Just weeks before Piyush and Prasoon Pandey were honoured at Cannes with the Lion of St. Mark, the legendary creative duo joined Campaign India for an hour-long Facebook Live with some special guests. Five young adlanders were also in studio to ask the Pandey brothers anything from the 'most notorious thing that they did at the workplace', to 'their take on the social media and its impact on the advertising business'. The young professionals included Sheena Khan from Track DDB, Ashlyn Almeida from Lowe Lintas, Swapnil Gaur from Bang In The Middle, Adith Fernandes from FCB Interface and Vijay Randhawa from Rego Advertising. Campaign India, managing editor, Prasad Sangameshwaran moderated the discussion. The Pandey brothers were in their element. The stage was set and the cricket analogies were flying. Did the Pandey brothers hit the ball all over the park?
Edited excerpts from the hour long discussion:
Prasad Sangameshwaran: My first question is to Piyush Pandey. Nearly a decade back, you had interviewed Martin Sorrell for an Indian publication. All of your questions had a cricketing analogy around it. Today, I am travelling ten years back and pulling out one of your own questions to toss it straight back at you.
Piyush Pandey: Oh my God!
Prasad: They say in the last one decade, advertising has undergone a sea change, but some of your questions asked back then, seem equally relevant today.
Piyush: You know what? I think ahead of time (laughs loudly). The question is whether it was relevant at that point of time.
Prasad: Anyway, this was your question to Martin Sorrell. Advertising is on a sticky wicket today. You never know how the pitch is going to play out and Duckworth Lewis method (a cricket calculation technique when a match is interrupted) could be implemented at any moment. How does the advertising business deal with this?
Piyush: Anyone who starts a game with Duckworth Lewis at the back of their mind has lost the game. When you are going to play the match you have no idea what time it’s going to rain. If you play for the rain and the rain does not come, you have actually written your death-wish. So take it as it comes. I don’t think advertising is on a sticky wicket. It all depends on how you define advertising. What you do in the digital media is also advertising. And TV media is not going to die in a hurry. If a new media is going to come in, you have to embrace the situation. Today, the agencies that do well are the ones who can play a test match, a one-day and a T20 game and be in the team in all the three formats.
Watch the full interview here:
Prasad: Prasoon, you seemed to have hedged your risks pretty well when you branched out as a film maker. Films or video is equally, if not more, relevant in the digital era. How do you see the situation?
Prasoon Pandey: When I am working on a film, we do not look at it as a film. We are story-tellers. We will do whatever is required. If a film is required we will shoot a film, or if it’s theatre that’s required, we will do theatre. It’s story-telling that intrigues me. Fortunately for me, film is still film. In fact, all of video is digital since Kodak left us.
But if it wasn’t film, it would not bother me. Because we are in a creative field. And you will find a creative expression despite what the world throws at you.
Prasad: We also have some young adlanders as special guests who will be bowling their own set of questions at you. Over to them.
Ashyln Almeida: What’s a big NO-NO during a pitch?
Piyush: A big no-no during a pitch is to not be yourself. When you were in the corridor at the client’s office you were sounding like Ranbir Kapoor (a young Indian actor). But when you entered the pitch if you started sounding like Mr Bachchan (a legendary Indian actor), there’s a transformation. Then the client is like, “hello! What happened to you?” The answer is be honest in a pitch. A pitch in my opinion is not an audition where you have to go ahead and perform. You have to be honest and put your thoughts in a straight forward manner. A NO-NO to me is dramatisation. Yes, some people can get fooled at times. But do you sleep well after that? I don’t think so.
Sheena Khan: What is your one advice to the impatient generation?
Prasoon: It’s not necessarily a bad thing to be impatient. It’s good to have a certain energy and a pace. I quit advertising because I was impatient. I could not deal with this thing of writing an idea and then you keep researching it for nine months. By the time they came to me with this film, I would say now let’s make a different film, because by now the whole country would be familiar with the storyboard (laughs). In my lifetime, I did not want to be in a situation where I made only ten films.
I am a very patient guy while dealing with actors as I want them to do their best. I am extremely patient with design. I am impatient when clients take ages getting back to you after having hurried you that this film is required now. And then they go off to sleep.
Piyush: I want to add to that. I will take a different definition of patience. Show some patience in the choice of what you are doing. Be a little patient with yourself. Because after three years of trying out various things you come back to say, advertising is my calling, then you would have lost three years. Everything should be given that little chance and a little time.
Adith Fernandes: What is the most notorious thing you have done in your advertising career?
Prasoon Pandey: This was during my days as a writer. I have shot a film with so much cheating in it. The client wanted a certain person to star in it really desperately. But I thought she was too beautiful for that role and did not look like that village girl. Five days before the shoot, I called the client and told him that the star had broken her hand. There were no mobile phones then so there was a lesser risk of being found out.
I told the client that the film would hence be six weeks late. The client threw a fit and said the film could not wait six weeks for someone’s hand. Then I said, I will find someone else.
I also replaced the film’s director with someone the client did not know. Then I was supposed to shoot a 60-second film, but I was so passionate and got really carried away with it and we ended up shooting a 99 second film. I said let’s make it 100 seconds and I will deal with it.
