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'Failure helps you keep your feet on the ground'

September 17, 2008

She had never imagined she would make a career in advertising one day. Today she has not only survived in this field for more than 15 years but carved a special name for herself.

She is the one who coined such funny, irreverent taglines like 'Nothing official about it', 'Yeh dil [Images] maange more', 'Oye Bubbly' and 'Jor ka jhatka dhire se lage'?

Starting as a corporate trainee 15 years back with one of India's leading creative ad agency J Walter Thomson, at 37 today, Anuja Chauhan -- the woman who coined the slogans above -- is executive creative director and vice president of JWT.

While managing a successful career and three children aged 13, 10 and 7, she recently released a novel, The Zoya Factor, which has sold more than 20,000 copies. 

What's her success mantra? "This is a tough one to answer," she says in an interview over the phone, but still attempts to give a reply.

Anuja believes that humility plays an important part in a person achieving success. She also believes that you won't achieve much in life if you are not open minded or assume that people who you come across are fools. However, this does not mean you should not respect your own ability, she adds.

She was a bright kid in school but , Anuja, the youngest of four sisters born in a Rajput family, failed to score good marks in Class XII. The bad run continued when she studied economics -- which she did not like much as a subject -- at Miranda House in Delhi [Images].

"I don't know why I was doing economics; I had a lousy time in college academically but I had lots of fun with extra-curricular activities," she says.

Anuja, in a conversation with Prasanna D Zore, discusses her book, her family life, her career in the advertising industry and offered tips to achieve success.

Tell us about your journey in the ad industry:

I have been very happy with what I have achieved so far. I began my career with an eight-month internship at RK Swamy BBDO. After that I studied advertising for an year in Melbourne, Australia [Images]. I joined JWT when I came back in 1993. I joined as a corporate trainee in JWT and today I am executive creative director and vice president at JWT.

What happened in Class XII?

In school I was quite a bright kid but screwed up only in Class XII. I had a boyfriend then and my mind wasn't on studies at all. Having a relationship at that age affected my studies. However, kids today, I think, are mature enough to handle both. But yeah I think it definitely distracts you and it completely distracted me. I scored 89 per cent in Class X but in Class XII scored just 67 per cent.

About The Zoya Factor

I always wanted to write a novel. It was all about wanting to have a control over your output. In advertising you are always telling someone else's story, it is always about a product that has to be sold, there is time duration constraint even if it is very exciting.

I thought if I have to write a book then I don't have to keep anyone happy but myself. It will be my story and not the story of potato chips or a cold drink. So I was writing for freedom and was really spreading myself out.

While advertising does let me write creatively it is still not my story but a story of a cold drink or a cell phone or some chocolate or a potato chip. It is not the story of a character that you choose. Of course there is creativity in advertising but writing a book falls into a different genre altogether.

Is The Zoya Factor autobiographical?

I chose Zoya as a character working in the advertising industry because I thought I should write about what I know. I can't write on RAW India's intelligence agency Research & Analysis Wing) because I don't know much about it. However, I know the ad industry inside out and know how it works. So The Zoya Factor's main character Zoya belongs to the ad industry.

Is it difficult for a career woman to manage career as well as family?

It actually depends on your choice of career. There are some careers that are easier to manage. Like, I find writing easier, as I can go home and write at night. Also, you don't have to depend much on others when you are writing a book. You don't need the trappings of an office, you don't need a whole bunch of people and you don't need an array of computers.

Compare this with a job in the bank or the service sector where you have to meet different people. Then it becomes a little bit difficult. Like a woman in the advertising field working in accounts servicing probably puts much longer work hours than a woman writing creative copy.

I don't think there were any challenges while writing The Zoya Factor... bahut mazaaa aa raha tha (I was enjoying myself a great deal).

Tips to make a successful career in the ad industry

First and foremost you should be unafraid of failures. Ask a lot of questions. There is nothing wrong in asking questions about things that you don't understand no matter how easy others might find it to be. Nobody's going to sack you for asking questions.

Did you ever face gender bias in your career?

No. This is one very good thing about my company JWT. It's extremely employee-friendly and child-friendly place. They are very supportive. While I can't speak about the ad industry as such there is no gender bias at JWT.

What's your success mantra?

This is a tough one. Most important thing to achieve success in advertising industry is to be humble. I don't know why some people are so arrogant. If you make the assumption that sab c-----e hai then you won't achieve much in life. You have to start with an assumption that the person you are talking to is intelligent even if s/he may be an idiot. However, this does not mean you should not respect your own ability.

If somebody is in servicing you shouldn't feel that kya bakwaas brief leke aaya hai (what an idiotic brief is this?). The way industry works is we think that the client is a buffoon, servicing guys are bloody fools and the planners are idiots. If you are going to have this attitude then you are not going to achieve anything. You can't work successfully with people if you think they are fools. You have to build an attitude to think that people who you are working with are as intelligent as you are. They can also have a point of view and ideas.

I think it's important to keep an open mind. Also, in advertising a lot of us play the blame game. We say things like maine toh bahut acchi script likhi thi but client ko kuchh nahi aata (I wrote a very good script but the director f�.ed it up). I wrote a really good script but Shah Rukh Khan [Images] can't act for toffee. But when you start this blame game you learn nothing out of it as an individual. And to achieve success you need to learn continuously.

Instead of blaming others you should learn from your failures. At least it will help you in not making the same mistake again. Failure is important to achieve success, especially if you are successful in your career. Failure helps you keep your feet on the ground.

If you want to achieve success as a creative writer then you have to look at other people all the time. You need to be a very good observer. Understand eccentricities of the people in India. You will get 50 creative ideas just by observing people.

The story behind Pepsi's slogan for the 1996 cricket World Cup 'Nothing official about it'

The idea came very much from Coke (Coca Cola, Pepsi's arch rival in India). They were the official sponsors of the 1996 Cricket World Cup and everybody and his uncle wanted to be officially associated with the World Cup then. There was an official chewing gum brand, an official cold drink, official T-shirt, official airline� every body went on and on about how they were officially associated with the World Cup.

So it was just a question of doing something different from what everybody else was doing. We told the world that we are not boring; we are not official. It was actually very courageous to swim against the tide but our client supported us wholeheartedly. It was in Pepsi's DNA to build its brand equity around cocking-a-snoop, tongue-in-cheek kind of advertising.

Also, the fact that youth in India wanted to be irreverent a bit and that was why it was all the more a big success.

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