Advertising Interviews

Ramanuj Shastry

NCD | 18 Feb 2011

From Piyush, I learned the power of enthusiasm; from Prasoon, the power of poetry; from Santosh, the power of thinking; and from Bobby, the power of personal standards… I believe that Indian creativity consists of a bunch of brilliant people who have their own methodology to fall back upon and know what world class work is.

Ramanuj Shastry is an MBA and holds degrees in Economics and Mathematics. He started his career with Ogilvy India in 1994 and then moved to McCann Erickson as Senior Creative Director, where he was stationed for 11 years.

In June 2006, he joined Publics Ambience as National Creative Director. After spending a year there, Shastry joined Rediffusion Y&R in September 2007 as Co-Chief Creative Officer, along with Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar then.

In 2009 when he was appointed as NCD at Saatchi & Saatchi India. Over the years, Shastry has worked on brands such as Airtel, Virgin Atlantic, Chlormint, Coca-Cola, Saffola, Castrol and British Airways, among many others.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Tasneem Limbdiwala, Shastry speaks at length about the Lovemarks philosophy, creativity in advertising, and personal standards, among others…

Q. 2009 was when you joined Saatchi & Saatchi India as the National Creative Director and it’s been almost two years now. According to you, have you achieved your goals or benchmarks that you had created for yourself at the time of taking the role? What were the benchmarks then and what are the benchmarks now in terms of creativity within the agency?

Can I answer this question a bit differently?

You cannot make a Rediffusion Y&R into an Ogilvy or a Publicis into a McCann. First, we need to understand what the strengths of the agency are before trying to bring the changes within the agency. So, I have taken time to understand what the Lovemarks company is all about and try to understand what the way forward for the agency is and try to align myself with that, and this has been my effort till now.

Q. So, what is the way forward for you and the agency?

Actually, advertising business is in the state of luck. Print does not work anymore; television is on its way out; and digital no one knows how to do it. However, confusion is good because it is the mother of the next big idea. But I believe that Indian creativity consists of a bunch of brilliant people who have their own methodology to fall back upon and know what world class work is. So, I believe in the future some of the best ideas will come from India; however, we are still waiting… It’s like a seed that we sow in the ground, when it will burst open, nobody knows. So yes, it will take some time and we are getting use to the new rules of these changes.

Q. You mentioned about understanding Lovemarks company. What have understood and how are you applying this philosophy in your work?

Till now I have always seen a consumer as a person. From now on I have to think of people as a community. Because as per the Lovemarks philosophy, we are not a ‘person’ but the ‘people.’ So instead of talking to one person, I have to talk to many people. Now, I have learnt that ‘people’ is a plural term and I need talk to them as a community. That’s the shift for me because our goal is to create brands into Lovemarks, which are high on love and not just respect. It is easy to achieve respect, but achieving love is an even more difficult task for a brand.

The task for me is not propose to the client the regular TV, print and outdoor positioning. We at Saatchi believe that everything is digital and nothing is digital. Digital is just a medium and we need to sell our story via that medium, but the idea is that ‘people’ should interact with you through that idea and not just be passive listeners to your brands. Conversation is the key to the ideas and it is a two-way process.

Also, one should take note of the fact that I am a product of the old world. I was very comfortable talking down from a TV and a print ad where nobody talked back to me. I am now a new learner in the conversations area. Taking this idea forward, we are working on many brands currently. But many of the work still have to be released; however, you will see the work in the attempt at these conversations.

Q. Any examples that you would like to share in this regard?

A recent example would be Novartis. A nasal decongestion programme activity carried out through virtual samplings that were adopted on social media platforms like Facebook and also carried forward via on-ground programmes in malls and other stores. A lot of participation was seen even without advertising in the regular ATL mediums like TV and print, through which the company gained a lot respect and coverage. The positive factor here that played in its favour was the environment where people were concerned about ‘decongestion’ and it was brought to light that there were several who were suffering from congestion. It was a simple connect and due to this connection it created a good buzz around the whole activity and the brand.

Lovemarks philosophy starts and ends with people. The moment people own the brand, you have achieved your goal. For example, Apple is a people’s brand. People will halt if Apple stops from tomorrow. In the same way if ParleG stops, there will be an impact on people. So, that’s the key for a perfectly respected and loved brand.

Q. Post your joining, there had been quite a lot of talent churn that took place. For instance, senior sources like Juju Basu and Hanoz Mongrelia had quit last year. Has there been any impact on the creative team operations post the development?

Obviously, when good people move it’s a matter of regret and you don’t want to lose them; they are old Saatchi hands and Lovemarks soldiers, they shall always be dear to us. But an individual’s career is always important according to their personal and professional agenda. Both the agendas should match at the some point of time; probably they saw growth elsewhere and hence quit. However, my coming to the agency may have been a reminder to them to re-look at their growth.

