NEW DELHI: Adulthood came early to 43-year-old advertising professional V Sunil. At least, the alphabet A for adult did catch his fancy during his infant days in advertising. He began collecting film posters of sleazy, B-grade Indian films that were the staple of the young and restless adolescents two decades ago. A habit that has stuck even till now. It was the subject of his full-blown exhibition in September, decorously titled Morning Show.
For someone who boarded a train to Bangalore in search of work as a mechanic, Sunil’s career has climbed up with clockwork precision. He formed his own small advertisement boutique called, what else, ‘A’, which he later merged with the global independent advertisement agency Wieden+Kennedy (W+K) in 2007. The trajectory is punctuated with a few Cannes awards as well.
Today, sitting in his Sheikh Sarai office in South Delhi, V Sunil, executive creative director at W+K could perhaps give his maverick outlook full credit. Part of which is also reflected in his plush office which greets you with an installation made of 23,000 pencils that says ‘Work is Worship’.
His artistic bend still has a mechanical accuracy to it. As one walks inside, there comes a corner for a ‘thinking chair’, a chillout zone and small cubicles, which colleagues popularly refer to as ‘kissing rooms’. The office interiors reflect the laid-back but forward-looking persona of the leader at W+K.
His most recent campaign, a TV commercial for
airline, is being talked about already. In a fast-paced Broadway runway musical, the ad shows pilots on a slick song and dance step to convey the message. The song is a parody of the classic Gilbert and Sullivan tune ‘Modern Major General’ from the 1879 operetta ‘Pirates of Penzance’. The lyrics and rhythm keep a fast pace throughout the ad.
A speed not so musical to the ears of some experts like adman and Sunil’s former boss at O&M, Piyush Pandey, who found it a tad difficult to catch the fast-paced lyrics. “It is nicely produced and is lively in its look and feel. But I think it should have been adapted for the audience here for them to clearly understand what is being said,” says Pandey. “Initially, I thought I was too old and that’s why did not catch the lyrics,” he adds.
However, the fact that anything edgy and unusual always gets a point of view is not lost on Sunil. “We were aware that the lyrics are fast. But then, if we were to make it slow – it would not be half as exciting as it is now.”
Having begun his career as a finishing artist in a small agency, Campaign Advertising, the punchline for Sunil has always been a speedy blow, even after he made the transition to the creative side at Contract Advertising.
“I had good bosses who perhaps saw something in my work. This helped me to make the shift,” he says.
What followed were stints at McCann Erickson, Contract Advertising in Delhi and later on at Lintas. But looking back, he calls the 7-8 months he spent at Lintas as a ‘big mistake’. “They wanted to change things but that requires courage as well. They did not have enough good creative people at that time either. I joined back Contract after this brief stint.”
Being an adult movie aficionado, he couldn’t be reigned in at one place. After spending four years at Contract, Sunil decided to move again – this time to O&M in Delhi. His main agenda here was to turn the Delhi office around and make it on par with O&M Mumbai. “I hired many creative people who had the vision to execute good ideas. Within 2-3 years, I was able to get the job done. Piyush was extremely supportive and it helped a great deal,” he says.
As creative director of O&M Delhi, he conceptualised The Incredible India Campaign in 2002 with an objective of showing India as a high-end tourist destination. The campaign was a success, generating 16% increase in tourist traffic in the first year itself.
The success he got while shaping a team and running an office the way he wanted at Ogilvy Delhi, made him confident about starting off on his own. His desire for creative independence made him set up ‘A’ in 2004, a creative agency that was not part of any network.
“I started researching on creative independent agencies such as Mother in London and 180 Amsterdam that were doing great work just by having single offices and run by few people. I always had this feeling that you don’t need so many people to run a creative company,” he says. ‘A’ was thus born out of this ‘special forces’ philosophy which – over a period of four years – had only 20 people on board. IndiGo, Royal Enfield and Nokia were some of the campaigns that were executed by the agency during this period.
Looking back Sunil feels that it was a scary thing to do at that time. After four years ‘A’ merged their operations with Wieden+Kennedy, one of the world’s largest independent advertising agencies. Sunil calls it a ‘love at first sight’ phenomenon. “It was almost like A was a younger version of W+K. It was a perfect match,” he says.
But it’s not just advertising that keeps Sunil busy. Besides collecting adult movie posters from all over India, he is also making art forms more accessible to young people through W+K Exp, an art gallery. He has also kickstarted two editorial projects – Motherland, a magazine on India’s subculture and a travel website. In between he also found time to get married to model Joey Mathews.
Sunil’s work and his past time are inextricably merged to form a significant steamy influence on popular culture. “The work I do is a lot of fun. That’s what keeps everything going seamlessly on track,” he sums up.