When Ambuja Cement launched its ad campaign featuring international wrestling star Khali last year, it became one of the high points for Publicis as they introduced a unique narrative style in the cement category.
The ad was covered extensively by the national and international media for its innovative approach. It not only changed the face of the category, but also opened a lot of opportunities for the agency.
So far, it’s been a good year for Publicis as their work is getting a lot of recognition. They started with the much talked about Ranveer-Alia campaign for MakeMyTrip. Then came the ‘Gorilla ad’ campaign for Park Avenue Beer Shampoo, the Havmor ice cream commercials and the latest from the agency is the new Maggi Hot and Sweet campaign.
In an interview with exchange4media, Bobby Pawar, Managing Director & Chief Creative Officer, Publicis Worldwide speaks about his journey at Publicis, about Partha Sinha’s exit, his expectation at Cannes, how social media is over taking creative freedom and more...
How have things shaped up for Publicis ever since you took charge in 2013?
In the beginning you actually want to survey the landscape and see what’s going on. Some people believe in rolling up their sleeves and getting into action. I didn’t want to act precipitously, so I took time to understand what’s going on. Figure out what is worth protecting and what needs to be changed.
Few things, which became clear to me right in the beginning, included the fact that Publicis is young; we’ve been around in the country for a little over a decade and half. And not too many peers or clients knew about us. Yes we had done good work in the past but the quality wasn’t consistent and greatness wasn’t to be found. We weren’t invited to many pitches, because we weren’t known.
Over time, we changed a fair bit of leadership in both creative and account management. It needed to be done. See it is like this; there will always be people who believe in your cause and those who don’t. The latter will become miserable because much more is expected from them, that they are either unwilling or incapable of delivering. So it is better to part ways before it gets really bad, otherwise it creates a lot of heartache on both sides. The other thing is you really have to protect the talented people who really believe in you.
So when did things start to look brighter?
Things started to look better over a year back. We did the ‘Rajkumari Maggi’ campaign, which was a big step forward for the brand. We followed that up with well-regarded campaigns for HDFC Mutual Funds, Nerolac Suraksha. Then Khali for Ambuja Cement happened, that’s when it all clicked. We got on a roll. New clients started calling, talented people wanted to join us and we were winning businesses against everybody.
According to you, what is Publicis lacking and how do you want to address those challenges?
The biggest lacuna is recognition. If you ask people about our most famous campaigns, including the one with Khali, most of them may not say Publicis. We are not PR savvy enough; we haven’t put out ourselves there. That is something which we got to change. We got to merchandise the work we do. We got to take the credit which is due to us.
What else do we lack? Honest confession; we lack everything. We are improving, but we are nowhere as good as I want us to be. And we will probably never be. If I want a label to describe us, it is ‘work in progress’. Technology and how it affects human life keeps changing and we even need to evolve along with it.
After the exit of Partha, are you trying to find his replacement?
Nakul and I talked about it, we reached certain conclusions. We were not going to try to replace Partha. His sheer experience, his background, you can’t replicate that, because there are not too many people in the industry with similar skills. So we decided to find a different kind of a person.
Most of our agency is young. We have made a habit of putting talented people in positions that are bigger than their resumes. But this time, we got really lucky. We found Himanshu Rai. He has a killer resume and he’s young. He’s worked in integrated outfits across Asia. He is really bright and we hit it off quickly. Good chemistry is important, because even if you have violent disagreements, you know that it is the work and not the person.
Of course, I miss Partha and we have been friends for a really long time. And he was my creative sounding board. But when he left, it was also in a weird way an opportunity for us to try something different. We’ve done some good work since his departure. I guess he left us in a great place.
Are you expecting a lot of recognition at Cannes this year?
I don’t know. I never tend to go in with the feeling that- hey we deserve to win! It is like you go into the game, without being too high or too low. If we win on the day, I will be happy and it is forgotten the next day. If we lose, I will be sad, probably get drunk. But next day it is again forgotten. The effort is to learn something from it either way and move on.
In your view, which are the areas where today’s ad generation needs to focus on?
They need to pay more attention. Listen to what the boss, client, or colleagues are saying and try to learn. You may disagree with a lot of things, but atleast try to understand why something is the way it is and why you disagree with it. To form an opinion is the easiest thing in this world. But to understand that opinion is hard. Fools have opinions. Every wise woman and a man, has an understanding of where they stand on any particular issue and why they stand there.
The other problem of youth is that everyone is in a hurry. Tomorrow is still there and after tomorrow, there will be another tomorrow. Your time will come. But you have to use today and every day that follows to get ready for it. Learn, learn, learn, from culture, art, the people you live or work with. Live outside of yourself.
Your work is going to be only as good as the stuff you feed your soul with. If you are ignorant, your work will be ignorant. If you are behind the times, your work will be too.
I pray for all the young people to get there. Some of them have the talent. Unfortunately that’s not all it takes.
Any particular category which you think is churning out great work?
I think the work is spread across. I loved BBDO’s ‘Share the Load’, Bajaj’s Vikrant and many more. Even for us, this year we started with Ambuja Cement, did MakeMyTrip and Maggi Hot and Sweet Tomato Sauce campaigns, so it is across categories. Nothing makes me happier than great work in the toughest categories and with the toughest clients. They become the shinning beacon and inspire other agencies and clients to try things differently. All you need is an example and the question here is – Who is going to create the example.
There have been instances when brands like Ola Micro, Havells etc., have faced social media backlash for their campaigns forcing them to pull down their creatives. What are your thoughts on this kind of a scenario where social media is overtaking the creative freedom?
In today’s age, you can’t keep stuff away from social media. If you don’t put it out there, somebody else will. And unless it is totally boring, it will be commented on. And some of the loudest voices on social media are that of the haters. They are very often the minority, but because they rant, it seems like they are everywhere. This is where great listening comes in. You need a really good social agency to tell you how much good stuff is being said and how much bad. Then you can take a rational view of things, rather than a personal emotional action.
Socially driven things have become the flavour of the day. So when you take a stand, there will always be people who will stand against you. You have to be strong and let it go, don’t let your feelings get into it, the issue gets murkier.
Understand that haters will always be haters and you can’t reason with them. They have set their point of view and the only thing they want to do, is to tear you down. Of course, you need to be clear that you don’t cause it in the first place, because there is no point in being indignant if you are wrong.