Mullen Lintas Chairman and CCO on the Indian agency's big ambitions and creative chemistry
For an agency that’s only been around for a year and a half, Mullen Lintas has built up an impressive back catalogue of vibrant, exciting work. Mullen Lintas is the new agency from MullenLowe Lintas Group – it’s the punchy new playmate to the group’s Lowe Lintas agency, and it’s been carving out an ambitious identity for itself with its full-throttle creative. From the trippy MTV Beats ad that captures the glory days of MTV’s madcap 90s advertising – albeit with a very contemporary spin – to the frenetic, colourful battle of the Havells Wires campaign, the work has been nothing short of eye-popping.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with the man who is steering the good ship Mullen Lintas, Amer Jaleel. He began his career with Bates back in 1994, before joining Lowe Lintas in 2002. Now the Chairman and Chief Creative Officer has big aspirations for the new Indian agency and he’s been keen to foster an environment that allows his team’s creative chemistry to spark.
LBB> In the past month or two we’ve noticed a really vibrant and playful vibe from the work that we’ve seen. It’s been really witty, self-aware and visually eye catching too. Aside from some great client briefs, what’s driving this energy at the agency right now?
Amer> In the main it’s the people we have. I think we have the rocketest team in the business. Plus we have outlined for ourselves an audacious task. We are targeting to be in top 4 and we have only our work to get us there!
LBB> Mullen Lintas is a relatively young agency – why was it added to the Lintas family? What were your goals when it was established?
Amer> We’re just a year and a half old and banging it! Is there an answer there? And we are certainly not established and I hope we never will be.
LBB> And what’s the journey been like, from opening the new agency’s doors to where you are now?
Amer> It’s been short and sweet. It’s the happiest place I have ever been, Lowe Lintas included. But we intend to be relentless. We are the growth engine of the group and as such the past achievements are done and dusted and only the next work matters and speaks.
LBB> And how do you think Mullen Lintas differentiates itself from the other agencies in the MullenLowe Lintas Group?
Amer> We are not particularly carving a different identity from Lowe Lintas that’d be really not market driven. We focus on chemistry and we are looking for clients with an ambitious and even risk-oriented target.
And while our work may look ‘out-there’ and sometimes downright ‘silly’ but we have a very serious strategic reason and we believe our reading of and our pitch to the new audiences is what makes us invaluable to brands.
LBB> On to creativity! What does creative leadership mean to you? How do you get the best out of your teams?
Amer> There is no leadership. There is only environment. Everything happens as a direct result of the energy and chemistry of our teams. And I have to say that while agencies may tout their ‘think models’ and we have those too, but believe me those qualities are hugely under-rated.
LBB> The MTV Beats spot has been really popular on our site, at the time of writing the questions it was one of the top trending stories on the site! It’s really funny, looks amazing and is, let’s be honest, more than a little twisted. How did your team get to that place creatively? And how has it gone down with viewers?
Amer> I think between Shriram Iyer (NCD) and Garima Khandelwal (ECD) there was some deal to revive the nostalgia of MTV that they lived through as kids. This tone really had died with MTV’s early years. They brought that back and for some of its audiences its pure nostalgia and for the younger people who never got exposed to it, it’s pure madness.
LBB> What first led you to a career in advertising? Was it something you had always been interested in or was it a bit more accidental?
Amer> It’s all I’ve always wanted to do.
LBB> And looking back, what’s the one piece of advice you wish you’d had when you started out?
Amer> I once wrote that Lintas was the place to retire from. I wish I had started at Lintas.
LBB> Over your career you’ve worked at some great places, from Bates to Mudra and since 2002 you’ve been part of the MullenLowe Lintas Group. What have been your personal career highlights?
Amer> All career highlights dissolve into nothingness when I look at Mullen Lintas. In many ways it’s the one aggregate of everything and the only one I care about.
LBB> You had a big global role on Lifebuoy, and the ‘Help a Child Reach 5’ project was such a massive and important one that both did very well within the industry and, more importantly, made a huge difference to thousands of lives. What are some of your best memories working on that campaign? And what did you learn from it?
Amer> You know, a lot got written about #HACR5 and its social impact. For me the journey was taking a soap that was called a ‘potty’ soap to a brand that ‘saves lives’.
LBB> What’s interested about ‘Help a Child Reach 5’ is that it’s not just a one-off campaign but a long-term platform. What’s the key to creating something that a brand can build on and evolve?
Amer> The core has to be true. Even a hundred years ago Lifebuoy was envisioned as a ‘saves lives’ soap, as is evident from the name given to it.
LBB> What’s the most exciting thing about the ad industry in India right now?
Amer> We will create the work, the tonality, the brands that will travel westwards from here.
LBB> And the most frustrating?
Amer> Without a doubt it is the compensation that we draw. There was a fairness to the media commission structure of the past. As long as your idea runs you get a part of the value it brings to the brand.
LBB> Outside of advertising, what sort of creative media do you enjoy?
Amer> I am embarrassed to say I have moved from reading to short-format content. And I enjoy consuming design from Jony Ive to Zaha Hadid.
LBB> Are there any particular artists, directors, writers you admire? Anyone who has inspired your own approach to creativity?
Amer> David Mitchell, Manu Joseph, Julian Barnes, among countless others.
LBB> What’s on the cards for the rest of 2017?
Amer> I wanted it to be our first office in another country, we’ll see…