Ad man Piyush Pandey talks to Swapan Seth about his new book, about ideas, and the role of music in his work.
Why the book and why now?
I’ve been asked by so many people for three or four years, “Why not a book? There are so many youngsters who claim that they came into advertising looking at your work. They should know your story; they should know as to where you get your ideas from…’ So I was in a huge dilemma. I didn’t want to write a prescriptive book because I have never followed a prescription in my life, so that would be complete dishonesty. Thinking of how to approach it took a long time. Now it’s because Anant Rangaswami wouldn’t leave me. And one fine day over a drink… I said ‘Ok, if I look at my life I actually got a lot of ideas from my family, a lot of ideas from cricket, a lot of ideas by travelling in the trains of India, a lot of ideas by interacting with friends who were of a very different background…’ One of my best friends, who guided my career quite a bit, went on to become a professor at Harvard Business School. Here I was, playing cricket, and he watched my matches and would motivate me in the last month before the exams: “If you can play so much of cricket, you can put in 16 hours a day”. He pushed me to the extent that I surprised myself and my family and stood first in the university in my first year, and thereafter studied on scholarships.
What I learned from this man who is an academic — and we’re thick as thieves — and many other people I came across in my life… Somebody who’s a farmer to date has been my buddy since class 1... All these influences and their use in my advertising career many years later became the theme of the book. If you ask me what it contains… There are huge messages on parenting — giving your children the right encouragement to chase their passion, which is what I got. Not just me, eight of my siblings got that. There’s a huge lesson for children as to how to respect that parenting; there is a lot about friendship; there is a lot about the role of respecting your environment; seeing your country; meeting the people, who you interact with, live with. It’s not confined to advertising. If you don’t meet your neighbour, life would not be that beautiful.
You’ve lived the book; this is your life. That brings me back to a very interesting thing — I have always believed that Ogilvy is a massive relations agency; it’s not a creative agency.
In my years of leading the company the relationships were based on the impact of the creative work on the client and on the people of India. When you do some successful things together and respect each other, the relationship gets stronger. Some of these relationships are, for me, 33 years old. In the process, 10 people have changed out there but the relationship has not changed. It was a relationship built on working together.
I know that you lay a great deal of significance on music.
See, I was brought up in a household which really appreciated music. Ila Arun, my sister, is a singer; one sister played the sitar; art and culture was in the air. Then, Suresh Malik happened to me — my boss and my first creative director. He put a lot of emphasis on music: “Select your music properly; don’t sing brand names; create feel.” When I worked with him on Mile Sur Mera Tumhara, I saw the magic of music. I think that I learnt the connection of music with advertising from Suresh Malik. I think it was respect for the whole audio visual medium — how can you leave half of it out?
In Apple there used to be this question that people constantly asked themselves: “What will Steve think?” Is there a question in O&M: “What will Piyush think?”
I think there would be. I don’t think there is any work that’s not shown to me before it’s shown to the client. And in my high technology days of using WhatsApp (laughs) that’s become easy.
Three ads that you wish you had written…
Hamara Bajaj for sure, Happydent, and there was a fantastic ad done for Bank of America long time back by Trikaya.
Any time that the magic of Piyush Pandey didn’t work for a brand?
Must have happened many times (laughs). It’s not that I hit every ball for a six, I wish I had…
The moment in your career when you missed your parents the most.
My father passed away in ’85 and my mother passed away five years back. There was a period of 25 years when my mother was there with me. In 1987, when I wrote Mile Sur Mera Tumhara, India started singing and my…
Your mother said your father would be proud!
Yeah. I wish my mother was around now that I’ve written this book. Otherwise, she was always around for me. She came for the Lifetime Achievement Award on a wheelchair!
Swapan Seth is an advertising professional and an author.