Born in India and raised by fish, Dave Barry and advertising, Raj doodles his time away as a copywriter by the window of OgilvyOne’s Hong Kong office. When not posing for the camera, he’s also been known to smile.
Why are you in Advertising?
Figured that it was the only profession where I could pour myself a drink in the morning and explain it away to my wife as ‘work’.
Did you always want to get into advertising?
No, not until I ran out of every other option.
How come Hong Kong? Was language/culture, a significant challenge to be overcome?
Seemed like a welcome adventure after 4 sleepy years in Bangalore. Got in touch with a kind soul at Ogilvy called Tony Peck, who got me onboard. Stayed on.
There’s probably only one other Indian creative on the whole island. Lots of stares whenever I used to walk into a client meeting in the beginning. And plenty more when I used to walk out. Turned out most clients get just don’t ‘get’ humour. That’s a big ask; getting brands to loosen up. There’s an unwritten rule that your ads have to feature beautiful, anorexic people – the word I think is ‘premium’. Hate to admit this, but Indian clients are a lot braver.
The second big challenge was to unlearn the TV/print formula and rewire myself to think digitally. Interactive leads the way in this land of PSPs.Third, job titles. They’re handed out far less generously. We’ve 35-year old Cannes winners in office still calling themselves Senior Writers. A bit of a shock to my spoilt Indian ways.
And finally, chopsticks. And using them to munch fried chicken’s feet, literally fried chicken’s feet, claws, skin, wrinkles et al.
Were there any particular role models for you when you grew up?
Who was the most influential personality on your career in advertising?
Two Tonys and a tiger.
Tony Lawrence, ex-CD at McCann Bangalore, the best writer bar none that I have ever met and the man who literally taught me how to write – with a felt tip, on a big white layout pad, starting at either corner, and finishing at Koshy’s. There cannot be a more genuine human being in business.
Tony Peck, ex-ECD at Ogilvy HK for giving me a break in this alien city. Used to surf waves, write headlines, charm women and chat up clients all in the same hour. Believed in his people. Taught us to take advertising with a pinch of salt, and lime.
Amitabh Bhattacharya, once my CD at Mccann Bangalore and now producing features, for giving me my first break in advertising. Taught me how to think film. Loud and generous with both laughter and invectives.
How has advertising changed over the course of your career? Is execution/art direction more important than it used to be? Think advertising has become more clever and less intelligent?
Frankly I don’t get the ‘Clever versus intelligent’ debate – don’t see the fuss. Splitting hairs.
To me, execution is about thinking through a campaign and making it work across all 360 degrees. That’s what we all try to do isn’t it? Sit down with the ATL, BTL and interactive teams together on the same brief. That to me is execution. How well have you exploded your idea across relevant channels? Burger King’s subservient chicken. Is it intelligent? Don’t think so. Not even too original – guys in costume have been around. But executed well? To perfection.
What do you think of the current state of Print Advertising versus TV? (one gets to see, on an average, better TV than Print)
It’s hard to explain why. From experience, it’s so much tougher to see your baby make it to the screen. Print should be an easier sell. But isn’t.One reason may be that TV is what makes clients famous. Print is old news, really. It’s almost how Lalit Modi must see test cricket. But it’s also to do with the media itself. Newspapers have underpriced themselves to a point where they’re little more than glorified leaflets with a little bit of editorial thrown in. The same thing is happening with TV in Hong Kong. It’s become too mass. Tactical. Clients are saving the sizzle for digital.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Popurls.com, jamango.com, theonion.com
Do you think brands whose advertising wins awards, do well in the market?
No causal relationship whatsoever.
Was there any time when you wanted to quit advertising?
Once a week, once a weekend.
What makes a good Creative Director?
There’s this piece that I had once read: “There will never be a perfect Creative Director. If you’re dictatorial, you’ll be considered an egomaniac. If you’re passive, people will doubt your commitment. If you create advertising yourself, your team will consider you competition. If you delegate too much, you’re lazy. If you align with the management, you’re a politician. If you align yourself with the creatives, you’re divisive. You’ll never please anyone. So quit worrying and get on with getting ads done, somehow. That’s the only way you can measure yourself.”It’s amazing how anyone can pull it off, but people like Tony & Jakes at McCann, and Thomas Xavier at Burnett Bangalore came pretty close. You need to be a bit of a patriarch I guess. Understanding, forgiving, inspiring.
What are your views on Scam Advertising?
Think about it: selling out and producing crap work is also a kind of cheating isn’t it? You’re cheating on ideas, cheating to lose, really. Or you can ‘cheat’ to win. I prefer the latter.
What would you like to say about the quality of advertising coming from Hong Kong?
Digital – awesome. The rest – falling behind a bit. The whole award culture had faded away in the early 2000s due to SARS, economy slump etc etc, but now there are signs of revival. We just struck silver at Clio and Caples for our Jockey Club work. Burnett is doing some stellar stuff too.
Any current work in Indian Advertising that you find exciting? Especially Print?
The books are full of them. But can’t recollect anything off the cuff, except the Luxor work. Radio seems like rich territory, heard some funny spots on my last trip. (No more Sholay spoofs please.)
We hardly get to see Illustration based Art Direction. What do you think is the reason? Is it that we dont have any inspiring illustrators or is it the Client?
On the contrary I see too much of it in the Archives. Do it only if you can do it the Banksy way.
Are you sending anything to Cannes this year?
Apart from the usual Economist posters and other pro-bono pieces, our biggest bet is on a very ‘real’ mobile application we created for Guinness beer who sponsored the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens 2008. Rugby Sevens is a huge event, and attracts nearly 20-40,000 expats and overseas fans to the city ever year. The problem? HK not speak English lah. So you need help. Our mobile app is basically a ‘talking’ guide that you can download to your phone and it tells you where to find Guinness pubs, major tourist landmarks, phrases to direct the cab driver, tournament info –and here’s the best part – all this in fluent Cantonese. Makes great sense if you’re a tourist staggering around drunk and lost for directions to the stadium/pub/pick up joint. Flip out your your phone and let it do the talking. Download it from here today!
Who would you want to spend a dinner with?
My wife, and a fish.
What’s on your iPod?
Never owned one.
Mac or PC?
PC– it’s more piracy friendly.
(1,400,000 children around the world can only see their beloved kitten through their hands. Visit www.orbis.org.hk/kids/friends for support.)