'Advertising is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans,’ is how Sambit Mohanty, creative head (North), DDB Mudra, sums up his entry into the industry. Though he wanted to join the Civil Services when he headed to Delhi from Rourkela (Odisha), he gave up the thought when he realised it involves discipline and hard work. Given his love for writing, he appeared for both the Journalism and Advertising and PR entrance exams at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication. He ended up clearing the latter.
After finishing the course, he was introduced to creative department of McCann, and that is how it all began for the copywriter in 1999. After McCann, Mohanty joined Lowe Lintas Bengaluru but moved back to Delhi as creative group head at Publicis in 2003. He has also worked with Vyas Giannetti Creative as associate creative director, and Leo Burnett and Elephant Design as creative director. After a stint at Bates Asia as ECD, he completed a full circle returning to McCann, in the same capacity. That was just before moving to DDB Mudra in November 2013.
The creative has not stayed at one place for more than two years. He reasons, “Most creative minds are restless and impatient by nature. I'm also guilty as charged! I'd ascribe my movement to this restlessness and a desire to seek out untested waters. That said, stability comes with experience and I'm here at DDB for keeps!”
On his favourite client thus far, Mohanty replies, “Undoubtedly, it would be Aircel when I was at McCann. Our client Renuka Jaypal was a good sounding board. She helped us hone, and polish our ideas and take them to another level. We had the same vision for the brand in terms of work that would make people sit up and take notice. Together, we cracked the thought of ‘Thoda extra milta hai to accha lagta hai’. There is nothing more heartening for a creative person, than to work on a brand and leave it for posterity. Today, their baseline is ‘Do a little extra’, which stems from the initial campaign that we cracked.”
Another client he enjoyed working for was Hitachi, while at Bates. “Though they did not have the big monies for the world to see, they reposed a lot of confidence in us to create a lot of good work,” he notes. He adds that some of the Voltas work (Murthy-Transfer campaign) was inspired by Hitachi’s ad ‘but hardly anyone remembers it since it went on air only for few days or months’.
The campaigns that the creative head has enjoyed working on include Coca-Cola ‘Haan Haan Main Crazy Hoon’ even though it was an adaptation of an international ad. The jingle, penned by Prasoon Joshi, also became a hit. “However, I am more proud of the sequel to it - ‘Bewajah Khushiyaan Lutaao’ campaign. The idea resonated with everybody. It got me my first Effie Gold and Apac Effie Silver.”
From the DDB Mudra portfolio, Mohanty is proud of the recent Bata campaign. A shoe aficionado himself, he recalls how Bata was seen largely as a ‘has been’ brand. “The brand was revamping its styles, stores and breathing fresh life into how Bata was perceived. What we did out of this office is ‘Where life meets style’, which made people look at the brand at a whole new manner. The idea came from one of the people in my team, Godwin (Martin), with lyrics written by Sonal (Dabral). The ad was a big hit,” he explains.
Print is his favourite medium for campaigns, says the writer-at-heart. “Television is something that I have learned with will power. You can only be good at writing films, when you write a ton of films. It is this effort that has made me comfortable with film as a medium. But I take to press much more keenly,” he says.
The 37-year-old lists digital as a challenging medium for people who began in advertising many years back. Mohanty explains, “We are still trying to wrap our heads around how exactly it functions. When we see examples from the West about how they have created path breaking digital work, we always wonder why we aren’t able to do it. There was massive amount of technology that went into digital billboards that British Airways did. Today, even if we have the idea, do we have the technological wherewithal to make it possible? We are yet to understand the medium and its potential.”
He quips that it is no longer the ‘word of mouth’ but ‘word of mouse’ that matters, and prefers to get inspired by the younger generation to tackle challenges thrown by this medium. He also suggests that digital teams be roped in from day zero, and not at the end of strategising the campaign.
Agenda for the North
DDB Delhi currently handles Boomer and Orbit from Wrigley’s portfolio, Bata, Dabur’s Pudin Hara and Shilajit, Yamaha Scooters, Carrier Midea, and Marico’s Livon.
Mohanty’s agenda for the agency is simple - bring back the creative mojo for DDB Mudra Delhi. Having already embarked upon the journey, he notes, “The question we pose for ourselves is this: it only takes one ad to change the world. Will that ad be yours?”
At his level, he recognises that it is not just about cracking good ideas, but also how good one is at managing people, and getting the best out of them.
With DDB’s philosophy of three P’s (people, product and profit), getting the right set of people on board is priority. Mohanty believes that he has largely succeeded in getting the right mix of people, that the product output for clients has been great and has achieved creative benchmarks. “And the profit is bound to follow,” he adds.
On the subject of talent, the creative notes that the crunch is across the board in advertising – from creative to account management to planning.
“It is getting difficult to pull in good young talented people because there are so many other avenues. Advertising is no more the only place to find a creative haven. All good people in account management have gone ahead to become clients now. The people quitting the industry is far more than the number of people coming in,” he notes.
Another challenge he cites is how every agency is ready to undercut other. “Even the larger agencies are ready to slug it out with smaller agencies even if it is for Rs two lakh retainership per month. This petty infighting, makes us bleed. Clients also realise that it is no longer the value of the idea but procurement that takes the call. What you quote, and not the value of that you bring to table, makes all the difference,” he disapprovingly points out.
Mohanty sees Delhi as a market with huge potential with its entrepreneurial spirit and newer brands blossoming, even as he pronounces Mumbai plateau-ing in terms of clients. He was hired not only to up the creative ante, but also bring in business. “We are a David, we want to become a Goliath but not lose David’s spirit. Being a Goliath puts a lot of resources at your disposal, and gives a lot of might – carry a lot of weight but pack a punch as well,” he declares.
Awards and Beyond
While Mohanty has won two Effie awards, he says he has never been an awards-chaser. He believes that genuine work with human insight that delivers for the client is the biggest reward. “I have succeeded reasonably at doing work to the best of my abilities for the brands. I have never pursued scam. That said, yes, awards are a huge motivation. It is the biggest ego-boost for the office, and makes you look good among peers but that should not be the only end,” says Mohanty.
Mohanty, who also pens poems in English, has also translated most part of Prasoon Joshi’s ‘Sunshine Lanes’. Calling himself intrinsically lazy by nature, the closet poet admires AK Ramanujan, Charles Bukowski and Arun Kolatkar. “The commonality between advertising and poems is that you get inspired by life, and things you see around you. You do not just ‘see’ but ‘look’ at things, and that is what inspires you to give it your own interpretation,” he says. Mohanty also penned a jingle for Hitachi iClean while at Bates Delhi. A quiz aficionado, Mohanty lists his mentors as Ashish Chakravarty, Prasoon Joshi and Sonal Dabral.
The creative head does not have a five-year plan. He rather believes in thinking about what new he can deliver at work the next morning. “Jiddu Krishnamurthy said ‘The future is now’. I am a complete believer in that,” he signs off.
(Published in the issue of Campaign India dated 22 August 2014.)