Azazul Haque, chief creative officer at Mullen Lintas, on what values he believes is important to succeed in the advertising industry and how Covid-19 has changed India’s creative scene
At one stage Azazul Haque was India’s youngest ever CCO at the grand age of 37. With an accolade like this comes plenty of experience, and for someone who’s on their third stint at the Lintas Group with a background at DDB Mudra, McCann and Contract Advertising, he is best placed to talk about India’s creative scene. Azazul grew up in a small town in northeast India with a mother who was an author so he’s always had one foot in the creative scene and despite pursuing journalism for a short while, he found his feet in advertising.
Though, things haven’t always been plain sailing and with the Covid-19 pandemic that devastated India last and this year he’s had to adapt his creativity to ensure that consumers are kept on side. With a rise in digital media, this is a time to remember in the Indian advertising landscape.
To hear more about how the past year has affected the industry, Azazul’s journey and why he is known for his shoe selfies, LBB’s Natasha Patel caught up with him.
LBB> Let’s go back to your early days, where did you grow up and how much did creativity play a part in your childhood?
Azazul> I was born in a small town of Bihar called Gaya and brought up in Patna where I finished my schooling. My mother is an Urdu author so we grew up listening to her stories. And that was my first exposure to creative storytelling. Her stories were very simple and emotional. A lot of initial creative learning for me was from my mother.
LBB> How did you hone your craft and what were the biggest lessons from your early days that stuck with you?
Azazul> I did my graduation in English Literature as I always wanted to be a journalist. I was very active in college theatre and also used to write for Mosaic, my college’s literary magazine. Poetry mostly ticked my imagination as words that have the same sound and the same meaning. Post my graduation, I joined a newspaper as a field reporter for a very short period. Journalism didn't turn out to be what I expected it to be, so I shifted to advertising.
I started my career with Lowe Lintas & Partners in 2002 as a copy trainee. Then I joined Lintas back after five years in 2007 as a writer. And again in 2019 as chief creative officer. I always loved Lintas for its brand first ideology. Creative product had a purpose of building brands and not just winning awards.
LBB> In the years since your first role you've worked with plenty of different brands, but can you narrow it down to your favourite campaigns to have been a part of?
Azazul> I must have done more than 2000 films in my career. All the campaigns I had been a part of on Domino’s Pizza at Contract Advertising is something I cherish. 'Yeh hai Rishton ka Time', 'Pahli Kamayi' being my most favourite. Then the campaigns we created for Madhya Pradesh Tourism at Ogilvy are very, very special. 'MP Tourism Toys' & World's Most Honest Tourism Campaign swept every award function internationally. Amazon's Chonkpur Cheetahs campaign for IPL is something I enjoyed a lot. And recently Tata Tea Premium's Desh Ki Chai, India's biggest ever Hyper Local campaign is something that I am proud of.
LBB> What about any campaigns you wish you were part of but weren't?
Azazul> Fevicol is one brand that I always wanted to work on. The singularity of messaging and the madness to storytelling of all the work created of Fevicol is really fascinating.
LBB> In 2016 you became CCO at Ogilvy, and at that point was the youngest in India... how did this feel?
Azazul> It felt nice being the youngest CCO of India, I was 37 years old then. Also I had always believed in work that works and have never done any scam work for awards. So when I was made the CCO of Ogilvy, I thought it's a good message for the younger creative people. It’s not important to do scam award work to be successful in advertising. It's real brand work that matters the most.
LBB> In the past year and a bit, India has gone through many periods of uncertainty and fear. As a creative who needs to connect to his audience, how have you been using your time during the various lockdowns to gain insights and stay abreast of trends?
Azazul> Right now, not just India, but the entire world is going through an emotional turbulence. There's fear and hope. Advertising creatives including me need to be extremely sensitive these days with what we create. We need to feel people more these days and create a sense of responsibility and Hope in everyone. And all of us must abstain in creating work that's insensitive or creates an environment of fear.
LBB> With that in mind, what are the long-term effects of Covid-19 on India's advertising industry in your opinion?
Azazul> The Covid-19 pandemic has affected every industry and the biggest challenge for most brands would be manufacturing. Luxury or premium brands might get more affected. But premium brands that offer experience might see a higher demand in a post-Covid world. The role of advertising will remain pivotal in generating demands and bringing back positivity in the consumers. I see digital mediums gaining a lot in the post-pandemic world. Even the advertising industry might see a rise in digital led work.
LBB> Where does your creative inspiration come from?
Azazul> Nothing inspires me more than watching cinema. As a storyteller as well as a human being, I find cinema emotionally moving. Be it the superheroes we worship or the Yash Raj cinema romance we all wish to have one day, cinema has not just inspired cultures but has also created many. So my biggest inspiration will always be stories and cinema.
LBB> Who are your creative heroes?
Azazul> Piyush Pandey was my only creative hero like many writers in Indian Advertising Fraternity. I liked his simplicity. As a person, as a creative leader as well as an ideator. Most of his campaigns were unforgettable because they were simple and rooted in strong human insights.
LBB> Outside of work how do you spend your time?
Azazul> Outside work my life revolves around my seven-year-old daughter. Perhaps she makes me the kid I always want to be. Apart from spending time with her, watching cinema is my other favourite time investment. I also love gardening and collecting colourful shoes. I am actually quite famous for my shoe selfies.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
Azazul> As an advertising professional as well as a human being, it's our responsibility to inspire humankind with our words, pictures and stories. We must continue doing that. And today, the world needs those inspirations more than ever.