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KV Sridhar tells us about some ads close to his heartCanva
When we took a walk down advertising memory lane with KV Sridhar

#BTSwithInsiders: When KV Sridhar spoke to us about the ads closest to his heart

When we took a walk down advertising memory lane with KV Sridhar
  • In our series, BTS with Insiders, we take a walk down memory lane, and give you an insider's view of some of the most iconic Indian ads.
  • This week KV Sridhar, Global Chief Creative Officer of Nihilent Hypercollective takes us back in time and tells us some brilliant stories from the sets of Taj Mahal Tea's Waah Taj, Saint Gobain's Invisible Glass while he also talks about the Fevicol Bus ad that he considers to be one of his most favorite campaigns.

KV Sridhar aka Pops has been a part of the Indian ad industry for about 42 years now. Unsurprisingly, he is a chronicler of all things advertising in India. With his book 30 Second Thrillers that he launched a few years back, Pops took us behind-the-scenes of some of the most iconic ads our country has seen. We tried to do something similar on our show BTS with Insiders.

Currently the Global Chief Creative Officer of Nihilent Hypercollective, Sridhar is a treasure-trove of anecdotes from the fascinating world of advertising and he regaled us with some stories during our conversation too.

Taj Mahal Tea’s Waah Taj

In the latter half of the 80’s, Brooke Bond’s Taj Mahal Tea was facing a slowdown in terms of growth. The brand’s advertising, like most other brands during those days, was completely westernized. The task at hand for the brand at that time was to make the brand more Indian, and therefore more relevant and appealing to a far wider set of audience.

KS Chakravarthy who the ad world lovingly calls Chax, has been Pops’ long-term partner. So the two of them along with account planner Dhiren Chadda used to work on the brand. Chadda had, time and again, told Pops that there was a need to attune the brand to middle-class Indian sentiments. And he used to say, “It should be fine and refined like a Chiffon saree.” However, Pops shares that his idea of Indianness was very different. “I wanted it to be like a cotton or a jute saree, which is the fabric of India,” he explained.

The agency wanted to Indianize the brand as well as make a statement that its quality is impeccable. And that is where Zakir Hussain came into the picture. Pops added that Hussain and his tabla were an analogy for the perfectionism that goes behind making the perfect tea, and the critical role of a tea-taster. And while not many people knew what Zakir Hussain looked like (since TV was just making an entry into Indian homes and most people had heard the maestro on the radio till then), Pops said that he was completely Indian in the way he looked, smiled or when it came to his music.

Pops also shared some treasured moments from the time they filmed the ad, when Hussain played ‘Happy Birthday to you’ on the tabla for Chax whose birthday fell during the shoot days. “Those days, it took us a lot more time to finish work on films. But at the end of the day, if we enjoy doing it, people will enjoy watching it. Even today, Zakir Hussain says people use Waah Ustad when he performs and he secretly cherishes being called that,” shared Pops.

Saint Gobain’s Invisible Glass

This was an ad that Saint Gobain did in around 2000. At that time, Pops was a part of Lintas. On a trip to their Chennai office, he discovered that the creative team there had spent all the money that the client had given them on the announcement of a factory inauguration on double spread newspaper ads. And the remaining money was then used on newspaper campaigns announcing a visit by the French ambassador. “That’s when I realized they had used up their 2 years’ budget in 2 days. I felt very bad and asked the team to take me to the client. Lintas is the most audacious agency I’ve ever worked with. I went to the client. B Santhanam was the Managing Director of the brand. And I apologized to him. I told him we had wasted the money and this is not the way we use available funds. I told him we needed to build the brand and make sure the right people know about your brand. There was a need to tell people about the products they were making, it was our job to turn those products into brands. So I told him, tell me what money you have and we will try and make up for the silliness we have done,” shared Pops.

That’s how one of the brand’s most well-known campaigns in India came about. “We did this commercial at a time when the average cost of each commercial used to be between Rs 30-60 lakh. However, I produced this commercial for 6 lakh with one of the best directors we have, Ram Madhvani. We shot the ad in Renaissance Hotel in Powai. The woman in the ad was actually a carpet exporter with a permit to work. She did the film almost for free. The two men in the ad are actually cooks in roadside carts. We virtually spent nothing on the ad, we had actors, we created an original music track. Suzanne Caplan Merwanji, who is one of the most well-known production stylists in Bollywood styled the film for us. Everybody did it because I said there was no money, and they wanted to do it for me. Ram used to call it a Pops Relief Fund,” added he with a laugh.

The strategy was to own a generic benefit and talk about what they are good at. The strategy worked, and did wonders for the brand. “We shot the ad in less than 8 hours but it went on to make them one of the most successful brands in the company. We wanted to make it look international because it was the first time a brand came to India and said it wanted to look international. Otherwise most brands would say they wanted to sound and look Indian. But we had to desperately do this because a lot of dealers used to think that its an Indian company and they used to think the name of the company was Sant Gobin and that it was a Ludhiana-based company. So we added that international touch and the ads that followed also had a bit of an international look and feel,” added Pops.

On Piyush Pandey’s Fevicol Bus ad

While every episode creators talk about three ads they have worked on, Pops said he also wanted to talk about one of his most favorite ads of all times. And that’s how we got talking about Fevicol’s Bus ad, that has to be one of the most iconic ads created by Piyush and Prasoon Pandey for brand Fevicol.

“I love advertising and I consider myself belonging to the family of Indian advertising. This is one ad I have loved because of the craft of it. All Fevicol ads are brilliant but this craftsmanship is flawless. That year when this campaign was released, I was a part of a lot of international juries and I had spoken about the culture of India and why this was so relevant and I defended the ad at a lot of juries,” he reminisced.

About what he found unmatched about this ad, Pops said, “Apart from the colourful world that the ad creates, there are a few more things I like about the ad. The ad was shot in Pushkar which is a favorite place of both Piyush and Prasoon because its half the coloufulness of Rajasthan and half desert. But there were a lot of stories. There were close to 120 people sitting on that bus, with animals as well. But it wasn’t just about getting people, it was also about placing people where they were placed. The bus needed to sway to make the entire thing more beautiful. They could only shoot for 3-4 hours in the day to get the perfect light. So to get the sway, they dug the road, but it did not exactly sway. They then put speed breakers but even that did not make the bus sway the way Prasoon wanted it. Then they went and created ditches on alternate sides, leaving some gap. And that’s what made the bus sway the way it did in the film.”

The effort which went into making the campaign made it what it is, and even today Fevicol’s Bus ad is one of the most iconic gems to come out of Indian advertising.

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