Interview with Gavin Barrett (Guy behind the Give Me Red Campaign)

signatureGavin Barrett is the man behind the Eveready Give Me Red campaign. He now runs his own shop in Canada. A lot of young creatives grew up watching your ‘Gimme Red Campaign”. Tell us about it.

This will be the only long answer, I promise.
It started with a great brief created by Subroto “SG” Ghosh, who was the group account director at the time.
It was an exciting time.
The Indian market was about to change.
Pepsi had begun making waves in the market. Coke had not yet launched.
MTV was entering India through bootleg tapes and Star TV had just begun broadcasting.
There was more money and younger people spending it, on new goods like walkmans and discmans.
Batteries were no longer destined for “transistor radios”.
That was the old Eveready. “The Chosen One for Your Transistor.”
I had to find a way to connect with what would later be called the MTV/Channel V generation.
I went through three rounds of creative development – some of them were fantastic ideas that I’ve saved to this day.
But Shanta (V Shantakumar) kept pushing me to go one further.

I knew Give me Red was the big idea when it came to me.I wanted the TV commercial to feel like something that could run on MTV – and so I wrote a spot that was both a parody and an homage.
I still have the original scripts – which I typed on the single beige Mac Apple SE that Rediff had at the time.
It was written in a program called MacWrite. It reminds me that I’m practically an ancient!
Rediff was going through an unusual time in which everybody collaborated in making sure that great work made it to market.
ACD Bugs Bhargava went to Calcutta and sold the idea to the client.
Shanta told me that Bugs dressed up as a doddering old man to represent the old brand, then left the boardroomand returned a few minutes later dressed as a hip young college student with a walkman and headphones.
GM Conrad Saldanha went to Hong Kong to supervise the special effects.
Sharad Nigvekar rose to the occasion and designed a completely fresh layout for the ads and outdoor.Lalit Ajgaonkar who was the film executive and a friend of mine from St Xavier’s, recommended Ehsaan Noorani, who wrote the killer track.
I had a blast writing everything and working with all these amazing people. I think it shows.
When I moved to Hong Kong, Rahul Bose took over as writer on the campaign.
He wrote an even bigger TV spot and the campaign kept going from strength to strength.
Still, that first campaign, especially the TV spot, was a breakthrough.
I heard they stopped using Give Me Red as a line only a couple of years ago.
Tell us about your work overseas. How did it start.
Even as the campaign was winning every award in the book, I was in Hong Kong meeting creative directors.I was hungry for a new challenge.
I received three offers and I picked the lowest paying one because it was a chance to work at JWT with Eddie Booth.

What made you start your own agency in Canada?
I got tired of making other people rich.

You are a published poet, so why have you stuck to advertising?
I’ve got an MA in Literature so I know a lot about starving poets.But in 20 years in the business I’ve never heard of a starving ad guy.

Did you always want to get into advertising?
To be honest my mother tricked me into my advertising job.
I had just finished my BA. Without my knowledge, she submitted a short story I wrote in a competition that was an undercover Lintas talent search.
CY Gopinath liked the story, called me in, fed me snacks and made me do a battery of copy tests, and then hired me.
He was an amazing creative director.

Was there any time when you wanted to quit advertising?
Yes. Tomorrow.


Were there any particular role models for you when growing up?
My mother was an amazing woman who taught me to value integrity, passion and intellectual freedom more than money.

Who was the most influential personality in your advertising career?
A few.
CY Gopinath at Lintas. A renaissance man with the patience of Job.
Eddie Booth at JWT HK. Brilliant, relentless, ambitious.
Jeff Fergus who was the Regional Chairman at Leo Burnett HK. He electrified the room.
John Hayter when he was Chairman at Arnold Worldwide Canada. A gentleman with balls of steel.
Stuart D’Rosario of Barry D’Rozario Murphy – we became friends in Hong Kong. Probably the most talented Indian advertising guy I know.
I watch him and shake my head in amazement.

How has advertising changed over the course of your career?
I think creative people have forgotten what a brand is.

Is execution/art direction more important than it used to be?
I’ve been an art director too, so I take a balanced view.
Do you think advertising has become more clever and less intelligent?
I don’t think a lot of the work out there is either intelligent or clever.
For the most part, it’s just a lot of ad guys talking to themselves and then giving each other lumps of gold-plated lead in a frenzy of self-congratulation.
All the work we see is vaguely similar to other work.
Nobody’s pushing really hard to be truly original.

How is advertising in Canada different from India and SE Asia?
It’s incredibly difficult to do good work here.
Canadian clients love a safe bet and the best creative work is all about taking a risk.
Hong Kong was incredibly exciting when I was there.
For me, India is the most exciting place in the world as far as advertising is concerned.
Taxi Toronto or Ogilvy Mumbai? Which one is a more creative?
Ogilvy Mumbai. And I’m not saying that just because Russell (my brother) used to work there.

What would you advise youngsters who want to work overseas?
Try damn hard to be the best everywhere you go.

I have heard stories that it is difficult for immigrants to break in the Canadian advertising scene, what is your take?
It is. But I could do it, so clearly any idiot can. ;-)

What makes a good Creative Director?
Balls. Brains. Heart.

Balls to fight for a great idea all the way to the bitter end.
Brains to know a good idea when you see one, and hopefully brains enough to resist the temptation to “make it better.”
Heart to give your creative people permission to fuck up because it will free them to do great work.

What are your views on Scam Advertising?
Is there another kind?

Do you think brands whose advertising wins awards, do well in the market?
Yes. If it’s a real ad for a real client for a real market.

We hardly get to see Illustration based Art Direction. What do you think is the reason? Is it that we don’t have any inspiring illustrators or is it the Client?
I love illustration. I just think art directors don’t think of it enough. Clients will buy whatever’s right for the brand.

Who would you want to spend a dinner with?
My wife. Always my wife.

Whats on your iPod?
Gnarls Barkley. Autorickshaw. Arun Krishnan’s How To Learn Hindi From Bollywood podcasts. Fela Kuti. James Brown. Shaggy. Amy Winehouse.

Mac or PC?
Mac since 1987. red red bike

8 thoughts on “Interview with Gavin Barrett (Guy behind the Give Me Red Campaign)

  1. Dalbir says:

    BTW, here’s a link to Gavin’s agency in Toronto: http://www.barrettandwelsh.com

  2. Keshav Maharjan says:

    Yet another inspiring interview….Cheers!!!

  3. jishnu says:

    i have always loved the ‘Give Me Red’ campaign. it was great reading this interview. keep it up, DesiCreative! All the best Gavin!

  4. Babar Azeem says:

    I love this Campaign Great work

  5. Babar Azeem says:

    I know him his name is Sharad Nigwekar

  6. aamir says:

    Truly inspiring!!!
    these guyz are the abba’s of advertising in Sub Continent.

  7. Disha Singh says:

    Refreshing and inspiring! Gavin get back to India man!

  8. F. Barrett says:

    Jesus! Wow, I didn’t know this existed. Is this real? He’s never talked about it…

    -his daughter

    p.s. His name is not Sharad Nigwekar. wtf?

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