Ashwini Gangal

"It’s not about how many times you see an ad, but for how many years you remember it": Ogilvy's Piyush Pandey

40 years in 20 minutes: Interview with Ogilvy’s creative chief on how TVCs have evolved over the decades.

Cadbury’s ‘Kuch Khaas Hai’ ad from the mid-90s and its 2021 rendition straddle a vast timeline. I spoke to Piyush Pandey, Ogilvy’s chairman - global creative, and executive chairman – India, about the evolution of television advertising over the years.

Watch the full interview above. Or read on for edited excerpts.

afaqs!: What was the role of TV in the life of advertisers in the 1980s?

Pandey: The ‘80s were early days for India (in terms of) learning how to do television. We came from a radio era, so a lot of stuff in the ‘80s was about singing propositions and jingles. It was, by and large, very functional, confined to singing songs. When you sang a song well, you made a nice ad. 'Humara Bajaj' is a wonderful example. 'Chal Meri Luna' was not really a song; it was more of a poetic rendition. 'Mile Sur Mera Tumhara' (written by Pandey and created by Suresh Mullick in 1988) was accepted by the people as a second national anthem.

One thing that started happening in the late ‘80s, examples of which include Onida, Titan, was the breaking of rules, going away from singing songs. The transition began…

afaqs!: … then came the 1990s…

Pandey: The ‘90s was the time of liberalisation. We moved from Doordarshan to more options. Therefore, television advertising came to life in an audio-visual fashion, from just an audio fashion. This happened largely in the ‘90s.

We launched the Shimona ad for Cadbury Dairy Milk in 1994 (Shimona Rashi is the name of the girl in the blue dress who dances in the cricket stadium in the famous ‘Asli Swad Zindagi Ka’ ad). There was no song about the brand; it was about feelings, with a very visual story out there.

Around the same time came Fevicol ads, with no songs at all (beyond 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha'), including the egg commercial, which mentions Fevicol just once at the end. Then came ads for Fevikwik with no songs, no nothing, just great stories that people loved… the brand name was mentioned just once at the end, with 'Chutki Mein Chipkaye'.

The Ericsson mobile phone ad happened around this time – no song, no nothing… 'One Black Coffee'. At the same time Pepsi did a wonderful (piece of) World Cup communication – 'Nothing Official About It' – no song, just a story.

Storytelling, especially through emotions, came into its own in the ‘90s in a really big fashion… also, Kelvinator. So creative expression had larger width, with audio and video.

Perfetti did some fantastic advertising from the ‘90s to the early 2000s.

afaqs!: Which brings us to the next decade – 2000 to 2010. How did the role of TV in the life of advertisers change?

Pandey: The spirit of the ‘90s carried on. Programming choices were more. We saw the Fevicol 'bus' ad, which did not even use the word 'Fevicol'. We had the Hutch ad with the pug. Then a new breakthrough happened, with the launch of the IPL.

Experimentation went to another level. A great example of that is Vodafone’s ZooZoos – 25-30 commercials were made for 40 matches, one a day. The advertiser didn’t want to run the same ad right through the tournament, because of the 'fatigue factor'. The daily ZooZoo ads were almost like Laxman’s cartoons – a different one every day.

There was some good stuff happening on Airtel, Sprite… Sprite went non-advertising with 'Bujhaye Pyaas, Baaki Sab Bakwaas'; life is about being real, they said. So there was a lot of experimentation in advertising.

afaqs!: Do Ponds’s 'Googly Woogly Woosh' and Asian Paints’s 'Har Ghar Kuch Kehta Hai' fall in the same era?

Pandey: Ya, ya… we moved from saying ‘this paint does this for you’ to ‘you do it to yourself’. And with 'Googly Woogly Woosh' we moved away from heavy product windows to real life. People were breaking the book. I was part of that gang.

afaqs!: To what do you attribute this?

Pandey: … because, people were realising that the audience is not a bunch of morons; she’s your wife. That she understands as much as you do, you don’t have to spoon-feed her but you must give her a chance to participate. There was a shift from information to engagement. Advertising was recognising and catering to this.

afaqs!: Was it a rebellious era, then?

Pandey: I wouldn’t say rebellious, but it was about breaking norms. There were some very smart clients who understood this too. So, both advertising people and clients were waking up. I wouldn’t say all have woken up even today, though (laughs).

afaqs!: Any anecdotes that stand out from this era?

Pandey: We convinced SBI to go with the line ‘Surprisingly SBI’, at a time when their belief was ‘I am SBI!’. We said ‘you are SBI, but nobody knows it’. So that was an interesting exercise. I had to go through the board members, etc. to convince them not to sit in the past and to come out into the future!

The launch of Bajaj Pulsar was an interesting exercise. In the early 2000s, one of the most beautiful commercials I wrote was for M-Seal – 'Ek tapakdi boond aapki kismat badal sakti hai'. It was not a brand one thought would do a 70-second commercial. We did not over-spend on our budget. People remember it to date because it broke the norm and did some fantastic storytelling – brave client, radical idea. It went against the logic of media companies.

At the end of the day, it’s not about how many times you saw an ad, but for how many years you remember it.

afaqs!: Did some categories resist breaking out of old, established norms more than others?

Pandey: Many new clients came me saying ‘I want something like Fevicol’. But later, when we met them for the work, they’d say ‘No, but in my category it is done like this…’

I’d tell them that it was done like that in Fevicol’s category also! If you want to stand out, you have to get out of your ‘category givens’. There was excitement but some amount of fear also.

afaqs!: What happened between 2010 and 2021? Advertising became more soppy, purpose driven…

Pandey: Yes, in the last seven-eight years purpose has come in, in a big way. Advertising has started interacting with society. Brands have started picking up issues in people’s lives.

SBI Life Insurance was about love – 'Heere ko kya pata tumhari umar kya hai?' Purpose came into Red Label, Dove, Tanishq, Savlon, Lifebuoy 'roti', Hindustan Unilever’s water saving ‘shower’ campaign… Also, most of the work that came from Dairy Milk in the last two years…Cadbury’s 'Thank You' campaign is about generosity, being nice to others.

But purpose did not lose the purpose of selling. It became a more human way of selling.

This interview was recorded on November 16, 2021, at Television Week, an afaqs! conference (November 15-17, 2021). Sponsor: Colors Cineplex.

‘COLORS Cineplex’, a premium Indian movie destination for great cinematic experiences, is the first-of-its-kind film channel launched by leading media conglomerate Viacom18 Media Pvt. Ltd. Launched in May 2016, the channel provides its viewers with the ultimate movie-watching experience while delivering Viacom18’s promise of showcasing enriching, engaging and entertaining content to the viewers. Through its tagline of Filmein MUST Hain, ’COLORS Cineplex’ features multi-genre films including the latest blockbuster hits from Viacom18’s wide library of choicest films.

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