If a popular aphorism in advertising is to be believed, the best and most scintillating of creative ideas tend to present themselves not in boardroom brainstorming sessions but in the intimate privacy of the john.
Proving the veracity of this claim is, naturally, far from easy. And given the delicate nature of the subject, its chances of finding a way into agency timesheets are next to nil. Yet, ideas do occur in the most unexpected of places, at the most unexpected of times. Sometimes, in fact, at the nick of the moment, when all hope has been abandoned.
In the fine tradition of the ‘Eureka moment’, CreativeLand Asia’s head Raj Kurup recalls how, when at Grey Worldwide, he had to present a creative idea for Pantene to the agency’s regional client, P&G. Seated at a jazz bar in Kuala Lumpur, Kurup was faced with the prospect of flying into Bangkok the next day and meeting P&G — without having any clear idea about what he was going to present.
The jazz concert having concluded, Kurup was privy to a backstage argument between the lead singer and her daughter. The war of words revolved around music, and the ghost of an idea came into being: a film about a deafmute girl who pursues a career in music against all odds. “I managed to sell this film — which had no conventional product window, no CG and no ‘shampoo-hair shots’ — to P&G. And veteran ad filmmaker Thanonchai Sornsrivichai of Phenomena loved the script so much he agreed to shoot the film,” says Kurup.
If a spat between mother and daughter triggered one film, the rustic ambience of the annual Pushkar Mela provided not just the backdrop but also the core idea for Asian Paints’ famous ‘Merawala Blue’ commercial. Ogilvy India’s chief Piyush Pandey recollects how he realised that the Pushkar Mela — with its camels and turbaned villagers — presented a great setting for a film. One thought led to another, and Pandey soon had a script for the ad written down. “I called up Bharat Puri (who was then with Asian Paints) and said I have an idea and a million-dollar set waiting to be used,” he says.
Pandey confesses to have plucked and honed ideas from the most unlikely scenarios. In 1996, while sitting through Ogilvy’s regional budget meet in Hong Kong, Pandey found himself in the midst of a particularly boring stretch of conversation involving growth, revenues, bottomlines... His mind adrift in a sea of numbers, Pandey suddenly struck upon an idea where ‘counting numbers’ is central — it was the genesis of the legendary ‘fisherman’ ad for Fevikwik. “Sometimes a situation pushes into an idea, sometimes an idea comes independently,” says Pandey.Seniors in the business constantly urge their juniors to step out of their cubicles, see the world and borrow from life. Mudra’s creative head Bobby Pawar, for one, will tell you the benefits of getting out of office — even if it means walking only so far as the neighbourhood watering hole. In 2006, while still at BBDO Chicago, Pawar and a colleague went for a routine drinking session at a bar. The duo got acquainted with a “stud stranger”, who quickly began bragging about his many sexual exploits.
“Some of what he spoke was outrageous,” says Pawar. “We knew he was lying, but we had to credit him with having deadly imagination.” Four hours and many drinks later, Pawar realised that this “bad advice on how to find love” theme sat very nicely on a new campaign for Wrigley’s Winterfresh that he was working on. The interlude with the braggart resulted in 12 scripts being hammered out the next morning.
Friends and acquaintances can serve as creative muses as well. Ramanuj Shastry, chief creative officer, Rediffusion DYR, remembers how a casual conversation with a friend ended up as the campaign idea for ‘Saffola Guilt’ during his tenure at McCann Erickson. “My friend said she would have to spend an extra hour at the gym to make up for the excesses of the previous night’s party,” says Shastry, adding that he instantly knew he was on to something.
Shastry later used that simple insight for a commercial which showed people working out while mouthing the names of delicacies they had binged. At times it’s an insight that you chance upon; at times it’s just a ‘sight’ — like in the case of Sumanto Chattopadhyay, executive CD, Ogilvy South Asia.
In 1999, while conceiving a campaign for VIP briefs, Chattopadhyay noticed that an ex-colleague of his had the habit of adjusting his underwear all the time. The visual took root and soon blossomed into three TVCs: each one a comedy of errors on account of people not being able to stop themselves from constantly adjusting uncomfortable underwear.
Being anything but exhaustive, these instances show the extent to which creative advertising depends on those moments of rare lucidity when the clouds part, angels pluck at harp strings and ideas descend in soft, golden light. They also demonstrate that ads could well carry the disclaimer: ‘Any resemblance to real people or situations is purely coincidental.’
6 months ago