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Meet the adman who thinks in Hindi

December 22, 2006 12:25 IST
Prasoon Joshi's cellphones (he provides two numbers) did not stop ringing last week. But not all calls got picked. Instead, a casual voicemail in the ad man's voice said, "I might be in a meeting or something...."

After last Friday, that casual "something" could change to a more formal message. Joshi, the hotshot creative genius from ad agency McCann Erickson was elevated to the position of executive chairman of McCann Erickson India.

But the hot seat in the chairman's office is unlikely to change him. For the soft-spoken, 37-year-old is considered to have his feet, and his ears, close to the ground. Confessing to thinking in Hindi, porters, truck drivers and chauffeurs have inspired him to create award-winning advertisements.

For instance, the ad for Coca-Cola, which won the Golden Lion at Cannes (the Oscar of advertising), was inspired by a porter who he saw fast asleep in the blistering heat of Hapur railway station.

The shadow of a pile of gunny bags stacked next to him acted as a sunscreen. In the inspired ad, "Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola", the gunny bags are replaced by a stack of Coca-Cola crates.

As multinationals line up to crack India's burgeoning semi-urban and rural market place, the Joshi brand of communication – 'Think in Hindi' - could be increasingly in demand. "If marketers want to crack small-town India, they have to learn to speak their language," he told Business Standard once.

Joshi is credited with leaving his stamp on several brands, the most talked about being the Coca-Cola campaign with film star Aamir Khan, which is the most memorable campaign by the iconic soft drink brand in India till date.

Detractors, however, say it's the camaraderie between Khan and Ashutosh Gowarikar, the ad film's director that did the trick in this case.

But Joshi has other achievements, the most recent being the Happydent commercial, that Joshi says won acclaim even in the respected ad magazine, Advertising Age. He has stopped counting awards after they crossed the 300-mark.

But Joshi is not all about ads. He adds colour to his creative canvas by dabbling in poetry, writing lyrics for blockbuster films like Rang De Basanti or for music albums.

However, Joshi's latest position need not be all about song and dance. McCann Erickson's parent company, the Interpublic Group, is yet to notch an impressive performance in India.

The advertising agency business is completely dominated by rival network, Martin Sorell's WPP, to which Joshi once belonged - he worked with O&M till 2002.

Already, Joshi's appointment was accompanied by the news of the exit of another McCann strong man, Santosh Desai - though there is no confirmation that both events were linked. But for now, Joshi needs to prove that his creative genius is backed by strong business acumen.

Prasad Sangameshwaran in Mumbai