Highly-mechanised society, AI challenging modern advertising the most: Pradeep Sarkar

Sarkar, writer, director, ad filmmaker & Founder of Apocalypso Filmsworks, said that machines can’t decide right or wrong in the creative world, as there is a way of expression for everything

e4m by Mansi Sharma
Updated: Oct 29, 2021 9:03 AM  | 5 min read
Pradeep Sarkar

“Sometimes I ask myself if this profession is dead! How can it sustain itself (in such times),” writer, director, ad-filmmaker and founder of Apocalypso Filmsworks Pradeep Sarkar wonders when asked about advertising in modern times. The two prime reasons for his worry are; increasing dependence on AI within advertising & marketing functions, and the rampant cancel culture that is plaguing the world right now. 

Sarkar -- who started his career as a creative supervisor at Tulika Advertising Agency and shifted to ad filmmaking after spending almost two decades in mainstream advertising -- feels while the ‘woke culture’ has definitely helped the advertising industry to grow, it has also harmed it by going way out of control. 

“While people have certainly become more sensitive to certain issues and are rightfully raising their voices for several matters, I feel a great section of society has become highly mechanised as well in today’s phone age. They have started enjoying trolling and agitating. What is a trauma for some has become a tool for fun for the trollers. Their thinking process has been restricted,” he quips. 

Speaking about the increasing reliance on artificial intelligence within advertising and marketing, he notes, “Another problem I feel within modern advertising is unfiltered reliance on AI, especially on digital platforms. For example, I recently worked on a campaign against the practice child marriage in India, along with 82.5 Communications but Facebook restricted its reach because it actually showed a child bride. In the creative world, machines can’t decide what is right or wrong because there is a way of expression for everything. It might sit well with certain policies or might not. You can’t be having a problem with every single word or frame. One needs to understand the intent and the creative process. Now, that film might go on to win several awards, but it might not actually reach the people who need to see it. How will it serve its core purpose then?” 

He wonders if iconic ads like Dhara’s “Jalebi” or Surf’s “Dhoondhte Reh Jaoge” will pass through the scanner of AI for the sort of concepts and words they had in them now. “These campaigns define Indian advertising. Now imagine the Dhara campaign not passing the AI test for using the word jalebi which could also have suggestive connotations in today’s times,” he says. 

Sarkar, who has worked on more than 3000 ad films, including the iconic campaigns like Cadbury’s “Pappu Paas Ho Gaya”, Eveready’s “Give Me Red”, Catch Masala’s “Chinese Whisper”, and most recently a series of ads for Aaj Tak promoting credibility over sensationalism also feels that the world of advertising has also become very crowded now, compared to when he started in the industry. 

“When I had started, there were lesser players in the market, talking to consumers was simpler, even the whole ad-making process was simpler but now everything has changed. There are so many brands and as many agencies and teams making ads. Now, everyone is a filmmaker. And with digital advertising, it doesn’t stop at cracking one big idea, in fact, you have to keep the consumers engaged. Now people are shooting one short film everyday. People are creating a series of 5-6 minute long videos to sell products. Even the people who are working in the ad world, they are functioning in completely different manner now,” he expresses. 

However, one thing that has remained constant even today is the ‘idea’, “Even then (90s), the big idea was the winner, and even today, the big idea is the winner. It's all about cracking that one simple idea that can travel wide.” 

On being asked what was his favourite big idea or campaign that he remains forever proud of, Sarkar replies, “I have worked on so many great films with so many great agencies, brands and people, it will be unfair to every story that I have told till now to pick one of them (laughs).”

However, on being prodded, he shares, “If I talk about the initial days, when I had just started, I loved working on a campaign for Yellow Pages, which also worked amazingly well. We promoted it via contacts for divorce lawyers and the story was about a newborn child, which the father, on seeing the kid’s complexion, realises that he is not his own. While the campaign could not work in today’s times, it was loved back then. Apart from that, I love every film we have made for Aaj Tak’s ‘Sabse Tez Campaign’ in recent times. We, in fact, created some 50-60 ideas within just 10-15 days for this campaign and everything worked out so well from papers to the screen.” In between these, there has been a lot of work for Dabur, Patanjali, ITC Atta, and a lot many brands.” 

On being asked how advertisers and creators could work in today’s times, when even big, progressive ideas are being challenged and trolled, Sarkar emphasises that people will have to trust their convictions more and stand by their beliefs. 

“You have to do you! It’s impossible to please everyone. Therefore, if your intentions are right and you know you haven’t created something really problematic, stand by your decision,” he concludes. 

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