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Meet Prasoon Joshi, India's ad guru
Shyamal Majumdar | October 19, 2005
Prasoon Joshi calls it the "moment of his life". He was at the Hapur railway station waiting anxiously for the train to start. Sitting inside his air-conditioned compartment, Joshi says he could almost touch and feel the searing heat outside. Just as the train was leaving the station, Joshi saw a porter sound asleep, covered by the shadow of a mountain of gunny bags stacked next to him.
A few days later, Coca-Cola went on air with its new commercial that showed a man sleeping peacefully on a busy pavement, with a pile of coke bottle crates protecting him from the blazing sun. The one-line caption with the ad said: "Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola". The ad, whose idea Joshi got from the fleeting glimpse of a porter at Hapur, went on to win the Golden Lion at Cannes in 2003, writes Business Standard.
It's a Sunday -- the only day when Joshi can spare some time, as he has no shootings to attend and has only a couple of client meetings at Taj Land's End at Bandra, which is close to his home.
Running against time is obviously quite natural for a man who belongs to so many worlds: that of poems (he has already authored three books and is now finishing the fourth one); film lyrics (he won the Screen award last year for Hum Tum and has just finished penning the dialogues and songs for Rang De Basanti, the next Aamir Khan movie; and songs (he sings most of his ad jingles).
As if these aren't enough, he is also the south-east Asia creative head of McCann-Erickson -- a role he relishes the most as it "pampers the child within him," Joshi says, as we take the elevator to Vista to enjoy what he says is the restaurant's delicious Sunday brunch.
Conversation, however, is difficult as the restaurant is full of noisy children and noisier parents, but Joshi's familiarity with the staff helps as we are offered a corner table at a relatively quiet spot and served draught beer at lightning speed.
Joshi says his many roles help him to remain in a "confused state of mind"-- essential for a creative person like him. "Finality kills creativity. I want to be confused, by choice."
There was, however, no confusion in his mind about the career he was to choose for himself. He did an MBA just to please his parents, spurned the many "conventional" job offers he got during campus interviews and started doing the rounds of ad agencies for "copy tests" -- something his parents and friends didn't quite understand.
The search didn't last long. He remembers the then creative head of Ogilvy & Mather tossing a picture of Sera tiles at him and asking him to write a descriptive copy within two hours. Joshi submitted his papers within 10 minutes.
Seconds later, the only thing the creative head said was: "Man, you are hired." The two-line copy that Joshi wrote in Hindi roughly translates like this: "You have to be really rich to own these tiles. Rich in your imagination."
The affair with O&M lasted for over 10 years -- much of it under the guidance of creative geniuses like Piyush Pandey, whom he considers to be a huge inspiration. He joined McCann in early 2002, only to be "fair to himself and give some independence to his creative instincts."
Barely three years later, McCann has become synonymous with some of the most memorable ad campaigns in Indian advertising -- NDTV India ("Sach dikhate hain hum"), Saffola ("Abhi to main jawan hoon") LG, Marico, Perfetti (Alpenliebe, Chloromint), and of course, his crowning glory -- the paanch rupaiya campaigns for Coke with Aamir Khan.
We have just finished our second round of beer and Joshi says we must rush towards the buffet table if we want anything more than crumbs. The food is the usual five-star fare -- competently laid out and nothing more -- but Joshi doesn't mind it.
He is in a good mood as he has been invited to be part of the jury for the AdFest in Pattaya -- another recognition of Indian creative talent. The other reason for his good mood: a day earlier, McCann regained the General Motors account, which it lost a couple of years ago.
The winner of over 200 ad awards all over the world considers novelist Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay one of the greatest copywriter of all times. Reason: Sarat babu had a fantastic power of observation and could write about real human emotions in the simplest possible language.
"These are the only two attributes that go into making great ads," Joshi says and recounts how a truck driver who was drinking water from a pitcher with his head held high became the inspiration for yet another memorable campaign -- Piyo sar utha ke --or Coke.
"Everybody wants to hold their head high. For the truck driver, it was a compulsion as there was no other way that he could drink water straight from the pitcher. But it's our job to make a virtue out of necessity," Joshi says.
Or, take the latest Tata Indicom ads featuring celebrity couple, Ajay Devgan and Kajol. Joshi claims the company's sales have shot up by 60 per cent since the ads went on air with the catch line "People buy phones to talk". The inspiration came from his driver, who one day sought his advice for buying a phone,which offered no other facilities except "talking".
His background as a small town boy who stayed in places such as Rampur, Almora and Ghaziabad has been an immense help, Joshi says. "If marketers want to crack small-town India, they have to learn to speak their language," he says.
And give voice to their emotions, too. Joshi, who is now responsible for all McCann creatives from the south-east Asian region, says, "fundamental human emotions are the same all over the world, only expressions are different."
Example: he had gone out for dinner with one of his junior colleagues in Beijing. After a couple of drinks, the young man got emotional and started talking about how his grandmother used to feed him roasted cockroaches while telling him bedtime stories.
"Replace cockroaches with rasgullas. Our memories and the bond that we share with our grandmother are the same," Joshi says, adding the secret to a creative guy's success all over the world is fairly simple: once you've made somebody emotional about your product, you've won him forever.
The dessert seems to be the best part of the lunch and Joshi looks quite pleased. He is quite excited by what Lata Mangeshkar told him a couple of days ago during the recording of a song he penned for Rang De Basanti."I was humming the tune which Lataji was supposed to sing. She heard me and wondered why I am not getting into playback singing. Imagine...," an emotional Joshi says. Another world seems to be just opening up for the 36-year-old creative ad guru.