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Guest Article: Kiran Koshy: How I learnt to stop scamming and love advertising

By Kiran Koshy , The Richards Group, Dallas | In Advertising | May 08, 2013
I love advertising, and I've always been in it to solve my client's problems using my creativity. Period.

The recent, and rather shameful, Ford Figo fiasco touched a nerve. After all, the creeping culture of scam advertising had prompted me to plot my escape from the Indian ad industry.

Kiran Koshy

By the late 90's, global networks had bought out most employee equity and cemented their domination of the Indian ad scene. I noticed a spike in scam work around then. Everyone was doing it, and it had gotten to a point where you were expected to send "award-winning" work to the Asia-Pac blokes sitting in Singapore when award show season was nigh.

And it really didn't matter who the client was. Agencies were willing to bankroll the rather expensive process-the production and the show fees. The rationale, one visiting Aussie head honcho told us, was simple-awards at Cannes meant increased stock value for the network. Scam advertising was now institutionalized.

Most creatives played along. The real work wasn't particularly satisfying...most clients just wanted a cricketer or the latest Bollywood tool to shill their product, rarely entertaining a creative solution that would have cost much less. And awards for fake work seemed to be fueling many prominent careers...so why the heck not?

I made a few feeble attempts at playing the scam game, but my heart wasn't in it. So I did the obvious thing-head to Singapore looking for a gig, only to realize scam had been elevated to an art form there. The real work I saw was pretty mediocre.

I knew I'd only be happy producing real ads for real clients, and I felt the best place for doing this was the U.S. So I rolled the dice...wrote the damn GRE, and landed in the only art school I liked, and could afford.

That was about ten years ago, and I must say it was totally worth it.

I interned, and was subsequently hired at The Richards Group, the largest US independent, based in Dallas. And I'm now in my tenth year at the agency. I don't do any scam ads for the sake of winning awards, and it's almost unheard of within the agency. Every now and then someone produces something for a local business, just because they had a random idea and wanted to freshen their books. No institutionalized scam here. No building a resume with fake work and illegitimate awards. Very liberating.

And there's real work for real clients...tons of it. It led me to discover joy in something very under-rated, something often ignored, almost forgotten...The Sell. There's no greater feeling than selling a campaign you love to a client. And it only gets sweeter when you produce it, and it goes on to solve the client's problem. It's a high that can sustain you for months. It's why you got into the biz in the first place.

Scam does not let you do this. You operate in a vacuum. It's easy. You don't have a real client with a problem you're trying to solve with your wit and imagination. You're merely trying to fluff your vanity. You're operating at the level of an ad school student...maybe lower. While winning an award for a fake ad might make you feel good for a day or two, it won't sustain your career or save your ass when the chips are down. I know of more than one Cannes Grand Prix winner fired during the economic downturn.

The Sell isn't easy and it doesn't happen that often. So persist. It's worth it. The two highlights from my career I'd like to share have both involved the joy of The Sell.

The first was a Super Bowl commercial for Bridgestone (http://www.kirankoshy.com/KiranKoshy/Taters.html). It doesn't get any bigger. The agency picked 11 ideas out of the 200 presented internally to take to the client. I made the 11. We flew on the agency jet (Yes, the agency has a jet!) to the Bridgestone offices, and presented the ideas in person to the Bridgestone Board. As the only junior creative, and the only one with an accent, I was terrified. I carried props and presented my idea like my life depended on it...and it sort of did. After we were all done, the Board made their decision right there and then. They picked two ideas for the Super Bowl, and mine was one of them. You can't imagine my elation.

The spot took 4 months and over a million dollars to produce, and was directed by the great Daniel Kleinman. It was watched live during the Super Bowl by over 110 million people, and cost the client around $3 million to run. It made the Top-5 list of every respected poll, winning two of them, resulting in an ecstatic client.

It won no awards.

The second was a campaign for the fifth-largest cell phone company in the US (http://www.kirankoshy.com/KiranKoshy/MPSpicy.html). Their budget was dwarfed by the competition. The wise, and very senior (80+) Chairman and Founder of the company, knew he had to be bold to compete. So he picked the campaign he thought was most disruptive. And entertaining. Mine. "Funny trumps everything." His exact words. I wish I heard that more often.

The campaign idea? A technology talk show hosted by two Indian engineers on H1B visas, acting as humorous proxies for the client. No US telecom brand had ever used Indians as their sole public face, even though Indian engineers are ubiquitous within the technology backbone of the US. And with most comedy, we knew we'd offend some people. The client was willing to take that risk.

The campaign lasted two years, during the course of which we shot over 40 commercials, including versions in Spanish with a Hispanic cast. One spot ran during the Super Bowl and made SpikeTV's list of funniest Super Bowl commercials that year. The client spent over $3 million on production, and over $120 million on media during that period. All for a silly idea I had. The company's stock price almost doubled after the campaign broke. Brand awareness spiked to be on par with the big guys, for a fraction of the cost. It worked. In spades.

It won no awards.

I wouldn't trade either assignment for all the metal in the world. They were real, a client believed in them, they were paid for, they worked, and I had a blast selling and producing them.

I'd urge fellow creatives, who share my disdain for scam, to aim for the same. Seek the real work, wherever it may be. Hunger for The Sell. And be true to your craft.

Kiran Koshy is an art director at The Richards Group in Dallas, Texas, and adjunct faculty at his alma-mater, Texas A&M University-Commerce, where he runs the art direction program. He spent his formative years as an art director at O&M Chennai, Lowe Bengaluru, and Saatchi & Saatchi Bengaluru.