Though he was born to a lawyer mother and doctor father in Berhampur, Odisha, Rajdeepak Das grew up fantasising about ads. Growing up, Das honed his talent for cartooning and filled the walls of his room with cutouts of - not gorgeous girls - but interesting ads.
Post standard 12, he moved to Bengaluru to pursue a bachelor's degree in Business Management from Garden City College. "I convinced my father that the degree was like an MBA," he laughs.
In Bengaluru, Das was introduced to something that reinforced his passion for all things advertising - 'Mad Ads', an intercollegiate ad-making competition in which one had to crack briefs for make-believe products. "That's when I realised I just had to be in advertising, no matter what," he says.
During his college years he was distracted by the ad world and went to almost every agency - including O&M, Mudra and JWT - asking for work. "I'd spend all my time trying to find a way in, but I wasn't entertained because I didn't have an art background," he recalls.
After graduating, Das began teaching software, animation and photoshop at Arena Multimedia. "I got a lot of offers to be a dot com designer but I wasn't interested," he smiles.
One day, Das shelled out Rs 350 to attend Big Bang, an awards show organised by Bangalore Advertising Club. "I saw Abhijit Avasthi there. I had no idea who he was but walked up to him and struck up a conversation about advertising. He was sweet enough to introduce me the agency's librarian, who, the following Monday, showed me around O&M. For the first time, I was exposed to good advertising," Das reminisces.
The librarian gave him a copy brief to crack but before he could do anything about it, he heard back from MICA, where he'd applied to be part of a creative course designed by Suraja Kishore. "He was my first teacher," says Das, about the planning head of McCann, adding, "At MICA, I was exposed to so much advertising related material. After hours, I'd sit back in class with my pillow and watch ads on the VHS player all night!"
After MICA, he moved to Bengaluru, where he met Neil Flory, a young creative director at Enterprise Nexus, who hired him "after a three minute interview." At Enterprise, he worked on the Titan business and got his first award, an 'international jury grand prix'.
A couple of years later, he joined Grey Mumbai, only to move to Contract Advertising in a few months' time. During his 18-month stint at Contract, he worked on brands like Cadbury Bytes, Kinetic, and Shopper's Stop. But soon enough, Das set his eyes on BBDO Bangkok. On a whim, he flew there to meet Suthisak Sucharittanonta, creative head of the agency.
The next part of the story lends tremendous insight into Das' nature: He stood outside the agency every day for 17 days trying to get an interview with Suthi, till his secretary finally threatened to call immigration. Eventually, ad film maker Thanonchai Sornsriwichai helped him with Suthi's whereabouts. "I stalked Suthi carrying a copy of a magazine that bore his picture - that's how I recognised him. As he was getting into his car, I jumped in and threatened to kidnap him if he didn't see my portfolio," he narrates. Of course, an interview later, Das was in.
Over the next four-a-half years, he became Suthi's blue-eyed boy in BBDO Bangkok, "swept every possible advertising award", went on work trips to London, New York and Paris, and turned around so-called "boring accounts" like HomePro, a furniture brand.
Just as things began getting monotonous, Das was asked to come to India for a pitch for 7UP. After winning it, BBDO India was established. "That's when I met Josy Paul and decided to move to India," he says. Over the next five-and-a-half years, he worked on brands like Gillette, Quaker Oats, 7UP and Visa at BBDO Mumbai.
Then, Saurabh Varma, CEO, Leo Burnett, called him. "I saw similarities in Burnett's philosophy and my own," he says. What was that common ground?