I’m one of the few people who knew their calling early on in life. My dad was a secretary at BBDO while I was growing up, and he used to tell me about shooting with Urmila Matondkar, and he used to return late from award shows, bringing home the coolest stuff (stress balls really caught my fancy). So I was always fascinated by advertising, and spent more time observing ads rather than regular TV programming. And here I am!
I’ve spent more than seven years in advertising, growing from trainee to group head while learning a lot on the way. I started my career at Ambience Publicis, spent a couple of years in Dubai, and have worked at Percept and Ogilvy. I’m currently working with M&C Saatchi as a Creative Group Head (Copy). I like listening to trashy hindi music, reading light material, watching standup and playing all kinds of sport.
I’ve handled clients like Mazda, Xerox, Giordano, Nokia, Rajasthan Tourism, Vodafone, Aditya Birla, Kotak, Marico, etc.
Why are you into Advertising?
Because it’s not 9 to 5, and because I generally have no sense of time – I feel tired in the mornings and alive at night. Because your mind can be constantly innovating and ideating and learning and adapting – even over weekends. Ideas can strike at any time. Even in your dreams. Each day you face a different challenge, and the solution you apply is never the same. There are just so many angles – you can lose yourself in discovering them. And there is no formula. And nobody is ever labeled a success, because you are only as good as your last campaign. And because the profession is a drug – you hate it as much as you love it, but you can’t leave it once you’ve been in it.
Did you attend school for fine art or design or Communications?
I have done my Bachelors in Mass Media from National College, and I think it’s the best thing to happen to my life. I actually took it up only because it didn’t have maths or accounts, and it turned out to be one of my best decisions. It changed me from an introvert bookworm into a confident and informed extrovert. It taught me to think beyond books. It taught me the value of team work. It made me freeze in front of a full classroom. It allowed me to choose topics that really interested me and explore them in depth (in lieu of grades even). I passed out from only the second ever batch of BMM. I wish a lot more young people today could easily take up the course, but I believe the cut-off percentages have shot up to as much as Science requires. I would strongly recommend the course (or even the south equivalent of it, viscom) for anyone who wants to enter advertising.
Tell us about your recent awards at Goa Fest 2011?
I won a gold and 2 silvers at Goa Fest and I remember my head pounding violently and uncontrollably – throbbing like it’s going to explode, as we were being announced winners. And the adrenaline was fuelled by the fact that the hatrick of awards was announced back to back to back – each time the loudspeaker wreaking havoc in my ears. For a creative person, this moment is what we live for. And it’s so bloody addictive. Once you’ve tasted blood, you’re hooked for life. (You can see the actual work at the bottom of the page.)
Were there any particular role models for you when you grew up?
I have always loved the underdog story. Guys who have had to slog it out, but have made it completely on their own. Be it an Abhay Deol or a Boman Irani. Guys like them inspired me to thinking that even regular people can achieve success through hard work. And when people gave me examples of successes, I always kept reminding them of the many forgotten names. For every Sachin Tendulkar or Zaheer Khan, there were millions of Dinesh Mongias, Reetinder Singh Sodhis, Abey Kuruvillas and Rajesh Chauhans. These are the guys who kept inspiring me to not be left out in the rat race. And to get up and get noticed.
Who was the most influential personality on your career in Advertising?
My first ever boss Venkatagiri Rao, who is now CD at Mudra Bombay. He always told me to be fearless, have fun and observe people keenly for real insights. He taught me not to be flippant or irreverent or sloppy or dishonest in communication. Because advertising is made for real people, not people we imagine up and put in neat little boxes, in large meeting rooms. He is one of the most intelligent creative people I’ve seen, and he hardly looked the part. That broke my first preconceived notion about advertising – that creative folks must have long hair, piercings, tattoos, torn jeans and converse shoes (the converse shoes bit is still true actually.)
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I believe that every human being is creative. At times, the strongest ideas in the room have come from my servicing partners. Inspiration is all around us. Like a photographer only adjusts his lens or frame to make an ordinary sight look extraordinary. Our mind has a lens. We just need to tweak it to look at all the different angles and facets. We humans are such interesting creatures. There is so much to observe and learn even today. I get my inspiration from everything I do or see. When your original facebook status message gets a dozen likes, you should know immediately that it can be turned into an ad for some product. I get inspiration from my dreams too.
You have worked in the Mid-East. How was the experience? Did you find language a barrier to working?
It was a wonderful experience simply because of the diversity of nationalities you deal with in the industry. The mid-east has people from over 40 different countries. But over 70% of the population is Indians. Agencies are mostly filled with Indians, whereas there are very few of them on the clients’ side. Language is not really a barrier. Advertising is pretty similar except for a few things. It is way more fast-paced with lesser thinking and turn-around time in the mid-east. Your employers and clients respect your weekends. You wear suits to award functions, not shorts. You drive a better car and drink finer scotch. There is no taxation, hence no annual investment allocation, and no fake rent receipts, medical bills or Form 16 or even the need for a CA.
