Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Some famous folks who were copywriters once upon a time.

Ogden Nash - Poet

Alan Parker - Filmmaker

Hugh Hefner - Founder of Playboy

Salman Rushdie - Author

Alec Guinness - Actor

F Scott Fitzgerald - Author

Hugh Grant - Actor

Rahul Bose - Actor

Shobha De - Columnist / Novelist

Joseph Heller - Author

Posted by Murali

Cinthol 'Don't Stop'

Making of the TVC in KL

Monday, May 26, 2008


Glass is a short film by the Dutch filmmaker Bert Haanstra. I saw it for the first time at FTII Pune in 1990 when I did a film appreciation course. The film was introduced to us by Prahlaad Kakkar who, incidentally, has done this course in the 70s. Kakkar told us that he had joined this course at FTII thinking it would be a great way to meet girls. (Well he was speaking for me as well.) Sadly, Kakkar found that that year the class was full of men. Consequently he had no other option but to sit through the sessions with his eye on the screen. He did so, reluctantly, until one day the schedule mentioned the screening of a documentary film called GLASS. Now who would sit through a documentary film in the prime of youth? Well anyone who is obliged into temporary celibacy it seems. Kakkar saw Glass. And his life changed. He never realized that there was this side to film. He never realized that when it comes to expressing the poetry of life no medium is as COMPLETE as film. Kakkar went on to make a career in ad film direction. I saw Glass too. I decided to get into ad film writing.

Posted by Thomas

P.S. My class had people like Ashutosh Gowariker, Renuka Shahane, Krishnamachari Bose etc. I guess GLASS opened their vision too.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Ajay Menon, the creative behind the Cinthol 'Hrithik' campaign gives us a lowdown about the film shoot in KL.

The Cinthol Hrithik Film or How everything went according to the script.

Hrithik’s dates were available. And we were ready to roll with the first line - “Film opens on Hrithik Roshan at Kuala Lumpur.” We had come a long way from the presentation of the script to finding the right director – Abhinay Deo. Then it was a month of preproduction and more preproduction, but in Abhinay we had an extremely talented director and things couldn’t go wrong. (Or so it appeared to me.

So I will concentrate on what I did best at the shoot. I was a traveller (tourist seems to bring to mind a shopper with a camera across the chest. I always travel light, that’s without a camera.). And I had Kaushik and Kevin for company in Malaysia. We reached KL and I was taken aback by the sheer beauty of the land. The roads were perfect, I saw no dust in the airport, and the equatorial greens were fantastic to the eye. Our driver was Shiva, a third generation Tamilian from Malaysia. (Language was no more an issue, and I hit it off with Shiva that it even got me some nice local toddy.) Further, it was the Chinese New Year break. So no traffic, and the entire country was celebrating the Year of the Rat. The city was dressed in red Chinese lanterns and it was beautiful. I put it down as a good omen.

Ashit from Ramesh Deo Productions handed us a 5-day shoot schedule. We quickly worked around it to fit in our itinerary: see everything in KL, catch up on the pubs and bars, and do a little shopping. Food was high on the agenda with Kaushik as captain.

So we would go to the shoot, get a first hand look at how a great director works with a great team, works with a great star. There were schedule issues which they quickly sorted out. There were certain logistics issues, which they sorted out. There were certain stunt scene issues, which they sorted out extremely well. While I carried around within a 5 meter radius, of the cooler filled with everything.

We would laze around while Colston, the still photographer, would catch Hrithik in between the shoot to grab some still pictures. They turned out really well the first day so we didn’t disturb them. So we clung to the cooler in the 38­­ degree celsius environment. Every once in a while we would go to the monitor and enjoy watching the professional in Hrithik. It was quite an experience to watch Hrithik go canoeing, rollerblading, diving, horse riding, jet skiing, parkouring, bungee jumping and playing rugby. While every woman in the agency wanted to be there, we three men just hung around with a cold tin in hand.

