Prahlad Kakkar Curated
Indian ad film director
CURATED BY :
Tell us about SMEs you have worked with in the past have become big brands now?
Vadilal was one such company when we were approached to make an ad film for them. There were so many international players in the market then and we had to work very hard to create a brand out of Vadilal. And it went on to become a successful brand that promises great quality ice-cream.
Are marketing / branding agencies also focusing on catering to Indian SMEs?
I think every other sector is changing focus to meet the current and future needs and branding agencies are no exception. It's a different kind of a market and agencies will have to strategise for SMEs and I think digital and social media offers a huge potential.
What is stopping the SMEs to look at branding, given there is such huge potential?
The thing is they are scared. No one has really taught them the nitty-gritty of branding and the perception in their minds is it's an expensive proposition. They feel it's going to cost them an arm and a leg because of organised advertising through print and electronic media. They don't realise that digital/social media offers so many options and that too at a fraction of the cost. You don't need a Rs 10 crore budget, it can be done in just about Rs 1 lakh annually. In fact, it costs less than Rs 5,000 a month on digital platforms. The only setback in using digital is that it's a young medium and hence the audience is also largely young. But I think it will come off age in another three to four years and SMEs need to start investing in this medium to reap the benefits. Today individual brands are getting created through the use of social media and BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is a great example. If individuals can become brands so can products and services from Indian SMEs.
Why do you feel SMEs need to concentrate on branding?
While a lot still needs to be done in this area, think some players especially the rice millers have started taking branding seriously and that's why you see so many rice brands in the market. The last couple of years have seen some momentum starting to build up in this area and I think the pace should increase. The SME players need to understand that as a commodity they will maximum make 2-3% in margins but as a brand it can go as high as 15-16%. Branding makes a huge difference altogether to the business.
how did you evolved in these 30 years?
I’ve evolved because I’ve followed my gut all the time! I’ve never followed research, dictum or fashion. In fact I’ve created it. As long as you’re learning and you’re not arrogant enough to think you know it all, you’re fine. I had a cameraman who was 77 year old, had a mind like a child. He was an amazing man, he was learning all the time, and innovative all the time. He used to do all the special effects in camera, and it used to be so difficult. He was so good at that. For a Cherry Blossom ad, we needed a sparkle on the toe, twinkle toes had to woo a girl. We were at a loss as it couldn’t be executed as per requirement. He found broken shards of Christmas tree bulbs, stuck it on to the shoe and then moved the light across it. It twinkled. So he was thinking all the time, and the solution despite being so simple was so innovative.
You believe Marketing is also a form of war, then how does Business Ethics come into play?
What’s good enough for you and your children is good enough for everybody else. So you might insulate your children from what you’re trying to do. If you sell junk food, your children would want that too. Even in war, it is tit for tat. Like Americans genocided the Red Indians, because the Red Indians had no means to retaliate.
They say art of war is to keep peace. What is your opinion?
Art of war is to win (period). And that’s what business is. There you’re conferred medals, here you get huge bonuses. Just that on the field it is tactics, and in the corporate world, it is the strategy.
Your father was involved with Indian Military and your mother was a Burmese, how have these variations helped you evolve?
I went to school where I learned my first art of war. Then I went to college, where people said pursuit of Economics would get you a job. But I found military strategy there. I chose that because I was interested in it, I was passionate about it. I found it better than an MBA where you only learnt how to make money. This taught me how to kill people (chuckles). And, killing large amount of peoples efficiently, not just one or two.
You talked about following your heart, but these days there are times when you need to follow your mind, therefore, do you see these two aspects as exclusive?
No they aren’t mutually exclusive. You can follow your mind as long as you’re passionate about it. But yes, if you’re doing something passionless, you’d never be good at it. Stakes are higher where you’re passionate. Safer the job is, more starkly soul-destroying it would be. High wages are paid for something which is dull, leading to higher attrition. So you’re trapped by the payment they give you, to which you sell your soul. Making decisions is the riskiest thing you can do in a company. Because as soon as you make a decision somebody comes in your way and, as long as you don’t make one, everyone is happy! You only know you made a big mistake in the hindsight, whereas, if you follow your heart, if things don’t work out, you can always go back and redo.
