I have reached a stage now, where I can say ‘back then, in our days, it was so much tougher’. Well read my side of the story, then you’ll agree that I am well within my rights to claim that.
With the same embarrassing dreams and stars in my eyes, I set foot into advertising with the hope that one day, I’ll be able to convert my stupid mad-ads jokes into award winning commercials that can sell any damn product. Write crazy Hinglish baselines, compose jingles, meet glamorous models, sport a ponytail, and walk around cursing the shit of every son of a gun, who had doubted my calibre for all those years. And prove to the world that ‘So what if you’ve only scraped through every exam all your life, you can still become an enviable icon that the world will bow down to’.
Facts about Edison setting his neighbour’s chicken coop on fire, and running away from school had always remained close to my heart, and boosted my confidence everytime I flunked. I could feel Edison patting my back and saying ‘Dont worry son. You are doing it all right by doing it all wrong’.
I was thrilled when I got to know that Akbar was illiterate. I was delighted when I discovered that Einstein was the worst in his class. Though I admire Edison more than Einstein, because I’ve used the bulb, but never Einstein’s theories. Oh shit! I’m digressing…..
I seeked inspiration from winners who were losers before. Only because, that gave me the liberty to continue being the way I was, for some more time.
I patiently waited for the world to dismiss me as a failure. Reduce their expectations. That was the only way I could make them notice and appreciate every tiny achievement of mine.
But I guess that I was pinning too much hope on the genius within me to eventually surface.
Destiny took me to a place where the genius inside never needed to make an appearance. Simply because it had no role to play.
I started off in an agency called Renaissance. An INS accredited advertising agency. Yes INS (Indian Newspaper Society) accredited. I know I have said that twice now.
But they said it over 3 times in their small 30cc ad. “WANTED COPYWRITER’ ad, for an ‘INS accredited agency’. I had little clue what INS meant. But like most abbreviations, I assumed that even this one must be something important enough.
I applied thinking that it would be a cakewalk for me. Atleast, certainly after I show them my bagful of mad-ads certificates that I had accumulated over the years. I made sure that my resume recorded every little accomplishment of mine. Except for the second prize that I had won for ‘Lemon and Spoon’ race in Grade III, which after a lot of pondering I decided to drop it from the resume, and keep it only as a special mention during the interview, in case the need occurred.
But with all that, I did manage to gain an entry into the big bad world of advertising. But not as a copywriter. But into client servicing.
The guy who ran the place convinced me that there was a very thin line that separated the servicing blokes from copywriters, with the “Ideas can come from anywhere…..everyone is creative’ kind of bullshit speech. The average intelligence with which I had lived all my life made me naive or desperate enough to believe this crap as well.
And I joined. With the grand title of Junior Account Executive. In short AE. Everyone loved the abbreviation more, because it phonetically resembles a South Indian way of derogatorily summoning someone ‘AyEEE…..baro illi’.
Forget what the title actually meant or what the job involved, I just hated the title. I hated the sound of it. ‘Copywriter’ just sounded so much more cool, maybe because a copywriter must have decided it. But an ‘AE’ didn’t quite have the same ring to it.
But then I thought, what’s in a title. It’s what I make of it. Atleast, ‘I’m into advertising” sounded cool enough.
“AE.” I decided to live with this reassuringly cheap title. I instinctively knew that I was doing something stupid, but I convinced myself to keep it that simple.
And for a speedy induction to this subservient job profile, they decided to put me on an account that can quickly demolish all the attitude that I had so dearly acquired.
I spent the first fifteen days in the agency flipping through the ‘never ever opened before’ volumes of ‘The One Show’ and ‘D & AD’. And the owner patiently let me enjoy this brief stint with fantasy, after which he flung me straight into the DIP office….which grandly expands as “The Department of Information and Publicity’.
Ya, that’s the client. The same chaps who are responsible for all those ‘poor people looking happy’ kind of ads. And we were one of the privileged agencies artworking those masterpieces for them.
The way it works with the government or rather gowrnamentu (the correct pronunciation of that here) is something else. This post can only be a feeble attempt to capture all of that.
It is a system that is so brilliantly watertight, that it makes sure that nothing you have ever learnt in life can be put to use (That was the only relief, since I didn’t have much to regret). To them advertising or rather adutising, was nothing but an added perk to boost their egos. A facility which they can use as they please, to publish their latest passport photographs along with some attractive adjectives (honorable…respected….Dr….) attached to their names. And also use it for recreation purposes, where they can get to explore their creative side. And the advertising agency was more or less an assembly of jobless screwballs, who are always eagerly waiting to convert their bizarre imaginations to artworks.
To begin with, the client sits in a building that is sandwiched between the Indian Express and The Hindu. The governmentish part in this side of town. Buildings that boasted of timeless architecture and even more timeless inhabitants.
Where even the parking attendants would use you as an opportunity for timepass. They’d open the gate for you, and patiently wait till you fully parked your vehicle, and then tell you “saar, visitors vehicles not allowed”.
Where the attendants at the canteen would pour half the sambar outside the plate with a scowl on their faces that effortlessly translated the thought behind the action “So what else do you expect for your shitty six bucks, you subsidized scum”.
Where even the peon believed that you were specially selected and sent to him, so that he can practice and perfect his role of authority, before he is found deserving enough to be handed one.
Let me divide the entire process of ‘Gowrnamentu adutising’, into the many phases so that the agony is well balanced in all its parts. Think of this as my little bit to make you feel much nicer about what you are doing right now.
Phase 1 – The pitch
To begin with, we get a call from DIP. ‘We’ is the agency. And then an ‘I’ is picked in that ‘WE’ to entertain them. The youngest goat in their livestock that they don’t mind sacrificing is sent to the gallows.