We burped our way through the shoot and celebrated at the wrap-up party organized by the production headed by Ravi. We were happy especially when Abhinay, Hrithik, the director of photography, the production crew, the stunt team, all echoed that it was fabulous shoot and would make for a great film. That bought a smile to our very tired-looking faces. I decided to take a couple of days off after the shoot. I needed a break.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

An agencyfaqs interview with Thomas Xavier, Chairman and National Creative Director, back in 2004

Advertising, as we all know, attracts people from all walks of life. Thomas Xavier, a mechanical engineer by training, marched into the profession after four years in sales with Voltas Ltd. From Mudra Communications to McCann-Erickson to Leo Burnett, Xavier did the usual nine-to-nine agency routine, with a Clio nomination in Film to show for his efforts. Then, when Burnett launched its second agency, Orchard Advertising, in Bangalore, Xavier was appointed as its executive creative director. What followed were highly visible campaigns for brands like Toyota Qualis and Top Ramen, the Effie-winning regional work on Coca-Cola, and more recently, the 'Gale mein awaaz' campaign for Himalaya Throat Drops - all created under the stewardship of Xavier. In this straight-from-the-heart, no-holds-barred interview with N Shatrujeet of agencyfaqs!, Xavier relives his 12-year career in advertising, speaks about the work produced at Orchard, and shares his observations on the profession and agency life in general...(Click here to view the interview)

Q. For someone who started his professional life doing the so-called 'dry' job of a sales engineer, how has the transition to the creative side of advertising been? What prompted you to move to advertising after four years in sales?

A. For four years I sold air-conditioning systems at Voltas. To me it was the 'rites of passage' stage of my working life. I learnt how to format business letters, cajole receptionists for appointments,
say the cheque is in the mail et cetera.

Then one day, I read about a guy called Christopher D'Rozario, and the salary he was drawing because he was a copywriter. Immediately, I wanted to be a copywriter. I had, during my mechanical engineering days, written some pieces for Indian Express. I took them to the agencies here in Bangalore. All the CDs I met said I was brilliant, but sorry, no vacancy. Finally I met a gentleman named Chax (KS Chakravarthy) at Enterprise (who disclosed that he too had studied at the College of Engineering, Guindy), who called my work 'litterture' and said, sorry, no job. The first honest, and dare I say, useful opinion I received.

Then, I did the stupidest thing in the world - I decided to try and get into client servicing. I met a lot of IIM-educated cretins (yeah, in those days they did join advertising) who said I didn't have a management degree. Frustrated, I took CAT. And about two years later, I became an IIM-educated cretin myself. Got a job as a tie-wearing, layout-delivery boy at the then No 2 agency in the country. Fled, without telling them, in 23 days.

"Business school taught me how to put on a solemn expression when you're saying something obvious, and make anything sound like a concept."

Q. So how did you get your break at Mudra?

A. Unemployed, I ran into R Sridhar (then vice-president, Mudra, South, who is currently CEO, Brand.com) at an alumni meeting. He put me on to Balki (R Balakrishnan, who was then creative director at Mudra, Bangalore). Balki listened to me suspiciously for about two-and-a-half hours on a Saturday morning, and when he heard that I knew his best friend, said I could start Monday. 'Monday? I don't even have torn jeans to wear,' I panicked. So I went to work in servicing clothes, and that image has stuck. The writer who gets mistaken for being a servicing guy.

Q. You're quick to dismiss your sandpapering in business school.
But surely, a formal grounding in management is, in some way,
helping you in your current calling...

A. Oh, my experience and my educational qualifications come very much in handy. Business school taught me how to put on a solemn expression when you're saying something obvious, and make anything sound like a concept. 'Let this sweater brand arrogate the emotion of a hug.' 'This snack brand celebrates laziness, couch cuisine, that's what this is!' Deep down, we all know that advertising is simple. But if people want obfuscation, I'm game. Metaphorically speaking, for an advertising guy, academic qualifications are like laptops. You may not really use it, but if carrying it around makes you feel important, it's worth having one.

Personally, I want to make this process of making ads a lot simpler. I don't need any of my college degrees to do my job well. In fact, everyday, I try to unlearn something new.

"Balki left a lasting impression on me. He taught me two things. One, always strive to be different. If you're wrong, at least you're a splendid failure. Two, fear only fear."

Q. We will come to your time at Orchard in a while. First tell us something about your early stints at Mudra and McCann-Erickson India, considering those were your formative years in this profession.

