Gunjan Prasad
Mar 18, 2024

A tribute to Fali Vakeel: Indian advertising's 'last Mad Man'

The legendary ad veteran passed away over the weekend, leaving behind a legacy greater than any words, campaigns or brand ideas could surmise.

A tribute to Fali Vakeel: Indian advertising's 'last Mad Man'

Fali Vakeel, a force in the advertising industry’s heyday, passed away over the weekend on 16 March. He was 71 years old.

Vakeel, a beloved industry veteran and stalwart, was a blue-blooded Lintas man and a ‘suit’ par excellence. Throughout his career, Vakeel made substantial contributions to the advertising landscape in India, significantly influencing the way brands communicate. His extensive career was marked by leadership, innovation, and creative excellence, leaving a lasting impact on the advertising world, and his mentorship of the next generation of advertising professionals.

Known for his wit and wisdom, in an interview he did with Campaign India just a week after he retired as the vice-chairman of Lintas in 2016, he rated himself as one of the top three client servicing people in the industry at the time.

It is surprising then, that serendipity played a big role in kickstarting Vakeel’s career in advertising. Back in the early '80s, bored by accountancy — which he did as it gave him a reason to stay on in the UK and because that’s what “all good boys do” — Vakeel was looking for a change.

Awe-struck by the ‘larger-than-life’ experience of a family friend—also an ad man—Vakeel joined JWT London on a lark. That’s where he tasted the world of glamour and creativity, hobnobbing with advertising bigwigs. He moved to McCann Erickson in London, and after eight years in the city, decided to move back to India and into Lintas—hired by no other than Prem Mehta himself.

In his aforementioned interview with Campaign India, Vakeel credited several of his colleagues for making his life at the agency what it was, but particularly gave appreciation to Alyque Padamsee and Prem Mehta for making him the professional he became to be known as. “Not sure if the word mentorfits the context—perhaps its a little more than that,” he said at the time.

Nine years after joining the Mumbai office, in 1990 Vakeel was handed over the remit of running the Bengaluru office for 15 years, with added responsibility for the South and East. He did it with aplomb—with revenues increasing 'eight-fold' during the period. Under his aegis, Lintas also won the coveted Titan and Britannia accounts, among others.

Vakeel can also be credited for changing the impression of Lintas from being a “Levers” agency. During his time, he was instrumental in helping to grow business well beyond the FMCG giant, while managing to retain and service the account they were proud to partner.

He had many milestones in his career spanning three decades but two of those were made while he was in Bengaluru. He convinced the stalwart Lintas CEO, Joseph George, to move to Bengaluru, and hired R Balakrishnan as the creative head of the agency. The rest, as they say, is history.

Vakeel was also responsible for the Delhi operations from 2002 to 2004, before taking up all Indian operations (except for Mumbai). He then moved back to Mumbai, taking on the responsibility of COO, before being named vice chairman 20 years after he joined the agency.

Even after his retirement as vice chairman of Lintas in 2016, Vakeel remained deeply intertwined with the agency, serving as the trustee of its Employee Welfare Trust.

Speaking with Campaign India, S. Subramanyeswar, group chief executive officer for India, and chief strategy officer for APAC & global chair—strategy, MullenLowe Group said, “Every one of us at MullenLowe Lintas Group are saddened to learn of the passing of Fali Vakeel. [The] advertising industry today rarely sees a personality or character like Fali, who was very bold with his actions, fearless to think differently on everything in business, and charming enough to do it.

A phenomenal storyteller, he brought cracking joy to hundreds and thousands of young and senior pros alike. For those of us lucky enough to work with him, its been a sanely mad experience. His legacy will extend far beyond the amazing brand-building campaigns he led. Itll be the people he inspired, the ideas he influenced and impacted, and the vibrant or flamboyant culture he defined. The Lintas community has lost a great friend. Hell be missed, but not forgotten. We send our thoughts and prayers to his family and all those who loved him. We wont see another Fali. May he rest in peace.”

Sagar Kapoor, ex-chief creative officer-global brands, MullenLowe Lintas Group, added, “Fali. A man with many legends to his name. Fali made advertising look sexy. As a young creative I always felt rich and powerful when Fali was around. Anyone who knows Fali will only smile every time his name will be mentioned. That will never change, Fali.”

The tributes above and many more to come signify Fali Vakeel, the man billed as the 'last of the Mad Men in Indian advertising'.
Campaign India

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