Having spent over 14 years at Ogilvy India, Abhijit Avasthi, National Creative Director, in a detailed chat with exchange4media, talks about his default journey into advertising, few landmark campaigns, his belief in the importance of spending time with juniors and pinpointing mistakes with a brutal honesty, his dream of only Ogilvy’s campaigns being talked about in every corner and more...
Do you agree with the popular notion that cause-related advertising is going to be big for brands to talk to consumers?
One is always looking for two things – a relevant way of communicating and originality. If a product is doing cause-related marketing, my sense is that it maybe counter-productive for another product in the same category to use cause-related communication well; it comes across as a ‘me too’. I believe people also want to get entertained. Brands need to ask themselves: Is this relevant to my brand strategy?
You have been with Ogilvy India for more than 14 years now; what are some of the game-changers or milestones in your journey till now?
The very fact that I have lasted so long is a milestone in my mind. I never planned to be in advertising industry; this is a default journey for me. I don’t plan things. I came here because it was a fun place to do fun stuff and they let me do fun stuff.
Personal recognition for me came when the world took notice of my work with the Centre Shock barber commercial, Fevicol bus, Asian Paints ‘Wah Sunil babu badhiya hain’, Cadbury ‘Kuch Meetha ho jaye’, etc. This was done by me in my first five-six years at Ogilvy. These were landmarks for me in my career in terms of people noticing the variety of work that I could do.
After creating such landmarks, how difficult does it become to re-create the old magic?
I would hope not, otherwise I should retire tomorrow. One always hopes to do fabulous work and hopes that every piece he attempts will become a milestone. But, a lot of stars need to align for something to truly become iconic. Most of the time, it happens once or twice in people’s lives. I have been lucky to have a few more success. It is like India can keep winning the World Cup but the 1983 win will always be talked about.
In hindsight, any campaign that you would do differently?
Maybe we shouldn’t have done a sequel to the ‘Papu paas ho gaya’ commercial.
What are some of learnings from all these years of advertising?
The campaigns that were done with a fair bit of thought and originality and a fearlessness to do something new – which the client also agreed to – were extremely successful. Only when we have tread the same path again is when we have not met with the same degree of success. That is a lesson I have learnt – Don’t try to replicate and duplicate, but be fearless and do something new.
What kind of mentoring and training takes place at Ogilvy India?
Any youngster stays on for different reasons. Most importantly, there needs to be learning, and an opportunity to put that learning to use. One of reasons people keep coming back to Ogilvy is the fact that what you think of, does see the light of day. For a creative person, this is true joy. Nothing beats the delight of someone discussing your campaign. We keep telling senior people to ensure juniors get enough opportunity.
About training and learning, it comes at two levels – one is formal and systematic learning, which has its place through workshops, and the other is every day feedback. What is most important since we have such a hectic pace of work is on the job coaching. If juniors come to you with a piece of work, you have to give feedback. I keep telling my senior creative people that when youngsters come to you, don’t stop at saying ‘mazaa nahin aaya’ but explain ‘mazaa kyun nahin aaya’. Give them two to three options to work on; that is what mentoring and coaching is all about. It has to be daily and with every piece of work. The idea is to pin-point exactly what is wrong with the work and how it can be corrected. Many a times, you harm a person by not telling him what the problem is.
We’ve become very systematic in our formal appraisal, where we sit people down and tell them what needs to be corrected.
On digital as well, we are doing extensive training across the agency. This is stemming from O&M Worldwide initiative, where each person has to be digitally-savvy. We also have a partnership with Google, which is helping us train our people.
As a creative leader, where would you want to see Ogilvy five years from now?
If in every corner, every bus, every lane, the only campaigns that people would talk about would be Ogilvy’s, it would make me a very happy person.