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A Producer’s Advice to Young Indian Creatives

Trends and Insight 199 Add to collection

Never Ending Story’s founder Amitabh Bhattacharya tells LBB about his entry into the advertising industry, understanding a problem before solving it and the power of great ideas

A Producer’s Advice to Young Indian Creatives

Indian production company Never Ending Story is a proud supporter of Little Black Book as its partner for the Indian market. As part of the relationship, the company’s founder Amitabh Bhattacharya and LBB explore what makes India’s advertising industry tick. As we look towards a new era in advertising, Amitabh shares his advice for young creatives entering the country’s creative scene.
 
 
  

LBB> Let’s start with your own career, how did you get into the advertising industry?

 

Amitabh> Like most Indian parents in the ‘70s and ‘80s, mine too wanted me to get a degree and a government job, but I guess destiny had other plans for me. I dropped out of school and moved to another city where I did odd jobs for a while. One day I got introduced to a couple of young copywriters and one of them lent me a copy of The Craft of Copywriting by Alastair Crompton. By the time I finished reading the book, my naive mind was convinced that advertising was the career for me. But most agencies I approached thought otherwise. 
 
Finally, when I got a job, I realised why. I was amidst some incredibly talented people - copywriters, art directors who were truly gifted. The thought of living up to their expectations day in and day out was rather overwhelming. I felt that if I had to make a career in advertising, I would have to find my niche. 
 
In the early ‘90s, advertisers in India were discovering the potential of TV commercials. It was a relatively new space. Not too many creatives were interested or experienced in writing scripts for commercials. I saw an opportunity there. Looking back, I think it was a good decision. It also taught me an important life lesson: don’t get overawed by others’ talents. Invest time in discovering what makes you tick. 
 
 

LBB> What are the biggest changes you’ve seen since your early days and now?

 

Amitabh> When I joined advertising almost 30 years ago the trust between agencies and clients was almost palpable. You had the freedom to speak your mind and constructive criticism was always welcome. Today that trust is missing. Agencies are partly responsible for that. 
 
In the early ‘90s, the Indian economy opened up and global brands started entering the local market. So did the global agency networks. They started buying over prominent independent agencies in India. To my mind, the financial arrangements between the Indian offices and the network HQs along with other factors like the recession forced agencies to change their revenue models. What hurt the agencies the most was loss of media revenue when the networks decided to turn media into an independent profit centre. 

The creative department, the very soul of the business, became a financial liability. Over time profit took priority over people and product. It is a practice that continues to this day.
 
The irony is that an industry responsible for creating identities and changing perceptions is facing an identity crisis today.  
 


LBB> The new generation of those starting their careers need to be resolute and determined to break into the industry – what other traits are important in creativity?

 

Amitabh> Essentially, advertising is storytelling. Author and historian, Yuval Noah Harari, in his bestselling book Sapiens, says that homo sapiens won the race to develop, because they were able to convert ideas into engaging and convincing stories. Religion is a great example of a brilliant idea that thrives entirely on stories.
 
The truth is brands are as good as the stories we build around them. It can be a beautifully crafted and art directed print ad, a commercial, an interactive experience or a medium yet to be invented.  
 
When I started in advertising, many of my colleagues were seriously into theatre, painting, music, filmmaking, writing and other creative hobbies - art and craft forms often applied in advertising. So knowingly or unknowingly they were constantly honing their skills. That was then. Advertising is no more limited to these crafts. It is not confined to any format or media. It has always been art, craft and media agnostic. 

We have to accept that no matter what happens to the advertising industry, advertising will exist as long as people are buying and selling stories. 
 
The advertising and marketing industry is hardwired to ideate around specific media. There has to be a conscious and sincere effort to change this thinking. Today we have so many innovative tools and platforms to connect with the audience. There will be many more coming. This is the present and the future. We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Never in the history of the human race has change been so rapid. The new generation of creatives have to think like pioneers and explore uncharted territories. 
 
One interesting piece of communication I chanced upon recently was this game on girl trafficking conceptualised and executed by Missing Link Trust, an NGO in India.



LBB> What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

 

Amitabh> All through my career, I have been fortunate to work with intelligent people whose work and thinking inspired me to explore new possibilities. 

However, the best advice I got was from an ex-colleague who told me I would be better off if I did my own thing. I took his advice seriously and bid adieu to my agency career to start my own production company. I can’t thank him enough for that. 


 

LBB> Looking at the youngsters in your own team, what do they bring to the role that has shaken the way you work?


Amitabh> I encourage the team to understand and value the process. It makes things easy and life simpler.  Once they discover the true value of process they can adapt and apply its principles in every sphere of their lives. That’s how individuals and organisations evolve.  
 

 

LBB> What’s your number one piece of advice to anyone wanting to be creative in India?


 
Amitabh> When people ask for advice, I share my experience and let them draw their own conclusions. 
 
While I don’t like to give advice per se, I do have one suggestion: the internet has given everyone access to information on practically everything. It is so easy to find inspiration on the internet. Don’t get carried away by the ‘inspiration’. Find out why and how it was done. When we get too attached to a reference then we often undermine our own ideas. I see that happening often in our industry. 
 
 

LBB> There are a lot of subjects that were once taboo that are now coming to the forefront of communications, how would you suggest touching upon those?

 

Amitabh> Every generation has pain points and issues that they want to question and fix. This is how societies evolve or change. People drive it. Advertising can help expedite that change. 

But it needs to be done with responsibility. You can’t be opportunistic about it. Don’t use certain communities as props or for attention. Or oversimplify a complex social problem. 
 
Some of these issues have serious and long term effects on people and society. Individuals are entitled to their opinions. But when brands try to play reformers it doesn’t look very honest. Tread lightly. Don’t preach. Don’t patronise. Be sensitive, not sensational. 
 
 
 

LBB> What should creatives aim for in each piece of work they create?

 

Amitabh> No matter how many awards she/he wins, deep down every advertising professional wants to be associated with campaigns that are memorable and loved. Both by the fraternity and audience. Such campaigns happen when idea and execution are in perfect harmony. 
 
If you pick up any classic advertising print campaign you will find that it is a great balance of art and copy. The same principle applies for films and interactive ideas. Irrespective of the media, there is no alternative to great ideas and great execution. 
 
Start-up mentors frequently remind young entrepreneurs that no idea is unique. Hundreds of people would have thought about it before. It is the execution of the idea that truly makes the difference. 
 
You are lucky to be in a profession where you can pursue your passion and excel in it. Make the best of it. 

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Never Ending Story, Mon, 15 Nov 2021 15:33:00 GMT