Aishwarya Ramesh

The story of Rajdeepak Das – an Indian adman featuring in a Netflix show on creativity

On the show 'The Creative Indians’ - Netflix tells the story of Leo Burnett South Asia's CCO - Rajdeepak Das.

“The only way to predict the future is to invent it.”

- Rajdeepak Das, CCO, Leo Burnett

This is the quote that kicks off the episode of Creative Indians that features Leo Burnett South Asia’s chief creative officer. Season 4 of ‘The Creative Indians’ on Netflix features an episode with Leo Burnett South Asia’s chief creative officer Rajdeepak Das. Season 3 of this show also featured an episode with adman Piyush Pandey.

The episode begins with a montage of shots of Leo Burnett’s Mumbai office, scenes from the ads he’s worked on in the past (both Indian and international) and shots of the man himself as he cruises through these spaces.

This includes a medley of car ads, shopping ads, and other product categories. Some of the brands we caught in the opening montage included P&G, Amazon, Bajaj, Google, McDonald’s, Gillette, Visa and HP Lubricants. Piano music from an old-fashioned record player sets the tone for the rest of the episode.

When asked what he’d be doing if he wasn’t in advertising, he pauses and admits it’s a difficult question because he hadn’t really thought about it. “Technology may change, art forms may change, but when you love to do something new every single time, you’ll invent ways to do it, even if you don’t know how to,” he says, as his fingers restlessly shift through a collection of classic records.

Rajdeepak Das
Rajdeepak Das

He tells the audience that the earliest influence in his life was his mother who used to love singing, drawing and sketching. He recalls a time when he used to go to his father’s hospital and observe people and developed empathy for them. He claims that the root of developing empathy is understanding how people react when they’re most vulnerable (amidst the four walls of a hospital.)

His father had also gifted him multiple storybooks and comic books when he was younger, but Das was happier creating his own story, based on the visuals he saw on the pages of the comics. The act of creating something would often keep him up at night.

He had his break in the world of advertising when he met an advertising professional from a Bangalore based ad agency after an advertising awards show. They gave him a brief and asked him to come back after a week, and he showed up on the agency’s doorstep despite a riot engulfing the city.

Eventually, Das didn’t take up the job as he had got admission into Mudra Institute of Communications where he claimed he had exposure to some of the best talent in fields like music, art, advertising and so on.

The show is also interspersed with ads from his past as he speaks about his motivations to get into advertising, despite coming from a family of doctors – the will to stand out and do something different.

His first international Grand Prix was born out of the fact that he would train himself to think fast. He observed that everytime his bosses got a brief, they would step out for a smoke break and then for a lunch break (which cumulatively amounted to roughly 45 minutes.) Das eventually trained himself to think faster to crack briefs (within half an hour) so as to create an impact on his immediate seniors.

He worked in India for a while, before something in him needled him to work for the best. At the time, with the money he had, working for the best meant working for BBDO Bangkok, under Suthisak Sucharittanonta, whom he calls his mentor.

Talking about the boldest campaign he has ever done – BBDO roped in students from schools to beg on the streets with messages of environmental conservatism written on their palms.

“As a creator/creative person, if you can’t solve a problem, you can’t expect someone else to solve it for you,” he says. He moved back to India from Bangkok when he was around 28 years old and at 33, became the youngest chief creative officer in the country when he took the reins as CCO for Leo Burnett South Asia.

He harks back to a time when a newspaper used to be the primary medium of news consumption, then came TV – and along with TV came ads. Das acknowledges that a consumers communication needs have changed and the medium that’s being used to communicate has also changed.

“When you get a brief, don’t think about the brief itself, look at what the problem is. What is the human problem that this brief is going to solve? We spend a lot of time getting the problem right,” he says.

He adds that it’s hard to find the intersection of the brand purpose and the human problem and that one of the ways that they get this is by speaking to a variety of people, irrespective of the brand.

“We did a series called Invincible Indians where we tried to identify those who are creating an impact in India. There is Ambulance Dada from Silliguri who used to transport patients to hospitals on his motorbike. We decided a bike ambulance to help him and the product was called ‘Bajaj V’. We also designed India’s first fire brigade on a bike because the problem in slums was that the roads were too narrow for fire trucks to go through,” he elucidates.

These stories are from 2014 - during the time when the INS Vikrant was being scrapped. Leo Burnett suggested to Bajaj that they could make a range of bikes with the metal and spare parts, to give people a chance to own a piece of that history.

Das also spoke about his campaign with HP Lubricants titled ‘The Road that Honks’, which used sound technology to alert drivers on opposite sides of a curve that a vehicle was coming.

He adds that design plays an important role in his life. He adds that his wife is a designer and while designing their home, we realised that art, music, architecture etc plays a massive role for us. “I didn’t want a cabin. If you want to collaborate, you can’t do it in a cubicle, you need to break past that. Doesn’t matter how senior or junior you are, you’re as good as your last idea,” he says.

According to Das, one of the biggest learnings in his career is that there’s no such thing as wrong. “If you know exactly what you’re doing, you’re not doing it right. You need to make mistakes to get it right. Sometimes you’ll fail too, but if you don’t fail, you won’t be able to succeed” he signs off.