A. I struggled in Mudra. Once you're in the creative department, you're exposed. No ideas? Everyone knows. All around me, people were so talented. But clients wanted something 'simple and straight'. Which made the talented guys lazy. And whom did the servicing guys turn to? The guy who dressed like them. And I ended up doing a lot of ads. Many bad, some good. What I lacked in talent, I made up with hard work. Over time, I earned a reputation for being responsible.

Balki left a lasting impression on me. I have never seen anyone in advertising who is so courageously passionate. He taught me two things. One, always strive to be different. If you're wrong, at least you're a splendid failure. Two, fear only fear. Sridhar is such a nurturer of people that even today, I feel I report to him. Prateek Srivastav (then branch head, Mudra, Bangalore, and currently executive director, O&M, Bangalore) is Mr Clarity. R Lakshminarayanan showed me the importance of listening. Anyway, in 1994, Mudra became the Agency of the Year at the local awards, and a lot of work that won had been done by me. So I got a call from McCann.

McCann was very different. Because, I now had a reputation of being a good writer. And that scared me silly. So I did what most naturally talented writers can't. I worked late. Anyway, McCann got some awards at the A&M Awards, the Triple As et cetera, for some work I had done. And I kept my job.

Q. In 1998, you got your first international recognition, when your film for BPL Gas Tables won a Finalist nomination at the Clio Awards. Tell us something about that campaign and how it happened.

A. The client called up Girish Raj (then CSD at McCann, presently head of E-sign, Bangalore) on the business, and the only guy I have ever known in servicing to have balls) and said that R&D had found out that BPL Gas Tables cook 40 per cent faster than any other stove in the country. When I heard the brief, I told Girish we must boil two running stopwatches on separate stoves, and then show that the one on the BPL stove explodes 40 per cent faster. Girish, ballsy as I said he is, said, 'Clever, but you can do better.' Imagine, a servicing guy who challenges a creative guy to do better!

The next morning, I told Girish we should boil two eggs and then drop them. The one cooked on an ordinary stove smashes. The one cooked on a BPL stove bounces. Girish stood up and said he'd sell it to the client. Of course, the client wanted to show a woman cooking breakfast in time for the children to catch the school bus. Girish said no. We shot it. We put a crazy banjo sound as a background score. Everyone giggled. It ran.

"You know, a Clio nomination for film is nothing great. A lot of talented folks have got it in India. But for a guy of my caliber, it was great."

Q. How did it feel picking up your first Clio nomination?

A. I had shifted to Leo Burnett when the ad picked up the nomination in '98. Chax saw it on the Net first, and told me. Arvind Sharma shook my hand and said he's not going to wash his hands. You know, a Clio nomination for film is nothing great. A lot of talented folks have got it in India. But for a guy of my caliber, it was great.

Q. For most ad folk - more so, I guess, in the case of creatives - in smaller advertising markets like Bangalore, Mumbai is the ultimate advertising destination in India. How come you did not succumb to the temptation of seeking your fortune in Mumbai, choosing, instead, to stay on in Bangalore?

A. Ha-ha, why didn't I marry Catherine Zeta Jones? Because she didn't ask me to.

Seriously, in 1998, after six years in advertising, I desperately wanted to be in Mumbai. Unfortunately, I had just bought a car and couldn't think of the hassle of transferring the registration. Then, one day, I got a call from a placement agent. 'Chax wants to meet you.' I froze. Then I did what I do when I'm scared. I went right into what scared me. Miraculously, Chax had no recollection of meeting me earlier. I told him about my new car. He said he'd get me a new one in Mumbai.
Two months later, I was having the best time I have ever had in advertising.

I got to work face to face with Arvind, the only CEO of an ad agency who genuinely thinks for clients. Rajeev Sharma, who makes planning look more fun than creative. Chax, the one creative director who can change the situation from disaster to delight in seconds, and yet share credit. Pops (KV Sridhar), who can put his hands on your shoulder, say your work is 'underwhelming', share his supari, and say he's free to see you again in half an hour with a better job. Aggie (Agnello Dias) is an example of how to do great work burning fewer calories. I worked on Fiat, Balsara, Pennzoil et cetera. I even went to Leo Burnett, Milan, thanks to the good offices of Arvind, and worked on the European re-launch of the (Fiat) Punto. Unfortunately, my marvelous run in Mumbai ended because of a personal tragedy, which made it necessary for me to come back to the south again.

