Sandipan Deb : In Conversation With An Advertising Creative

Sandipan Deb is an advertising creative who also happens to be one of the youngest minds in the industry, bending its creative norms and pushing its hard-set boundaries – one idea at a time. At 25, he already had a Cannes Lion to his name and went on to secure another, during just his 3rd year into the mad ad world.

This young creative believes in a loaded resume before a loaded wallet and his accolades prove it. With more than 60 national and international awards including the Cannes Lions, a Young Lion shortlist, Spikes, Effie, OneShow Shortlist, Promax, Abbys, Adfest, Spott, Kyoorius Young Blood, Young Shit (Droga5 portfolio award), he plans to add more to the kitty even before he turns 30. His phenomenal contributions also fuelled his entry as a shadow juror at the Kyoorius Creative Awards 2022.

In his 5-yr long journey so far, a passion for thinking and an ability to gather powerful insights have led him to shape the digital landscape while creating for some of the most-loved names on the internet like TATA, KFC, ASUS, EarlySalary, Aditya Birla Health Insurance, MTV India, Times of India Digital, BIG FM, Khatabook, Baskin & Robbins, Bosch, Amazon Prime Video, VISA, British Council,, and movie/show marketing projects like URI: The Surgical Strike, Thappad, Article 15, Men in Black and more.

When not busy leading with ideas, he leads a team of talented creative writers and art directors today. And when not brainstorming on the newest brief, he loves to pen down stories, screenplays and plans on channelling his love for filmmaking in the years to come.

A little about yourself:
Well, I’m a writer/thinker in advertising with a lot of hope in my heart that my ideas will see the light at the end of the day. I try to sleep well at night and wake up with the strangest and craziest ideas for the desk. By 8:30 pm, I stop taking myself seriously, and by 8:32, everyone else stops. I am a sucker for memes, and I think meme as a category or a creative field needs more acknowledgement and appreciation. I weigh above 80, and that makes me humble and keeps me grounded (pun intended). I like having a dessert even after a homely dal-chawal meal. Like other creatives in the industry, I aim to work hard enough till the day I no longer need to introduce myself. I breathe in, I breathe out and most often snort too. I’m as human as everyone. (Laughs)

Why are you into Advertising?
To be honest, I believe this is the only profession where you’re paid to have imaginations. Though, there are other creative fields which have the same perks like filmmaking, music, writing, painting, photography, and what not. But there’s only one profession where you get to do them all in one – advertising. It’s like a dating app for creative individuals to have a fling with different creative expressions and yet stay single and uncommitted forever.
Mostly, I’m in advertising because I enjoy it. Since a kid, I have always been a fan of television commercials. Later, while doing my graduation, I discovered it in depth and in an instant, I was drawn to it. It’s fun. It’s ever evolving. It’s contagious. And, it makes you proud of what you do.

Did you attend school for fine art or design or Communications?
Fortunately, I did attend a school for advertising. While doing my under graduation in Mass Communication, I was introduced to a module called Advertising and Public Relation. It blew my mind. At the end of the course, I had an offer from an agency. But I decided to pursue the field further and decided to learn from the best. Wanting to learn design and visual communication, I applied at NID. But unfortunately, I couldn’t clear the entrance. Miami Ad School’s fees was something I couldn’t afford. I was stubborn enough not to take any educational loan. The next I did was find other colleges where I could get to be under some of the finest creative practitioners and learn the craft irrespective of the degree. That’s when Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts & Communication happened to me. More than the PGDM in Advertising & Public Relation course, the institution and the culture changed me as a human being.

Though working in the creative department in advertising doesn’t require one to be a graduate in the similar field. But it helps if you know the industry, the ethics, the craft, the process before you even start working. It gives you a competitive edge.

