit and bad agencies don’t. They close down.
1975 was not a good time, for a young, unemployed, advertising executive. Advertising industry was a very small place and there were not many advertising jobs – especially, if you profess to be an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, they didn’t want to or were too scared to hire you. After a few months of unemployment, I had an offer from The Boots Company India Limited, now known as Abbott. Advertising agencies are not the only ones who change their names; sometimes clients do too.
So now there were two options: starvation or Boots. So, Boots it was. I thought I would park myself in Boots for a few months till I get the desired advertising job. The parking lasted a very long time. And I journeyed from product manager etc. etc. to marketing director in this period. It was 14 years before I got out of that parking lot, when the right opportunity came along in advertising. I grabbed it without giving it a second thought. Ulka Advertising was ailing then and about to close down. But my lust for advertising was such, that it seemed like a golden opportunity. I abandoned caution, threw common sense to the winds, and against all advice I joined Ulka Advertising – quite recklessly, as my wife said to me. The only time I had a momentary shudder was my first day in office, when it dawned on me that Ulka’s office was in Nirmal at Nariman Point – the same building where MCM had shut shop one fateful morning and I was rendered jobless. But when you are young, you are brave. I didn’t let it bother me at all. Now 25 years have gone by, and I am still as excited and enthusiastic as on the day of my joining.
There’s never a dull moment in advertising. You can’t fall into a rut, when every day brings a new challenge. After all, how many jobs let you work on the marketing strategy of a car in the morning and a soap in the afternoon? An apparel one day and packaged drink the next day? For that matter, how many jobs let you impact peoples’ lives in a 100 different ways? From encouraging healthier eating habits to promoting safer driving, from getting people to go out and vote, to helping eradicate dreaded diseases. From celebrating a social movement, to making taxes your way of helping the nation progress.
You are surrounded by young thinkers, and the enthusiasm of youth. One has to constantly learn and evolve. Or you will render yourself irrelevant. Advertising means different things to different people. To the psychologist, it is a source of learning and conditioning. To the sociologist, it establishes role models and impacts social behaviour. To the educationist, it is the influence on child development. To the media, it is earnings. To the consumer, it is freedom of choice and source of entertainment. To me, it was simply a passion.
I lived my career on three simple tenets.
One. Follow your passion. Everything else will follow passion. I believed in the power of advertising, and I strongly believed that advertising agencies were solution providers and not suppliers of creative.
Second. Stand up for your convictions. My commitment to my clients was total. I treated their businesses as my own. Far too often, brand managers ask for a change, just because a new year has dawned. We would not allow this, and persisted with campaigns and ideas as long as they were relevant and there was no need to change the strategy.
Third. Invest in the right people. I believe that one should always have people larger than oneself. Only then will you have an organisation of giants. I chose my team very carefully. Arvind Wable, Ambi Parameswaran, Nagesh Alai, Nitin Bhagwat and Shashi Sinha: together these guys made me look good. In fact, they made me look so good, that today, AAAI decided to honour me, with this award.
(Transcript of the speech delivered by Anil Kapoor, chairman emeritus, Draftfcb-Ulka Group, after receiving the AAAI Lifetime Achievement Award 2013 in Mumbai, on 27 September.)
The article appeared in the issue of Campaign India dated 4 October, 2013