Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Advertising in Chennai- An Industry transformed!

In 1974, when I made Madras my home, advertising as an industry was yet to take off. It was still a seller’s market where the consumer was not the king – he was a beggar without a choice!. He had to accept whatever was rationed out to him as a product or service. And that too after waiting in a queue for years. Unless he was willing to pay a bribe! Imagine, being a buyer and not a seller, and yet paying a bribe!

The industrial scene in Madras then was dominated by automobile related products and agri inputs like fertilisers, seeds, agrochemicals etc. . Except Ponds, there was no other MNC dealing with FMCG brands based out of Madras. Some of the well-known regional brands which are giving run for their money to MNCs today, were yet to appear on the scene.

So, when I landed in Madras as a young advertising professional from Bombay/Delhi, armed with 10 years of experience in dealing with FMCG brands like Colgate, Forhans, Coca Cola, Nestle etc., I found myself in trouble. There were no FMCG brands to go after.

I started with a few retail accounts and thanks to my earlier experience of dealing with Madras Fertilizers, started getting business from agri input clients like Shaw Wallace E.I.D Parry, MRF (Farm Tyre Division) etc, slowly establishing my reputation as a specialist in rural communication. This niche positioning has helped my agency Anugrah Madison survive for 25 years – yes, the company which I founded in 1986 is celebrating its silver jubilee this year!

While I was growing as a rural specialist, Madras was also gaining importance in the world of advertising thanks to the influx of a number of new MNCs like Hyundai, Ford, Renault, BMW, Nokia, Citi Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and others. Even software giants like TCS and Infosys established big bases in Madras – all leading to increased advertising spend originating from Madras.

Meanwhile, Madras had already become a retail capital of India. Departmental stores like Spencers and retail chains like Viveks, which had their origins in Madras, inspired a whole lot of new groups to enter the field. New textile and jewellery showrooms like Chennai Silks, Pothys, RMKVS, Saravanas, Princes and Joy Alukkas appeared on the scene dominated earlier by Nallis, Kumarans, Vummidis and Nathellas. These new clients splurged big on media advertising, putting some of the FMCG brands to shame! Thanks to the proliferation of TV channels (with every political party owning a channel) and other media opportunities, the advertiser had a flood of media options to promote his wares

Once considered an overgown village that went to sleep by 9.00 pm, Madras during the past decade has acquired a 24 x 7 reputation. The city has drawn people from all parts of India. Result: This metropolis can offer anything that anyone wants! Be it the choice of foods, products, services or even entertainment! The Madras adman has been kept happily busy promoting every type of product or service to discerning consumers, using a gamut of traditional and new media. The ubiquitous giant-size hoardings have been replaced by a slew of other outdoor media, popularly known as OOH (Out-Of Home ) advertising. These include everything -- posters, banners, kiosks, bus shelters, wall sites, hoardings, mobile vans, all vehicles that move, dynamic display units in and outside the mega malls. Madras today is estimated to account for almost 8% to 10% of the Rs,30,000 crores per annum adspend in the country.

Old, tradition-rich conservative Madras is today a vibrant cosmopolitan Chennai. The young are willing to try out anything new! What better challenge than that for the advertising professional?

Madras is no more a punishment posting for aspiring admen. They have enough challenges to keep them busy. Some of them with exceptional creative talents have gone on to bag international laurels. A few others have invaded and conquered Mumbai, the Mecca of advertising in India! .

While R.K.Swamy was the first adman from Chennai to make a big mark in the competitive world of advertising, he also pioneered the Public Sector advertising in the country. His son Srinivasan K.Swamy, following on his father`s footsteps has the unique distinction of being the President of Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAof I), a premier industry body, that too for three consecutive years. M.G.Parameshwaran and Ramanujam Sridhar, both Chennai boys have become well known in the industry for their Books on Branding.

The Madras ad world can be proud that it nurtured some of today’s celebrities during their days of struggle. Today’s icon A R Rehman was popular as Dilip in his earlier avatar – he used to compose advertising jingles for many products in his spare time. He pioneered the concept of composing background music for a jingle on his Casio keyboard and recording it with a dummy voice or his own, before calling a professional singer to sing the jingle -- saving a lot of time and money in the process. Award-winning cinematographers like P C Sriram and Rajiv Menon began their careers in the Madras ad world. Madras has been a pioneer on the technology front as well. Jayendra, the veteran adfilm maker from Madras, first made a big name for himself in the competitive Bombay adworld. He then started Real Image -- a leading technology provider for film, video and audio, This company launched QCN - a digital out-of-home advertising solution provider with central screening and control facility for the first time in the world!

The list is growing. So also the dynamic world of advertising in Chennai. I wish I were young again and starting my advertising career anew in exciting Chennai!

Friday, May 13, 2011


It was a reunion get-together with a big difference.

A difference created by 53 years which separates the 1958 batch students of South Indian Welfare Society`s High School, Wadala, Mumbai, where I studied. Invariably the first reunion get-together of any school group is held to celebrate the Silver Jubilee when the batch mates are still young with school/ college going children. But this was a get-together of senior citizens with grey or no hair, and most of them with school going grandchildren!

What a memorable morning it was. Out of the 108 potential batch mates only 17` Thathas` & `Pattis` attended the event, most of them with their spouses. The absence of ten batch mates who were no more was noted with a silent prayer for their souls.

Though six of us had met at an informal get-together in November 2010, which actually triggered the idea of a bigger get-together, I could not recognize many of the batch mates. Still the joy and excitement was palpable. The spontaneous hugs & back slapping displayed by the participants showed their joy in meeting old classmates with whom they had spent 11 years in the classrooms and playground of the school.

