Santosh Padhi Curated
Chief Creative Officer & Co-Founder at Taproot Den
CURATED BY :
Why does winning award important for existing brands?
How do you measure that awards work for your agency?
What are your views about India coming onto its own pace ?
How are you soo successful compared to other companies?
May I ask you which TVC or ad campaign did you like the most and remember the most?
It would be unfair to mention just one. I liked the Cadbury Gems ‘Umarless’ campaign; it used a humorous storyline to reach out to a different target audience, the older people, that they too like to have Cadbury Gems. The insight of the brand was to expand their category audience and hence switched on to the older generation too – whenever there is chocolate, a 30-year-old man would also behave like a kid! This is what Cadbury has experimented with. I feel more big brands should break the barrier as it is not only about an agency replicating a TVC idea and getting a relative share. Whenever you do something drastic, people would appreciate it. Apart from that, I loved the Tanishq Diwali ad campaign and the Parallel Journey of Nike. There are a few pointers which grab your attention and those campaigns have it.
What is the secret behind Taproot's success?
Taproot has considered every brief as an opportunity and every time we get a brief, we try to beat our past record and raise our bar. We believe in the philosophy of Great Work= Great Monies, Great Work = Fame, Great Work = Awards and Glory. So, every time we get a brief, we try and convert it into fabulous work.
What is the key differentiator when you compare the standard of Indian creativity with the rest of the world?
Our market is very different compared to the US or the UK as there is a very lateral behaviour. Whereas in India, when you travel 2 to 4 hours there is a change in language, taste, preferences and mentality. I think it is a very complicated country and somehow I would like to thank the senior people who have managed to crack these regions. Somehow in 40-odd years we have managed to crack this complexity and that is a great achievement. So when you try putting this case study to a foreigner, they would think ‘You guys are something else!” We as an industry have lots of strengths and weaknesses. Our strength is in our ability to crack the complexities of the Indian market, as I said. In the South we have Tollywood that works, and in the North there is a Dabangg kind of mindset. The weakness is that although we come up with great ideas, we often fall short in execution. We are not even close to what the global standards are. We need to do a lot to match up and catch up. But some of the ideas we have produced are mind blowing! When it comes to execution we lag as we want to take the idea by replicating it and finish it before the deadline.
What has changed post the acquisition of Taproot?
I think when we got into this acquisition, it was already decided that since we were looking out for a merger, there was a very clear principle on which it had to happen: that they would not interfere in our work pattern. And that is what even Dentsu agreed to. In other words, when things were not working out for us, we would approach them and they have stood by whatever they have said. As for financial support, I do not think they have completely taken over Taproot as it is not a 100 per cent acquisition – and that’s what we wanted because we know how to run the company and we would like to continue like this. We always wanted to keep this control as we have a big commitment to the company.
How would you describe Taproot India’s journey in 2012?
I think when we started in 2009, it was the best. 2010 was better than 2009. So, gradually we started getting better. We got more people on board.
Was 'Odds' campaign stand-alone campaign?
It's a multimedia campaign with digital being the lead medium followed by some amount of TV, radio, and bit of OOH, there is one more film in the series, that will add a lot of momentum to the campaign soon.
What were the challenges when it came to executing the Odds campaign?
When we had this product idea of two left and two right shoes for the para-athletes, we thought it’s important to launch the product with an emotional connect and in a big way. We were looking for a group of para-athletes to be the face of this campaign, as each of their bouncing back life stories with different life graphs could have added a completely new emotional-multi-dimension to our campaign. But unfortunately for various reasons, we couldn’t. But after meeting Major DP Singh, we felt he symbolises everything that ODDS stands for. He was the right protagonist and his life story took our idea to the next level. I feel we are extremely lucky that we got somebody like Major DP Singh, apart from being a great human being, he is good looking, super fit, full of life, intelligent and understands the nuances of creativity, all of these really helped us during the three days of shoot. The film has been produced by Nomad films, Vineet Bagga directed the film. Let me touch upon one of the key things here, in spite of running behind schedule for the launch of the film, Vineet wanted to spend some time with Major DP Singh before the shoot which we thought was fair. We delayed the shoot by few days on the director’s request just to make sure the director understands the protagonist well, such things really cannot be measured but adds to the end product.
