Chicken Soup for the Advertising Soul

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Advertising legend Piyush Pandey’s book, Pandeymonium, draws from the university of life and uses all the gleanings as grist for his creative mill 
By Krish Warrier


I remember the time, circa 1967, when we were living in Dehu Road, a cantonment town that lies some 20 km north-west of Pune along the Old Pune-Mumbai Highway. Dinner time was around 7.45 pm. My parents, my sister and I would squat on the kitchen floor and partake of whatever my mother had prepared—usually rice and some plain curry. And while having dinner, we would hear the Deccan Queen, its horns blazing, speeding past Dehu Road railway station. My sister and I would say in childish delight: “There goes the Deccan Queen!” Our dinner was incomplete without hearing the Queen, reputed for its punctuality.

At that time, my father was working as a civilian at the ammunition depot in Dehu Road. My eldest brother was in a hostel while doing his college. My sister and I were in school (Wilson School—wonder if it’s still there). Times were not so good for the family, what with educating three kids and all that.

So, the Deccan Queen, the train with limited stops, unlike the “passenger” which halted at all stations, was a symbol of affluence to me—the train of the privileged class. Time passed. I completed my engineering around ’81, worked as a maintenance engineer with a dye-stuff intermediates manufacturing company, quit the job, came to Mumbai (then Bombay) and got into advertising. It was then that I had to go to Pune for some work. And we took the Deccan Queen.

When the Deccan Queen honked its way past Dehu Road station, I came and stood near the door and said a silent prayer for some kid who would also be dreaming of travelling by the Deccan Queen.
So, what’s this incident from my life got to do with Pandeymonium, the book by advertising legend Piyush Pandey?

ENVIRONMENT’S INFLUENCE
“Every creative person is the result of the environment in which he or she was brought up,” says Piyush Pandey in the first line of his book. And I couldn’t agree with him more. I am the kind of creative person I am because of incidents like the one mentioned above in my life. It’s up to me to leverage these experiences to create advertising—or any piece of effective communication. Seen through this lens, creating great advertising is a bit like method acting which emphasizes the practice of connecting to a character by drawing on personal emotions and memories.

Piyush Pandey says he’s done exactly that. So, that’s what Pandeymonium is all about, and something more.Piyush believes in the University of Life—he observes life from up close and uses all the gleanings from various encounters as grist for his creative, advertising mill. Recently, he told a reporter from The Times of India: “…I had no idea where I will be in advertising. So, generally, to my mind, anybody who observes and appreciates life around helps you compose a line. One has to be a constant learner. There is nothing as ‘irrelevant’, everything that happens around is relevant—carpenters, cobblers and barbers. Keep your eyes and ears open every time.” That’s the reason why you’ll find all his communication pieces rooted in everyday reality. Be it for Asian Paints, Fortune Cooking Oil, Fevicol, Titan, Bingo, Perfetti, KFC…

For the uninitiated, Piyush Pandey is the executive chairman and national creative director of the advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather India, and the winner of over 600 awards for advertising from all over the world. He is also vice-chairman of O&M South Asia. He is the only Indian to have won a double Gold at Cannes and a triple Grand Prize at London International Awards. O&M India has won some 25 Lions at Cannes under his leadership. In 2002, he won India’s first Silver Pencil at The One Show Awards. In 2010, he was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by The Advertising Agencies Association of India.

LOYAL EMPLOYEE
At a time when creative guys switch agencies faster than they change their underwear, Piyush has been at Ogilvy since August 1982. Of late now, when ad agencies have sold their souls to mine a metal by way of scam ads—they fly an idea up a flagpole to see if anybody salutes it—Piyush reportedly said: “What’s unique about Ogilvy India is that we are cheered not just by award juries, but also by thousands of non-advertising, common people of India.” There is a hidden message here. That they don’t create ads just for winning awards.

making india proud — at CLIO Awards.
THE SELECT GROUP While receiving the 2012 CLIO Lifetime Achievement Award, Pandey with (from left) Miles Young, Worldwide Chairman and CEO of O&M, wife Nita, and Tham Khai Meng, Worldwide Chief Creative Officer of O&M

He says: “My favorite career highlight at Ogilvy was in 2000 when the Abbys named our campaign for Cadbury Dairy Milk ‘Campaign of the Century’ and our TV commercial for Fevikwik ‘Commercial of the Century’.” Today, when there’s a lot of talk about following one’s passion, he quotes David Ogilvy: “The psychiatrists say that everybody should have a hobby. The hobby I recommend is advertising.”