"Letting research pick which commercial to do is like asking statisticians to select the Indian cricket team. At best, research can tell you what is, not what can be."

Q. You joined Burnett in 1998 as creative director, and within a span of a year, became executive creative director at Burnett's second agency, Orchard. Encapsulate your experiences at Orchard over the past five years.

A. Orchard is an agency that we call 'full-grown at birth'. We began with Toyota, Proline, Coke (regional) and many more, with experienced people from Mumbai, Delhi and, of course, Bangalore. For me, the best thing about Orchard is that it is advertising stripped of pretence. No flabby hierarchies. In the best-case scenarios, client, creative and account guys sit and decide what to do.

Of course, I personally believe we have, on occasion, been at the receiving end of pre-campaign research. I have personally seen ambitious clients lose their inspirational stature because they have been tempted by 'data'. The day a person starts a sentence with the words 'Research says…' believe me, the entrepreneur in him is dead forever. Letting research pick which commercial to do is like asking statisticians to select the Indian cricket team. Research is a good input for developing a strategy. But, at best, research can tell you what is, not what can be. Research can tell you how not to fail. Not how to win. Research makes you play for a draw. Everyday is a fight. Between the imaginative and the pseudo-scientists. I like every moment of it.

We have done lot of work from the gut which, (ha-ha) research shows, has worked! We did an ad for Acer Veriton (a sexy, powerful desktop), when the brand was unknown. 'And for those below you, there is IBM and Compaq.' Contrary to the naysayers, nobody sued anybody. The top-end desktop market just hotted up with, yes, Acer on top. 'Know you is know how,' a campaign we did for Toyota, came from listening to the worldwide CEO of Toyota. No research was done, before it was released. Post-campaign, research showed that it worked.

Our 'gaana' work for Coke in Chennai is an Effie winner (we're the only agency from the south to have ever got one). I put a super before the film in our showreel: No consumers were tested during the making of this commercial. My favourite: Top Ramen. Moms love Maggi. Kids love Maggi. Top Ramen is irrelevant. Our finding: pre-teens eat instant noodles too. And they think Maggi is too kiddy. Solution: Top Ramen is energy for fun for the PlayStation generation. So my boys did a claymation film with bizarre images like heads rolling over because of excess energy. A super success, as (ha-ha) research showed. Fortunately, we also have clients like CavinKare who know how to use research intelligently.

Q. Orchard is today one of the hottest agencies in Bangalore, and its name figures in almost every pitch that happens in the city. What are the factors that have helped Orchard build its reputation in Bangalore?

A. Are we the hottest agency in Bangalore? We work out of Indira Nagar, a suburb. Traffic is so bad these days we don't get to go to the pubs to learn these things. Anyway, we all stay about ten minutes from the office, which means most of the time we're at our desks scratching our heads. And when the dandruff falls on a great line you've written, boy, does it look like glitter.

Yeah, we have won a couple of prestigious pitches. Pitches bring out the best in us - like it certainly does in most agencies. But the real challenge is to keep the same spirit after we've got the business. We do less work than the biggies here, but most of it is above average. So some people do have the impression we're hot. However, we're nowhere near where we want to be.

We have some really passionate people here. There is always an unexplained optimism. People are always brimming with ideas. Many of them find their way into a client presentation, and we're often surprised when clients actually like it. The maverick streak in some our clients - like Mr Ravi Prasad and Mr RV Raman at Himalaya (Drug Company), Captain GR Gopinath of Air Deccan, Kimura san of Nissin Foods, the IISC professors who invented the simputer,
Mr CK Ranganathan of CavinKare, and many others - have shaped our culture.

"When we began, we said Orchard should make Bangalore the Sao Paulo of India as far as advertising is concerned. Where have we reached? Nowhere."

Q. Nitish (Mukherjee) has undoubtedly had a big role to play in putting Orchard on Bangalore's advertising map. Can you tell us exactly how Nitish partners you in taking the agency's agenda forward?

A. Nitish lives and breathes Orchard. His face is like the sensex of Orchard. You just have to look at it to know how Orchard is faring on a given day. My job is just to ensure that when he walks into a client's room he hears, 'Nice job.' Yeah, we talk, crib, dream for our people and clients.

"Nitish Mukherjee lives and breathes Orchard. His face is like the sensex of Orchard. You just have to look at it to know how Orchard is faring on a given day."

