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!


  1. Nice Post

  2. nice post