Advertising Interviews

Gullu Sen

Managing Partner | 22 Jun 2012

The advertising business is starved of creative talent. The younger generation, fresh out of B-Schools, wants to actualise fast. One should come to advertising to accept it as an intellectual challenge and not for money. I would say, ‘Come to advertising if you have the talent’.

Gullu shapes the creative vision of From Here On. His work is informed by sharp insights, surprising ideas and executions that impact the culture.

Before From Here On, he headed Dentsu’s operations in India as Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Creative Officer. He has also led creative efforts at Rediffusion DY&R, Mudra, Trikaya Grey and JWT.

Gullu is acclaimed for his game-changing work on brands. ‘Sar Utha Ke Jiyo’ for HDFC Standard Life, the Aamir Khan campaign for Toyota Innova, and the ‘Kancha’ ad for Maruti are just some picks from a vast portfolio that also features brands like AT&T, Canon, Colgate, Rasna, Aircel, Acer and many more.

When he is not working (rare!), Gullu creates sculptures, listens to music and nurtures his verdant garden.

Gullu Sen, Managing Partner, From Here On talks to exchange4media about advertising today, the uniqueness of real estate advertising, his memorable ad campaigns, his journey and more.

Q. Your career covers stints at Rediffusion DY&R, Dentsu, Interact+Vision, Trikaya Grey (now Grey Worldwide), JWT and now From Here On. How has the journey been?

All I can say is that it’s been very exciting, different and completely polarized. I began in HTA (now JWT) which was a different world. That was a huge institution, where I spent time learning the ropes. I was lucky to be there. At Trikaya it was a diametrically opposite organization, that was creatively-driven. Then on I found my specialization and set up Interact+Vision in Delhi and Mumbai. I started to work with small entrepreneurs, as that was the focus there. That’s when I saw the market closely, how the smaller retailers work, which was very different from the corporate world of advertising. It was a drastically different world. Then I got the chance to revive Rediffusion DY&R, which was aggressive in business, and I was involved in new business development. Some of the brands I worked on were - Airtel campaign before it was called Airtel (it was called Bharati Cellular then), Colgate, Suzuki, Citibank amongst others.

Q. And then you started From Here On. How has your story moved on?

After my tenure at Dentsu, I started From Here On with Rajesh Aggarwal as Managing Partner, Shivanand Mohanty as Creative Partner, Nitin Suri as Creative Partner, Partho Maitra as Client Partner . Our staff strength today is around 25, and we handle everything from digital to space designing. Here we decided that we shall work fro nobody but us. From here on we are looking at communication differently; what’s important is we are our won employees. Our agency is a one-stop-shop that goes beyond the creative copies, to engage meaningfully with today's consumers.

We are currently in the process of setting up a digital studio for making digital films for different brands. The name of the studio is ‘Wasabi’, which is a potent Japanese green condiment made from the root of the herb ‘Eutrema Wasabi’; this studio will be formally launched soon.

Digital is the future and this is where our digital studio comes in. Sometimes the scenario is this - agencies develop a campaign pass it on to the digital division and clients may not have exposure to digital. We decided to start this so we could look at total integration of the campaign.

Q. Your logo is an interesting configuration of symbols. Please elaborate.

The identity of the new agency has been created by Nitin Suri. The logo comprises three icons, each of which has been created with a meaning. While the first one stands for 'Great ideas come from people', in the second icon, the 'paper plane' represents fun; in the third icon, 'the bird' is a reminder that there are no boundaries to creativity.

We have 100 icons and we can pick and choose what we want to use. Like on my card I have chosen icons displaying a book and music, since I am into those. So your visiting card is ‘customized’ and it can be your own signature.

Q. You do a lot of real estate ads. Where do you think this category has reached today?

Real estate advertising has an interesting problem – it is the nature of the problem, which is that it has a fixed window of time. There’s no long-term brand building; the brief comes quick and you have to execute quickly too. It’s concept-selling. The building is not ready, everything is on the drawing board. Of course if you want to build corporate image, it is different. Actualisation here is faster than any other category.

Q. Recently TRAI (The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India ) capped the duration of advertisements on television at 12 minutes per hour. What would be the impact of this move?

My first reaction is that it will reduce clutter; chances of ads being seen will be more, as more ads doesn’ t mean it’s ‘seen’! Directly somebody will be fighting for space. Today the clutter can be attributed to communication that is insipid and boring and there is an irritation level too. Traditionally 30 sec ad is the average where you can do a lot. It may be that 60 sec ad amy go out altogether. Alternatively, the marketer may want to spend more. I feel it should affect media planning, which may become more robust.

Q. You had floated an agency called ‘Blue Turtle’...

After I left Rediffusion I didn’t want to join any agency, so I started this. I wanted to take a break and the prospects seemed to have interesting challenges. But as luck would have it, I was pulled into Dentsu. Today Blue Turtle is inactive, asleep….if I do revive it, it will be for something else, not advertising.

Q. Scriptwriting has been your focus and you had gone quite far in this area. How would you describe it?

I am a trained graphic designer and started working on scripts after I joined advertising. I used to think why copywriters work on films. As a scriptwriter, I saw everything in frames and as a visualiser and could visualize the storyline. Some of the memorable ads I have done are – Maruti Suzuki Ladakh ad, HDFC Standard Life Insurance ‘sar uthake jiyo’ ad, Innova commercial with Amir Khan in different avatars, the Airtel ad with A R Rahman’s signature tune which is their property today and I’m glad I had my share in that.

Q. Creative people are branching out and setting up creative hot shops in Delhi. This seems to be a new phenomenon. Please comment.

I don’t think it’s more of a coincidence. Great creative guys moving out would rather work in comfort as it’s easier and more focused on delivery. The scope of design shops are also coming up. In our case at FHO, we are senior people and turnaround time is faster and bring value on to the table.

Q. Any message for aspiring advertising professionals?

The advertising business is starved of talent and we do need creative talent. Also in good B Schools, the younger generation wants to actualize fast. One should come to advertising to accept it as an intellectual challenge and not for money. I would say – ‘Come to advertising if you have the talent’.

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