Was advertising always in the initial scheme of things?
I knew I would do something to do with writing because I used to write for college magazines and JAM. I was only not sure if it was journalism or advertising. I actually joined advertising and did one of those post graduate courses while working and quickly figured it is advertising, so dropped out of the course and continued with my job. Of course, I did do some odd jobs before getting into advertising: I sold credit cards and automatic rescue devices for Otis elevators. I was a salesman for the latter for six months, but couldn’t sell one. My area was Borivali to Virar; there were all these strange builders that I had to go meet every day and convince them why they should install this in their elevators and they would laugh at me and send me off. I wanted to sell one in six months, but I failed there.
In my first job, I worked with this really small agency called Multiprint Advertising, run by two brothers, now based in Parel. I found out about them from a friend who was a writer there; they have a one-writer system, so that writer left and I joined.
Advertising then was very different; I used to dream of writing for big brands and making films. That writing used to be very different, we used to write for brochures and create small ads for computer institutes located somewhere in Nagpur. Then I moved to another agency called By Design with a guy called Rahul Gupta, who was ex-Grey. After that I joined TBWA in Mumbai, and was with CNBC for their advertising cell Cell18, which we started [with Zubin Driver]. We used to do the in-house advertising for CNBC and all its shows, and now, of course, it’s become bigger and they have clients of their own. After Cell18, I joined Lowe Lintas in 2003.
What about Lowe Lintas kept you there?
Every agency comes with its own culture. Finally, I was with an agency where the kind of work that happens here is the kind I believed in and enjoyed. To be quite honest, it was my dream to work on Surf Excel. I’d seen my mother use it and I’d grown up watching the advertising of Lalitaji, so I was quite inspired. That’s why I joined Lintas and got to work on Surf.
Now I handle half of Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. I work on Hindustan Unilever (HUL), Fastrack, Tanishq, Axis Bank; it’s a nice mix of brands and comes with its own feel. Banking comes with its own feel, the youth thing comes with its own feel. We also did the relaunch of Channel [V] with ‘Bloody Cool’. Other HUL brands like Hamam are regional brands but they have a nice charm about them.
Does filmmaking have more appeal for you?
Film takes up a lot of my time, but I still do enjoy writing as and when it comes up, once in a while. I’ve spent the initial years of my career writing for print, and I worked under Zubin Driver who used to whip our ass. He’s a very fine English writer, who’s done a lot of English theatre and I’ve acted in one of his plays too. With him is where I learnt a lot about crafting copy. I don’t have a particular liking for any specific media as such. I do enjoy film a lot, writing for print and for radio as well. We’ve done some nice interesting radio spots for Indiatimes.com which picked up a couple of awards. Outdoor is a very effective medium as well and a lot of brands have been built on outdoor. In fact, we do some interesting outdoor for ET Now. It comes in short bursts and attention spans are lesser, so you have to catch people. For Fastrack’s bags campaigns, the outdoor has really worked well.
Do you feel nostalgic about the fact that we don’t get to see much good print work these days?
Print is far lesser now in terms of brands I work on. We do some print on Fastrack, but it’s not the way we knew of print. But you move with the times. You do feel nostalgic once in a while when you sit down to write a print ad and you actually craft copy, but at the end of the day, it’s communication. People have to be interested in reading it.
What’s your perspective on writing for the web then?
Personally, I don’t think it’s any great new thing. Ideas are ideas. You come up with an idea for a TVC or you come up with an idea for digital or print; it’s not like suddenly here’s an animal that you don’t understand. The technology bit of it is a bit unnerving because there’s terminology like ‘augmented reality’ and all that thrown at you. But like I said, ideas are ideas. It’s just that you have more media to land your ideas in.
Where do you stand on the working for awards issue, since Lowe Lintas doesn’t really aggressively go for them?
People have gotten it wrong with us. We aren’t driven by awards; we do work that’s popular for brands and if it happens to win awards, it’s a great add-on. We don’t do work for winning awards.
Where do you see Indian advertising going?
I think with all these mediums coming in, it is getting fragmented. People are getting a little divided between mediums so it’s getting a little tougher to hold people’s attention. At the end of the day, it’s about doing better work. Yes, in terms of media, TV will last for a while and internet penetration might go up, but I’m not sure it’ll be strictly different in terms of communicating with people. People are the same, their hearts are in the same place and it’s about winning their hearts.
And where are you headed?
I want to try and do work that’s really interesting for each of the brands I’m working on. There are quite a few campaigns lined up, which are very interesting ones.
2010 - Fastrack 'ATM' and 'Hickey' feature Genelia D'Souza and Virat Kohli. The campaign thought of "Move on" continues with these new ads for the range of bags. The ads give ideas about what to do with bags.
2010 - Axis Bank 'Nathula' was shot at a height of 18,000 feet and the shoot would commence at 7:30 am. We used to just run into the car because it was so cold, even when I was wearingthree pairs of gloves.
2009 - Camlin Gel Pens The percussions in the soundtrack were entirely done by sound engineer Derek Gomes with his mouth, abd even went on to win an award at Goafest.
2009 - In the 'Dog' commercial, there was one entire layer of sponge with the mud to make things more comfortable for the child.
2007 - Surf Gold Bar Varma of Nirvana Films shot this ad with two cameras like an actual wedding. The location was a small town in south India.
2006 - VIP One of the most fun shoots to be on. We didn't have most of the situations before we started and came up with them as we travelled and saw places in the interiors of Maharashtra. It was also great fun recording a Kannada track for the ad with words "Adjustmaadi".
2005 - Surf This was a commercial that was very close to my heart for someone who has grown up with the water struggle in Chennai. Revathi was a dream to work with.
2004 - Surf This 'newspaper' ad was a result of the price war with Ariel. It went from Brief to film in just 5-6 days.