Can you describe yourself in few sentences.
When I was in college, I had three girl-friends at a time. I would juggle them around. In fact, those days, I needed to maintain a notebook to jot the dates down, just to make sure I don’t mess with the names and places! It was all going smooth till one evening, the three of them independently turned up at the same party! I was cornered and that night, I lost the three of them in one shot and I had this ‘rotten’ tag tailing me. It was then I decided that regardless of what they say, I shall say the truth. I am bluntly honest.
What are your favourite advertisements, apart from your own.
Would be the Nike one the advertisement was beyond just creativity. On paper, the concept’s just too chaotic … a boisterous mob in a traffic jam with a bunch of opportunists seizing the moment with some cranky cricketing fervour! Really can’t imagine how the company trusted the ad-designer with this one! Great ads aren’t just about good directors but clients who have confidence in their copyrighters. Most of the leading copyrighters I know have all been IITians. Another advertisement worth mention would be the Happy Dent one. To imagine that long long ago, when was no electricity, the only source of illumination in the small town was a guy who ate Happy Dent White. Now that’s a great fantasy. After all, advertising is all about tapping your dreams.
What would you personally hold as the most distinguishing trait in a good director?
It’s all about visualizing the script when you read it. Direction is like vocabulary, finding the right words, apt under the circumstances. What makes a good director is his ability to see it all in his head. If you can’t see it, you are blind. Then you do what you do for either bucks or reference.
how did you get started with advertising? Could you elaborate on the humble beginning?
It was a pleasant afternoon. I was walking past an office. People were lunching on the lawn outside this bungalow. Then, I notice these nice pair of legs in a mini-skirt, the best I have seen in a while. I walk inside, approach her and strike a conversation with ‘I want to join this company’. Amused, she looks at me and says, ‘Do you even know what we do?’. I replied, ‘I don’t care any longer’.
What are the storytelling trends that you foresee in the social media space?
Stories that have multiple ending, where the consumer can choose and participate so that it becomes as much as his story as yours and then you should allow him authorship to put signature on his combinations of beginning end and middle and give him ownership of the same he will love you for it.
How would you define the conflict between creativity and business value? How can brands create a balance?
There is no conflict, you can either be pedantic an alienate your consumer or you can be interesting, sexy, relevant and engage your consumers, by not making it obvious that all you are interested is in picking his pocket. One way street is over it has to be mutually beneficial so you have to make your product value message in human interest stories with the reward at the end. The days of hitting your consumer repeatedly with a cudgel of mediocrity or one sided information are over now is the age of seduction and it takes two to tango.
Please suggest 5 things that content creators need to keep in mind owing to the tiny attention span of social media users
Engaging stories which are either emotional, relevant, funny or which deals with human interest factors like love, hate ,pain, hunger, deprivation, loss, gain, victory, etc so that once hooked into a good story your consumer does not stray or become restless and move on but it is riveted by your storytelling abilities and then you can treat him to world of rewards and keep him engaged because of the material benefits that he is getting or by the knowledge he is getting, or by the advantage he gets by everybody else because you offer it to him.
How can one explain RoI on content marketing?
You can’t define ROI on content part, you can only eventually hope to translate ROI in a complex process of engagement, eyeballs and likes, because what social media does is creates a climate of positivity for your brand. It can then be exploited through a combination of other mediums.
How can brands rise above linear storytelling on social media?