The ‘One Shows’ and the ‘D&ADs’ are snatched and flung into a far off corner.
And replaced with a humble ‘Amar notepad’ and Nataraj pencil. And you are packed off with this sufficient ammunition to the cattle-field.
Once you get there, you are lead into a strange room by a sniggering peon. Dressed in a ‘once upon a time white shirt’, a tilted Gandhi cap, and rubber chappals held together with a safety pin. A typical peonish uniform, thoughtfully designed and enforced by the senior officials, so that the visitors don’t end up unnecessarily wasting their respect on him and keep it preserved for the right officials who are seated inside. He ushers you into a huge room with wooden chairs arranged alongside the walls, with an expanse of empty area in the middle, where even the fans choose to air the vacuum in the centre, rather than waste it on you.
This incidentally, is the waiting room outside the cabin of The Man who has summoned you. The Man who will bestow upon you his precious brief, the one that will enable your agency to pay you your salary, the following month.
An important looking man jots down your agency’s name in a shorter convenient spelling on his scribble pad and subtly gestures you to take a seat.
You then pick your seat amidst the various fellow harijans, and patiently wait for your turn. They all belong to other similar INS agencies, who’s owners have some distant relation in the government. And if you count, they’ll roughly add up to about 40 of them. A small meeting ground of sorts, for people who performed badly, through their school and college.
An invigilator is designated to check on the behaviour of these inmates, and reprimand them accordingly.
“Spit your gum outside.” (Slip down by 4 positions in the queue.)
“Stop shaking your leg.” (Slip down by another 2.)
The same peon who admitted you to this dispensary, now reappears in a more dominating role, announcing the names of the agencies, turn by turn. And disappears quickly leaving you undisturbed to pensively regret your past doings under the noisy sound of the airless fan.
The amount of time that each candidate spends in the room varies in extremes and the randomness in which the names are called out have nothing got to do with the order in which it has been jotted down.
So, you patiently wait for your turn that is slotted with such suspenseful uncertainly, that it could threaten to occur exactly at that time when you choose to go grab a smoke or a bite.
So you have nothing better to do than control every other urge of yours, and instead indulge in a meandering conversation with your neighbour, where you analyse how different journeys can lead to such a similar fate. You then compare notes of your life with his and evaluate for yourself if it is justified.
Only after you have covered every conceivable form of killing time in that minimalistic room, will you hear the announcement you’ve been waiting for.
‘Renisan adutising’ the peon will call out, giving you time only till he figures out the pronunciation of the next name in the list.
The prompt respondents will then be given an entry into the heavenly gates (a squeaky half door with spring action) of ‘The Secretary’. If you were observant, by now you would have learnt that the right pose to make an entry is with the pencil tip inches away from the open note pad. A vivid display of your enthusiasm for the business. And also to jot down any precious gems that might accidently slip through the paan dripping mouth of The Secretary.
Studying the faces of the previous entrants, I had figured out the pattern. The ones who looked smarter spent lesser time inside than the dumber looking ones. The reason was simple. The dumber ones made ‘The Secretary’ look smarter. So he spent more time with them. The more confident you look, the lesser of a confidante you seem. A lesson I only learnt after the first few interactions.
Phase 2 – The Briefing
“May I come in sir?’
“You called us?”
“Yes. Because we want ad”
That is a meaningless question to The Secretary. According to him the briefing is over. This is unnecessary interrogation. But he chooses to be forgiving in the beginning.
The information is always disseminated in installments. The Secretary is clear that he’s not there to clear your unclarity.
But since you are still unclear about his clarity, you idiotically probe further.
“Color or b/w”
“Some color. Some b/w”
“What is the ad about?’
“About our achievements”
“What are your achievements?”
That is the final question. You have just revealed your ignorance. You are just another cliche example of a brash youngster who has turned a blind eye to all the stupendous accomplishments of the men in power, and conveniently bracketed them as bureaucratic scoundrels.
None of this is said.
It is a conversation that has transpired purely by “the way he looked at you, looking at him. And the way you looked at him, looking at you.”
“Next.” he jams the bell on his table in a manner that communicates to the experienced peon, that he want you OUT, more than he wants the next person in.
And you walk out with that one easily memorizable line in your nice smelling notepad, weighed down with the strange pressure that the unused blank pages are adding on you.
“Ad. Color/ b/w. About achievements.”
“But that’s the deal. It works like this.” explained a slightly more experienced fellow Harijan to me, bonding over that mutually beneficial Gold Flake King, that we planned to share after we finished our respective sessions.
“It’s like a competition, my friend. A guessing game of sorts. About 40 agencies are called. And everyone is briefed. The same ‘we want ad’ brief. And everyone is given the same deadline of 3 days.
The game is simple.
1. You need to guess what the ad is about?
2. You then need to find information that can back your guess.
3. And then you need to make an ad and present it to them.
4. All the submissions are taken to Vidhana Soudha, where a secret jury selects the ad that is believably closest to their manifesto, even if it is farthest from the truth.
5. The winning agency gets to release the ad in Engish dailes since they are the most expensive.
6. The artwork of the winning ad is distributed to the other participating agencies.
7.The rest of them have to bargain and negotiate for the remaining dailies and release the ad.
It’s a weird system. But that is the system that they are most comfortable with.
So the trick is to find the right people and get the maximum information possible that is required for making the ad.”
But nobody knows what is the information needed. Nobody knows who has this information. And nobody knows how to get it out from them.
DHAN-TE-DAN……the search now begins…….part 2