advertising, social responsibility

The Old Man And The Agarbattis (Part 2)

The wife and I, accompanied by Dr. DJ (he of the surgical misadventures) and his wife, The Nag, returned to Badshah Kulfi the other night.

And the Old Man was there as well.

That night, for the first time, I saw him accepting charity, but I couldn’t bring myself to give him money for no reason. There is something called dignity, after all.

When he came around to sell me some agarbattis, I finally asked him what he was doing selling agarbattis so late at night, at his age.

It turns out he’s had an accident, and needs surgery to fix his damaged back and knee. He lives near Metro Adlabs, and spends his time trying to accumulate the cash for the operation.

He didn’t specify how much cash he needed. But Dr. DJ says that surgery and post-operative care will add up to at least Rs. 1 lakh.

So now, the mission is clear: to find a charitable trust who is willing to pay for this guy’s surgery. Any help would be more than welcome.

In the meanwhile, I’m also trying something with one of our biggest clients. I will keep you posted on that if and when it develops.

Meanwhile, there’s an Old Man out there, hobbling around on a cane, selling agarbattis to end his pain.

Let’s help.

advertising, social responsibility

The Old Man And The Agarbattis

I think that, at some point, advertising professionals grow tired of earning megabucks for their clients.

It’s not always a conscious thing, I feel. But at some point, we’d like to hear our clients say, “Okay, we’ve earned so many trillion bucks this year selling soap. Now let’s give something back.”

And then we try to do something about it.

Some shining examples. Lowe Lintas is unofficially known as the ‘social cause’ agency. We have three brands (at last count) that champion social issues. I have had the good fortune, for the last three years, to work on Tata Tea, which has made awakening people its mission. It’s a matter of pride to know that you helped give India 600,000-plus new voters.

Indra Sinha, one of advertising’s legendary copywriters, who emerged during a golden age period in the 80s and 90s. A Colaba boy, like me, based in the UK and France, Sinha was voted one of the top 10 British copywriters of all time. But what sets him apart from the pack is that, during his career, he did some stunning recruitment and fundraising work campaigns for the London Police and Amnesty International. His raving, ranting ad blaming British citizens for the Kurdish genocide shocks readers even today – it shocked me when I read it in The Copy Book. It also helped garner record funding for Amnesty. Sinha then quit advertising to become an author and activist, advocating full-time the issues he’d become involved with during his career.

Three years of working on Tata Tea have, I think, turned me into a more socially responsible citizen. At home I try to waste less. I try to get my brands to take up larger causes. I get excited when an energy brand says it wants to talk about the good it is doing for people and the environment. I give more to charity than I used to. I’m more aware of peoples’ plights. Watching the show The West Wing has helped immensely too.

Where is all this going?

If you ever visit Badshah Kulfi at Crawford Market late at night, you will see an old, frail, emaciated man, shabbily dressed, tottering around the place, a heavy plastic bag slung over his shoulder.

He doesn’t beg. No. Instead he moves slowly from car to car, shuffling his feet in little steps, trying to get Badshah’s patrons to buy agarbattis from him at twelve bucks a packet.

When he does find a buyer, his face creases with concentration as he tries to sort out his packets. It’s difficult for him to do even this simple task – his hands and fingers tremble, making it difficult to grasp a packet of agarbattis.

It’s wrong. It’s just so wrong that a man who’s at least 70 has to walk the streets at night trying to make some money to live off.

What is commendable is that he isn’t begging – he’s selling agarbattis. I tend to overpay him a bit – but he at least keeps his dignity.

My wife and I wonder why he’s out on the streets. Have his kids kicked him out (and he seems like he’s carrying that sadness with him)? Has he lost his family? Does he have no home? Is he being exploited? What is his story?

And, most, importantly, how can we get him off the streets?

The next time we go to Badshah’s, we will talk to him. We’ll try and learn his story. And then we’ll see if there’s something we can do about it. Even if it’s just about buying him a warm jacket to help tide over this winter.

In the meanwhile, we’re going to figure if we can donate some money to old-age homes. Through the Lowe Lintas Give India programme, and otherwise too. For all those old folks we haven’t seen at Badshah’s.

