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Advertising Interviews

Kartik Iyer

CEO | 09 Dec 2011

Our vision, our commitment, our oneness, and the stupid belief that we can be the best in the world. We have a work culture that defines that you are either in or you are out. There is no room for free floating mediocrity. We don’t do mindless work for money, hence we don’t need people who do that kind of work. We don’t even entertain clients who are willing to pay loads of money for it. We have 8-12 hours in a day. The time and energy spent are the same. So, why waste it on a high roller who is a low blower?

When WorldSpace came out with the award winning AR Rahman campaign, it became instantly popular with its exclusive signature tune and excellent cinematography. The man behind the conception and execution of the ad was Kartik Iyer. He is the CEO and Co-founder of Happy Creative Services, a four-year old creative ‘ideashop’.

Iyer began his journey in advertising as an intern in December 1995 with Fifth Estate Communications. In May-June 1996, he joined Ivy League with only four people in the agency, where he was the only junior copywriter. In April 1998, he joined Goldwire Communications as Group Head in Chennai, subsequently moving to Bangalore in October 1999. He was brought in to resurrect the creative operations of the branch. During his tenure there, he handled the largest ever edition of Bangalore IT.com in 2000. Turning the branch into a profit centre in one year, he was soon promoted as the Bangalore Branch Head. After a successful stint in Goldwire Bangalore, Aubrey Sequira, CEO of Goldwire, brought him back to the head office as CD of the group at the age of 24.

In April 2001, he started over as a copy trainee for six months and later on became Group Head at Y&R in Dubai under Shahir Zag. In November 2003, when he was in the post of ACD, he left the agency and returned to India, doing freelance work for a while as he was intent on joining O&M and no other agency. In May 2004, he joined O&M, Bangalore where he worked with V Mahesh and Rajiv Rao. It was here that he produced the WorldSpace Rahman campaign.

He met Praveen Das at O&M and they ‘hit it off’ instantly. They set up Happy Creative Services in May 2007 and have worked with brands such as Lee, Myntra.com, Basics Life, and Flipkart.com. The character ‘Chamarajpet Charles’ for Radio One was one of their first creations. They also came up with the concept for the ‘Incredible India’ campaign two years ago produced by Nirvana Films. The ad won the ‘World’s Best Tourism Commercial Award’ in 2009. More recently, Happy has been credited with the successful launch of Flipkart.com and the “No Kidding. No worries Campaign”, which features young children acting as adults.

Iyer is also well-known in the comedy circuit as a stand-up comedian performing under the stage name of the HigherIyer Show.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Sai Prasanna, Iyer speaks about starting Happy, independent creative shops, the current advertising scenario in India and more…

Q. What was the main motive for establishing an independent creative hotshop rather than moving to an established agency from O&M? Are you staying true to that motive or has it diluted over the past five years?

The motive was simple. We didn’t have the patience to wait out the seniors to finish their time at the top. We wanted to do something we believed in. Work on big ideas - ideas that go beyond advertising campaigns. We started an idea shop, and we can gladly say we have been true to the philosophy.

Q. Why did you decide to choose Bangalore as your base rather than ad hubs such as Mumbai or Delhi?

We’re from here, and we love Bangalore. We didn’t feel the need to scurry to some pre-destined Mecca of advertising. We were clear we wanted to be special. And we were very clear that in a market that appreciates quality, clients will come to us if we do good work. The choice was never about where, it was about HOW do we make sure we do good work. If you do great work, people will come to you. Setting your own standards and delivering on them, people will come to you.

Q. Which are the categories of clients that you are catering to right now? What is the category that is witnessing rapid growth that will, in turn, contribute a large chunk to the advertising segment in the South?

We cater to clients in the fashion category, dairy products, e-commerce and IT. Currently, e-commerce contributes to our largest chunk when it comes to visibility and revenue. We are not about the south - we are only based here. Our clients are national.

Q. What is the present scenario in the advertising industry?

Stalwarts in the industry have taken the Indian advertising and creative standards up by several notches. That said, it is also important for agencies to not just think of ads or campaigns, but also of ideas that can influence or change consumer behaviour. Many try too hard to be different and somehow sell their clients. They attempt to be creative for the sake of being creative and most times aim to outdo others. There is also a tendency to ape foreign ads or create ads in a genre that has worked well previously. Many come up with ads without giving a thought to the audience.

The main motive of creating an ad or communication is that it should affect people in some way or the other. There is no point of a campaign that is packaged well, but has no effect whatsoever on people. Some memorable ads are those of Cadbury, Vodafone’s Zoozoo and ‘Har Ek Friend’ by Airtel.

Q. What are the chances of survival of independent creative agencies in the South and overall? Do you see them retaining their identity and getting business from the big guys or eventually going in for a buyout by a larger agency?

The challenges we face are the same as any start-up and or any independent set-up challenging a network-based corporation. The biggest challenge is to stay true to your vision and retaining your identity. We cannot speak for others, but we’re trying our best to stay true to what we set out to do. We’re here to do great work and leave a hallmark in the advertising timeline of our country. What will happen to us in the future even we cannot predict, let alone forecast an eventuality for others like us.

Q. What are the key points that you think work in favour of an independent ‘idea shop’, as you call yourselves, as opposed to an established agency?

Our vision, our commitment, our oneness, and the stupid belief that we can be the best in the world. We have a work culture that defines that you are either in or you are out. There is no room for free floating mediocrity. We don’t do mindless work for money, hence we don’t need people who do that kind of work. We don’t even entertain clients who are willing to pay loads of money for it. We have 8-12 hours in a day. The time and energy spent are the same. So, why waste it on a high roller who is a low blower?

Q. What is the kind of growth that the agency has seen since its opening in May 2007? How many accounts have you acquired over the past six months? What is the size of billings that you have registered over the last year?

We have been growing at roughly 70 per cent every year. We have launched two new e-commerce brands in the last eight months that have enjoyed success and recognition from their very first campaign. We have acquired only one account in the last six months. That’s because we are very stringent about the clients we work with. It is imperative that all our clients have an outstanding vision for themselves else we have no role to play.

Q. There was an understanding and general consensus at AdAsia this year that advertising is becoming more ‘Indianised’ rather than going the international route. Do you see this actually happening or is it just another trend that is being seen in the majority?

Staying true to one’s own culture is the reality to success in all forms of art. We believe what we do is an art. Art is to be appreciated. Trends are for readers.

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