Anecdotes and stories were exchanged fast and furiously. Enquiries regarding the families were inevitable. From the brief self-introduction session, it was evident that in spite of the enormous struggle some of them underwent in their early years, everyone had done well in life. Post retirement each one was financially independent and well settled. Most of them were NRI parents, making periodic journeys to USA or Singapore or the Middle East to spend time with children and grandchildren. With spouses providing the IAS (International Ayah Services!). All of them were involved in some activity, either religious or social to keep themselves and their souls busy. Most of them looked fit and healthy.

One vibrant batch mate, who described himself as a rebel in the school, with two sons and a sprinkling of grandchildren decided to shock the audience! He claimed that he is still trying to get a daughter much to the embarrassment of his young looking wife! He did not seem content with his two daughters-in-law. Cheers to his Libido!

This rebel had done well in life in spite of not entering the portals of a college, while there was another batch mate, a brilliant student even in school, with a gold medal in IIT Bombay who had gone on to acquire a doctorate in Electrical Engineering from the same institute. He had spent 32 years with Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai winning laurels for his outstanding work. There were many who had hopped jobs to prosper while there were some who had stayed with one company all through their life.

What made a big difference to the event was also the presence of four nonagerian and octogenarian teachers. Two of them were in their 90s, one was 85 and the other was 77. They were uniformly thrilled to see their old batch of students and learn about their achievements. To gladden the hearts of the batch mates one of the teachers, in his speech mentioned that 58 batch was one of the best batch of the school. He also added that In the 75 year history of the school this was the first time that such an old batch had conducted the reunion get-together in the school. The teachers were happy that they were remembered and honoured by the batch who had already entered the ‘vanaprastha’ stage in their lives!

The highlight of the programme was the comments of old teachers read out from a scrap book which a batch mate had managed to retrieve from his archives. There could not have been a better way of remembering all the old teachers who had taught the batch! Thank you K K Mani for that brilliant idea!

The audience also came to know about the hidden talents of some of the batch mates and their spouses. One of them, S Jayaraman has suddenly become a Tamil poet. At the age of 70 he has churned out 100 poems on a variety of subjects, all within two months.

Personally, it was a dream-come-true for me. After completing my autobiography which forced me to go down memory lane, I developed an urge to meet all my old friends – from school, college, and even the company where I had started my advertising career. Thanks to my friend Raju, a beginning was made with a few school friends in November 2010, leading to the memorable get-together on 24th April.

Buoyed by the success of the get-together, the chief organizer Sundaresan announced that it has been decided to form a SIWS 1958 Club which will meet once in three months. I am sure the 58 Club idea will do well because everyone present bonded well and was keen to know more about the 53 years journey undertaken by the other batch mates. Obviously one reunion get together is not adequate to share a life time of experiences! Cheers to the success of S.I.W.S. 58 Club!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mumbai Traffic

The Bombay, I knew , was known for its excellent public transport system, which ensured that you reached your destinations on time. A Bombay man was never late for an appointment. You had a choice of local trains, buses and taxis. Though the local trains were very crowded and suffocating, they ran as per schedule. Buses were loaded only upto their capacity and were comfortable to travel – especially the double decker bus, where if you got a seat on the upper deck, you had a good view of the passing scenes. People were disciplined enough to stand patiently in queues to board the buses when their turn came.

Taxi drivers never grumbled about ferrying you for short distances and you paid as per the meter, which always worked . It is another matter that the meters were uncalibrated old models! If you felt happy about the ridiculously low rates being shown on the meter, you were in for a surprise. Every taxi driver carried a rate card showing the old rates converted into new rates which were invariably 10 to 12 times more than what was being shown on the meter. And they always returned the balance amount due to you – something which was and is still unheard of in any other city.

Another interesting feature of the Bombay traffic was the lane discipline that everyone followed – be it the ubiquitous BEST buses, private cars, taxis or the rare two wheelers. There was no question of vehicles zigzagging their way to jump the queues to move forward. And for such a voluminous traffic the blaring of horns was minimal.

All this has changed! During my recent trips to Mumbai , I find that the traffic system especially on the heavily congested roads of Mumbai has completely collapsed – where the ‘might is right’ system followed on the roads of most other Indian cities has replaced the orderliness of the past!

Though the Express Highways on the West & East have helped speed up the journey from one end of the city to another – it is another matter, on the roads running parallel below the flyovers, interrupted by hundreds of signals. Impatient drivers blaring away their horns or going out of the lane to move forward and get back into the lane near the signal is the order of the day. And there are many who don’t stop even if the red light is on – creating chaos in every traffic junction with the ‘Pandu or Dhondu’ managing the traffic, watching helplessly. I pity these guys trying to take on the might of the ever ballooning Mumbai traffic, without even the basic protection like a nose mask or reflector belts. During peak hours, it is a nightmare to be on the roads of Mumbai, negotiating your way to your destinations.If you want to be on time for a crucial appointment , better provide for 60 minutes extra travelling time. Or take the local trains ,which are still dependable , provided you have the ability to squeeze your way in and out of the,always overcrowded compartments.

Nowadays the buses are overloaded and don’t reach their destinations on time because of the frequent traffic jams. And even the queues at the bus stops go berserk the moment a bus arrives. There are very few airconditioned BEST buses running on the roads.

Though you have the option of airconditioned and more expensive call taxis, the majority of the taxi drivers of the popular yellow top metered taxis have become very greedy and arrogant. Not only they refuse to ply short distances but they overchardge too And don`t expect to get back the change when you pay. .

Despite being the financial capital , the city has on the roads lakhs of old, outdated Fiat taxis without ACs , adding to the pollution of Mumbai.

Any day I would prefer the disciplined and orderly Bombay of the past. Not for me the developed but chaotic Mumbai of the present! Mumbai still retains the spirit but has shed the values. God save the city!