Started many moons ago as copywriter.
Currently Regional Creative Director, Mumbai and South, Contract Advertising.
Last position: Executive Creative Director, Contract Mumbai. Personally written many memorable and award winning campaigns on brands like Cadbury (brands like Eclairs, Halls, Celebrations), Shoppers Stop, Tata Indicom, HSBC (Bank brand/Premier/PowerVantage/MyHome/MyTerms), Asian Paints, Bajaj Auto, NIIT, Kinetic Auto, SKF Bearings, Allianz Bajaj, Waterburys Compound, Blues Bizaar, JK Tyre, Ceat Tyres…
Juror, Cannes Direct Lions, 2011.
#66 on MEDIA Top 100 Creative Directors, Asia.
Winner: The CUP for newnationalanimal.com
Best Of Show – Direct Integrated, 360 Lotus and Lotus Root at Asia AdFest 2010 for www.newnationalanimal.com
Silver + 2 Bronze Spikes 2009 for www.newnationalanimal.com
Cannes Nomination 2009 for www.newnationalanimal.com
Winner: Over 200 International and National Advertising Awards and Certifications.
Why are you into Advertising?
Quite simple, really. My parents wanted me to become an engineer. (It’s kind of a Malayali thing, some of you will get it.) Then, despite seeing me fail the various engineering college entrance exams miserably, they then insisted that they still saw a professional buried somewhere in the recesses of me. And made me enroll for B.Com in the hope that I would become a Chartered Accountant, one day. Needless to say, I flunked that miserably as well.
I started out in life trying to make people sample a then (late 1980s) popular brand of cigarettes. Couldn’t. Standing on pavements in hot and sticky Calcutta made me dizzy and nauseous.
I almost made the grade to sell Vacuum Cleaners, door to door. (No prizes for guessing the brand. Discovering that lugging it around wasn’t exactly the lift my career needed.)
My father then got me a job in a company called National Plywood Industries. He knew the Managing Director and, suddenly, I was the assistant to the Purchase Officer. (That sounds fancy. It wasn’t. I pushed registers. The only thing fancy about it was that the office was, incidentally, at 5, Fancy Street, Dalhousie, Kolkata.)
But it was here that I had my first close encounter with advertising. Apart from pushing registers, I also had to disburse payments to suppliers. One of which was the advertising agency, Clarion. I saw illustrated storyboards for TVCs attached to bills. And I started to think, “Hey, perhaps I could do this?”
Now, it’s safe to say that about the only thing I did reasonably well in school was dream. And write a bit. Essays I wrote got published in the school mag.
But there wasn’t any magical break in advertising in store in Kolkata for me as my parents relocated very soon to Kerala.
I then, tried to get a job in advertising in Chennai. But I just couldn’t plumb the dank, dismal, dark depths of a hell – hole called Triplicane. So I packed my bags in less than a week and ran back really quick to Kochi.
I finally got a job in Kochi itself in a small agency called Space Ad run by a gent called Gireesan who introduced me to Bill Bernbach, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and copious quantities of Hercules XXX rum, not in any particular order.
After about a year of having a ball in Kochi with Gireesan and almost losing my liver to jaundice, rum, arrack and various other spirits, I finally landed in the Field of Opportunity that is Mumbai.
And got my first job here in a small set up that handled Eagle Flasks and Fantasie Chocolates (among others) called DART (Dynamic Advertising & Research Team – fancy that!!!)
Very early into the game, I realized that there was really little else I could have done in life. Sure I was a drop – out from conventional life, especially professionally. But I was born for this. I was born to dream. To conjure words and pictures out of my head. And I found advertising a great medium to help people appreciate the essence of what I’m trying to say. And I also found the ability to be able to influence people to make choices with my words and pictures quite thrilling. (Of course, this need not necessarily mean that all of society’s drop – outs will do well in advertising.)
Did you attend school for fine art or design or Communications?
How was your experience being a part of the jury at Cannes?
I was part of the Direct Lions Jury. It was humbling, exciting, educational and phenomenal all at once. 26 jury members from 23 different countries. With diverse backgrounds and vast cultural differences. And yet when it came to picking the winners, every time, somehow, it was by and large unanimous.
It was also extremely hard work, being closeted in a dark room seeing and evaluating work over 6 days for around 10 hours each day, when you knew the azure Mediterranean Sea, brilliant sunshine, bikini clad beauties and white sand was just outside the window.
Were there any particular role models for you when you grew up?
Outside of advertising, there are musicians, writers, film directors, both Indian and international but quite frankly, too many to mention.
Who was the most influential personality on your career in Advertising?
In advertising, Bill Bernbach. And Mohammed Khan.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Is it ever just one source? Everything. And everyone. What I see. What I hear. What I touch. What I eat. What I smell. And what I dream. And, (don’t tell anybody), what ever I can steal.
Tell us something about the work environment at Contract…
It’s a bit odd for me to describe the work environment at Contract myself. Because I can safely say that I work hard at helping create it.
Let me touch upon a few things people have played back to me.
Free. Fair. Fun. Apolitical. A place that tries very hard to create good work. A place that tries to fight very hard for good work.
Do you have any kind of a program to nurture and train young talent?
Contract’s proprietary program is Unboxing. This is not just to nurture young talent. This also encourages all our people and our clients to think out of the box. To attack a problem from various different angles. To develop comprehensive product/category/competition understanding. To understand, very early, that there is always more than solution to a problem. And for brands to Grow Young.
