Tailor is an independent creative agency based in the green Chembur suburb of Mumbai and is spearheaded by four senior Creative Directors. Founded by Kaushik Mitra (ex-Leo Burnett) in mid-2010, the team includes ex-colleagues Kiran Chandorkar (Art), Gopal MS (Copy) and Sadanand Narvekar (Art). The senior team have between over an average 15 years of experience across categories and have won over 100 domestic and international advertising awards. Tailor works by spending quality time on each brand, understand the category, and then gain insights on the potential consumer who will buy into the brand. The focus at Tailor is customised creative ideas.
Why are you in advertising?
When I was growing up in Calcutta in the 1980s and 90s. I used to enjoy quizzing, reading the newspaper, Reader’s Digest, India Today and various other magazines. In school, I used to enjoy writing essays, as writing let me interconnect my learnings from various fields. I learnt about the existence of ad agencies from a close friend in school whose family owned an agency. Before that I used to think companies create their own ads. The quality of ads on mainline newspapers were quite smart in those days, and I started looking out for the key number. Soon, I became familiar with names such as Trikaya Grey, Ogilvy, Contract, Clarion. Secretly, I started imagining a career as an ad writer, though publicly I opted to study science in class XI and was preparing to crack the American universities. Luckily, I didn’t receive 100% scholarship in the American colleges that accepted me and I opted to major in Economics from Calcutta University. It was in this phase that I could become more brave and started applying at agencies. In July 94, I started off at Clarion Calcutta as a copy trainee at a princely salary of Rs 2000. After that, I have never had to consider another profession. Even now, when I hear about ex-colleagues dabbling in Bollywood, it does not excite me. Advertising is what I love, though I agree it can serve as a training ground to almost any other profession.
What made you start Tailor?
Though I love advertising, I hate watching ads on TV. Most of the ads today are rubbish. I zap channels to run away from stupid stuff that tries to entertain, but is usually completely disconnected from a product or its benefit.
I think in the last few years specially, our business has become completely personality driven. Today, National Creative Directors and Chairmen are more famous than the agency they work for. They try to protect and enhance their reputation by doing a certain type of work. Even the people they surround themselves with are usually meant to extend their style or line of thinking. Somewhere, the need to do work according to a brand’s personality has been completely forgotten.
I started Tailor in mid-2010 because I didn’t want to be part of this trend. I first invited Kiran Chandorkar (ex-Leo Burnett) to join me as Art Creative Director. Then together we invited Sadanand Narvekar (ex-McCann) and MS Gopal (ex-Ogilvy) to come in as additional art and copy Creative Directors. We had all worked together in Leo Burnett, Mumbai, and were familiar with each other’s strengths. The idea was to create a common platform where a variety of ideation and design skills could merge and help us provide a wider, richer set of solutions. We wanted to avoid falling into the trap best captured by the expression ‘Those who only carry a hammer tend to look upon every problem as a nail.’
Tailor in its ownhumble way attempts to provide bespoke, customized solutions. Every job for us starts from the scratch and is decided not by what we are strong in, but by what is needed for a particular client and the situation the brand finds itself in. There are no recycled scripts or ‘one size fits all’ solutions. In fact, they need not even be ads. They could be product design or a service innovation, and later ads to communicate the same. I think this is what advertising agencies were meant to do but somewhere started competing amongst themselves with their own self-branding.
What has been the reaction of clients and industry to this kind of thinking?
At Tailor, we like to stick to the work and not really go around hogging the limelight. In fact, this is my first interview in media where we are talking about the company and its philosophy. I think, most large-sized network agencies are inward looking and they continue to do what they think is working for them. I don’t think they stop to analyse what’s wrong and correct the course very often; unless the pointers come from a regional who’s who.
