Deshpande, recently appointed chairman and chief creative officer of Contract Advertising, has a yen for architecture. That is probably why he is good at building brands.
Deshpande's first job in 1985 was in the art department at Clarion (now Bates 141) Mumbai. At Clarion, he worked on accounts such as Philips and TOMCO (Tata Oil & Mills). However, Clarion wasn't Deshpande's kind of place. "It was a strategically led agency that backed safe ads. I felt kind of stifled there, thanks to a lack of creativity," he says. After 10 months, he moved to Ogilvy & Mather (O&M), Bengaluru.
The highlight of his stint in O&M was when the legend, David Ogilvy, visited the Bengaluru office for about a week. Deshpande laughs on recollection, saying, "He was sharp, witty and also quite forthright. He trashed one of my campaigns, telling me exactly what he thought of it!"
At O&M, Deshpande was a part of the team that pitched for the Titan account and won it (in 1986). He also had his first brush with Contract, which was being set up then. "They wanted me to lead the art function as senior art director," he says. As far as job profiles go, it was a dream come true for someone who had been in the industry for barely two years.
Deshpande saw Contract grow into a five-office setup (Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Delhi). In 1991, Ram Sehgal, the chief, sent Deshpande to Mumbai. The agency was trying to go beyond stereotypical work but some clients were difficult to convince. Contract faced an acute dilemma: should it retain businesses by churning out average work or fight for good creatives and lose some clients in the process?
It chose the latter. Those who believed in Contract's way of thinking included Ravi Pisharody of Philips Audio, BS Nagesh of Shoppers Stop and Rajeev Bakshi and Bharat Puri of Cadbury's. The agency quickly won the accounts of Chicklets, NIIT, Asian Paints and Bajaj Sunny.
During 1993-2000, Contract had a good run. "We were amongst the first agencies from India to get lucky at Cannes, too," he says, recollecting that in 1996, Contract won a Bronze Lion for a traffic hoarding (against drunk driving) in Mumbai. Contract Delhi, too, won awards in 1991.
In 2000, however, restlessness crept in. Deshpande wanted to do "something" in the field of new media. Thus, Lemon - in association with Euro RSCG - was born. The name was suggested by Deshpande's friend, Vivek Kamath of Trikaya. "He asked me, 'Do you want a name that is the headline of an ad?' and suggested Lemon (from a Volkswagen ad of those days). I instantly loved the sound of it," he says.
"At Lemon, besides mainstream media, we did design and retail work. We created the Birla Viscose brand without using mass media," he adds. Lemon had clients such as Cadbury, INOX Multiplexes, Standard Chartered Mutual Funds, BBC World and Onida.
However, a few years down the line, Lemon had to be dissolved. "Rohit Srivastava, Jagdip Bakshi and Craig Davis pulled me back to Contract," he says. Deshpande also authored the concept of 'Grow Young', a philosophy for the agency and its brands. He admits to have learnt from all kinds of people, but ultimately, built his own leadership style. "I respect Subhas Ghosal, Chris Rozario and Mohammed Khan," he says.
Deshpande loves architecture and photography. "There's nothing I would love more than to go into the wilderness and shoot landscapes. Or lose myself among a throng of people and shoot portraits of people going about with their day," he says.
The jazz fan says, "I'd like to think of myself as an observer. I have learnt a lot from the Cannes Advertising Festival, from clients, from colleagues, from books… from life."