New Delhi: Growing up in Jaipur, Piyush Pandey, the national creative director of Ogilvy and Mather India, had to fight a common perception that studying the arts was a hobby and not a career plan.
Pandey, 60, belongs to a generation that has seen India weather some of its toughest times—from financial dire straits and Indira Gandhi’s draconian emergency rule to wars and internal conflicts.
He has seen both the licence raj, when the private sector functioned under strict government controls and the economy was insulated from the rest of the world, and the years of liberalization that started in the early 1990s.
For Pandey, “growing up was beautiful”. Cricket was his life although he didn’t do too well in higher secondary, scoring just 53%. His proficiency in the sport helped him get admission into Delhi University’s prestigious St. Stephen’s College.
It was in college, where he got to study arts, that Pandey flourished.
“Until then (in school), I was pursuing science and maths which I hated,” he says. Once Pandey started studying the subjects of his liking, he was transformed. He topped the university in his first year itself.
Born in 1955, Pandey has seen the mindset, attitudes and aspirations of people in India change dramatically over the years.
“Life was tight, savings was the big thing, those were not the days of credit cards... Unlike today, where everyone lives on potential while waiting for the bubble to burst,” he recalls.
By today’s standards, when everything is available off the shelf, life in the 1970s and the 1980s was tough for the consumer, who needed to seek a permit even to buy cement for construction (Pandey recalls only five sacks being allowed at one time) or stay on a waiting list for years to purchase a scooter.
And then there was the attitude towards money. “Borrowing money was seen to be a bit of taboo; my mother used to always tell me ‘do not be indebted to anybody,”’ Pandey says.
He did end up being indebted to his family (borrowing money to buy a house); he recalls how he put off buying a TV till he had paid them all back.
“I used to stand outside my neighbour’s window during the time of Chitrahaar, etc., to see if my ad has come or not. So that was the mindset of the burden of a loan,” says Pandey. Chitrahaar used to be a weekly show on Doordarshan that aired film songs.
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The change in Pandey’s mindset came around the 1990s. It was a thought process that, for him, was brought about by his then senior—Ranjan Kapur.
The advertising world until then, Pandey candidly admits, was not very appreciative of the consumer.
“There were ads that taught the consumer how to use the toothbrush; but, with reforms, advertising was transformed from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market.”
From simply hawking a product, ad agencies now had to convince the consumer why their product was better than the others. “It’s not as if the earlier generation wasn’t evolved. They were but the options were limited.”
Pandey cites the example of Karsanbhai Patel, founder of the Nirma group, who created an entirely new market of affordable detergent powders for a section that was earlier using only bars to illustrate how reforms gave the consumers greater choice and prompted a change in advertising.
It also brought a change in working attitudes. He uses a cricketing analogy to explain this change; a career now became a Test match requiring the patience for a long innings; it was no longer a question of hitting a six off every delivery.
Pandey is the man behind the famous Dairy Milk chocolate advertisement in which a girl breaks into a gleeful dance on the cricket pitch after a winning six is scored.
This was in 1994.
For him, it was just a nice story; but many interpreted it as an expression of freedom in those days.
This is the sixth part in a series marking the 25th anniversary of India’s liberalization.