Thursday, March 29, 2007


A time-honoured question, if ever there was one. 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri checks out the industry perspective...

Ever since one can remember, the term creativity has always been kinda loaded, generating a maniacal buzz, evoking indefinable levels of awe & wonder. Abused, misused & overused to death, anyone sporting long spiked coloured hair, ear studs, bandana and bermuda, doing drugs, babbling poetry of obscure un-pronounceable East European poets, adequately spaced-out & absent-minded or capable of unleashing glib, pretentiously profound one-liners (Cinema is truth at 24 seconds a frame; Death is life with lights out; Live fast. Die young. Be a cool looking corpse; Advertising is the art of caressing the mind while raping the wallet), is instantly labelled creative, hymned, celebrated and considered really & truly special.

Point is: Is this creative person really special & deserving of all this open-mouthed reverence? To extend the thought – is creativity all that special? Is it a “mystical gift”, the magical preserve of God’s chosen few... or is it a skill that can be taught, learnt and acquired?

The big daddy of lateral thinking, Edward De Bono, believes that creativity is over-rated & too much mystique has been suffused into this term. He believes the “C” word is as much a product of training & perspiration as of divine, sublime inspiration. The champions of creativity are horrified. They emphasise that while it is possible to train people to assimilate & process knowledge created by others, the truly creative soul creates knowledge for themselves. A Piccasso, Ray, Ravi Shanker, Ghalib or Da Vinci epitomises the spirit of unfettered creativity with all cylinders firing, right?

Whaddya think, guys?

Pops Sridhar of Leo Burnett believes that creativity – of any real worth – is instinctive, instructive & in-born. “You either have it, or you don’t. Every child paints, plays or spins yarns. The one’s who keep at it, adding layers of magic along the way, become a Hussain, Tendulkar or Piyush Pandey.”

lyque Padamsee disagrees. “It’s not a God-given gift at all. It’s more about ‘nurture’ than ‘nature’. It’s the environment that you’ve been brought up in as also the interests that you connect with.” He speaks of himself as a creative animal from the world of theatre & Prasoon Joshi as an individual rooted in areas way beyond the hard-core ad world. “These are invaluable resources that act as magical stimuli to the creative person.”

O&M’s Piyush Pandey, as always, has a very interesting viewpoint. He believes that everybody is born creative but societal & parental pressures (dos & don’ts) curb, repress & suppress this faculty to near oblivion. “The truly creative person is the one who fearlessly, audaciously & boldly continues to do his own thing and doesn’t give a damn about who will say, think, feel or react in what fashion. He is a mast guy, apni dhun mein...” Sushil Pandit, the head honcho of The Hive, presents his case in a persuasive manner. He believes that “Creativity can be learnt, unlearnt & learnt again! I think it’s largely an attitude; a special way of looking at the world, at life, events, people and things. The lucky few are born with it – a sense of humour; that special ability to connect with people; that special insight that allows you to see things others can’t/don’t; the ability to brilliantly leverage experiences of one domain meaningfully in another, to offer an amazing cross – fertilization of ideas.” Can this be taught, learnt or acquired? Pandit believes (in some fashion), it can be. The process can be complex, difficult and a huge struggle, “but if one is truly fascinated with creativity of a given person, it can trigger one’s creative juices & create something original.”

“While it is not the eureka factor, it’s often made out to be; creativity is definitely a very special, innate gift possessed by very special people.” Priti Nair Chakravarti of Lowe steps in to make her point. A different mindset, worldview, way of looking at everyday’s life happenings is demanded for this vision and it’s only the creative animal who is blessed with it. “However, since ours is applied art, creativity in advertising is a process-driven activity; a lot of hard work is involved. Hence, the popular/romantic perception of creativity (waiting for inspiration to strike) does not apply. That’s what makes it more challenging.”

Media baron Pritish Nandy believes that a God-given gift is the special ability to see, observe, respond, record & transcend. Creativity is merely a by-product of this process. It is a savvy utilisation of these abilities & is a skill that can be taught.” Interestingly, it demands both humility and arrogance to believe that the world must listen, watch and react to what you say or do. That’s what makes it impossibly special and rare.”

Theatre actor Lushin Dubey believes that it is undoubtedly an in-born trait, but one that can also be developed through environment, people & training. “Life throws up lots of examples of people from diverse & disparate backgrounds with unconnected interest-areas shining in fields that are theoretically not meant to be on their radar. How come? However, sometimes a passionate interest & relentless commitment towards pursuing it can also allow you to gatecrash into this rarified arena... so there you are!”

At the end of the day, what gives? Can magical moments of inspiration really be replaced by a formula that can be measured in algorithms? Is there no difference between art & science, craft & technology? Is creating a Ming Vase or fashioning a theory of relativity, the same as learning the disciplines that can make you a skilled potter or competent engineer? Is creative thinking just a skill that can be learnt, taught or acquired to empower people to add strength to their natural abilities... or is it something unique special & sacrosanct? It’s over to you guys. Your time starts now!


