Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Peddling dreams in paradise

Twenty nine years ago on a cloudy day in July, I entered the city of Bangalore by the Brindavan Express, fell in love with the city and never left it, barring a brief moment of madness for six months. I have spent a small matter of 26 years working in different advertising agencies in the city and over the past 11 years run my own communications consulting firm and have watched the advertising industry and its fluctuating fortunes with interest. The advertising industry in Bangalore was at first a poor second to the one at Madras as the city I was born in used to be called in those days. The only business was the public sector business -- the likes of BEL, BHEL, HAL, BEML, with HMT watches being the largest advertiser by far. Every two years or so, they would have a 'swamyamvar' and every agency head would fly down to Bangalore and comment about the sleepiness of the city and its denizens .But, there was some truth in the statement as the city took its time to get its act together. As the wag maintained, even the suprabhatham for Lord Balaji was after 8 am, by which time the local citizens could remove their balaclavas (the woolen cap which covers the ears to protect it from the morning chill).

Changing the face of Bangalore

The mid-'80s saw Bangalore shake off its lethargy, thanks to Hosur. Ind Suzuki motorcycles opened its motorcycle plant in Bangalore. It already had a moped plant in Bangalore, the advertising for which was handled by Clarion Advertising. Some of the clever ads of that time like 'Teacher's pet' featuring young women driving mopeds made waves. Of course, the agency types in Bangalore used to crib in those days about the predilection of a few clients for creative done out of Bombay .Truth be told, advertising in Bangalore in those days, unlike today, was perhaps streets behind the standard set by Bombay. The next big advertising event in Bangalore was the launch of Titan the company and the watch in 1987. Titan changed the way the watch was made, sold and promoted and significantly, O&M which launched the brand with its high-profile advertising campaign, still handles the advertising for the parent brand a small matter of 22 years later. It is a tribute to the wisdom of the client and a reflection of the competence and creativity of the agency that the mutually beneficial relationship is still lasting. Another large client of the '80s was TTK and MAA, an agency founded by Bunty Peerbhoy which dominated the city, handled its flagship brand TTK Prestige. In fact, the brand's line 'Jo biwi se kare pyaar, woh prestige se kaise kare inkar' was a big hit with consumers. I personally felt that it was easier to demonstrate love for the spouse by buying her a prestige pressure cooker, as too did seem lots of others as the brand continues to do extremely well! There is an interesting anecdote about TTK though. It was a time when TTK was coming out with a range of new products and they were working with a number of agencies. Coincidentally, I was sitting in the TTK office one Saturday morning and there were no less than five agency personnel in the TTK office and TT Jaggu stepped out of his cabin for a minute and said in his own inimitable style, "Looks like every bloody agency in town is here"! Trust Jaggu to come up with better lines than the agencies he worked with! At about the same time, another brand from Bangalore was determined to make its presence felt. BPL (British Physical Laboratories), originally a medical equipment company, discovered the potential of colour television in the country and became one of the foremost players, if not the leader, in the category. Having worked with the BPL brand for over a decade across different agencies, I have nothing but the highest regard for the company as my own career grew with the brand. Sadly, the brand lost its pre-eminence over the years .But that is fodder for another story. Bangalore had another first. Direct response first opened its wings here, by another person far more talented than me, but with the same name - R Sridhar, who sadly left the city after doing path-breaking work for O&M in this area.

Brands in the garden city

Meanwhile, Calcutta (that's exactly what it was called those days) was quickly losing favour with advertisers as a city and as a marketing centre as brands like Britannia and later ITC with its foods made their way here. The UB Group in the meanwhile was becoming increasingly aggressive. And its line 'Ella OK, cool drink yaake' represented the city's preference for the frothy brew. Bangalore too had its own share of export apparels who realized the value of the local markets. Brands like Weekender and WearHouse started advertising heavily. A brand like Nutrine which had its plant in Chittoor gave some business to Bangalore. In the meanwhile, Madura Garments made agencies create some path-breaking advertising, none more than Allan Solly with its 'Friday dressing' campaign which is still running. Nor can one forget Van Heusen's 'Underline your Presence'. Brands like Wilman made their presence felt with their ability to buy different creative and it resulted in global recognition on the awards scene in those days. Agency types met at Koshy's and later at Black Cadillac which subsequently wound up. Every day there was an excuse to celebrate! The biggest shift in Bangalore's history was its own emergence as a global brand. This was a function of the emergence of software services. Global recognition followed for the city and companies like Infosys and Wipro made waves globally. Every other company followed these giants as the city was the centre for recruiting talent. Sadly, the industry that put India on the global map had no clue about advertising or its value. It used public relations, which was a cheaper alternative but largely ignored advertising, so the IT revolution largely bypassed advertising.

So, what of the future?

Bangalore has overtaken Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad as a centre in the advertising game. Clearly, Mumbai and even Delhi, are ahead in terms of size and importance. But, Bangalore has its own special place in the sun and its creative product is not to be sneered at. The city that pushed Narayana Murthy and Nandan Nilekani to global recognition is waiting for the advertising spark. It is yet to make its mark on the Indian advertising scene. It is not top-of-mind as it is in IT and IT Enabled Services. Who knows what the future might throw up? The advertising industry needs its own Narayana Murthy to bring it into global pre-eminence. Maybe someone from the advertising industry will put Bangalore on the global advertising map. I am an eternal optmist. Like this wonderful city that has given me so much and continues to give so much to so many others. Its time in advertising will come, sooner rather than later.

(The author is CEO of brand-comm and mad about Bangalore)


Sridhar said...

Dear Sridhar,

I have just read this article & posted my comment as well.

Thank you for your generous comments.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Thanks Sridhar, I just wrote what i felt

Vaishali said...

Dear Sridhar:

From an advertising perspective, I will simply go by what you’ve said. Because you are in that business. But from a city perspective, I personally will continue to maintain that Bangalore is not a livable city. We had this conversation before the press meet as well.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Sure Vaishali each city has its fans and critics and I respect your views , even on Bangalore!