How does odds campaign take forward the brand positioning for Adidas as a sports brand?
Adidas has done propositions like "impossible is nothing" and "all in" in the past, which is not very different than their current belief is 'no Athlete should be left behind', if you look at this piece of work, this too fits into their philosophy and brand belief.
You have over 200 international awards. What’s your secret to continually coming up with new ideas?
I try to dial up my passion and excitement to the highest setting. It is almost as if I am working on my first brief. I try to never discriminate between the briefs, as I think of every brief as an opportunity. My advice would be to become ruthless to yourself and never be in a hurry to finish your ideas. I think that we and our brains are capable of doing a lot more than we are used to doing. It is just a matter of being in the right frame of mind and having the right amount of excitement. That’s when the magic happens. That being said, it’s not possible to have a winning idea every single time. Failure is a sign of being human. So I’m glad I fail and go wrong sometimes.
Some may still romanticise the old Nirma ads. Did you want it to come out of its decade-old image?
The client was very clear — there are some properties which Nirma owns — the jingle, the dancing girl. As a brand, they've never done too much with an ad. They simply wanted to do something which has a nice story, and has a modern look and feel to it. That's what we've done by taking the brand thought and modernising it through a contemporary look and feel. Nirma has been taking steps towards coming out of the closet in its past few commercials. The last one was shot in foreign locales, but nothing great in terms of idea and execution, though. In this commercial, the change is so drastic that everyone will notice the brand.
How did you get the project for the Nirma TVC?
Nirma is a special project. The brand has an agency called Purnima Advertising, which did most of its media work. Purnima also has a creative department. They contacted us, we met the client and that's how things took off.
How quicker is your decision-making compared to a larger agency?
Taproot is about one-tenth of the size of a smaller agency. A large agency takes about a week or more to come to an agreement about an ad or a campaign. Different people have different points-of-view there — right from the head of the branch office, CEO, COO, national creative directors to account managers. In a pitch itself, there are hundreds of slides to go through, and you end up with only one-and-half days to finish the creative. But I believe, the quicker the call is taken on a brand, the better the creative product is. Now-a-days clients want to see creative as soon as they can. They don't want all the global gyan and the sea of Power Point slides we show. So, since we're a small setup, we can take decisions very quickly. That applies even to hiring people. Recently, a client suggested that we start an office in Delhi. We took just two days to respond that we can't open one there now.
After working with a large agency like Leo Burnett, you must have felt a sudden rush of freedom now that you're working in a small setup.
Initially, I was very-very excited and we began meeting clients to tell them about us. But we knew that once you start an agency, you also need to take care of all the different departments. So that was a bit stressful in the initial stages. But now the leadership feeling has sunk in.
How different is it working with Aggie (Agnello Dias) now, compared to what it was at Leo Burnett?
Aggie and I have worked together for 4-5 years as a team at Leo Burnett. We know our strengths and weaknesses. Tap Root's formation is like the coming together of the best bowler and best batsman in the Indian cricket team. We now need to get hold of a couple of Rainas and Rohit Sharmas to support us. We're mature enough to understand our new responsibilities now.
Despite having the might of a network like Dentsu behind you, why do you still call Taproot small?
The reason I call us small is - giant networked agencies have six to seven different verticals each and all these verticals enter as one . At Goafest, there are around 16 categories that you can enter in. You need to have many verticals to enter work in each. Goafest is a platform of quality and quantity but we are only playing the quality game. We don't have the support system to play the quantity game. That's where we are losing out.
What is more satisfying? A large number of awards or a Gold?
Both have their own place. But we're not about quantity. We don't have 9,000 people or six different offices or the many verticals that big networked agencies have. We're just 40 people in one office.
How does someone coming from a military family background, and from the world of cricket, wind up in advertising? Where does the “art gene” come from?