Pandeymonium is Piyush Pandey’s first book, written in collaboration with Anant Rangaswami. It has a foreword by none other than Amitabh Bachchan. And it has a black-grey-yellow cover with Piyush Pandey’s photograph, his famous moustache and all (pic by Suresh Natarajan and cover design by Rajiv Rao), behind what looks like the yellow ribbon in crime investigation scenes. The packaging is attractive. What about the actual product?

KJ OF ADVERTISING
Pandey’s book reads like the television commercials he’s created or helped create. It’s feel good, and politically correct. I would be tempted to call him the Karan Johar of the Great Indian Middle Class in advertising. Each chapter of the book rests on what they call in advertising a single-minded proposition.

The first chapter deals with his first school —his family; the second leverages what he learned as a cricketer; the third talks about how he drew inspiration from carpenters, cobblers and other creatives; the fourth speaks about his tryst with the Indian Railways; and another on his disdain for research. There is also a chapter on the campaign for the BJP during the last general elections.

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Does he give any insights into how some of the most memorable campaigns were conceived and executed? Sadly, he deals with it superficially. Then again, maybe he’s targeting a larger audience. He does throw some nuggets about his bosses—David Ogilvy, Sir Martin Sorrel (who calls Piyush a “cheeky bastard”), Miles Young, Shelly Lazarus, Mani Ayer, and Ranjan Kapur. He also gives credit where it is due. He talks briefly about the future of Indian advertising and, of course, about why he didn’t start his own advertising agency.

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“Advertising needs to excite young people with different abilities and talents to be part of the industry….” Piyush Pandey, author, Pandeymonium

I would dare say that the biggest contribution of Piyush Pandey was that he made Hindi “cool”. Before him, most ads were conceptualized in English and then translated into what was called the vernaculars. He paved the way for creatives to be ideated in Hindi.

NO MIRCH MASALA
I remember, around 1999, another ad guru, Alyque Padamsee, wrote his book, A Double Life (in collaboration with Arun Prabhu; what’s with advertising folks? Can’t they write on their own?). It dealt with his adventures in two worlds—advertising and theatre. Pandeymonium is advertising all the way. But if you are looking for some mirch masala, sorry, you have got the wrong number.

Piyush Pandey (L), Ishita Arun (C) and Ila Arun (R)
Pandey with niece, model and actor Ishita Arun, and sister, actor and singer Ila Arun

By Piyush’s own admission: “Advertising needs to excite young people with different abilities and talents to be part of the industry….” Would this book inspire more youngsters to get into advertising? The answer, perhaps, lies in the fact that it was a packed house—overflowing would be the more pertinent word—that heard him in conversation with Anuja Chauhan at the recently concluded Tata Literature Live (the sixth Mumbai International Literary Festival) in Mumbai.

According to Piyush: “We believe that talent resides beyond the advertising centres and very often at non-traditional sources. It is always our endeavour to look for people from different walks of life, people who have a creative bent, and more importantly, people who respect Indian culture and its people. We also believe that it’s not enough to source talent; we have to nurture, encourage and celebrate their ideas on an on-going basis.” His humility shows when he says: “I never thought that I am a painter or an artist. I am a commercial artist who has to do messaging to make people react.”

At `799 for a hard cover, maybe the book is a tad overpriced. Having said that, who wouldn’t want to pick a book penned by one of India’s greatest communicators?

Tail piece: “The customer is not a moron. She’s your wife” is a famous quotation attributed to David Ogilvy, who founded the agency Piyush Pandey works for. So, before I dug into the book for this review, my wife went through it. Her verdict: Unputdownable.