Literary Review

‘I've changed enough to accept change’

Piyush PandeyPhoto: Sushil Kumar Verma  

For 33 years now, Piyush Pandey has been serving us jingles and images, memories that disguise themselves as advertisements during commercial breaks. The stamp of his creativity has been on some of the most well loved and relatable ad campaigns in the country — Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, Fevicol, Kinetic Luna and more. In his new book, Pandeymonium (Penguin), Pandey looks back on his journey so far, and the equally exciting road ahead.

Excerpts from an interview:

When did you first start planning this book? 

For about four years now people have been pushing me to write the book. I think it was Anant Rangaswamy, who just pushed me into it. I felt that when I write a book it shouldn’t be prescriptive. It should be sharing my story, while encouraging people to do their own thing. And finally I said yes to Anant last year.

Last year? So the entire book was completed in less than a year...

Yes. Anant and I took a week off and disappeared to my house in Goa. There we put in 12 hours a day. He questioned me and recorded everything. We chatted and that’s where the skeleton of the book actually evolved. My wife Nita was kind enough not to point out that though we were in Goa, I was working all the time. Then we came back and Anant got the recordings transcribed. Then, it was only weekends, early mornings and late nights. In May this year, I spent seven days in the British countryside doing nothing, while Nita did a course there. I wrote a number of chapters in long hand then.

And, how was it remembering things from the past?

I think the good thing is that it was not in one stretch. Fortunately, I remember a lot of things anyway. Sometimes my sisters ask me how I can recall something that happened when I was only four!

In your book, you talk about your natural inclination towards meeting and getting to know new people. You didn’t consider communication or advertising as a career, but it was like you were made for it.

It helped me. I didn’t know that one day I would be in the business of communication, and with hindsight I can say that my business is the business of people to people. I was very fortunate that I got an opportunity to interact with all kinds of people and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. But when I joined advertising I didn’t even know it was a profession.

And so, your first job was as a tea taster...

Tea tasting happened in an interesting way. I don’t even know if I should tell you this because it’s not really a role model story, but in a way, yes, I should. My friend Arun Lal, a test cricketer then and commentator now, just one day that we didn’t know where we were going to work but we were going to work together. He was one year senior to me. When he finished his masters from Delhi School of Economics, he got a job with a tea company. One year later when I finished my masters, I sent him my CV. He gave it to his bosses and they said, okay interesting guy, bring him on. Why I said that this is not a role model story is that there was no career planning. In hindsight though it’s not exactly a bad idea because it lets you chase your passion.

So much has changed since you joined. Have you?

Yes and no. Yes because I have lived those 33 years in advertising, and no because human beings have not changed. The vehicles of communications have. The way you feel, the need to emote, wanting to emote have not changed, will not change. Now, we look at a Whatsapp joke and laugh, but we do laugh. We see something beautiful and shed tears of joy. That won’t change. Only expressions have changed. I have changed myself enough to accept those changing vehicles.

Is there a core experience you tap, a place you go back to, when you first approach a campaign?

A lot of it is instinct, and you have to be conscious of not interfering with it. The purest form of a human being is either a child or an old person; a child because the child does what he/she feels like doing, but then we start curbing his/her impulse; we steal purity from the child. And when you become old, you can’t be bothered to care.

When you are unencumbered by what people think, that’s when your purest form comes out. A lot of my commercials are about that thinking which doesn’t give a damn. For the Cadbury’s campaign, if asked, people would have said a 18-year-old girl should not be dancing on the cricket pitch. If we had researched the ad, we’d never have made it. But when we ran the ad, women from even eastern U.P. said that’s what they’d like to do.

You talk about the different vehicles today, which spell huge opportunities, but they also mean competition like never before.

Today is about that fantastic balance between accepting new things and not forgetting your past. Today is the day of opportunities. Earlier, I had only TV and radio. Today, I speak to people through different platforms. But, these are available to thousands of others who work in advertising. We can make the mistake of thinking that opportunities mean we don’t need an idea, but then we are forgetting that there are 100,000 people like us this opportunity is available to. When you, as a consumer, are inundated with so many products, which is the one you like? When on your mobile you get 50 messages, there is that one that you send to your friends. The need for content, the need to delight you with an idea, will not change.

And you talk about the respecting the consumer in the book. Are there any regrets about what you’ve sold to them? Products you didn’t believe in?

I don’t think we have accepted anything we haven’t believed in. I will even go to the extent of tobacco. On tobacco also, my stand was, if it is legally allowed, and you are allowed to advertise, then why not. There will always be differing opinions, but if it is legal to sell something in the market place, why not?

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2021 5:51:32 AM |

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