If you have any other ideas, or would like to help, do let me know. It’s a cause worth fighting for.

Please share this post with others you know. Spread the word. Click the ReTweet button. Share it on Facebook. On Digg. On Reddit. Over email. Over the phone.

Because y0u sure as hell wouldn’t want to see anyone you loved in that old man’s shoes.

advertising, how to, industry, reputation

How To Keep Up The Ad Industry’s Sleazy Reputation

Treat the executive gents’ loo like a unisex loo.

Just like a colleague of mine did the other evening, opening and then hurriedly shutting the door of the toilet she’d been occupying when she noticed me standing at the urinal.

advertising, creative

A Study In Creative Thinking

Today, I shall take all you wannabe advertising creatives – not that there are too many of you, what with the industry’s pitiful pay scales – through a basic exercise in honing your creative skills. This exercise has been advocated by some of the world’s greatest creative folk, creative directors and advertising professors who couldn’t quite put their theories into practice in the real world.

Every young creative’s first question to his or her senior is, “How can I think better?” Well, my inner voice Marble, who is extremely sarcastic at the best of times, usually answers, “Use your head.” But that is not the solution I refer to.

The exercise we go through is to sort of reverse-engineer a brilliant ad. That is, look at the final creative product and try to figure out what the creative brief must have been. That way, one will (hopefully) understand the thought process that went into the ad, and (even more hopefully) apply it when one is next briefed.

To simplify this for your understanding, I will provide examples. But you will, in all probability, not have seen the ads I’d put down here. Plus, I’m too lazy to search for the YouTube links. So, I will use examples we’re all extremely familiar with – nursery rhymes. (Many thanks to Dan Brown for the symbology lessons.)

Here goes.

Example 1
The Creative
Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty-Dumpty had a big fall.
All the King’s horses and all the King’s Men
couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Decoding The Message
Humpty-Dumpty, a large, fragile, egg-man, clearly represents human beings. In particular, his fragility leads us to infer that Humpty-Dumpty represents that most fragile of human beings – a human child, probably about 5 years of age. And if a human child sits on a wall (at some height, presumably), it is likely to fall. In case of such a fall, said child is likely to be seriously wounded, with little or no hope of survival.

Therefore, The Brief
Children these days are taking too many risks, especially when it comes to sitting at a great height. We need to educate children aged between 4 and 10 of the inherent dangers of sitting on a high wall without adequate safeguards.


Example 2
The Creative
Jack and Jill went up a hill
to fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down
and broke his crown
and Jill came tumbling after.

Decoding The Message
Jack and Jill are clearly two reckless, post-pubertal teenagers who believe that nothing bad could ever happen to them. ‘Going up a hill to fetch a pail of water’ is evidently a metaphor for, you know, getting it on. The disastrous consequences of ‘going up the hill’ are clearly a metaphor for teenage pregnancy and all the problems it brings.

Therefore, The Brief
Teen pregnancy is increasing rapidly these days. Lack of viable birth control – not to mention self-control – is resulting in a great number of underage marriages and bastard children. We need to educate teenagers of both sexes about the disastrous consequences of premarital sex.


Example 3
The Creative
Hush a bye baby, on the tree top.
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall.
Down will come baby, cradle and all.

Decoding The Message
Why would anyone try to hush a baby? Obviously because the baby is bawling its lungs out. No amount of rocking, singing, playing, feeding or cleaning diapers has helped quiet the fretful child. Leaving the mother, one would imagine, in quite a frustrated state of mind. Hence, the last three lines of the rhyme can be interpreted as a threat from a mother at the very edge of her sanity to her screaming child. Sort of along the lines of, “Beta, so jaa…nahin toh Gabbar aayega.”

Therefore, The Brief
Mothers all over England (the land where most nursery rhymes originated) are frustrated with their screaming, squalling brats. There have been several incidences of mothers killing their babies, themselves, or their husbands due to the resultant loss of sanity. This sets a bad example. So, we need to give mothers a tool to help them quiet their babies, thus removing the source of frustration.

advertising, campaigns, insight

The Power Of (Working On) An Ad Campaign

During my transition from mainline to digital, I was working on a brief for a brand of premium writing instruments we handle.

