Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My first time

This is about my first ad.
I hope you’re still reading.
I became a copywriter when I was 11 years past the age at which the Election Commission considers you an adult. I know, I know, I should’ve done it earlier, but it took me that long to decide where to cast my career vote.
So here I was in Mudra - Bangalore, crouched in a corner, hand held out for assignment droppings. And come, they didn’t.
So I spent my time copying the great Volkswagen ads onto my scribbling pad, just to get a feel of how they would’ve looked on Bob Levenson’s, before they adorned the Hall of Fame. When, in walks Karthik, the account head, cursing my community, “F***ing copywriter b********!”
I turned around in panic. I was alone on the floor.
“Not you” Karthik assures me.“Who are you?”
“Trainee writer” I offer.“Balki said I could sit here.”
“And where is Balki?”
“In Mumbai, doing the UNDERLINE YOUR PRESENCE campaign for Van Heusen”.
Karthik sits down, rearranges his frown and sighs. “There is this ad to be done for IBM. I had briefed Kavita and Sharmila. Now they’ve both let me down. Sharmila says she’s just joined a week ago so she’s still in the soak cycle.”
“And Kavita's washed out too?“ I ask clumsily clinging to the metaphor.
“She’s dried. Tumbled out. Quit. Because she doesn’t want to share the assignments with Sharmila. It’s just some posters for the IIMs. I guess I’ll have to do them myself.”
“I studied there.” I confess.
“What? And what are you doing here?”
“Waiting for you to brief me.
Karthik grabs my limp hands. “IBM is back in India after 15 years. Just give me a poster that tells these grads that it’s a great career option.” Then he throws an IBM newsletter on my table. “You’ll find all the info you need in it. Can I see something in two days? “
“Tomorrow morning” I said dramatically.
“You do that, I’ll take you to Koshy’s.” says Karthik humorously.
That’s my problem. I over commit.
But it makes me anxious; the only state in which I do any work.
So that’s good.
I look at the newsletter. It’s titled THINK. I remember back at my engineering college there was an IBM 1620. It came with one accessory that was hung on the wall. A little IBM designed plate that read THINK. Their slogan since they started making computers. (Before this they made meat slicers.). And, evidently, IBM did THINK. Because they had 5 Nobel laureates on their rolls. Suddenly it was all coming together. This is one company that had an interesting history And a dynamic present. Obviously the future could not be any behind. (Metaphors mixed, oops.)
I got it. I am going to give Karthik not one poster, but three. Two teasers followed by the final one. Writing the teasers was a breeze. The problem was the final one.
Then I remembered a line I had written for our institute T shirt: “I THINK, THEREFORE IIM”. It wasn’t used because the student’s rep didn’t get it. (Yes, not all IIM grads have heard Descartes’ original line.)
I leapt at the opportunity. “I THINK, THEREFORE IBM”, I wrote.
Morning came, and Karthik couldn’t believe it. A writer chasing him with work to see. He did like my lines. But more the fact that I had lines, I suspected. Anyway he asked Santosh, a kindhearted art guy to make the layouts, which, in those pre-Mac days, took at least 24 hours. So I had my nails for nutrition.
When I saw the bromides, I remember thinking “My lines! In print! They look good.”

The next afternoon when I came back from lunch. I saw these messages on my soft board.

I still have these yellow post-its, only they’ve yellowed further in 16 years. Mike Klein (then head of IBM India) actually had these posters framed for his room.
Karthik’s enthusiasm for my work helped my career get the impetus it badly needed. Today he is in Singapore heading, among other things, the GLOBAL BRAND FORUM. (Google it, you’ll learn a lot.) Thanks Karthik.
Balki gave a me a pat on my back. And lots of work.
Simply put, my first ad came to me rather easily. It was the ones that followed that threw me. But that’s another post, for another day.
Karthik did take me to Koshy’s. Where I had the first steak of my life.

Posted by Thomas

1 comment:

Ram said...

Really nice, For me the best part was the last line in the 2nd poster.