I find clients to be more open. Though we still end up doing a lot of print, outdoor, television and ads for the traditional media, there are many clients we meet who are looking for alternative thinking. They are open, they’re willing to hear ideas. We have presented a condominium design to a builder client. A popular newspaper got excited when we shared with them a totally new design of their paper starting from the front page. So the process has started with more and more independent agencies joining in, focusing deeper`on a tighter array of brands and thinking of unlazy solutions.
Do you think the advertising business in India is undergoing a change?
As a culture, India doesn’t change very quickly. We take longer to attach and detach, and that’s a good thing. But in the last few years, many independent agencies have started and are churning out some of the best work on view. We can see the reactions clients have to this change also. Today, some of the India’s most valuable brands such as Pepsi, Times of India, Airtel and Audi are hiring independent agencies for work which is cheaper-faster-better. This is great news, and we seem to be following what happened in America 20-25 years ago with the start of Widen-Kennedy, Carmichael Lynch, Crispin Porter Bogusky and many others.
Is there any agency which serves as a role model for you while building Tailor?
The word ‘agency’ reeks of a broking house model. You choose the media and give us an X percent commission. You choose a filmmaker and give us a Y percent commission. We are not a broker. Tailor is an independent brand building company which works on a fee model and we are not consciously modeling ourselves on anybody, though we are sure we are not the only ones thinking along these lines.
Is there any particular work that you have done which has helped build a brand?
Yes. Most of the work we have done in the short span of three years or so has greatly helped our clients. The target audiences and product categories have been different every time. For instance, we helped the Times of India Group launch only their second regional language newspaper in the last 50 years (after Navbharat Times). This was the launch of ‘EiSamay’ (Modern Times) in Kolkata. The brand decided to urge the modern-day Bengali reader to not just bask in the rich heritage of the past, but to create his own niche in the world. The tagline translated into English was, ‘Make these times your times’.
Since most of the TV channels in West Bengal are owned by rival groups, we put together a music video to be played in clubs and concerts. For that, we got together India’s first folk-rock band which started in 1975, and five subsequent bands that have taken the genre forward. The theme of the launch commercial cum music video cum brand anthem was to show how the baton of creativity is taken forward by subsequent generations. The newspaper is today the No.2 read in Bengal.
Similarly, we helped the US-based Topps Sports & Entertainment Co. launch a trading card game in India based on IPL. Targeted largely at kids and their parents, the Cricket Attax cards encourage a game of T20 with all its player auctions and strategies, but without needing a large ground, the bat and the ball. There are many more examples of brands which we have launched successfully available on the Tailor website.
How important is strategy to having good creative?
The thinking behind the work has to be smart before the work can be smart. At Tailor, we spend a lot of time understanding brands, the category and the consumer before we start the process of creative storytelling. Though we are a creative driven brand building company, our first focus is strategy and finding the right insight.
How can aspiring fresh talent work with you at Tailor?
This is something we talk about quite often at Tailor. When we meet starry-eyed youngsters who have just graduated from art and communication schools, we see most of them not quite sure where to start. Most of them want to start at a big agency because of their reputation. Some of the lucky few manage to get in; until they start working on stuff nobody else wants to work on, and then they just disappear into a huge cesspool of talent. This creates huge amount of disillusionment.
Then there are others who don’t know how to present ideas and worse, what is currently wrong with their portfolio. So they just keep hearing from Creative Directors ‘We will get back to you’ and never hear what they need to hear.
Sadanand Narvekar, senior Art Creative Director at Tailor, is very keen to change this. He spends a lot of time meeting fresh art graduates, tells them what is right, what is wrong, and sometimes when they need more time than just one-two meetings, he takes them under his wing and trains them until they become industry-ready. I think this is a great way to learn on the job what they can’t teach you at the art schools.
Who would your creative team like to take out for dinner?
Our creative team has a very diverse set of inspirations. I know it is fashionable for Creative Directors to look at non-advertising people for inspiration, but for me the people who motivate me to perform better at work are usually the advertising greats. I think I will pick Marcello Serpa.
The Tailor office looks as inspiring as its work: