Ogilvy India’s creative chief Piyush Pandey talks about his book ‘Open House with Piyush Pandey,’ the long term impact of the pandemic, his four-decade long journey and the one thing that he is most proud of.
Ogilvy India’s creative chief and advertising wizard Piyush Pandey has finally addressed the myriad of questions that he gets asked all the time—serious questions, incisive questions and frivolous questions. In his new book, ‘Open House with Piyush Pandey,’ India’s favourite ad guru bares it all, promising to take the reader on a roller coaster ride through his wit, aphorisms, experiences, and fascinating insights.
Pandey is the man behind countless trend-setting ad campaigns: be it the famous Fevicol ads, the iconic Cadbury’s ‘Kuch Khas Hai’ ads, Vodafone’s ‘ZooZoos’ ads, polio-eradication campaign, BJP’s ‘Abki baar Modi sarkar’ election campaign, Gujarat Tourism campaigns, or the beautiful ‘Reunion’ ad by Google that stirred memories of the painful partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. He also wrote the lyrics for the iconic ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’ song for the National Integration campaign in 1988. He was recently in the Capital for a launch event of his new book at The Chambers at Taj Mahal, New Delhi.
In this interview, he talks about ‘Open House with Piyush Pandey,’ the long term impact of the pandemic on the world of advertising, his four decade long journey and the one thing that he is most proud of.
Q. Tell us about your new book ‘Open House with Piyush Pandey’.
A. My team in Mumbai started the #AskPiyush Twitter chat. Lots of people wrote. Now we put them into buckets, lots of overlapping things are there of course, and made them into chapters. Say there were 20 questions of one kind and so I have addressed them together in form of a single chapter and so on. So that’s what ‘Open House with Piyush Pandey’ is all about.
Q. How did the book come into being?
A. The credit actually goes to my partner, Anant Rangaswami, who is unwell and so couldn’t be here today. He had been pushing me to write a new book. He is the one who pushed me to write my last book, ‘Pandeymonium’ as well. And, frankly, I had no idea what to write this time. Now, he has seen me delivering talks at various places such as educational institutions, industry functions, etc. He told me that whenever I am interacting with youngsters, the Q&A session that’s planned for 20 minutes usually lasts for an hour. And then when we come out there are 80 students standing in the corridor with more questions. Now, at max, I can only answer 6-7 of them. It was actually him and my Mumbai team that came up with the idea for #AskPiyush Twitter chat.
Q. What kind of readers are you trying to address with your book? How do you look at its academic potential for students of media and advertising, especially coming from an advertising and marketing pioneer like you?
A. The principles of it apply to anybody and everybody. But lots of questions are there from advertising and marketing as well as young entrepreneurs. If you want to teach rules then please don’t touch it. If you want to make people learn the ability of reading between the lines and what matters in your life then this book is for you. In my life I have never followed any rules and so how can I teach others to follow them? What I have shared in the book are my observations of what helps you while setting up a business, what behavior helps you, what understanding helps you, what partnerships bring to you, and how mutual respect has a great role to play, among other things. I have mentioned a lot of cricket analogies like, “Even a Brian Lara cannot win a match for West Indies alone,” as I am an ex-cricketer and so lot of my work gets analogized to my playing Ranji Trophy for the state of Rajasthan.
Q. How do you at the long term impact of the pandemic on the world of advertising? Also, how do you look at role played by technology in this?
A. The world has seen disasters of the scale of WWI and WWII. People have witnessed cities getting razed to ground. And yet the world has risen again from the ashes. At the end of the day you have to understand that man is a social animal. It was a great boon that in such difficult times you could get on to a phone and talk to your mother or you could get on to a Zoom call with the family. But if your mother is slightly unwell will you do a Zoom call or will you a human being take the next flight or train to go and meet your mother? So if you think that the pandemic can change that then you are wrong. Yes, it was a great boon to us that we could still be in touch but the norms of human beings and their relationships are never going to change. Be thankful that you had technology in such testing times but people will always come back. How did the pubs get filled up in London? The moment they are allowed to go to the grounds to watch a match they are all there. Having said that I think we should definitely thank all these systems and technology for making us survive in difficult times.
Q. What according to are going to be the future trends in advertising in an increasingly digital space?
A. If advertising doesn’t engage no matter what platform you are on then that will never work. On digital if you see one hundred ads in a day then how many do you remember in the evening? If it’s not on YouTube then the answer would be zero unless you wanted something desperately. What YouTube does is that it gives you touch and feel and engagement. You see these are the same ads that ran on television and now they are run on YouTube. So humanly for engagement, involvement, for emotions to touch, it’s really something that can’t change. So if you are on digital, you better be memorable. Because so much is on digital but if it isn’t memorable then you are wasting your money. If I made a great ad then it will be on your WhatsApp, forwarded to you by one or more if your friends. I can’t miss you if I have done a great job. You will want to share it with your friends. So if you have that power of engagement then people will want to share it with everyone. Those who say it well will make an impact. If I send 50 brochures to your office, how many will you read? Perhaps only one that has something interesting written on it and the rest you will throw away. The same principle applies to digital as well.
Q. How do you reflect back at your own journey? What is the one thing that you are most proud of?
A. To tell you the truth, highs are almost every day. When you have solved a problem it’s a high. When you have done something fantastic it’s a high. When girls at the office come and tell me that they want to do my ad of 1994 again this time with the girls playing and the boy dancing, it’s a high. When somebody excels around you it’s a high. So three months from now I will complete 40 years in Ogilvy. It’s been that kind of a journey that if I were to be born again and be 20 again then I would do it again. It’s a fantastic profession of messaging, reaching people, making an impact, and improving life wherever possible. Like I have said in the book, it’s difficult to say which child I love the most but I can easily call it out that it’s the campaign for polio because I worked on it for 8-9 years with Mr. Bachchan and in 2014, India became polio-free. I have never had a high bigger than that because you were able to contribute to the efforts of the health workers through the system to spread great awareness amongst the masses. You played your role perfectly. You obviously can’t claim that you did it because the health workers were working tirelessly to make it work. The world is fighting that and you were asked to play a role in it and you played it well and the team won.