Aishwarya Ramesh

Piyush Pandey on advertising, cricket and the birth of great ideas

Starring in an episode of Netflix India's show 'The Creative Indians', Ogilvy's advertising veteran speaks about his life and career at length.

Piyush Pandey calls Pidilite a brand with a smile on its face. In an episode of Season 4 of Netflix’s show ‘The Creative Indian’, he shares the backstory to Fevikwik’s famous fishing ad. After writing the commercial and before approaching the client, Pandey asked his team to bring him a pencil, a coin, a glass of water and a tube of Fevikwik.

He dropped the coin inside water, added a drop of Fevikwik to the flat end of the pencil and dipped the pencil into the water in a bid to retrieve the coin.

“My team asked me, what was the need to do this? I told them – there will be one guy who gets up in the meeting and says ‘our product doesn’t stick underwater’. When he did, I dipped the pencil inside, brought it up with the coin sticking to it and I told them – ‘it does’,” recalls Pandey.

With quirky ideas and zany execution, the Ogilvy veteran has always found ways to speak to audiences from all regions. There are messages and campaigns that are generally laced with the flavour of a local language, and insights and nuances based on the way Indians think and behave.

Season 3 of Netflix India’s show ‘The Creative Indians’ has an episode where adman Piyush Pandey talks about his life, his inspirations and his love for cricket.

As the episode begins, we see glimpses of some of Pandey’s most iconic ads, as well as of the artsy corners of his home and the view of the Bandra-Worli sea link (bridge) from his balcony. Some of these ads include Fevicol’s ‘Unbreakable egg’, Cadbury Dairy Milk’s ‘Dancing girl’, among others.

“Piyush Pandey is a product of passion. Piyush Pandey is a believer of chaos. I think Piyush Pandey is a bit mad. Piyush Pandey loves people and he loves India.” He smiles through a monologue, referring to himself in third person.

Talking about the beginning of his career, Pandey admits that he never thought he would get into advertising. He reminisces his youth, where a majority of time was spent playing cricket, and says he was a student of Math and Science by force.

“It was on the back of my cricketing career that St. Stephen’s College gave me admission, and fortunately, the only stream they could offer me was Arts. I eventually did a Master’s in History too,” he says.

Piyush Pandey on advertising, cricket and the birth of great ideas

Pandey calls cricket his first love, since advertising came into his life much later. He calls himself fortunate that advertising gave him the opportunity to stay connected with cricket.

Pandey's first job was as a tea taster in Calcutta. At the time, he wasn’t aware that tea tasting was even a career and he eventually got into advertising, thanks to his friend Arun Lal, who pushed him in that direction.

He moved to Mumbai from Calcutta to pursue a career in the ad world and joined Ogilvy – where he would spend the next 35 years. “Advertising is a profession that welcomes you, irrespective of what background you come from. Advertising’s working language may be English, but the ‘expressing’ language can be any language in the country,” he says.

“Ogilvy launched IPL and ISL in India. We’ve also launched a bunch of teams, like Mumbai Indians, Rajasthan Royals, and Deccan Chargers, to name a few. Sports and Ogilvy have a love for each other,” he says.

When it comes to how Ogilvy, as an agency, runs in India, he mentions that there’s a lot of shades of founder David Ogilvy's principles in its operations – especially in aspects like respecting consumers and believing in ideas. “The difference between good and great is the two decision makers – first is you and your client, and whether it’s great or not, the public decides.”

He believes that keeping an open mind and respecting audiences are important. “Learn from the audience and give the learnings back to them with a twist, in a way that will delight them. If you have the ability to notice and learn from the little things, you can be good at advertising. It’s not rocket science, just be yourself. Never take yourself too seriously, but take your work seriously,” advises the veteran adman.

Pandey emphasises on the fact that most good ideas are inspired by real life. He talks about an ad he worked on for SBI Life and admitted that the idea was inspired by his own mother. He gave it a twist and the rest was history.

“You should respect an idea because it can come to you at any time. Give it a good try, but also be prepared to forget about it if it’s not working out. Don’t push something just because you love it, but if you love something, put in the hard work to find out if it can work or not,” he says.

Pandey believes that lateral thinking is very important. “Analogies make it easier for people to understand your idea – they don’t like being spoon-fed. You don’t want your advertising to make a consumer feel like they’re dumb. Respect for the audience is so important,” he extols.

He adds that even with the Fevi Kwik ad the intent wasn’t to tell people you could catch fish with it, but make it into a fun kind of demonstration of a use case of the product.

“Hyperbole is a wonderful thing in advertising, as long as the person on the other end does not take it literally. A joke must be understood as a joke. If you’re not a good storyteller, then the idea can fall flat on its face and you can end up misguiding people,” he cautions.

Pandey recalls that the tone of advertising changed in the 90s, and so did the industry. He mentions that the work he did removed the cosmetic nature of advertisingstarted using real people and talking about real stories – engaging stories.

“All this happened in the early 1990s. Our work for Asian Paints, Cadbury, Fevicol etc – it opened our eyes to the kind of work clients wanted from us and it invited a lot of people from outside the metros into wanting to work in advertising,” he explains.

He concludes by talking about the Polio campaign, calling it the most meaningful campaign he’s ever worked on as India was declared Polio-free in 2014. “If somebody’s sales increase 200 per cent, it doesn’t give you that kind of satisfaction,” he signs off.

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