Tell us something about the difference between print and TV in the mid-east vs India?
Very little TV work happens in the mid-east due to the sheer volume of channels, in all kinds of languages. So work there is generally print heavy. The idea is kept simple (because it has to comprehended by people from all kinds of backgrounds and orientations), but the art is next-level. It is polished till the image oozes oomph. Copy is just one little line. Indian print work is not so slick. It is very functional. TV in India is way better than in the mid-east.
What do you think of the state of Print advertising right now? At least here in India, the released work is most often too sad?
If print is getting relegated to a strictly support medium, so be it. That is the turn of the tide. There is a reason it is happening, and if it could be controlled or changed, it would have. There are far too many brilliant people in advertising, and they can’t all be getting things wrong. Clients may have to play safe because it is an expensive medium, and they have to justify ROI internally. The manner of reading today, be it magazines or newspapers, has become quick-flip rather than relaxed. So, as long as good work is happening on TV, virals, social media, gaming, interactive, direct, ambient, digital…advertising is safe.
Which is your current favourite ad in print? Which is your current favourite ad on TV? Any current favourites in Radio? Online?
Har ek friend zaroori hota hai is superb. In the recent past, Cadbury’s Shubh Aarambh campaign, especially the ‘elope’ ad, was lovely. The KBC campaigns have consistently had a great approach. Nothing else worth mentioning currently. But I respect each piece of work that has made it to the newspapers or TV. Because it has gotten there after ample amount of research, brainstorming, presentations (both internally and to the client), many rounds of revisions, polishing, crafting, finalizing. And I’m sure a lot of great work has forever gotten lost in a blackhole, due to this iterative process.
Do you think brands whose advertising wins awards, do well in the market?
This is the reason I respect the Effies more than the Abbies. While scam is good for your folio and your career growth, it will never help you in figuring out how to crack briefs. And at the end of the day, that’s the most important skill you must have as a creative person. That being said, the answer to the question is a definite yes. Refer to similar past interviews of real advertising greats – examples abound.
What advice do you have for aspiring creative professionals?
Keep it simple. Keep it fresh. Creativity is not a whim, it’s a discipline.
Don’t be scared of voicing your opinion. Always learn to hear your gut. Train yourself to understand it. As you grow, your gut will grow stronger and finally become almost invincible. Travel a lot, even alone. Never mix your personal and professional lives. Embrace technology, or you’ll be left behind really easily.
Since I’ve come up the hard way in advertising, I always like helping out young people who are confused today just the way I was seven years back. If you want to chat, have self doubt, want me to review your folio or have specific questions related to the industry, career growth, pay scales or anything, drop me a line at ganapathy (dot) ramachandran (at) gmail (dot)com and I’ll try to help you out as best I can.
Two important tips – prepare to forget your social life for the first 5 years in advertising. And remember that in India, the first half of your career you will be terribly underpaid, and the second half you’ll be terribly overpaid (if you’re good). Watch TED videos, Discovery Science and TLC. Know about a lot of ajeeb things. You never know which one is going to form the basis of your next ad campaign.
Recommended reading: Hey Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan. The D&AD Copy Book. The One Show Annual Gold on Gold section (where the people who came up with that year’s most awarded campaigns tell us how it happened). Always be curious. Feed your mind more knowledge every day. And always be humble. Attitude is the biggest destroyer of many creative minds.
Please visit the following sites: oatmeal, gaping void, explosm, adofdamonth, adfreak, adsoftheworld, cracked, onion.
Make mistakes – that’s the only way you’ll learn. Every time a CD rejects you, take it as inspiration to work harder rather than losing confidence – I was rejected by almost a dozen CDs. Even if you don’t write a blog, at least maintain a blog of stuff that you find inspiring. Always make notes of your ideas. And finally, advertising is very small – always think of the larger world.
Who would you like to take out for dinner?
Kim Kardashian. Why you ask? Here’s a clue – we have stimulating intelligent conversation in advertising all the time.
What’s on your iPod?
Mummy ko nahin hai pataa, Ding dong ding dole, Mann tu talbat (you get the drift)….and some assorted electronic dance music (house and trance)
Mac or PC?
Having worked extensively on both platforms, I must admit that I love the simplicity of working on the mac. But I think a writer will be more comfortable with a PC (which I now use and prefer) at his/her workplace due to the familiarity with the concentric filing system, to store the millions of assorted word docs in a way that they can be found easily at a later date.