MUMBAI: The Media Abby at Goafest was the one place in the festival that was almost entirely free of creative people. Attended mostly by media agency folk, it was yet another sign of how insular the industry has become.
Among the exceptions though was Ramanuj Shastry, national creative director, Saatchi & Saatchi, who decided to saunter over to see what “those guys” were doing. Through the course of the evening, he was transfixed: “There was no scam work and the conversations they attempted were really heartening. It was a slap in the face.”
It tied right into Shastry’s latest assignment, one that he claims has sent him right back to school. His career trajectory has shown a fair amount of unrest of late — unusual for a man who spent more than a decade between O&M (where he began his career after leaving a HR job at Dhara refineries in Orissa) and McCann Erickson.
But over the last couple of years, he has been in and out of Ambience Publicis, Rediffusion Y&R and is now 10 months into his role at Saatchi & Saatchi. Shastry claims to have finally found what he’s looking for: a place that has him on unfamiliar turf.
He says, “I am from a generation that is comfortable standing on a pulpit and delivering to the unsuspecting masses. It’s completely different allowing people to participate. Andy Greenway (Asia Pacific creative director for Saatchi & Saatchi) is a great proponent of new social media. It’s still about stories but involves bringing the brand alive as a palpable connectable entity rather than just some promises.” The TV commercial is no longer an end in itself but just an element that creates an event around the brand.
Besides reorienting himself, a tough task is getting clients to buy into the new way. Especially since most of them see no reason to shift.
Shastry is glad to have caught the attention of P&G, frequently regarded as a very hidebound and traditional marketer. He’s also optimistic about telecom newbie MTS. Which begs the question, why didn’t he try to sell this approach to Airtel, a former client and India’s leading telecom player?
Shastry is full of praise for team Airtel but confesses: “It’s difficult for a big organisation to change course especially when their TV ads are working. Airtel as the preeminent leader should be dictating the conversation. They are in the technology field but somehow still in the TV world, which is rather unfortunate, in my humble opinion.”
He sees interactive communication as a historic inevitability: “I was at the fag end of a great revolution. The champions were Piyush Pandey, Prasoon Joshi and among my compatriots, Rajiv and Mahesh who did some fantastic TV ads,” he says, citing Happydent, Zoozoo and the entire body of work by O&M’s Pandey as being at the vanguard of this movement. But today, the industry is on the brink of another revolution: “I’d be really gratified if I can create at least a couple of examples to encourage young people just as Piyush and Prasoon inspired me to do great TV.”
This drive has informed a lot of Shastry’s choices; even unpopular ones like giving creative awards at Goafest a miss. However, the work just didn’t make the cut: “We were creating old world print. There are bigger, more talented people than me with larger resources doing that stuff. Even if I had won gold, I don’t think we would have moved advertising even an iota of an inch further.”
Yet another contentious decision is Shastry’s move to renounce scam advertising. He says, “I hate scams with as much passion as I love poetry or cinema. It is a disservice to young people, the industry and clients.” But many of Shastry’s contemporaries recall that not too long ago, he held an entirely different opinion.
Shastry says everything changed after working on Thanda Matlab Coca Cola at McCann Erickson: “You have to be part of such work to get out of this ‘awards at any cost’ mentality. When people on the street tell you that Amir ad was great, it is far more rewarding than an ad colleague telling you ‘the art direction in that ad is brilliant.’” To everyone who questions his apparent volte face, Shastry says: “I have reached a position in life because I’ve done real work. Nobody rewarded me for scams. It was important to get noticed but actual responsibility — when people entrust brands to you — is because of real work.”
His most vivid memories of the business are working on brands like Saffola and Airtel. “I don’t even remember the scam ads. It’s not something in am proud of. They are not displayed on my shelves and I did them because I didn’t know better.”