Brands can only rise out of linear storytelling by being interactive and involving the consumer in a constant dialogue, so the adds actually become the trigger ,the interaction has a life of its own and the easiest way to do that is to first touch the consumer in some manner emotionally or economically and then offering him a reward weather its an emotional reward or a real award like free bees, holidays, etc and for that you have to challenge the consumer to display some skills and some knowledge of his which he can be rewarded for. The best way to collect the accurate analytical data on consumer behaviour and response is to very subtly ask questions which reveal certain traits of consumer behaviour. This becomes invaluable for the manufacturer to actually understand its consumers and can be very rewarding and insightful.
What’s that one product whose campaign you would have done differently?
Every single one. The true test of a good advertising professional is that if you see a competitor’s film that is very well done, you wish that you had done it and every film that you had done, you’d love to do it better again. That is a fact of life. You’re as good as your last work always!
How did the shift from economics to advertising happen?
I did my college in Pune where I studied economics and military science. After sitting for a campus interview for a multinational bank, I cleared it and was waiting for my final results. I was horrible with numbers because I was dyslexic. Before that, I went to one of their branch offices to just take a look and they were balancing the ledger of the day manually and man, it looked like one desperately bad job! I ran for my life and never returned! My parents were in Delhi and I walked into an office and it seemed like a cool place. I went to the reception and tried my best getting an interview. At the interview, I was shown an ad for shirts that had scandalised everybody and I loved it, though the man interviewing me didn’t and I told him he didn’t like it because he was on the wrong side of 35 whereas the shirt was meant for young men like me! (Laughs) I didn’t think I’d get the job but I did and the rest is history! I ran away from Delhi because I hated it and came to Mumbai and one of the first things I did was train with Shyam Bengal.
What do you have to tell the next generation of ad makers?
It’s all about storytelling and putting together pretty pictures with good music. It’s not even about how good you are at the language of cinema. Cinema is not just a craft, it’s a language. You have to learn it just how you learn any other language. Say, if you’re in love with a Greek woman and want to woo her by writing poetry, then you will take the trouble of learning the language well enough to write that poem na and then only will she acknowledge your effort. Otherwise if you keep raising your hands and doing pantomime for her, she’ll laugh at you. So ad films also need you to know the craft to the extent of writing poetry with it — it has to be poetry! If you can tell a story in a room full of people without any of them looking at their phones, you are a good storyteller and that is what you have to translate onto film.
How has social media affected the profession?
Social media has affected the profession very badly because clients now think that because you’re making films for social media and that is cheaper than advertising, the budgets have come down. Every day you’re shooting a film, you’re shooting on digital and it’s still a very expensive camera; you still have models and sets. So why do you say that it is going to be cheaper? It can be 10 per cent cheaper but not half.
How has the ad world changed since you first started and how do you keep up with it?
One thing I’d say is that kids today are doing better work than what we did. The only thing that frazzles me is that the industry has suddenly become corrupt. Everybody is on a kickback; from agencies and art directors to the clients. And the kickbacks are very subtle and shaded. So the quality of work, in terms of supervision and expectations... it’s become so competitive now that I suppose the new ones have to pay money because they don’t have any body of work to show for it.
What are some of your career highs and lows?
Every day was a new high and there were no lows. I am still a student of the craft and when you’re still learning, you don’t really worry about what your favourite (ad) film is. But some of the Pepsi commercials were definitely some of my highlights. We also did a film for Kawasaki Bajaj in the desert and that was one of my high points because we suffered so much in the heat — you could fry an egg in your hand! A lot of Britannia and Nestle films were also breakthrough. The Pepsi commercial with Aamir Khan, Mahima Chaudhry and Aishwarya Rai was also great because Aishwarya went on to become so famous and we all laid claim on her because we discovered her!
What is the toughest campaign that you have worked on till now?
I think the toughest was Pepsi because our relationship with the client was so tight that we had the privilege of taking ownership of the brand. We didn’t have to follow briefs and anything that we didn’t believe in. Even when Pepsi lost the World Cup bet to Coke in 1996, we came up with the brilliant campaign saying “Nothing official about it” and that just wiped everyone out! There was an organic humour in it.
Where do we stand in advertising compared to other countries?
How does an advertisement define a real product?