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Defining Moments: Creating magic with Ivan Arthur

By Savia Jane Pinto , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising
Last updated : January 28, 2009
Arthur, who is currently a trustee of the AICAR Business School, is spending most of his time at his home in Goa

"Come on over," he chuckles over the phone as I seek an interview with him. But getting to Goa from Mumbai with a three hour deadline looming is impossible, so we settle for a long distance interview with the 68 year old Ivan Arthur, a veteran of Indian advertising. Here, he tells afaqs! about the defining moments in his life.

Arthur spent most of his 38 year advertising career in JWT before retiring in 2002 as national creative director. What would he have been had he not entered advertising? A head clerk, says Arthur - if he had passed the entrance test for the job of a clerk at Nestle. That failed test was a defining moment for him.

After that, Arthur toyed with the idea of being a recording artiste - he plays the mandolin - for Bollywood and even did a couple of recordings for music composer Salil Choudhury. But his father would not accept his career choice "because he didn't want to see me starve". Arthur then tried his hand at journalism and was reporter/ film critic/ sub-editor/ page-maker all rolled into one at a weekly called Tide.

His first tryst with advertising came when he "was introduced to a young lady so stunningly beautiful that I said yes to everything she said. Her name was Nargis Wadia and she was running an agency called Studio One." The next thing he knew, he was working at Studio One as a copywriter.

In May 1964, he attempted the lengthy copy test at JWT (then HTA), which he left incomplete because it was long and uninteresting. About a week later, Charles Moorhouse, JWT's boss, sent him a postcard saying that the copywriter's job was his. "I was in advertising - in India's largest agency."

Subhas Ghosal, who was part of JWT since 1944 and created Contract Advertising, JWT's sister agency, was a great influence on Arthur. An incident that has remained in Arthur's mind is a conference that Ghosal addressed when he got back from a visit to the London office of JWT. "One sentence into his talk and I found myself dizzy with pleasure. The man's voice, vocabulary, turn of phrase and width of learning made me feel that I had slipped into some abode of the gods. He was speaking from the heights of Parnassus and I was glad to be there in the foothills."

Mike Khanna, the ex-chief executive at JWT, who was then manager of the agency's Delhi office, also left his mark on Arthur. While at HTA, Arthur paired the inexperienced new lot of creative people with the older experienced lot. "This combination of madness and logic resulted in magic - a formula that worked for us. That, for me, was a great defining moment - to see young people twinkle like stars," he says.

Arthur has been part of the 10-member global team that put together the Thompson Total Branding Protocol. When he retired in 2002, he accepted Walter Saldanha's invitation to join the AICAR Business School as a trustee. Saldanha is the former boss of Chaitra Leo Burnett.

At the school, Arthur designed courses and set up the in-campus communication agency, which is run by students. He writes when he gets the time. Among his books are Pavement Prayers and the yet-to-be-released Brands under Fire, which he co-wrote with Kurien Matthews, former director, TBWA/India.

(Defining Moments is a regular column which talks about the incidents that have shaped great advertising, media and marketing careers.)

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First Published : January 28, 2009


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