Q. Kindly share with us the details on the new creative team that you may have created now?

Currently, we’ve had Mithun Mirji from Bates 141, Rakesh Pandit from Ogilvy India and Titus Upputuru in Delhi, who is the celebrity creative director in the market.

Q. Have you replaced any Mumbai branch head for business development?

We are in talks with several people.

Q. How are you all building your business then? Because that kind of talent is important too…

It’s not very easy to replace senior talent. Several things have to be met. They have to buy into the corporate culture, they may be self starters, but they must be leaders that people look up to. It’s not easy to find them because the really good people are always taken. And the good people are always less in number, which is why they are so important. So, we’re on the lookout, but will take some time.

Q. You are a well respected name in the Indian advertising industry and as one takes your name, it is assumed to have some great work coming from your end. But post your joining Saatchi, we have not witnessed any path breaking work coming from the agency. Any particular reason for that?

I think it is more important for Saatchi to make a name than Ramanuj to make a name. The reason why I am hired by Saatchi & Saatchi is to take the creative level a step ahead rather than making Ramanuj Shastry the big star. Frankly, I don’t have to prove anything to anyone and my proving would come if Saatchi makes it big, and it’s just not me, but the radar stands for my creative team to engage with people and communicate the right kind of work. That’s the real push. So yes, it is taking time, but you will see something good coming out soon. Biryani banne ke liye time lagta hai, madam! It’s much better to be quiet and then come out with some good work rather than make noise.

Q. Please tell us about some of the current campaigns that you and your agency have been working upon?

There has been some work happening on Ariel and we are trying to push the brand to the next level and it’s a continuous work. There are still many more in the process, however I won’t be able to talk on them as they are still in the pipeline.

Q. Recently, the agency had lost the MTS business in Delhi. What went wrong there and how are you as an NCD trying to make up for the loss of the business?

I have no clue about this. I was associated with the brand for a year. It is obviously bad that we lost the business of that scale of size in any market. But I guess we pitched well along with the other agencies in the fray, however the best one won the business.
The loss is just not in terms of creativity, but a loss in terms of both business and creative. And yes, our Delhi office has been affected by the lost. But we will bounce back, though it may take its time.

Q. There is an interesting story as to how you started your career in advertising. You were basically an HRD manager at Dhara. What made you come to advertising?

I didn’t know the word copywriter ever existed. It was when I had come to Mumbai to visit my sister. She was then working as an Account Executive at Mudra. It was then that I had a chance to encounter the creative den of advertising and observed that these guys were having a ball while at the same time working with their feet on their table. This is when I realised I too would want to experience such working environment. So I applied to every agency to try my luck and it was only one agency that replied to my resume. The agency was Ogilvy India. It was very kind of them, they asked to take a copy write test and I got through. The rest is history.

Q. You have been quoted mentioning names like Piyush Pandey, Prasoon Joshi, Santosh Desai and Bobby Pawar, whom you consider as your mentors. What was your experience working with all these professionals and the learning that you have gained from them?

From Piyush, I learned the power of enthusiasm; from Prasoon, the power of poetry; from Santosh, the power of thinking; and from Bobby, the power of personal standards.

Q. Personal standards… kindly elaborate?

Bobby taught me that nobody else puts up standards for you, it’s you who puts up your own standards. It’s lonely out there! When you’re an NCD, you’re essentially the one who heads the creative department, but even if you are not, one needs to have one’s own standards. It becomes very important professionally, because you need to know who you are fighting as a competitor; it’s not necessary that your fight is with the person who is sitting next to your table, it could also be with somebody who is writing a copy from Argentina.

Q. You have worked on some of well-known brands like Coke, Airtel and many more. Any specific work that has been the most memorable for you? Any particular reason for it to be memorable?

I recently saw an interview of singer Michael Bolton where he was asked what the pinnacle of his career was. He replied, ‘My career is like porcupine, there have been many pinnacles’. In the same way, I want my career to be like a porcupine with many pinnacles in them. As far as any memorable experience, I am not one who treasures memories. It’s just that if you start loving your past, you can’t look at the future. Past is gone and done; but of course there are good memories, but they are very personal. So what is exciting is what lies ahead, what is done is done and I can’t change anything about it!

Q. As per the industry grapevine, there have been talks of you too on your way out from Saatchi. How much element of truth exists in these speculations?

I really don’t know where all these rumours are floating from. I am committed to Saatchi & Saatchi and the Lovemarks company and I am here to stay. All these talks are just speculations, let’s not give it too much importance.

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