Aishwarya Ramesh

40 years later, Piyush Pandey holds Ogilvy’s reins steady

Pandey and his peers - Josy Paul, Sumanto Chattopadhyay and PG Aditiya talk about his time in the field, learnings, and lessons.

Piyush Pandey recently completed 40 years in the world of advertising. The man who is synonymous with the advertising industry in India, strangely, doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile or any other social media account. His Ogilvy colleagues held a small celebration for him to mark the occasion and, we’re told, he was in tears.

Pandey is known for thinking with his heart, and it shows in his work. Over a call, he tells afaqs! that he still remembers the first day he walked into the Ogilvy office, when he was young. More importantly, he remembers his first conversation with SR ‘Mani’ Ayer, Ogilvy & Mather’s former managing director.

“He said to me, you’ve been a cricketer and a tea taster. What guarantee do I have that you’ll be working with us one year from now? I replied to him, my gut tells me I’m here to stay,” smiles Pandey. Little did Ayer know that Pandey would go on to work in the organisation for 40 years, and the latter admits that he still hasn’t broken his promise to the late adman.

Piyush Pandey
Piyush Pandey

Pandey adds that if not for advertising, he’s unsure of the field he would’ve gone into. He claims that he had the right opportunities at the right time that led him to this path in his life. According to Pandey, the ad industry was doing well before he entered it - and the admen before him helped build the runway for him to take flight from.

He recalls that one of his earliest mentors was of the late Suresh Mullick, who taught him not to take the brief too literally. “He (Mullick) was the one who instilled in me the idea that singing brand names is not always a good idea.”

According to Pandey, he sees learning potential in everyone he works with - irrespective of whether they’re senior or junior to him.

“I’ve worked with some fantastic minds, who even thought to challenge and recreate one of my most iconic Cadbury commercials - that of the dancing girl from the 1990s. Advertising is a team game and many times, your junior players may play shots that inspire you. It’s been a complete joy to work in this field for the last 40 years.”

In his book Pandeymonium, Pandey lists cricket as one of the biggest mentors and influences in his life as well as work. He explains that both advertising and cricket have strong elements of teamwork, and if one is playing for personal glory - the team may suffer, ultimately losing the match.

When asked about a turning point, Pandey thinks back to (approximately) 1986, when he was still working as an account supervisor. He recalls that he would be helping fellow account supervisors to write creative copy. They would often get stuck when it came to delivering copy on television for Hindi language properties, because they would be thinking, writing in English, and then translating it back into Hindi.

“The company had an idea to create a job to think in Indian languages, instead of translating from English to native languages. The managers suggested I become ‘copy chief - Indian languages’. After a pause, I asked one question, does this new role put a stamp on me that I can never be a creative director in this company?”

The answer to Pandey’s question was ‘no’ and Pandey’s answer to the offer was to say ‘yes’.

Initially, the brands that Pandey was entrusted with, were the ones considered traditionally ‘uninteresting’ - such as Luna, Pidilite’s Fevicol and Asian Paints. He goes on to say that working on these brands (including Cadbury) proved to be a starting point for making memorable ads.

Peers speak

Josy Paul, chairman of BBDO India, explains that Pandey was responsible for giving advertising an Indian identity. “He (Pandey) nationalised Indian advertising and made it more ‘Bharat’. More importantly, he made advertising very personal. In the 1990s, he broke 70 mm cinema and brought it down to the everyday size of 21-inch TV. He replaced the voice of God with the sound of humanity”.

Josy Paul
Josy Paul

According to Paul, Pandey, in a way, became ‘our’ global ambassador - making Indian advertising world famous. “His Fevicol ads helped the worldwide advertising community embrace and enjoy the social quirks and cultural nuances of India. Fevicol was a glue that bound India to the rest of the world.”

Paul recalls when he had to work closely with Pandey to set up the challenger agency ‘David’ in June 2000. The agency was started in Mumbai, but Paul says it has now become a highly recognised worldwide network.

“At David, we once pitched against Ogilvy for the same business, and won. Piyush was so amused he came with me to congratulate the client on the decision. That’s Piyush. Large-hearted, supportive and ever-giving.”

Paul explains that Pandey loves the world like a child. He adds that his sensitivity is the soul of his creativity - he is sensitive to the point of tears.

“The list of Piyush’s great works is endless. His writings for Asian Paints’ Har ghar kuchh kehta hai, is absolutely brilliant. His lyrics for the anthem Mile sur mera tumhara, is a classic. His dialogues for SBI Life’s Heere ko kya pata tumhari umar kya hai, is heart-wrenching. Pandey helped changed the course of advertising in India.”

Sumanto Chattopadhyay chairman and chief creative officer at 82.5 Communications, talks about Pandey’s nature. “If you narrate a script to Piyush that is too long to fit into a 30-second spot, he is likely to interrupt you with the question, Interval kab ayega? The person automatically gets the message and writes a tighter script the next time around.”

Sumanto Chattopadhyay
Sumanto Chattopadhyay

PG Aditiya, co-founder at independent agency Talented and ex-CCO at Webchutney, says that Pandey is the biggest example of the power of being an extrovert in our line of work.

“His words have been a reminder of the power of simple human truths like honesty, vulnerability, curiosity and fearlessness - both in our creative output and the way we go about our work, daily.”

PG Aditiya
PG Aditiya

“Pandey is someone who has the courage of his convictions. He turns his life, experiences and observations into stories that will make you laugh or cry. Authenticity is a word that is bandied about a lot these days, but it truly applies to him,” says Chattopadhyay.

When asked what Pandey taught Paul, the latter answers - to “always play on the front foot”. Paul adds that this meant that he learnt to trust his own judgment, stand up for his beliefs and be fearless. In other words - how to be a David in the house of Goliaths.

According to Aditiya, for decades, Pandey’s embodied the responsible spirit of an in-house creative director with the fearlessness of an agency leader.

“His advice to creative people - to look at clients as friends and form long-lasting relationships, has stayed with me the most. Our industry is blessed to have sustained his attention for four decades now. We’re all stronger because of him.”

(With additional inputs from Benita Chacko and Namah Chawla.)

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