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Business News/ Companies / People/  Consumers’ love and respect must prevail over numbers: Piyush Pandey
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Consumers’ love and respect must prevail over numbers: Piyush Pandey

Piyush Pandey, chairman of global creative and executive chairman, India at Ogilvy speaks with Mint ahead of stepping into an advisory role starting 1 January

 Piyush Pandey, chairman of global creative and executive chairman, India at Ogilvy.Premium
Piyush Pandey, chairman of global creative and executive chairman, India at Ogilvy.

Mumbai: Piyush Pandey, chairman of global creative and executive chairman, India at Ogilvy will step into an advisory role starting 1 January. With a section of the ad industry wondering if it is the end of his remarkable 41-year journey, Pandey, in an interview, assured he’s eagerly waiting to embracing his new role and delve deeper into the emerging aspects of advertising, such as the evolving role of technology like artificial intelligence and offering insights to aspiring young minds entering the field. The man responsible for bringing global acclaim to Indian advertising, etched an illustrious journey, receiving the Lion of St. Mark, the Cannes Lions’ lifetime achievement award, an honour he shares with his brother, Prasoon. Edited excerpts.

You are the Bhishma Pitamaah of Indian advertising. So, how do you see this change of guard panning out at Ogilvy?

That’s a very big thing to say. All I can tell you is that I believed in advertising when I joined in the 80s. My motive was to do justice to my clients’ communication needs. I was not trying to prove a point, or changing the industry. That work gelled with the people of India, gelled with clients, and opened up the doors for those who believed in the Indian culture, society, languages and in touching hearts. That invited a many to the business and, certainly, the face of Indian advertising took shape. In hindsight, it was not Piyush Pandey, who changed the face of it. My work started getting noticed by the international community also, leading to the Lion of St. Mark lifetime achievement award.

About the new role, I can tell you I am going to be involved. The new leadership that I have named along with Devika (Bulchandani, global chief executive), are all those who have been a part of Ogilvy and have been with me for many, many years. You can look at it like this: There’s a new captain, equivalent to say, Virat Kohli, and I am an experienced hand, still playing the game, like M.S. Dhoni. I am a part of the team but stepped back so that a new captain could take us to newer heights. The fact is I will continue to be a playing member. My experience can be tapped into the work, relationships as well as the general soul of the company. Of course, one has to understand that one shouldn’t treat such roles as positions of authority. My father never had to remind me that he was my father, but he was around. This is the way it is going to be. New leaders have to be treated and respected like leaders. My role is to tell the clients who have been with us for years, not to worry, I am there, and will try to deliver equal to if not better. These are tricky assignments, which need maturity on your part and I am looking forward. Also, as the people have been with us for over a decade, some for 20 years, they know everything and I don’t have to teach them anything.

How do you see advertising today: Generative AI, ChatGPT and six-second ads?

I believe AI and all the technology must be used as an enabler. It’s not an idea generator. For example take the #NotJustACadburyAd featuring Shah Rukh Khan, that heavily used AI. Was AI the Idea? No. The idea was: There are small retailers never having an opportunity to advertise beyond their shops and then, Khan promoting them. It was a big generosity idea, that was made possible with AI. If that’s the spirit, I look forward to the use of AI. I never say AI is a bad thing. But the six-second ads are stupid. They are not TV commercials, but 6-second hoarding. There are two things: I don’t need to run my ads 10,000 times, as I am able to achieve the impact. Also, when numbers and logic take precedence over love and respect from consumers, that’s when you make a mistake.

Take the example of Pidilite, they were never bothered about length, but their communication piece.

And if you get that right, you don’t have to bother about no. of exposure. I don’t have to run my ad 10,000 times like others have to, because I have been able to achieve impact. And if my barber asks me when am I making the next Fevicol ad, that is better feedback than any research can give.

One has to sit back, not get swooned by numbers, and look at things that are not easy to forget. Take for instance the Red Label film, where the team has beautifully connected tea with the digital language of India. Irrespective of who has done it, I would have loved this piece. It went viral.

So if you have to name your top three ad films, which would make the cut?

To name three or five from a 41-year-long career is inviting trouble. You are bound to go wrong. And I also believe that things that have not happened in the same time-zone, are not comparable. It’s like asking who is better, Sir Don Bradman or Sachin Tendulkar. They were great guys and the circumstances and the challenges were different. Yes, they both outshined the world, but I can’t tell you who was better.

But what I can tell you is that from time to time there are pieces of work that keep coming, which keeps the energy levels in the business high. Various agencies do some excellent work which everyone wishes they would have done. Confining to three or five would be unfair. I still believe the first and the biggest award is the one you get from the street. If the same piece of work also gets awarded by the heads of the jury, well and good, but the first nod should come from the people you have made it for.

It was either William Lever of Lever Brothers (now part of Unilever) or John Wanamaker, who famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half." Do you agree?

Absolutely, because, a lot of people just go by the book and do boring advertising, which according to me, is in the 50% that is wasted. If I have to attempt to say which one doesn’t work, I would say when logic and numbers take precedence over consumer love and respect, that’s when you make a mistake. If you do check-mark research and keep asking people questions without understanding or asking the wrong questions, you aren’t going to get the right response.

But aren’t we seeing very few efforts from clients to invest in building brands? Most ads today are call-to-action. Download apps, transactions etc.

When you are doing a brand-building exercise well, you can have reminders on the road. But, on the side, you have to build your brand. Some people get fooled by it, some do not. I would rather invest in the brand film which people talk about -- ye ad dekha kya? (Have you watched this ad)

What message would you have for youngsters who are coming to the advertising world now?

I would just say that enjoy the game of reaching out to people, of touching their hearts. Your ideas, helped by technology or not are entirely up to you, but did you cross all the obstacles to touch the hearts of the people and make them inclined towards buying your thought/ product? It could be anything, it could be about Swatchh Bharat, buying a product or selecting to vote. But did you persuade them with your communication, which was sincere, believable, delightful and enjoyable?

End of the day, these are things I aim for, and what youngsters should aim for. I am not saying I have been right 100% of my life, but if your sense of objective is right, you can go far. Ultimately, we are paid for a certain job and we should do justice to the salaries.

I see a lot of talent in the youngsters and they should look at what messaging and not technology that they use. And those who are training them, help them in understanding that at the end of the day, you have to make a difference in the world of communication. It doesn’t really matter what technology you use, but what matters is did you achieve what you meant to. And if you can achieve it faster with the aid of technology, of course. They should understand that they are far more privileged than us in terms of exposure, and they should use that to make a difference.

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Gaurav Laghate
Gaurav Laghate is the chief of Mint's Consumer Bureau that covers FMCG, consumer durables, retail, media, advertising, hospitality, luxury and the business of sports. An accomplished business journalist with a career spanning over 15 years, he has reported on the significant advancements in the media and entertainment industry, as well as the business of sports. Beyond his role as a journalist, Gaurav is recognised as a steadfast observer of the media landscape, having spoken at several industry events and panels.
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Published: 03 Oct 2023, 11:37 PM IST
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