Mumbai: Imagine driving through Mumbai on a busy afternoon and suddenly coming across a giant hoarding asking you—yes, you exclusively—to join a party.
That’s what happened to some top advertising professionals, who were very publicly invited to join the 30th anniversary celebrations of communications conglomerate Mudra Group on 25 March.
Each hoarding was a custom-made, tongue-in-cheek invitation for the group’s senior executives, former employees and even professionals from rival firms. Mudra set up 70-80 such billboards across Indian cities.
For instance, a hoarding located strategically in Goregaon, en route to the Ogilvy and Mather office, read “Piyush, B.Y.O.B.”—an apparent request to Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and national creative director, Ogilvy and Mather, to “bring your own booze” to the party.
Another hoarding, set up in Lower Parel, close to the JWT India office, read “Colvyn, for the after party we’re heading to your pad.”
The invitees were pleasantly surprised. “I waited for the after party, but no one turned up. Maybe they all fell asleep,” laughed Colvyn Harris, chief executive of JWT India. “Congratulations to Mudra! They’ve achieved a lot in 30 years.”
The group started off in the 1980s with 15 employees, 500 sq. ft of space and Vimal, a saree and suitings brand from Reliance Industries Ltd, as its only client. Today, Mudra Group employees at least 1,000 people and has its business spread across four agencies—Mudra India, DDB Mudra, Mudra Max and Ignite Mudra.
“As an organization we’re very serious about what we do. But we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and that’s where this idea came from,” said Bobby Pawar, chief creative officer of Mudra Group.
“There’s no disrespect for anyone; it’s just a spoof and just our way of saying, we’re having a party and we would love for you to come celebrate with us.”
Some of the hoardings also served the purpose of informing Mudra’s executives how they would be gainfully employed during the party.
“We also have hoardings that say ‘Hey Jude (Fernandes, chief executive, Mudra India), you’ll be the DJ (disc jockey)’ or ‘Madhukar (Kamath, managing director and chief executive, Mudra Group), have you ordered for party hats?’” said Pawar. “I mean, Jude who is known to be an old school guy, being the DJ is not the best idea, but that’s the fun part.”
One hoarding made an obvious reference to film-maker R. Balakrishnan, or Balki, who is also chairman and chief creative officer of Lowe Lintas. It said: “Balki, come to Papaa!” Balki directed the recent movie Paa.
Another helpfully reassured lyricist Prasoon Joshi, who is also executive chairman of McCann Erickson (India) Pvt. Ltd, by reading: “Prasoon, don’t worry there’s karaoke.”
Balki was tickled when he heard about it. “I started my life in Mudra, which is why the hoarding says ‘Come to Papaa!’ Those were the heady days of advertising and I remember my days there very fondly.”
Joshi missed the hoarding, but wasn’t surprised by it. “It’s a very innovative idea. Bobby is a fantastic creative mind and a radical thinker and I’m not surprised they’re doing this.”
One hoarding, meant for Mudra’s chief operating officer (COO) Pratap Bose, asked, “Pratap, what are we writing on the cake?”
It reminded his namesake Prathap Suthan, national creative director of Cheil Worldwide and a former Mudra employee, of their 10th anniversary celebrations.
“We were still working out of the Ellis Bridge apartment. I remember transporting this huge, six-foot-long and four-foot-wide strawberry cake to the office for the party, in the back of (then creative director) Ranjan Thomas’ Maruti van. But somewhere along the way, the damn thing had a huge crack in the middle. We cut it as it was, but all the pictures were eventually touched up.”
Mudra Group started out in Ahmedabad in 1980 when Frank Simoes Advertising Pvt. Ltd, which had been handling the Vimal account until then, decided to discontinue the relationship. The in-house team at Reliance that worked on some Vimal communications then became a separate advertising agency to promote the brand.
In the 1990s, the agency set up offices in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.
Suthan calls Mudra “my finishing school, for life”.
“If you look at the advertising industry and look at the combined power of people who started out with Mudra,” he said, “no other agency has made such a contribution.”