Shreyas Kulkarni

The Mad Ad Years: An advertising fiction that chronicles the last 40 years of Indian adland, written over WhatsApp

Veteran adman Tapas Gupta co-wrote it with author Aryani Banerjee during the lockdown and over 1,60,000 words.

“It is the first of its kind advertising fiction,” said Tapas Gupta, co-author of ‘The Mad Ad Years’, a book whose idea took birth over a simple phone call and was written over WhatsApp. Yes, you read that right.

Gupta is a veteran adman who spent over 22 years in the McCann-Erickson system before starting BEI Confluence, an advertising and communication agency. He wrote the book with his niece and author Aryani Banerjee who has written two books before this: ‘Little Longer Than Forever’ and ‘Shadows of Solitude’ and has worked with news media company ‘NewsX’.

Tapas Gupta
Tapas Gupta

The book covers more than three decades of Indian advertising and surprisingly Mumbai doesn’t figure as much as yours truly expected. It comes from a time when India’s advertising hub was Calcutta (now Kolkata) and we see the good, bad, ugly, and funny through the eyes of the protagonist Prashant Gupta.

It was in the first week of April during the lockdown when Banerjee called Gupta and asked: “Mama, I’ve been writing on romance and crimes, can you give me a new subject to write on?” Gupta’s answer was pretty straight-forward: “The only subject I know is advertising.”

Banerjee then went on to say that she wanted to “experiment with it in a fictional form” so that Gupta could narrate the pleasant and the unpleasant – the book’s idea had taken birth.

“This whole communication for six months ranged through 160,000 words on WhatsApp. I’ve written the stories, she has modified it and sent it back and there was a dedicated number at both ends,” revealed Gupta.

He went on to tell us that he’s divided the book into three sections or themes (You won’t find such sections in the book)…

The first, as per Gupta, was the clubbing, pubbing and punting generation which was between the early 70s to the late 80s. “Half of the decisions were taken at pubs, clubs, racecourses, and golf courses.”

The second generation was the transition generation when Calcutta started going down in the communist era of the late 80s and “a lot of us (advertising folk) moved and we didn’t move to Bombay because it already had the Alyque Padamsee, Jason Dcunha’s and the big shots.

If we wanted to make a mark, we had to make it in a virgin city like Delhi.” At that time, Delhi was a sarkari city but then it transformed and all the multinationals started. From the early 90s to late 90s, it gives you a glimpse of the Delhi advertising world. Bombay was always stable as far as advertising was concerned.

Gupta then went on to remark the third generation is what he calls the Wi-Fi generation which started from the mid-2005-06 with advertising shifting completely to the digital format. “I am the rare and extinct generation that seen 3-4 generations.”

In the book, we saw the protagonist Prashant Gupta wonder what’s he doing at an agency as he came from a simple college but the other graduates hailed from some of India’s top management colleges; this was in the 1970s. Why aren’t there such graduates today?

“Today, FMCG, finance, and even healthcare companies have become savvy and they recruit the best talent at huge costs,” said Gupta and went on to say that ad agency revenues have squeezed considerably so “they are unable to afford the graduates from these top tier institutes.”

You can buy 'The Mad Ad Years' on Amazon.

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