In a freewheeling chat with exchange4media, Sajan Raj Kurup, Founder & Creative Chairman, Creativeland Asia talks about the thought process behind the much talked about MTS ad, which “talks to the internet generation and not the Doordarshan generation”. In his characteristic direct manner, Kurup talks about how he has learnt how to grow a thick skin and keep his heart intact, his reason for not participating in Goafest this year, enjoying the freedom of being an independent agency and more...
Your latest TVC for MTS has evoked a series of mixed reactions and has been much talked about since its release...
I think I polarise people more than the work that I do. Just kidding! But the reception to the MTS film has been overwhelming. We created the piece of work for India, but the work seems have gone global with the internet. 8.5 million views across 200 countries is certainly unexpected. When we study trends across 85 per cent likes is a great reception. Far better than what I’d expected. We’ve had about 35 strong media publications across the world writing in about 11 languages about how striking this piece of work is. So, to answer your question, with 85 per cent people finding it kind of striking, the 15 per cent, who might feel otherwise, does not make it mixed reactions.
What was the creative brief for this campaign? What were the insights/ thought process behind it?
Clearly, the brief was to put MTS on the map with a clear skew on their data offering, since that is the future. I think all of us were very clear that we needed to do something very edgy. Something that is for the internet generation and not the Doordarshan generation. The insight came from a common feeling most people have about digital natives, amplified by the kids who are born today and their apparent comfort with technology, devices and the internet. For instance, I have seen my own daughter work around the iPad with much more ease than my mother, which has often made me exclaim how kids today seem to be born with a keen feel for technology and the internet, unlike my generation. I just pushed that idea and created the MTS TVC.
Creativeland Asia continues to demand pitch fees, which only two other agencies do within the industry. Have you lost clients because of this, have there been times you have gone without the pitch fees because you really wanted to work on the brand?
I can be quite sure to claim that Creativeland is the only agency in the whole industry who has never pitched without a fee. I have never been a fan of agencies putting their best foot forward, reduce fees, work for nothing. But it is tough to stand our ground. Fortunately, I don’t work with network pressures and other controls and conditions beyond my control yet. I know a lot of people who have secretly told me they wish they could as well. And I respect them for sharing the view. And no, I haven’t till date gone without a pitch fee because I really wanted to work on the brand, when I have really wanted to work on the brand, I have gone all out to convince the most difficult brands to give us a pitch fee. I have failed many times. But this is unfortunately my own little war for respect. I will lose most days, but the days I win, drives me to put everything I have behind that brand for respecting what I believe in.
In times when ROI is being questioned, how do you maximise returns on advertising for your clients?
There is nothing called the right time to question ROI. The problem is that ROI is only questioned when times are tough. When you run a tight ship, when you put your reputation on the block, when you are bit of a maverick, and when you don’t really belong to any networks or industry camps, ROI matters more than anything else. I am still in business only because of my clients and their belief in Creativeland. Otherwise, being one of the more demanding people to work with, not exactly cheap and not being Mr Popular within the fraternity for my stance, I should have sold out and shut my shop long back.
Will there be no participation from CreativeLand Asia at Goafest going forward?
Not till we see some credibility and reason to invest. We will wait out this year to see what course Goafest takes after the massive and successive controversies surrounding it. We will re-evaluate its credibility next year and make an informed decision.
You have always been one who has stood out for your views – be it industry issues or brand campaigns. How does the industry react and view you? Has this changed over the years?
(Smiles) I have always stood for what I believe in. Anyone who I have worked with will vouch for that. Ask Arvind Sharma, Chax, Pops, Balki, Nirvik Singh and even AG Krishnamoorthi. Even when I was a trainee, I had a point of view. Yes, over the years, like most of us, I have mellowed. But I haven’t stopped standing up for what I think is right. It’s tough. When I was leaving Lowe, Balki said to me, you are good and you will do well. Grow some thick skin because few people will like you, but many will hate you. I took his advice. I have grown a thick skin, but kept my heart intact.
In today’s time, pitches have become much more frequent than before and sometimes clients use it as an excuse to get better pricing from their current agency. Do you think loyalty and long-term client-agency partnerships are things of the past now?
In our business, people get the clients they deserve. If you genuinely make a difference to your clients’ business and honestly deliver consistent solutions, there should be no reason why it wouldn’t make business sense for a client to continue with you. Loyalty is as nice a word, as ‘making business sense’ is a strong phrase. I wouldn’t get caught in the semantics of the two. I have always built my business relationships on ‘making business sense’ and personal relationships on loyalty. That way, the expectations and emotions are clear and not mixed up.