Cracking the idea involved getting deep into the consumer’s mind to understand today’s perceptions of writing by hand.

The more I studied, the more I got hooked to the idea of great handwritten penmanship.

I began to remember the beauty of “gleaming wet words flowing on paper” (sorry, I can’t remember who originally came up with this quote I’ve just mangled). My memory flashed back – yes, (H)(B)ollywood movie-style – to Tony Brignull’s classic long-copy ad in The Copy Book headlined, “Rediscover the lost art of the insult.”

I looked at the cheap, plastic, utterly tasteless and pathetically common ball-point pen clutched in my hand. My hand, almost of its own accord, recoiled – it opened, and that sad instrument fell to the marble-tiled floor, bouncing and clattering, rolling to a standstill. And at almost the same moment, a voice in the inner recesses of my mind whispered, “You must buy a fountain pen.”

Naturally, I approached Marble’s (that’s the name I’ve given to this inner voice) idea with some trepidation. What if I spent hundreds of rupees on a fancy pen and decided that I wasn’t enjoying writing with it? That would mean several beers’ worth of money down the drain.

So I went out and bought a cheap fountain pen, for all of Rs. 36.

Yes, it was a little rough, a little scratchy.

But it was beautiful.

So today, I went out and bought another fountain pen – this one for Rs. 125 (plus Rs. 30 for the cartridges). Which happens to be the same brand I was working on.

Much smoother, classier to look at, a delight to write. (Free brand plug.)

The moral of the story is, dear children, that advertising obviously affects more people than just the ones who consume it.

Now imagine if the brands I’d worked on had influenced me to this extent in the past. (To see which brands I’ve worked on, click here.)

Firstly, I’d have thrown out all my wardrobes. I’d be living out of suitcases, being addicted to buying one every month.

Secondly, I’d be drinking tea only. No coffee, no beer, no gin-lime cordial-bitters-ice. Only tea. And not the tapri chai I like. Regular tea.

Thirdly, I’d be saving a lot more money in my bank account. Not a bad thing, actually.

Fourthly, I’d be riding a bike. Not driving a car. I’d also be falling off a lot more often, and taking a lot longer to reach work, due to sheer lack of confidence and hence speed.

And lastly, most terrifyingly, I’d be fathering babies faster than the wife can say, “Shopping!”

advertising, careers, insight

Going Places

It’s important for a professional – in any industry – to regularly pause and take stock of his or her career.

One must look within, and look without, and see clearly and objectively where one is going in one’s career.

One needs to know whether one is moving forward, standing still, or – worse – moving backwards.

One needs to know where one stands in the organisation, vis-a-vis one’s colleagues and competitors.

One also needs to know where one wishes to go, and how to get there.

Here are my answers to the aforementioned questions.

I have looked within and without, and I see clearly where I have just gone in my career – to a 2-seat cubicle with a window seat. The window overlooks CR2, with an interesting view of the mall’s circular parking lot.

I have moved forward, in the same direction as before. Imagine a rectangle with four corners – A, B, C, D. I started around A, moved to somewhere between B and C (closer to B), then moved to C, and now am around the midpoint of the segment CD.

I am well aware of where I stand – and sit – in the organisation. In the cubicle in front of me are Ocean and Playboy. In the cabin behind are Loud and Low. To my left is my art partner, LooksGayButClaimsHeIsn’t. Beyond him is the rest of the Linteractive team. To my right is the window.

I know where I wish to go – a window seat in a cabin with a sea view. The sea view coincides with a view of the swimming pool at the Hilton, which satisfies all my voyeuristic tendencies.

How do I get there?

By grabbing this opportunity with both hands and delivering some kick-fucking-ass digital campaigns. Or taking credit for some 😉

Now, after having completed this high-priority exercise, I shall get back to work with the suggestion that you too do the same, without any delay.

PS. LooksGayButClaimsHeIsn’t has requested (begged, pleaded, bribed) me to change his nickname on my blog. So I shall be referring to him as MetrosexualMan from my next post.

advertising, how to

How To Crack Ideas When You’re Completely Stuck And The Deadline Or NCD Looms Large

Go to the loo.