Q. Which brings me to another question - what the creative agenda that
you have set for Orchard?

A. On a day-to-day basis, we want to be the shortest route between brand aspiration and brand achievement. Ultimately, what is the job of an ad agency? To be so good at the art of persuasion - not communication, that's for journalists - that clients feel you are part of their competitive advantage. For example, Himalaya should feel: We have Orchard as our agency. That means our brand has an edge over Chlor-mint.

Yes we want to win awards. But not so much international as the local ones. We think that if we win the Abby Agency of the Year, we will be taken seriously at a national level.
Cannes and D&AD can wait.

Q. I believe Orchard is a part of Leo Burnett Worldwide's famed global 7+ creative rating system. How has the recent work produced at Orchard been faring in the 7+ rating?

A. We've done well on 7+. Last year, on a target of two, we got six 7+. We have access to all Leo Burnett systems. Arvind and Pops keep a very close watch. I like it very much this way because we feel like a Mumbai agency.

"We think that if we win the Abby Agency of the Year, we will be taken seriously at a national level. Cannes and D&AD can wait."

Q. Of all the work produced by Orchard, which, in your opinion, have met the standard of creativity you aspire for within the agency?

A. We are, I repeat, nowhere near where we want to be. I am proud of Himalaya Throat Drops and Top Ramen, because my boys wrote them and people talk about them. But this is just the beginning. When we began, we said Orchard should make Bangalore the Sao Paulo of India as far as advertising is concerned. Where have we reached? Nowhere.

I tell my boys, don't take your jobs too seriously. You guys just do the wild stuff that can take the agency higher. You can't do advertising if you behave like a banker. You've got to look sharp with one eye, and wink with the other. My advice to my young creatives: Listen. Don't listen. Be nice.
Be rude. Do it on time. Don't do it on time. Be understood. Don't be understood.
And when all else fails… do a montage film.

I'm no role model. If I were in music, I would probably end up as Antonio Salieri, the patron saint of the mediocre. But I surround myself with Mozarts and get by.

Q. Orchard's Mumbai operation hasn't quite come together the way it has in Bangalore. Why is this taking time? Is it a function of the fact that Orchard in Mumbai is, literally and figuratively, under the shadow of big brother Burnett?

A. Frankly, I think it's a perception issue. Some good work has happened on Cinthol. Nitish is spending more time there. It's okay if the truth is better than what people think. But, yes, Orchard wants its branches to be stars. Orchard, Chennai, opened six months ago. Soon they're going to raise a few eyebrows.

"What is the job of an ad agency? To be so good at the art of persuasion - not communication, that's for journalists - that clients feel you are part of their competitive advantage."

Q. What are your expectations from the agency in the days to come? Do you see it dominating the Bangalore market, creative-wise, in the near future?

A. Absolutely. We want to create original advertising, fearlessly. Enjoying the process thoroughly. We want Orchard to be the agency clients love best and the big agencies fear most.

Q. To conclude, on a lighter note, after 12 years in this business,
what are your impressions on your chosen profession?

A. 12 things.

1. Typically, in an ad agency, one bright guy has the idea, and everybody gets his or her salary from it.

2. Most award-winning campaigns have been executed at costs that are a fraction of the shitty ones.

3. Most award-winning campaigns have been approved by clients as a personal favour to the agency or creative team.

4. Most strategy presentations look intelligent because of PowerPoint. 5. Strategies for almost all successful campaigns have been written in retrospect.

6. One hundred per cent of 'expert' opinions of 99.99 per cent people in advertising is basically karaoke (that is, they are just repeating someone else.)

7. Ask a guy in advertising what he thinks of something, and he will tell you (despite what his real opinion is) what will not make him look stupid in front of you.

8. The average ad guy has difficulty saying, 'I don't know.'

9. More success has been achieved on the basis of the gut-feel of one guy who forced his way, than anything else.

10. If clients really are the ones who stifle creativity, how come the majority of 'self ads' for agencies suck?

11. A creative director is a guy who can start a sentence without knowing how he is going to finish it.

12. I can't think of a No 12 point. But somehow, 12 points for 12 years sounds better.

March 22, 2004
You can write to Thomas Xavier at

Monday, May 19, 2008


Making of Peter England's PEOPLE Advertising Campaign