Friday, March 16, 2007

Does Advertising Drive Reality... or Mirro it?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri flings this complex poser to some champions in the communication business... the results are rather interesting!

From ‘The Permissible Lie’ to ‘The Hidden Persuaders’, ‘Dream-Peddlers’ to ‘Want-Makers’, the advertising business and its practitioners – over the decades – have been trashed, bad-mouthed and labelled mercilessly by their detractors. Without getting into an endless debate about the pros and cons of the profession, we shift focus to cover a rivetting but contemporary theme: Does this hydra-headed force called advertising, influence and pre-empt or merely reflect the life and the times we live in? Does it (vulture-like) feed off reality or create its own?

“Neither! The mandate of advertising is to single-mindedly create an alternative reality that cons you into buying the product or services they are trying to sell! Advertising is all about transporting you to a virtual world where you are seduced into making decisions – in terms of purchase intent – you wouldn’t dream of in the real world!” That was ex-journo, high-profile media personality and Chairman of PNC, Pritish Nandy. “It’s a dangerous road to travel on. After a perfectly satisfying dinner, you see a pizza ad and desire it. Ridiculous, right? And no guy in his right senses would want to gift his girlfriend that stupid bloody solitaire... but hey before you know, you’ve been took, baby! It champions the cause of promiscuity (brand loyalties go for a six) and makes mockery of a conventional morality.”

Priti Nair Chakravarti, Executive Creative Director, Lowe, and the brain behind some mind blowing adverts, including Surf Excel, brushes aside the glib pop cynicism of Nandy. “At times, advertising part-mirrors part-takes off from reality, but puts it in a context that you’ve never seen before, making it interesting & memorable,” she argues.

However, this attractive dynamite of talent believes that big brands are “perfectly capable of driving reality” citing the example of Surf Excel, which had the guts and confidence to declare that dirt was good! Could a Fena dare to announce the same, she asks. Would anyone believe them? “It has to do with what the brand stands for, where it’s coming from, values, vision... the entire package. It presented a new reality for people through real-life experiences via kids.”
K. V. Sridhar – the National Creative Director of Leo Burnett – believes that advertising rides both these boats, but in a unique fashion. He says that “Artists and creative people intrinsically endeavour to create and pre-empt reality born out of human insight drawn from the lap called life.” A brilliant example of the same (for him) are the Hutch commercials, which simply, but powerfully, establish the connect between a child and a dog. “It worked because it was rooted in reality. It was loved because it was given an unreal, but magical spin,” avers Sridhar.

Others like Mohammed Khan, Chairman of Bates, believe that advertising mostly mirrors reality. “It’s parasitical in that it feeds of the here and now, latches on to the current events of the day, dramatises it, makes it more desirable and sexy,” he says. At the same time, Khan believes that advertising has the power to alter perspectives and change mindsets “especially in areas of social advertising.” He gives off the example of various anti-smoking campaigns and how they have brought about an attitudinal shift in smoking.

Sumanto Chattopadhaya – a red-hot (creative) turk of O&M – toes Khan’s lines. He reckons that advertising usually tends to mirror reality but there are times when it goes beyond, creates something that catches fire and ignites public imagination, “An example would be the wah, sunil babu line from the Asian Paints ad, which became common parlance overnight.”

At the end of the day, it’s not really an either/or situation. Can never be. Advertising soaks up, and because it is a force, it re-enforces. Consider Valentine’s Day! Is it not a totally advertising-driven movement? Would we give a diamond on the day to the love of our life if Nakshatra or DeBeers did not flaunt that message repeatedly at us? Alternatively, would they have flashed those messages year after year, if lovelorn sweethearts did not take the bait?

After all, we do live in a hall of mirrors and who we are is shaped by what we think we look like! The reflection we see shapes the way we are. And since the mirror is both concave and convex, the magnifications and distortions are all part of the amazing package...


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Why doesn’t Delhi make quality ad-films?

When I entered the adbiz in the early seventies – JWT Kolkata – Delhi was a great place to get a letter from! No kidding! In the ad map it was really nothing from nowhere. When I relocated to Delhi in the late seventies, things had definitely improved, but it was still continents away from being a truly professionally driven zone. Crucial inputs were still outsourced.

Today in the year 2007, saadi Dilli is rocking! Clients, agencies, talents, infrastructure, drive, energy – the ad scene (in terms of growth path relating to both revenues and categories) is zooming north giving traditional Mumbai a solid run for money! However, the moment film or electronic media comes into focus, Delhi retracts into stone-age mode and registers a blank! Be it a ten-seconder or a sixty-seconder, anything relating to an ad film is instantly sent to Mumbai. Why? Doesn’t the otherwise booming, prospering and efficient ad scene in Delhi have the professional infrastructure in terms of facilities, equipment and trained personnel to deliver the goods? Isn’t there one solid, confident, result-oriented production house to make it happen? What about the much touted Film City in Noida – doesn’t a single outfit in that vicinity have the core competencies to stop this mass exodus to Mumbai?