We came back to the client who said the film is fantastic but the length is odd. I told him, the length is what you asked for. He denied saying that he had asked for a 100-footer (in those days, cinema prints were measured in footer where 60 seconds equaled 100 feet in length). I argued that he had definitely asked for 100 seconds. He argued for a while and the film then saw the light of the day. Cheat if you have to cheat, but finally if the film does wonders, which it did for them, then nobody is going to call you out for cheating.
Piyush Pandey: I did something where I could have lost my job. I had presented a film to Cadbur’s that we really believed in. When we came back to office, my boss said this is not correct. Later we went for a shoot and when we came back, the boss smiled and told us, “I met the client and I have unsold the idea”.
I called the client to Bombay Gymkhana and discussed the idea over a beer and I resold the film (laughs). The film got made and a particular TV channel had a viewer’s choice award. That year it was the best film. If my boss was not a mature and wonderful person, I would have lost my job that day. But then who cared? We were young and we believed in what we did. The rest as they say is history. Some chances you have to take, but it has to be backed by your belief and not your ego. I believe that this will do wonder’s to my client’s brand. So I stretch myself a little more. I will risk being reprimanded or fired. But, what the hell? One life. Play on.
Swapnil Gaur: What’s the first thing you focus upon when you start working on a client’s brief?
Piyush Pandey: You have to solve the client’s problem, but to the end of it. The problem is not solved by just answering the question. The problem is solved by coming up with the solution that will delight the world and solving it in a much bigger fashion than the client ever imagined that he had briefed you for. The idea is not to be wacky, but to do things in a refreshing fashion so that it stands out.
If the client was going to spend INR 100 in media, we should give him the impact in INR 60 which will actually look like the client spent INR 200.
Prasoon Pandey: We have to never really lose sight of the fact that nobody in the audience is really asking for advertising. It’s the client who is asking for advertising. But our job is to talk to the audience. So what is it that we are required to do that the audience enjoys our chat with them. Then you are shifting from what you wanted to say, to what they would like to hear. That means we have to solve it in such a way that it intrigues the audience, surprises them, tickles them or makes them nostalgic. If I had to just say it straight, then the client could have said it himself and saved his money and the audience could have got bored listening to me.
I have to do something to it so that it sits better with the audience.
Vijay Randhawa: Should we call our industry as the communication business rather than the advertising industry?
Piyush: They call it anything that they feel like. It is about taking the message to the people and ensuring that they react in a fashion that is positive to your business. It can be word-of-mouth, film, digital or anything. Nomenclatures do not matter. I would still use a certain brand even if it said nothing. Nike has gone to the extent of just putting a swoosh and not even their brand name. But we know it’s Nike. How you behave is more important than what you are called.
Prasad: Since we are constantly bringing in cricket into the conversation, I would like to toss a question that used to constantly irritate former India skipper MS Dhoni. I am sure you know what the question is….
Piyush: When will you retire?... Well, look at the last one month and MS Dhoni’s performance in the IPL (which his team CSK ended up winning) and you will get the answer (laughs).
I don’t get irritated by that question. You can retire from a job. But how can you retire from thinking? When the time comes one has to retire. But, to retire one has to tire and I am not tired as yet.
Prasad: Since you think far ahead of time, like you did with these questions sometime back, have you planned for life after retirement?
Piyush: You heard Prasoon say some time back, don’t plan too much. When you plan for too much, then there are disappointments. Take every day as it comes and enjoy the day. Think about tomorrow and not about ten years ahead. There is a long life ahead. Things can change, climates can change, circumstances can change. Never plan too much.
Prasad: Has that been the philosophy with which you have planned your life?
Piyush: I had no clue. When I joined advertising I had no clue as to what the profession is all about.
Prasad: You were an account executive right?
Piyush: A trainee account executive. I was asked to get into creative because I was writing copy on the sly. That’s the other notorious thing that I did in my early days….
Prasad: But it’s speculated that you were moved to creative because you were not good at client servicing….
Piyush: I don’t know about that. At least, it was portrayed that I was very good, because I was promoted before anybody else and my clients used to pay my money before they paid anybody else. But I used to write copy for others. These were the transition days into the television medium (from Radio and print advertising). The copywriting team was largely English based and we had to reach the masses. So when they were in trouble, they came to me. When I wrote a few of those and they were appreciated, then I was asked to come to creative. When I joined creative and did reasonably well, then they told me now you become head of Mumbai office also. I have been playing Table Tennis in my career from both ends, but I have never planned anything. Once, I was asked would I want to be the successor of my boss and I said, “No. Who wants to be the head of a company?” Sometime later, I became the head of the company. One day you might find that I don’t want to be the captain and play under someone else like Sachin Tendulkar (Indian cricketing icon) did. It does not bother me. I love the game and I love the people who play the game.
Prasad: Have you ever felt like Tendulkar who wanted to concentrate on his batting rather than be bothered about captaincy?
Piyush: I have often felt like that and I operate like that. There are people in the office who take care of the other roles, though I am the chairman. But we work as a team. They score the runs and I collect the trophies (laughs).
(Edited excerpts from the hour long interview)