Saturday, October 31, 2015

Pandeymonium: Has Piyush Pandey got Blood on His Hands?

(Book cover 'Pandeymonium' by Piyush Pandey)

Five CEOs of India’s top companies and one former cricketer and commentator endorse the book, ‘Pandeymonium’, the memoirs of Piyush Pandey, one of the finest advertising personalities in the world. We should be proud of him because he is an Indian. Hailing from Rajasthan, settled in Goa and works from all over South Asia as the Chairman and Creative Director of the Advertising major, Ogilvy and Mather, Piyush Pandey has created the most delightful advertisements that includes the ads for the adhesive, Fevicol and Fevikwik, Cadbury’s, Tata Steel and many more and has earned more than 800 awards from the grand jurists of the advertisement world. Though one cannot pass a day without an Ogilvy ad playing somewhere in radio or television or pasted large over hoardings or printed on the pages of newspapers on magazines or the youtube programs that you browse on, Piyush Pandey will be remembered for his ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumahara’, an adhesive song like his Fevicol ad, that joined India as never before in the post television national mindscape. Pandey repeated the magic in his postal and railway promotional ads and also he raised the standard of tourism in several states including Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat through is advertising wizardry.

 (Amitabh Bacchan with Pandey on the book release platform)

The accolades could go on when one writes about Piyush Pandey whose works I have noticed just like any other aesthetic Indian has done before but I have kept on remembering him for a different reason. Sunil Sethi, Chetan Seth and Piyush Pandey, three stalwarts in the field of business and culture share one common thing as I noticed while seeing them regularly in the page three scene of the Newspapers. They have interesting moustaches. Sunil Sethi has an upturned white moustache. Chetan Seth also sports one such and Piyush Pandey has got a moustache that is entirely different from the others. His moustache looks like an additional fitting, rustic but mischievous, which imparts a sort of boyishness to him even at his sixtieth year. Growing up in Rajasthan might have helped him in imagining a moustache like that from the very early age itself. And he did realise one in all its lavishness which added to his presence as a human being. A cricket buff and Pandey played in the Ranji team of Rajasthan in 1970s before getting in to the field of advertising. One should also add here that Piyush Pandey has very famous siblings like Prasoon Pandey, ad film maker, creative director and writer and Ila Arun, the chole ke peeche kya hai lady of Indian movies.

(Vodafone zoozoos, from Pandey's stable)

I love to read books that are made by men and women who have made themselves. Perhaps, not all the memoirs have that quality of retelling those stories of making a man or woman interestingly the way Pandey has described his life. The reason that makes this book appealing is this that throughout the narrative he keep sufficient restrain in speaking about his own self. Instead, Pandey speaks of his surroundings, the people in his life and the works that he has done. As a team player, a lesson that he had learnt from his cricketing days, he believes that the job of a creative director is not alone and the credit of his work is also not to be taken away alone. His life is a part of many other lives and his works are also a result of the combined efforts. What you make out of this? You hear the voice of a person who has left his ego completely for the success of his work. It is at times choking to read Pandey’s narrative as it would induce some kind of self doubt in you regarding your own ego. How could one be such a team player, devoid of any fights, always smiling, encouraging his colleageues and coming out with the right thing? But Pandey gives some breathers as he points out the lows of his life which are rare and are related to work rather than his emotional life.

(Pandey's work for BJP)

Advertising is a challenging job because it is all about communication. When the target audience does not the message then advertisement is a failure. Advertisement is a notch above fine arts because a fine artist is not burdened by the need to communicate. He or she could communicate to an intelligent critic or collector who would take the message further. But advertiser has to make his product not only aesthetically appealing and simply communicating. It should not only connect emotionally but also connect intellectually. It should touch the gut of the viewer and to do that the message should come from the gut of the maker. It should be a very corporeal feeling and the same time the effect should be disembodied. While a jingle follows you everywhere, the feel of the advertisement should persist in your entire being. You don’t buy a product for the jingle but you buy it for the emotional and intellectual connect. An advertisement has something to do with your idea of life, your state of being and your aspirations. Piyus Pandey understood these rules at a very early age as he closely followed the Pabuji ki Phad, the wandering bard’s picture narratives. In this pat chitra (scroll painting) tradition of Rajasthan the bard sings the songs or narrates a story showing the picture in his scroll. An advertiser does just the same thing. He sells a story in crux, an emotion and evokes a need to be a part of the product.

Ogilvy has been famous for its positioning in the global advertising world as an agency that has never taken up a political assignment. In 2013, Ogilvy for the first time in its history signed a contract with the BJP which was going to the elections and was pitching for an absolute majority in the Indian Parliament. The brief came from the BJP think tank and it said that there should be one man oriented publicity. It was Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister candidate. Piyush Pandey with his team created so many ads that enabled the party to connect with the millions of people in India and finally achieved its electoral goal. Piyush Pandey in his characteristic style created the catch lines like, ‘Ab ki bar, modi sarkar’ and ‘Ache din aane waale hai’ (good days are coming). The catch phrases worked well. It connected with the people. The Modi image was built effectively. Pandey played a very important role in it. He used his childhood experiences to find the punch lines and as we know that he has always used his childhood memories to make the advertisement films emotionally effective and intellectually communicative.

(Tory ad by Saatchi and Saatchi, Britain)

It is here I would like to just spare a few words about the ethics in advertisement. A celebrity like Amitabh Bacchan or Sharukh Khan or anybody of their stature, before going to acting in an ad film or endorsing a particular product, takes all the necessary care including legal protection so that they could insulate themselves from the ill effects of an advertisement. Intelligent and socially committed people terminate contracts with the companies if the product that they endorse could adversely affect humanity. If so, what about the ad makers or idea makers like Piyush Pandey? By now, he knows for sure that the catch lines he has created have taken a U turn and the rule of Narendra Modi has started affecting the lives of people in a very wrong way. Right wing fundamentalism is on the rise. If so, has Pandey contributed to this situation? Can he wash off his hands by saying that he was doing his job, nothing else? We need to find some answers. Pandey is a very pleasing personality, socially committed, aesthetically polished and very driven by patriotism. He has been a good friend of Narendra Modi since his Chief Minister days in Gujarat. The Godhra issue did not deter Piyush Pandey from taking up the job of selling Gujarat brand. But it was for the state therefore passable. But working for a political party which has obvious connections with the right wing fundamentalism, cannot be just another purely career driven act, especially from a personality like Piyush Pandey.
Ogilvy under Pandey has done what Saatchi and Saatchi had done to the Tories in Britain in 1980s. When Saatchi and Saatchi came up with the line ‘Labour is not working’, the history of the Labour Party changed forever. The Conservatives under Margret Tatcher came to power and she could continue for three terms. Today, we know where Saatchi stands in the Britain’s cultural landscape. Ogilvy, in that sense, under the leadership of Piyush Pandy has changed the political visual landscape of India by ably propping Modi as the new messiah of India. Now the Modi is not the same Modi who had promised progress and development. Under his regime people are being killed for eating beef or entering temple. In this scenario would Pandey regret his decision of taking of the job for the BJP? Despite all those successes behind his career, could this one be a blot in the history of Ogilvy and that of Pandey? One could easily was off his hand by saying that he was doing a job for the party. But what about the party’s deeds that used Pandey’s intelligence to influence people? Pandey closes the chapter on his work for BJP in just six pages. May be he needs one whole books to express his guilt, if at all he feels it. 

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