What has changed in Contract since you got promoted to the post of regional creative director, Mumbai and South?
The overall quality of work from Mumbai and the South has improved. The Diwali and Rakhi work for Cadbury Celebrations in 2010 and 2011, the campaigns for Eclairs, Halls, Asian Paints Royale & Play and of course, Shoppers Stop. The work that launched AskMe voice directory in Mumbai. The launch of Vladivar out of Bengaluru, especially the Vladivar Rock’n’India Metallica campaign and work on Louis Philippe. All of these are instances that deserve special mention.
There has been stability at the top rung of creative.
The atmosphere is good.
People, across the board, young and old, want to create good work.
What about new and young film makers/photographers? Do you consciously keep looking for newer talent and try someone completely new?
It’s fair to say that Contract would have had a role to play in launching many a career. Be it Photographer, Film – maker, Model, Acting Talent. And this has always been a practice followed by most creative directors who have worked here. Not just me.
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? Why do you think it has lost the shine? Why are the younger lot more interested in TV?
The overall quality of print advertising still hangs in the balance. It’s not fair to say that it’s all a waste of time and paper. There is definitely some good work happening.
There is work created by Alok Nanda Communication on brands like Barista, Lodha, Crossword that has been consistently good. Ideas@Work’s campaign for the clothing brand Stephen Brothers a year or so back was stand – out. Taproot’s work for TOI has been good.
And of course, the print and outdoor work on the Shoppers Stop brand that we have produced over the last 5 years has consistently won awards at the Abbies as well as Retail Communication Awards. I’m only naming the examples that coming off the top of my head but I’m certain there are more.
A lot of print advertising that you see in newspapers and magazines are led primarily by three or four categories – namely, retail, real estate, automotive and banks/finance. And there is no doubt about the fact there is a lot to be desired about the overall quality of work. But if agencies are willing to invest effort and hard work in ideation/client persuasion/execution, one would undoubtedly see a lot better work.
More and more young people are web savvy and want to work on the internet or on more entrepreneurial ventures. Has that affected the quality of people advertising has been getting?
Advertising will always attract creative people. Of this I have no doubt. At Contract, we have been, for the last two years running a very successful initiative called LetsMakeADifference whereby we have invited ideation from across the agency offices, across all disciplines, of a completely non-traditional nature. Ideation entirely focused on business driving digital/mobile/activation ideas. These ideas are first shortlisted by an internal senior team. And then judged by a panel of our eminent clients. The shortlisted and winning ideas are then taken to clients across the board. This has been a driving force in creating work across brands across completely non-traditional media. Everyone rolls up their sleeves and gets into the idea generation act. And it’s a great vehicle for learning for the young and old, alike.
In fact, when I review portfolios, the more examples of non-traditional work (outside of conventional media such as TV, Print, Radio, Outdoor) that I see in books, the more excited I am.
Do you think brands whose advertising wins awards, do well in the market?
A few examples of brands that regularly win advertising awards:
Times Of India.
Cadbury Dairy Milk.
Need I really talk about whether these brands do well in the market?
What advice do you have for aspiring creative professionals?
There are no short cuts to success and certainly no formula for instant glory. A one – off proactive ad for an NGO may just win you a Cannes Gold. But come a couple of years later, not even the ad industry jurors it was aimed at will remember it.
But compare that to the joy of seeing your work discussed on Facebook and being shared all over the world. The absolute thrill of that shiver you experience travelling down your spine when you realize the people remember your work from over 15 years back.
THAT is primarily why I am in this business. And THAT, my young friends, is the test of an advertising creative person who’s here to stay. Because it’s all about occupying the mind space of people with the communication we create, making that indelible impression, helping them remember the work and the brand. For years.
Pick and tell us about one of all your past campaigns, your personal favourite…
This is a really tough one. What I am being asked is to pick a favourite child among all my babies.
So I’m just going to name all the really stand out ones. (I could just go on and on but I’ll spare you.)
As Writer: Ceat “Tomato” (my first film ever). Blues Bizaar (my first print campaign ever). GIC “Locks”. BPL Magic Of Music “Listen”. NIIT Vishwanathan Anand. Kinetic Zing “Hawa Nikaal Dey”. All recent Shoppers Stop Brand. Cadbury Celebrations Tohfa, Cadbury Celebrations Lonely Maa, Halls Station Polar Bear, Vladivar RocknIndia with Metallica.
As Creative Head and co-writer: Ask Me Naked Man.
As Creative Head – Cadbury Celebrations Khadoos Chacha, newnationalanimal.com, Cadbury Eclairs Meethaa Bomb.
What is your dream project?
It’s too early to let it out of my dreams. (Let it take a bit more shape.)
Who would you like to take out for dinner?
As men go, I’d love to hang out with Sean Penn (the actor) and quiz him about how he has gone about selecting the kind of roles he has enacted and even enquire about his directorial work.
And if it’s a woman, Monica Bellucci. Her unabashed sex appeal and presence would have me pretty much tongue – tied, I guess.
What’s on your iPod?
148 GB or about 20000 songs of the most eclectic &%*! that can, albeit presumptuously, but safely be labeled as every music aficionado’s wet dream come true.
Mac or PC?
Oh, obviously, Mac, iPod, iPad, iPhone.