I think it was the early nationalistic nature of Bollywood cinema that instilled a sense of patriotism in me – and brought out the need to someday give my all for my country. Besides, of course, the fact that my father was in the house department in the Indian Army. So, in a way, it ran in my blood. I, however, ended up running on a cricket field a little later for several reasons. For one, the army and sport connection. And mainly because of the religion that it is, in India. Also, my alma mater has had the honor of producing some of the finest cricketers that have graced many a stadium, broken many a record, won many a heart, including Sachin Tendulkar, who was a year senior to me in school. Back then, he followed his gut and game with complete backing from his family. And success follows him till date. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if some of us had had our parents supporting us the same way. Or if I had taken my childhood dream of joining the army seriously. That said, I believe advertising is no less a battlefield. Think about it: Clients shout out orders every day, ideas get bombed every hour, and deadlines point a gun in your face every minute. Once an adman, always an adman! How did advertising happen? Well, let’s just say it began with a realization: that apart from the firm grip on the cricket ball (I still love bowling), I was gifted with a soft grip on the paintbrush. While everyone was busy spreading out on a field, I slowly drifted away and began smearing color on canvas. There was little competition (unlike the cricket in our school). Even littler pressure. And huge backing from my art and class teacher. Towards the end of my schooling, something magical happened. I was doing with my brush what Sachin was doing with his bat. Effortless strokes and masterful nudges came easily to me. And I managed to get into one of the best art colleges around. It was what I did in my break since I had kept the navy dream somewhat alive, trying my luck at it every 6 months for 2 years; finally, I had to give up, as it was not only talent and courage that mattered to some people in the system. Anyway, the ship sank. The paintbrush emerged a clear winner. And that is how the fortune cookie crumbled.
What is the state of print advertising today in India?
Excellent print is what we inherited. This is where I get to say, “Those were the days.” That was the story twenty-odd years ago. And although we were late beginners, we pretty much managed to stay ahead of the times – in India, at least. I would say we had advertising institutions. Not just agencies. And they had the best art directors and writers, who were masters of the page. The work that was produced back then would work even today – heck, even better. Remember those were the days of manual process: no computer, no technology. Some of that stuff would easily beat the crap out of most of the recent print work; in fact, some of the campaign formats are still being seen. But then TV happened. As the prices of television sets dipped (along with the quality of print), television commercials came up in a big way. It was sad to see several creative directors jump the bandwagon to get a grip on this happening new medium. Needless to say, print suffered: the clever intelligent kid was treated as a stepchild as the layout was reduced to nothing more than the last frame of the commercial. Lately, it has been heartening to see the current crop of youngsters trying all they can to revive the medium and return its due. Here, I want to say a big thanks to all the passionate art directors who go out of their way to make things look good. They play many roles at times: designer, typographer, illustrator, photographer, and even digital retoucher. Passion, after all, comes in handy when you have little or nothing at your disposal. And being a passionate bunch is what makes us compete with a powerhouse like Brazil.
How does your work at Taproot compare to the 10 years you spent at Leo Bur- nett?
I was like a Swiss knife in Burnett in my tenure of 10 years. I joined as a senior art director in 1999 and gradually grew by doing various roles in the system. Then, one day, I found myself in the post of ECD and National Head of Art. That was like a dual-sided sword handed over to me, which I always felt I was not prepared for. In many ways, I benefited from the LB network more than I contributed to it (although I have heard the other way round from them). Then again, this is exactly what happens when you marry the right partner. I was lucky it all happened at the right age, right time. And really luckier to get bosses like KV Sridhar (NCD, LB India) and Arvind Sharma (Chairman, LB India). They were more than a boss to me. They believed in me so much it helped me believe in myself every single day. When I started Taproot India, there was a totally different set of challenges. Things I never had to worry about at Burnett were some of my biggest problems all of a sudden – like being the head of all departments initially. Three years on, the problems remain, only they are a different set now. Did I question myself regarding Taproot India? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. It was mainly once, in the tenth month of Taproot’s establishment. There I was, sitting outside a completely burnt office when it caught fire. Looking at the broken walls, floating computers and burnt books in a place I now called home wasn’t easy. Have I done the right thing? Was it too early? A little too late? Where do we go from here? Questions kept nagging at me from the back of my head. Things were back to normal within a few days, and it’s been smooth sailing thereafter – touch wood.
Where do you get your inspiration for your work from?
I’d like to believe I’m an observer, a listener. A student of life. Because there’s no better work of art than life itself. To tell you the truth, I’m not very tech-savvy. It’s man over machine for me any day. That just gives me more time to interact with real people and listen to real stories. And there are lots of them in a country like India.