“No, It doesn’t and I can’t see it happening for a long long time!” That is Gulu Sen, Dentsu Marcom’s Head honcho in Delhi. “Let’s understand one thing. Setting up a few studios doesn’t reflect film culture. It has to be ingrained and tradition-specific. Beyond investment and infrastructure, we are talking about solid trained professionals. Mumbai is streets ahead because it is traditionally THE film city – the land of Bollywood. Infrastructure (of every conceivable kind) is available in a flash. All we have to do is access anything we want and its there… DOP, music, post, crew-the works. Everything is just one phone call away. It’s a joy!” Regarding Noidas Film City, Sen paints a grim picture. He says he’s heard only complaints from Mumbai ad film directors regarding their experience while shooting there.
Sam Mathews (Ex Creative Director JWT & Lowe Lintas and now an independent Delhi-based corporate/ad film maker) however blows the whistle, roots strongly for Delhi and believes that all this Mumbai-halo fever is bull-crap! “I think it’s the done thing to immediately hail Mumbai as the final and ultimate frontier of ad-films and rush off in that direction or else you’ll be perceived as a ganwaar!” The truth (according to Mathews) is that this move is mostly initiated by the client servicing guys who look at it as a nice 5-day break from work! Mostly it’s a planned affair between the client, ad Agency & the production house & has little to do with the so-called professionalism constantly brayed about.” Mathews believes that most of the essential requirement (infrastructure & trained personnel) is available in Delhi at much cheaper cost. “Also, don’t forget Delhi is NSD city, so trained actors come a dime a dozen.” He is convinced it is herd-mentality, mind-set, self-indulgence, the done thing… and has nothing to do with reality.

o of the Delhi-based Street Life & ex VP of Bates) doesn’t quite see it the way Mathews does. A one-time partner of film-maker Pradeep Sarkar (they had successfully set up an ad-film outfit together in Delhi) Chowdhury is perhaps the most eminently qualified of the lot to speak about the issue. “There are two or three aspects as to why Delhi can never hope to swing in the ad-film scene. Historically, the city has never ever been central to any film related activity. There is no local film industry… and ad-films can never ever begin to support an entire industry that has no base. Ad-films by nature are turn-key business with infrastructure and talents drawn from the mainstream feature films. Since that is non-existent, there is bound to be a problem of assured, sustained work. Admittedly there is talent and skill in the city but ironically, due to a lack of opportunities here, they invariably gravitate to Mumbai, where the action is.” Chowdhury agrees that for a brief spell when he and Sarkar had their thing going in Delhi, the ad scene looked pretty good, but sustained work was difficult.

“Besides, the moment a guy started doing well here – models, designers, production people, directors – they moved to Mumbai. Its inevitable. For TV, news or low-end work which does not demand hi-end specialisation & expertise, Delhi is okay. Anything beyond that……..” Amit and Aleya Sharma who were a part of Pradeep Sarkar crack Delhi team but moved to Mumbai later to form their own (CHROME) production house agrees, “Apart from infrastructure, the mindset, mentality and attitude of the Delhi guy is way off centre. Mumbai is a can-do, will-do city in a 24*7 commitment mode. It is truly professional! Delhi by comparison is real “Dheela” and quite clueless about being on-the-ball. The drive, pace and energy of Mumbai is both infectious and addictive.”

The last words must however come from a passionate & furious Sandeep Marwah – the top gun of Noida’s celebrated Marwah Studio – who is determined to set the record straight. “Who are these people with their allegations and accusations? They obviously are clueless about the Noida phenomenon and choose to live in their own ivory tower! In the 15 years that I have established and run my studio, I have churned out over 2,500 TV programmes for more than 70 channels and over 70 feature films – pan-India – across various languages. Ad films constitute a very small part of the film-making process and we have successfully aligned ourselves to this area as well. Ad films are no big deal. The infrastructure that I provide here – from pin to plane – can match the best of Mumbai. However, remember, there are no free lunches. You want great facilities, you better have good budgets!” Sandeep points that most (if not all) big automobile ads have been shot in his studios. Several hot shot agencies (JWT, O&M, LOWE, ULKA, CONTRACT) and clients (Pepsi, TVS Scooty/Motorcycle, Honda, Usha Fan, Horlicks, LG, Whirlpool, Samsung, Polar Fans, 7up, Santro, Swift, Maruti, Baleno, Alto, Esteem) grace his distinguished roster. “So what’s all this crap about nothing happening in Delhi?”

His take on the Mumbai fixation is simple. In the last few years the stars have completely wiped out the models in the aAd scene. Stars live in Mumbai and hence it makes more sense for all ad guys to connect with them there. That’s all. “In terms of equipment facilities, responsive, trained and proactive staff, Marwah Studios can give any production house in Mumbai a run for money. So if the Delhi ad frat is looking towards a production outfit that promises to deliver everything and more… look no further, brother!” Touché!