Prasoon Pandey, along with his brother, executive chairman and creative director of South Asia for Ogilvy & Mather, Piyush Pandey, discussed 'The Rise of Creativity in India' in a session moderated by Atifa Silk, Campaign Asia-Pacific brand director. (We will use the brothers' first names in this article to avoid confusion.)
"In the late 1980s, everyone believed they were smarter than the audience they were addressing—so we treated them (the audience) like idiots," said Prasoon. "The presentation was very Western, the look was very airbrushed. Everything was aspirational. That was the buzzword. Everyone thought, 'As long as I was aspirational, we're good'."
As a result, Indian advertising was unrealistic and banal, he continued. The industry used fashion models for everything, from an ad for suits to one for paint.
"Advertising at that point, there were no Indian role models," said Piyush.
"Why do they have to be models?" asked Prasoon. "If I have to show a carpenter, why not have a real carpenter? The story on their faces, the back story they carry, expands beyond the 30-second ad."
It was only when Indians grew comfortable with their own identity that the advertising scene started to come into its own.
In 1996, India won its first Grand Prix for the spot 'One Black Coffee Please' which Piyush crafted for Ericsson Mobile (below).
"My early work was about whatever I learnt when I went to the barber's for a haircut," mused Piyush. "I love chatting with barbers, cab drivers, people who were India. I have hardly written anything in my life, I've just stolen from the people in India."
Some of his favourite ads were for a small adhesive client, Fevicol (shown below). "A very brave client," commented Prasoon. Fevicol ads, with their local flavour, use of Indian music and visual storytelling soon became so well known in India that they became a tradition of their own and other clients would ask for a "Fevicol ad", he added.
The ads resonated because the best ads in India must be visually strong. "We have 22 languages and hundreds of dialects, so visual storytelling is very important," explained Piyush.
Another trait intrinsic to Indian storytelling, he continued, is the use of multiple genres. Humour is paired with sensitivity, pathos with action and even the most serious film is spiced up with music and dancing. "I once read a description in the Times of India: Indian storytelling is like its food, a big plate with a little of everything on it."
It's important, chimed in Prasoon, when selling a client message, to ensure that it's well embedded in a storyline that resonates with its audience. 'Reunion' (below), by Ogilvy Mumbai for Google, he said, tied up the client message with a problem that affected many families on the border, making it palatable.
"The first because it got away with a huge suspension of disbelief in storytelling," said Piyush,"The second because someone made the effort to find the stories in superstitions and religious inclinations of local Indians towards saving their children. Good insights beautifully executed."
For the many Asian developing nations following in India's footsteps, striving to develop unique advertising voices, Silk asked, "Do you feel India has arrived on the gobal advertising stage?"
"I think it's because we don't give a damn anymore about winning the Grand Prix that we've arrived," retorted Piyush. "If Indian ads are able to reach 1.2 billion people and feel proud, I think it's on the right track"