To say Kiran Antony, 40, is a man of few words would be an understatement. Much like his creative predecessor, he is media shy, low profile and quiet, but heads the most high profile, high decibel and media-prolific telecom businesses out there. Meet the man who has been running the Vodafone account at Ogilvy India for the past five months.
In July last year, Ogilvy India announced former national creative director Rajiv Rao's exit from the agency; after spending 18 years at the agency, Rao, credited with cracking the famous Zoozoo campaign for Vodafone, went on to pursue ad film direction. Since then, Antony has taken over the reins of the account. We profiled the executive creative director's journey so far.
Antony has been with Ogilvy India for 17 years. This is his first advertising job; he was an engineer before that. Prior to joining Ogilvy, he worked with a company (that builds machines) called Mechelonic Engineers for two years as a software engineer. He got his engineering degree from the Government Engineering College, Thrissur. We would have linked this profile to his LinkedIn page... except, Antony doesn't have one. We happen to know he loves cooking, long drives, swimming, and playing badminton... and is passionate about sports in general.
When he joined Ogilvy India in 2001, he handled the Mid-Day business. At the time, the creatives for this account were mostly print ads. So when did he enter the Vodafone (or Hutch, at the time) team? It was only in 2002 that he started working on the Hutch business, we learned during the course of a recent interview with Antony at the agency's Mumbai office where he is based. During 2002-03, under Rao's leadership, the first TVC for Hutch was released by Ogilvy India - the film that put the little boy and his cute pug into the limelight.
Orange became Hutch in the year 2004, except for Mumbai where it was operating as Orange till December 2005 and eventually, Hutch became Vodafone in the year 2007.
"My life was the same and is still the same... that is to come up with ideas," Antony tells afaqs!. About working with Rao, he adds, "I would give my ideas and obviously, Rajiv would add his thoughts and inputs. I learnt quite a lot. Sometimes you feel, after a certain number of years, you are 'there' and have the maturity to understand that the idea is good, but when you take that idea to Rajiv, he will have a completely different spin on it. You think your idea is great and then Rajiv would tweak it in a way that turned an average film into a good film. Rajiv always urged us to keep thinking till the film is shot. And sometimes, even beyond. I can never forget his famous words 'Hard work never killed anyone'."
Antony is quick to add that the inputs of Prakash Varma (director of Vodafone ads) helped heaps in this good-to-great process. "I have been part of almost every Vodafone shoot," Antony smiles.
So, how has life changed post Rao's exit? "Life has not changed much. My job is to wake up every day and ensure my team and I come up with good ideas that strengthen and build the brand. I have to continuously drive new-age thinking and ideating on the brand," says Antony, adding, "I do miss having Rajiv around, but I put to practice all that I learned from him over these years."
When it comes to its media presence, Vodafone has given its consumers some memorable mascots; after the pug campaign, we saw the Zoozoo splash and most recently, the adorable Dhananjayans. Does a successful legacy put pressure on Antony? "There is always scope for bettering your work. The first time when the boy-dog film (Hutch) came out, we all thought that no other film would ever better this film. But then came the Zoozoos and then Super Zoozoos, Zumis, Asha-Bala and so on. This brand truly values creativity, it's the reason why there is always magic waiting to happen..." he says, insisting that records always get broken.
About the handover process when Rao decided to move out of the system, Antony recalls, "It has been smooth. I have been working closely with Rajiv for over 17 years, right from our Orange/Hutch days. In the last few years, with Rajiv's mentoring, I have been leading the integrated Vodafone team (advertising and digital). So, there has never been a formal handover process. There is no question of fitting into his shoes. They are too large to fill. I am happy to now have the opportunity to build on everything he helped create."
Apart from his first account, Mid-Day and his pet account Vodafone, Antony has worked on brands like Ceat, Federal Bank, IBM, Titan, Future Group, and Star Sports. Although 90 per cent of his time is dedicated to Vodafone, he gives 10 per cent of his time to make the one-off film for his other clients, we learn. About his work on Vodafone, he clarifies, "...it's not like we are doing only 'talk time' ads. All our ads are different. 'Lookup' (digital campaign done a few months back) is a completely different story. Many mini-products are involved and work on all these various parts is completely different. With Vodafone, it's more like many brands in one. All our ads are different, yet the tone is the same," he adds.
So why does the Vodafone account need so much attention? Antony says, "Vodafone is such a big account it needs your full attention. There is firefighting going on something or the other every day. Every circle (state) will have a different talk time/data plan, offers, festival ads, so we have our circle offices doing the work, but it all gets streamlined here, via the central team in Mumbai. We do quite a lot of films, but along with that, there are a lot of other things that go on to complete the communication. So besides mainstream, BTL and on-ground, we have plenty happening on the internet. With close to 90 million subscribers on the Vodafone Zoozoo page, we have to keep the engagement going with posts, stories, contests, etc. It's safe to say, there is never a dull day at Vodafone."
Speaking of the Zoozoos, some are of the opinion that Vodafone overdid it with this theme. Shouldn't brands keep an end date in mind when launching a new mascot? What's the challenge? Antony says, "You need to keep refreshing the ideas. If you take the Zoozoos, for example, we had the original Zoozoo then after a year and a half, we brought in the Super Zoozoo - he was Zoozoo in a superhero avatar. It was much more active, energetic, fun, and entertaining than the previous one. Then we got the little ones, the Zumies. Although, for the common man, it is still the Zoozoo... but still, it is a different flavour. So we need to keep improvising. Even Asha-Bala ads were all set up in Goa, so this time around, we took them abroad. Next time we may just do something different with them."
About his plans for this account in the days ahead, Antony says, "TV will continue to play a big role for us. Through the #Lookup campaign, we went online and asked people to go offline to take a break from their phones and spend time with their loved ones instead. We started off by creating the 'Vodafone Phone Valet' at a restaurant where diners were given the option to leave their phones with the valet and enjoy their meal/conversation, without being interrupted by the phone. We captured their reactions at the end of the night and compiled it as a video to inspire others to #Lookup. We followed it up with #Lookup films for Father's day and Friendship Day with close to 60 million views. And you will see more #Lookup activation/films in the coming months. It's not a one-off; it's a philosophy."
In the months ahead, we expect Vodafone's ads to reflect a certain signature - an Antony special flavour if you will. "Honestly, I am not as big as Rajiv to add my flavour to Vodafone," signs off an ever so humble Antony, whose favourite Zoozoo ads are the Stock Exchange and Super Zoozoo films. Of course, the recent films that feature the Dhananjayans (Asha and Bala) also make the list.
A look at some of the ads that Kiran Antony has been a part of: