Ashwini Gangal
Advertising

"I believe in simple, clear creative briefs": Madhu S Dutta, Raymond

Raymond's advertising has become markedly fashionable of late – and people are beginning to wonder where 'The Complete Man' has disappeared. We spoke to the brand's marketing head, who clarified that 'The Complete Man' philosophy is here to stay.

When it comes to creative briefs, Madhu S Dutta, head, marketing, Raymond, has a simple mantra: “I'm a believer of clear, simple briefs, without much layering. We shouldn't have to write a footnote at the end of the creative for people to understand it. We're not just selling garments. We're in the business of communication. It's about storytelling.”

Madhu joined Raymond in October 2014, before which she was marketing chief at Pantaloons Fashion and Retail. Before moving to the brand marketing world in 2004 (Tanishq - 2004-08; World Gold Council - 2008-12), Madhu was an advertising executive; she worked at Lintas (now MullenLowe Group, 2001-03) and Ogilvy (2003-04). Over breakfast at Brooke Bond Taj Mahal Tea House (Bandra, Mumbai), I spoke to her about the apparent make-over the brand's advertising seems to have undergone of late.

"I believe in simple, clear creative briefs": Madhu S Dutta, Raymond

Madhu S Dutta

About the 'Raymond Whites' campaign (2016; Autumn Worldwide), around the classic white shirt in every man’s wardrobe, Madhu says, “It was about a very simple thing, a white shirt – the one that’s ‘taken for granted’. But simple things are at times the most difficult.” To go about the challenge of marketing it, Madhu likened 'the white shirt' in a man's wardrobe to 'the little black dress' in a lady's wardrobe. “I can't think like a man, so I approached it from the point of view of the little black dress – it's there in your wardrobe, it ‘does’ so many things for you, everything depends on how you accessorise it and create occasions around it. That was my one line brief...”

Earlier this year, Raymond launched a script-heavy campaign around its 'All Black Collection' (Grey, Autumn Worldwide); in the ad film, a visually impaired protagonist plays a slam poet. “I can bet very few clients would have bought that script. But we believed in it,” says a confident Madhu, adding, “... If you're not creative you can't be a good marketer... you'll only buy 'safe' ads. The media agency (Madison) will do the buying; they can't tell you what kind of creative you should place. That, the marketer has to be clear about.”

Another brief she worked closely on is the one that led to Raymond's first campaign around linen (2015; Famous Innovations, 22feet). She recalls, “... Linen was a new category we were getting into; the business objective was high. It was part of our 'full wardrobe strategy'. The challenge was – since Raymond is known for its wool, it was almost like being a new entrant in the linen category. So we decided to start the proposition with the concept of purity and played on the design accordingly...”

When it comes to the visual language of Raymond’s ads, there's been a visible shift of late: In the past, the brand’s ads (part of 'The Complete Man' mother brand campaigns) were hero-led and centered on a specific relationship in the life of this handsome, suited, perfect man, who played the son, the student, the lover, the dog lover, the dad, and more recently, the the happy-to-stay-at-home dad. Today, though, one sees more generic imagery that's skewed in favour of the aesthetics of the fabric, as opposed to a 'protagonist'. And oh, the men in Raymond’s ads have become more model-like. Is this intentional? Incidental? Or am I over analysing? “The third one,” answers Madhu, with a smile, “And it's not just you. Most people are misinterpreting it.” She goes on to clarify, “Our ‘The Complete Man’ philosophy continues. It's just a coincidence that we haven't come up with a 'TCM ad' for a couple of seasons – we'll do one in the next few months. We've been doing more product-led communication...”

Of late, men have started subscribing to what she calls “the good living” philosophy in a big way. “Be it their attitude towards getting pedicures or eating gourmet food, there's a whole vocabulary around the way men consume fashion and lifestyle,” Madhu notes. This reality has impacted the brand's creative renditions, as is evident in the new visual language of its recent ads.

Take for example, the brand’s new Dandi March-inspired Khadi campaign, 'The Story Re-spun' (Autumn Worldwide). The imagery in the ad is so stylised, the overall treatment and creative sensibilities quite unlike the classic ol' Raymond ad film. So much so that one wonders whether Raymond is trying to over-compensate for the fact that it's going to market with khadi, a fabric we don't readily associate with style. Heritage, yes, but not fashion.

“Honestly, no, we didn't try hard for that...” she says, adding nevertheless, “We've consciously brought in fashion sensibilities and stylised silhouettes. It's about making it relevant. I can't show a fuddy-duddy representation and say I want to be the leading fashion brand for men. I'm not an FMCG brand; fashion is consumed basis what you see. Fashion is not a problem-solution category. We want to delight visually.” And sure enough, the brand's investment on static mediums such as billboards, mall facades, and print, has increased. “People come into our stores with cut-outs of our magazine ads saying 'I want this'...” she smiles.

The khadi campaign was a risky affair, what with it dipping into Gandhi's non-cooperation movement for inspiration. After all, the angry Indian troller lurks in the shadows, just a tweet away. What was the boardroom discussion around this idea like? “When you work on something with such a strong historical feel to it, one has to be careful. It was about deciding how far we could go with it and where we should stop... working on khadi is a huge responsibility, an honour. We didn't want to trivialise history... one can't be frivolous with khadi or demean it in any way, but we didn't want it to look like a '15th August ad' either... we wanted to break the kurta-and-bandi stereotypes around khadi and make this fabric fashionable,” admits Madhu.

I asked her whether she ever finds herself drawing on her own past experience as an account executive when dealing with her present day agency partners. At Lowe Kolkata, she was part of the core team on the ITC account and worked closely with R Balki and KV Sridhar (Pops). During her time at Ogilvy Kolkata she recalls working closely with Piyush Pandey.

“Definitely, it helps knowing both sides,” she says, adding with candour, “But a client who has worked on the agency side is not good news for agencies – When agencies say they need 20 days to think about one campaign, I know they're faffing! Or when they say they need five days for something, I know it actually takes five hours.”

Going on to share her 'agency peeves', Madhu says, “Many agencies think the client is there just to spend money... To me, agencies are my brand partners; they should be cognizant of their responsibility – but that's lacking sometimes...” adding, “When creative people get awards, they go up there and jump, but they forget that somebody has given them that brief. The brand has allowed you this moment of glory... most agencies forget that.”

Agencies, she feels, need to work harder on cracking more original ideas: “Today, when you brief an agency, they will come back with 20 references of what other brands have done and suggest ways to tweak it... where is the good copy? That's why, when Sandipan (Bhattacharyya, chief creative officer and writer, Grey) came with his script for the 'Black' campaign, we found it extremely refreshing...”

Raymond’s retail presence at a glance:

TRS (The Raymond Store): 780

EBOS (Exclusive Brand Outlets): 350

Mini TRS footprint: 100 in FY17-18, 300 by 19-20

Raymond – Made to Measure: 70 stores

MBO (Multi-brand Outlets): 3,000