Q] What was the thought behind SOS Village’s #NoChildAlone campaign? How was it conceptualized and how did you find Chatpat?
It’s a very simple story. I got a call from the head of SOS India, who is also a part of the board of international SOS. He told me about this incredible work that this organization has been doing in India for 55 years and how they take care of 45,000 children. They wanted me to do a campaign for them but they didn’t have money. And I’m always looking forward to doing such work and the challenge was just so exciting. Also, December is a month for NGOs, where donations pick up and SOS wanted some corporate donors to join us. And that’s how the whole idea came into being. We realized that to tell the SOS story, we would need a celebrity but there was no money for a celebrity. So, we decided to make a celebrity and in over a week and a half we gave them one of India’s youngest celebrities - Chatpat. Amit Roy, the director, had done a nationwide hunt. And three boys were sent to me as the first list. But I didn’t like any one of them so much. So I asked them to send me the final shortlist of 40 kids out of 300. I saw each of those 40 kids and chose this boy.
Q] You were the first woman CCO of a network agency in the country, what kind of challenges did you face?
I was in a very big organization, JWT and I was in my first job for 22 years. And so I was very attached to my brands like Horlicks, Pepsi, Slice, etc. But I don’t think JWT has a culture of promoting or putting the torch light on the talent that resides there. And often as women we are so little self-conscious, we think efficiency and professionalism would be enough. So, there is no real aura around us, and to give you an example something like “Hey Swati is here or Okay guys, I’m taking all of you to the bar” the kind of buzz that we hear around male creative directors. So, at that point I think even the Goa club didn’t ask me to come and judge. The first time I was called to be on the jury was at Clio and that is where I met my current boss, Susan, and it changed my life. Susan told me, “You are special. And these are your big glittery shoes, please take your time and fit into them because I see you as the CCO.” I didn’t think I’m ready for the role, but when you are in a work environment where they create an ecosystem, not just for your survival, but for you to truly rise, it’s great. And things just changed around me because I’m still the same person.
Q] You’ve crafted some of the best award-winning campaigns like Sindoor Khela #NoConditionsApply, which one is close to your heart and which one was the most challenging?
Horlicks is a primary relationship in my life. I don’t know whether to look at it as a challenge because I know it is life now. But for me to do something like Sindoor Khela, not knowing how it will be received and while wondering if it can get TOI into trouble was a different ballgame. And Sindoor Khela was happening at the same time when buses were burning for Padmaavat. The Times of India was like a number one newspaper nationally. But somewhere in the east, nobody thought of Times of India as the Bengali English newspaper, it was still Telegraph and Statesman. We wanted to do something to make Bengalis think of TOI as their newspaper. Being a Bengali myself, I felt I need to touch something which is an intimate part of the Bengali culture, bring out the inequality/ discrimination camouflaged in tradition. It worked out so beautifully and Bengalis embraced it as a movement of love and it lives year on year. Similarly, the campaign that I did for Shakti for Bihar elections was during COVID. So there are different challenges that come. I always look at my work and I think that the best thing it can do is make the viewer an activist.
Q] FCB also bagged the Cannes Lion 2021 for The Times of India’s ‘Out and Proud Classified’ campaign, tell us how the campaign was made and what was the creative brief?
The campaign was a very simple classified ad, a section of the newspaper which was only getting a little traction. Because it was the oldest part, it was only talking to the older readers. And the thought was what can we do to make everyone read the classifieds section. The idea came from Jason, the boy in the Bombay office and when I heard it I said ‘It is not just a classified idea, it is almost a brand idea.’ The first thing I did was to call Jaydeep Sarkar, one of the directors that I’ve worked with in the past. Times of India liked the idea, but they had no money to do a film. But then Jaydeep and I went back to them and showed them how we had found people who were ready to really ‘come out’ in the newspaper, they agreed. They went a step ahead and said they wanted to announce it in the front page of the newspaper which was a big thing. I think good ideas really help grow possibilities. I remember there was a classified ad which a daughter wrote for her mother and her partner, “Renu Maasi and you now need to make a life together and live truthfully.” Also, Times of India has this line which says ‘Change begins here.’ So, I felt that this is not just storytelling, this is like ‘story doing’.
Q] Have the expectations of brand marketers from advertising agencies changed after the pandemic struck?
No. In a way they still rely on us. There is a certain awareness that these are difficult times, so in a way, it has only brought us closer to our clients. And with the pandemic, the workload has increased while most of it is invisible because of lack of interaction.
Q] What is the next big thing that drives you?
Nothing because I feel there are days when I feel like I’m only beginning. I like the ambition of taking stories from India to all over the world.
Q] What is your message for the young creative minds out there?
Know your brand and its pulse first because once you have a grip on your brand, you get a voice in the boardroom. And if you have a voice in the boardroom, you can push your creativity further, and that is where you find fame, money and satisfaction. So selfishly for yourself and your craft, don’t treat your brand as a prop in the story. Let every story actually come from your brand.