You have won so many awards: Cannes, Spikes, Effie, Kyoorius, Young Shit from Droga5 (my personal favourite) etc. How has that impacted your career?
I see it this way. There are professions where the number of years on the job equates the value one adds to the job. Here, the picture is completely different. Career in creative advertising is valued based on one’s skills. And, award is the most common metric to evaluate that. Winning international awards earlier in my advertising career changed the trajectory for sure. It gave me recognition in the industry and most importantly it gave me courage to try harder the next time. No one dislikes a pat on the back. Especially, if it’s from a Lion. From a career point of view, it changed a lot of things indeed. From verbal appreciations to legit incremental growth in the organisation, my work has made me see it all.

As a matter of fact, I entered D&AD New Blood and Kyoorius Young Blood and secured an in-book entry in both as a college student, even before I started working. So, yeah. Now if I come to think of it, I have been treating awards as markers in my career to know if I’m any good. And, in the age of 30 under 30’s, I am chasing a special one which is saving 60 lakhs in the bank before turning 30! Because it really matters. (Laughs)

Do you think brands whose advertising wins awards, do well in the market?
I follow this simple trick. If you have won an award for a client in the first year and the client comes back to you for another year with the same objective, your idea has done well for them. If the client doesn’t turn up or is reluctant in the second year, you know it didn’t do well. Simple. No CMO or brand manager today would risk making a mistake twice. We’ve surpassed that time when sales, or consideration were the ultimate matrices to judge whether your idea has worked for the brand or not. Today, a million ‘heart emoji’ on your idea with zero sales can do wonders for the brand ranging from its IPO valuation to what not. I’m a believer that an award-winning work on any brand will do good if not great, but not less. Not just that, winning work also uplifts the standard as an industry which results in a culture of brewing great ideas. And now, an Indian agency being the Global Agency of The Year at Cannes Lions validates it more.

Were there any particular role models for you when you grew up?
Oh, many. Satyajit Ray, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Steven Spielberg, Hans Zimmer, AR Rehman, MS Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Piyush Pandey, David Droga, Dan Wieden, Lee Clow, Nils Leonard, David Ogilvy, Anselmo Ramos, Duffer Brothers, R.R Martin, J.K. Rowling, Jonny Lever, Skrillex, Mike Shinoda, Eminem, Dan Draper (Fictional character) Stan Lee, and many more. I think this is the time when I should ask for an extra answer sheet. I could literally go on in one breath. I think I have dreamt of becoming each one of them, and it’s only because of the work they do. If I could achieve 5% of how they do what they do, I would consider myself an achiever.

Who was the most influential personality in your career in Advertising?
It’s a business where great minds come together to create something that reaches millions. And, you can only get influenced by someone if you work or be with them. I have been fortunate enough to be around and learn from some of the sharpest and talented human beings in Indian advertising today. Starting from my favourite bosses, like Aalap Desai, Pravin Sutar, Yash Kulshrestha, Ananda Sen, Moosa Khan, Vishal Sagar, Sreejita Chakraborty. Then came those who left a great admiration on me like, Nitish Sarkar, Aabhaas Shreshtha, Pragati Rana, Manisha Panda, Upasna Gaba, Indrayudh Bose, Dhaheem Habeeb, Zeeshan Shaikh, P.G Aditya, and everyone who has survived the pandemic being 100% productive in their jobs. I think whatever I’m doing today, if it’s any good, it’s because I’ve learnt from the best in business. And yes, I am talented too. (Laughs)

Where do you get your inspiration from?
Anything under the sun. Or anything that you’re reading on the internet today. Literally. Inspiration is like a shadow. Great discovery or a thing of context is the light in this case. A child holding a ketchup bottle in the morning can be an inspiration for Heinz. Or a covert operation inside a terrorist camp in J&K can be an inspiration for a surgical strike on piracy. It’s simple. I have been taught to keep my eyes, ears, and mind open. These help better than anything else in the world. And most importantly, being around people who are better than you inspire the best in you. So, carry on. May be the Insta reel you’re watching might give you the next big idea.

