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Alyque Padamsee, ad guru and threatre personality.
Photograph: Jewella C MIranda
Advertising and theatre personality Alyque Padamsee dons many a cap with effortless ease. Be it heading the ad agency Lintas, creating the unforgettable Liril ad, or playing Muhhamad Ali Jinnah in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, Padamsee has left his mark in everything he has done.
While in Lintas, Padamsee helped bail out the agency, and created some advertising landmarks (apart from Liril) like 'Lalitaji' of Surf, Cherry Blossom's Chaplin, MRF's muscleman, etc.
He also has more than 50 full length plays -- including Tughlaq and Evita -- to his credit.
Padamsee's autobiography A Double Life effectively traces the illustrious career of this interesting man.
Advertising to Padamsee is like athletics, wherein one has to constantly strive to outdo others. And just as the athlete's final score evaluates his or her standard, a commercial's success is gauged by the single yardstick: sales figures. In the ad world, complacence leads to failure and lack of imagination to nullity.
In an exclusive interview with Senior Features Editor Indrani Roy Mitra, the ad guru discusses the present ad scenario, its pitfalls and also points out ways of improvement.
On whether the ad world has gone beyond the Black Book? (Some years ago, Padamsee said: "Advertising in India is dead, as the Black Book has stopped publication.")
Some years ago, when the multinationals bought up all the Indian agencies, they forced them to conform to their international campaign. It meant there was very little 'new' creativity.
But a couple of years later, I have found quite a few agencies -- without the help of the Black Book -- are doing very good creative stuff. At the Cannes Film Festival in 2006, India walked off with quite a few awards.
On the purpose of advertising. . .
Among these agencies, everyone believes that Ogilvy & Mather is outstandingly creative. But in my definition, advertising is only about creativity for selling purposes. We are not competing with M F Husain or other top painters or poets. Our job is to sell our clients' products. However creative we may be, if we fail to sell our clients' products, then it is not a good ad. Some agencies have blended creativity and saleability nicely. To me, a great ad is an ad that generates great sales.
A lot of advertising today is certainly noticeable as ad agencies try to break through the 'clutter' but unfortunately often at the end of the commercial, you don't know what on earth they are selling, though you remember the ad which was great fun.
Sometimes, even if you remember the brand, you don't find any reason, apart from humour, to choose that brand. It's good to have funny ads but we must remember that we are no R K Laxman. We create comic, serious or dramatic ads only to sell some products.
This is the only reason why advertising exists. A lot of agencies are finding that though they are very clever, if the products are found to be not moving after a year or two, the agencies are sacked.
On the new advertising trend
Recently, the agency (my old company) doing the Liril campaign, in spite of being extremely creative, lost the contract as Hindustan Lever [Get Quote], dissatisfied with the soap's sales figures, moved the product out of the agency. Being clever for the sake of amusing your friends and the creative directors of other agencies or for winning awards at the Cannes, is a dangerous trend.
I am involved with Emami as their marketing and advertising consultant. I have helped them launch many brands, the most recent of which is Fair & Handsome, one of the fastest growing FMCG products in recent history -- it has achieved sales of Rs 50 crore (Rs 500 million) in nine to 10 months.
Was the ad clever? Will the ad win any award? I would say, 'no.' Will the ad fetch sales? I would say, yes, Rs 50 crore worth of sales.
When I first launched Liril, the ad was very much appreciated (the girl in the waterfall). At the same time, it became the highest selling premium toilet soap in a period of two years. We must sell the products, that's what matters.
On if the new media, Internet, FM radio, etc has helped the advertising sector grow?
Only marginally. Internet, I feel, yet has not become a powerful medium. But SMS certainly is picking up momentum. It's very convenient and instant. It's just in your pocket, goes 'beep beep' and just when you think your girlfriend is paging you, you find an ad finding its way instead. It is the fastest advertising medium, not in terms of growth, but in terms of speed. You just cannot resist checking your messages
On online advertising
Online advertisements, I feel, work to a limited extent. Seeing those ads involves an extremely tedious process. First, you need to switch on your computer, then log in, then go to your favourite site. By that time, you can read at least two newspapers, watch half a dozen television commercials, or read 15 SMS-es. Internet ad takes too much of time, it's not instant.
On essential qualities of a copywriter
You have to have a good imagination to be a good copywriter. Suppose you are seeing a candle burning. You start imagining: why is the wax falling on the ground, why can't it fall inside so that the wax can be recycled? You then go on to say: the candle that never finishes and base your ad, say for a car, like this candle that never finishes, this car (which supposedly uses very little gas) never runs out of fuel. One has to keep drawing comparisons.
The best way to go about is try and improve everything around you. Suppose, your mother-in-law has a high-pitched voice, find the best use of her voice or use a band-aid to shut her up.
Like in theatre (as I was), you have to constantly create, improvise and try novelty to make your brand more appealing.
On what is lacking in today's ads
The 'switch factor' is absolutely lacking in today's ads. When you have prepared the pitch for a television commercial, you must sit with your client and find out if the ad has the essential element to make people switch from some other brand to yours. If it does not, then you must waste no time in tearing the commercial up and preparing a new one. For, 'switch factor' is the name of the advertising game today. We are in a highly competitive market, not a virgin one.
I remember one particular commercial made by Prasoon Pandey for Ericsson phone. A woman is seen asking an oldish man at the next table: will you have dinner with me? The old man comes up to her and says yes, when, to his horror, the woman says, 'one coffee, please,' taking him to be the waiter.
All this time, the woman was talking into her Ericsson cellphone, which being very small, could not be visible by the man sitting at the table next to hers. It was a very fine commercial, very well remembered but unfortunately, soon Ericsson's competitors launched smaller phones so the ad's advantage was lost.
So in advertising, you are like an athlete, always running against your competitors. Most of the ad agencies are very complacent. They should remember: the client is the person who pays your bills and he is the one who has created the product. You don't need to touch his feet but you need to work in tandem to create sales.
On surrogate advertising
Surrogate ad is a bit of a cheat. But I do have my sympathies for the surrogate advertisers. For, our government is run by most brilliant minds of the 17th century. Lawmakers of this country live in the past. If you can consume alcohol and can get drunk, I fail to realise why can't it be advertised. If you allow people to smoke and allow companies to manufacture cigarettes and alcohol, why can't the manufacturers advertise to sell these products?
However, if there is a law and nobody has challenged it in the Supreme Court, the advertisers have to abide by it and have to opt for surrogate ads.
On a campaign that caught his attention recently
The Hutch campaign -- featuring the boy and the dog. It conveyed its message clearly and aptly -- Hutch will spread its network to wherever you are, in other words, it has the widest network. I still remember the series which showed the boy in the swing and the dog going backwards and forwards. It is one of the most outstanding Indian ad campaigns in the last 10 years.
On interesting new faces
A model from Assam -- Cyndy Kajohl -- has a very interesting, unusual face. Apart from her, I am sick of too many clones of Madhuri Dixit now.
Remember Karen Lunel (the first Liril model)? The ad was all about waterfalls, abundant water and the girl splashing about in total abandon singing "la�la la la laaa.." Karen is not too pretty, but has a lively smile and was just cut out for the soap ad.
Had I used a sexy or a busty girl, people would have noticed her vital statistics and would have missed out the brand. I saw the last of Liril's campaigns. It is so laden with sexual overtones that one would think it was a Kama Sutra commercial.
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