Do you have any kind of a program to nurture and train young talent?
I do. It’s called ‘SHOW ME HOW IT’S DONE’. We’ve been saying a lot that advertising is an ever-evolving industry, then why are we ignorant of the fact that the learning chain is evolving too? A ten-year-old-in-the-business creative director might be the head of interns or trainees. But these trainees have better insights, hacks, and ideas for Insta reels, YouTube videos, games, or a meme which can do the job well. In fact, better. So, it’s high time we turn the table from ‘let me show you how it’s done’ to ‘show me how it’s done’. It will motivate them and they’ll never disappoint you.

Media is Digital now and the possibilities are endless. Which is your personal favourite Digital Campaign?
There are many ads/campaigns that I personally wish if I were a part of. Like, A Song for Every CMO from Spotify, Google Black-Owned Friday, McEnroe vs McEnroe, Back Market from Apple, The Nobel Speech campaign by The Womanity Foundation, The Unfiltered History Tour of British Museum and Backup Ukraine from Vice. I think all of these ideas are redefining what digital as a medium is capable of.

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?
I would say that the state of print advertising in India is complicated. We’ve been hearing for years that print is dead, but the facts say it’s otherwise. It’s not flourishing for sure. But it isn’t dead either. Commenting on the released work being often sad, I think we’ve been trying too hard to digitize print for no reason. I mean not every print ad needs a QR code. If you know what I mean. The Portuguese (Re)Constitution campaign from Penguin Random House and The Election Edition from AnNahar Newspaper are some the finest examples to quote.

Considering the present time, print is slow. We need to admit that print is not the primary medium for anyone, anymore. It’s a follow up. The moment ideas and campaigns start using this behavioural change, it will reflect in the work for sure.

Any notable digital campaigns?
Oh, there are many. I genuinely admire the story behind The 54-Second Watch campaign by Foundation Emergence. It’s simple and speaks volumes. There are campaigns which are very close to my heart, since I have been a part of them. (Without being narcissistic) Pride From Home by Big FM. It was a small idea which had the potential to go big. Pandemic didn’t let us scale this, but an exact similar idea in Shanghai called Raise the Pride without raising any flag won a Cannes Lion Gold the next year. News Beyond Views from The Indian Express, I genuinely feel is a perfect example of digital creativity and its possibility. Apart from these, campaigns like The Protest Match from Global eSports, Pepsi Code, Shah Rukh Khan My Ad, Sound Tour Japan from Spotify, Cheetos Can’t Touch This, are a few campaigns from the top of my mind that deserve all the love and praises.

What advice do you have for aspiring creative professionals?
I’m an aspiring creative too, haha! But if there’s anything that I can share as a piece of advice that would be – stop making idealistic and unrealistic goals for yourself. You can’t change the world with a goal of changing the world. No revolutionary human being had a goal on bringing a revolution. They worked hard and the rest is just the outcome. Drop the list and live for a change.

What is your dream project?
It’s difficult to name one and put words to it. But one day, I want to be introduced as someone who wrote or directed someone’s favourite show, film, podcast, or a book. And if I have to clearly state a project, then I would say that I want to list ‘depression’ on the Interpol’s list of most wanted terrorists.

Mac or PC?
Phone. It’s handy and hassle-free. Does the job without making you look like you’re working.

Who would you like to take out for dinner?
My mother. After that, I want to dine with the principal of Spread-Eagle Nursery School Shillong 1997 batch. I’ve threatened to kill her by slitting her throat on my first day of school. This calls for another interview in itself. Apart from that, there’s a dancer called Ditto. You can find her on the internet. I would love to take her out for a dinner. And anyone who’s up for a chat except those who order veg biryani.

What’s on your iPod? Spotify?
Sunday Suspense (A Bengali audio thriller), a couple of interesting podcasts and a never-ending playlist which is like a khichdi of music. It has everything and anything.

What’s your Twitter Handle? Instagram?
I’m more of a guy who likes to observe, laugh and move on than react. So, it might be a disappointing discovery. Though, I would love to stay connected.

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