Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sound and Fury

Am I the only one..................


who is royally pissed that Indian newspaper readers and TV-viewers are relentlessly bombarded with the vapid self-promotion and bullshit posturing of pompous windbag Piyush Pandey? I mean, It's hard enough to deal with him (started as an account exec, mysteriously transferred to the O&M creative department after 7 years) and his talentless hack brother (another adman) and decibel-busting sister (Vote for Ghaghra WTF!!) posing as some sort of genius family of super-achievers. But now he's gone and outdone himself.

To promote a new sports channel (all right scratch that - cricket channel), his agency created two ads purportedly showing the sporting rivalry felt by Indians towards the West Indies (the Caribbean for the non-cricket crazy) who are currently playing against India. This is what the ads showed, in a nutshell.

A West Indian, eating at a dhaba, finds the food too hot and spicy. He is desperate for water but nobody gives him any. Even the tap he sprints to runs dry.
Punchline: It’s tough being a West Indian in India.

A West Indian couple is cosying up on a boat ride. The Indian boatman looks at them angrily and jumps into the water, leaving them stranded.
Punchline: It’s tough being a West Indian in India.


Source: The Hindustan Times January 23, 2007

In both ads, the West Indian protagonists were black Caribbeans. Now all the sound and fury over Shilpa Shetty apart, we all know the sort of belittling bordering on hostile racist behaviour that people of African origin face in India. Anyone with half a brain can see that the ads legitimize such behaviour in the name of rooting for the country (how many Indians in any case can distinguish between black Caribbeans, Africans, other members of the African diaspora, etc.)

And what is the reaction of the O&M big boss whose creative team came up with this gem?

Piyush Pandey, the creative director of Ogilvy & Mather (O&M), the advertising agency that made the promotional films, said there was no racism in the ads. “People who think the ads are racist can go take a *****. I enjoyed them tremendously,” Pandey said.


I can totally see how folks like Piyush Pandey would enjoy tremendously what Alyque Padamsee, in his charming English-inflected Hindi, called "gadhagiri". Alyque, bless is heart, is too kind.

20 Comments:

Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

based on your descriptions i'd say the ads are stupid, not racist.

10:26 PM  
Blogger Szerelem said...

Sigh....we are really a hypocritical nation aren't we?
Talk about the ads being in bad taste. And I like Alyque Padamsee.

11:37 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

TR, I agree. They are probably not intentionally racist, but they are highly insensitive, given what people of African origin face when they study or travel in India. What makes it even more annoying is that Piyush Pandey is regularly celebrated in the media as some sort of advertising genius, when obviously he's nothing of the sort.

Szerelem - completely. Do read K's post on Shilpa Shetty as well, because I think he makes the valid point that all the racism and horrors that Indian migrants to the Gulf face are never discussed because they happen to be lower middle class or poor.

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TM: just curious why do you think Piyush Pandey isn't good?

n!

10:06 PM  
Blogger J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Those ads make me a little uncomfortable too, as do all stereotypes (except, strangely enough, the Sardarji stereotype)

But Piyush Pandey has produced some good ads.

J.A.P.

11:18 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

N, Piyush Pandey's agency O&M has made some pretty good ads, including yes, that Fevikwik spot that everyone talks about (I personally do not care for the Cadbury's ads).

However, the accolades bestowed on Pandey by a very gullible/complicit media are completely disproportionate to his talent. He's not a genius and neither is he the best advertising talent in India.

What is more annoying is the relentless self-promotion that Pandey indulges in (given that ads are created by teams, not individuals), so I guess if he is running a campaign to promote himself, he's doing a pretty good job of it.

JAPda, now here's what really puzzles me about Piyush Pandey. The man started as an account exec in O&M (and we all know how account and creative do not mix) in 1982. In 1989 he gets transferred to the O&M creative department. In 1992 (a mere three years later), he's the Creative Director of O&M Mumbai and in 1994 the Creative Director of O&M India.

I have minimal acquaintance with the Indian ad world, but I'm sure that this kind of expedited promotion for a man who spent the first 7 years working in O&M accounts is very, very uncommon.

10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ads are discomforting & the negativity overshadows the basic purpose.
Just because India has more number of cricket TV viewership doesn't qualify for dishing out such utterly insensitive s*&#t
Its grossly racist.

3:53 AM  
Blogger Rahul Ghosh said...

@TM

It's not every day that one finds a topic related to one's profession up for discussion on a blog. So I will try to put my 'two-bit perspective'. As an insider of the advertising business, to use Sean Connery's immortal words from Rising Sun, 'perhaps I can be of assistance'.

To set the record straight, Piyush Pandey is indeed a colossus of the Indian advertising industry. He has won more creative awards from anyone else and is single-handedly responsible for turning around O&M from a staid bean-counter agency to a creative powerhouse. In the process he has become the head of the Indian operation of O&M and has been nominated to the O&M World Board. He has also created a culture of creativity in the larger context of Indian advertising.

As for the curious career graph of PP's meteoric rise, it is not extraordinary for an account person to shift to the creative department. In my worklife, I have known a few who have done that and have succeeded spectacularly. I have not met PP, but I guess, he is the best example of that.

As far as I know, he joined as an account man on businesses that advertised using Hindi as the main language of communication. This was the 80s and advertising in English was still the predominant form. 'Hindi' acoounts were still treated as unglamorous. In a situation where the top creative guys were probably not interested in such accounts, PP took them on and started doing good work on them. Probably that's the reason he became Creative Director. In the 90s, the Indian markets opened and suddenly it became imperative for brands to reach out to the great Indian masses. That's when PP became, what he is today.

Coming to NEO Channel ads, I don't find them racist. But I do find them stupid and crass. Stupid because it goes against the basic Indian insight. We actually don't behave like that with people visiting our country. So the archetype of this demented Indian cricket fan from hell doesn't seem believable. We love the players visiting our country. Call it the tradition of classic Indian hospitality or whatever else, we will not mete out to him the same treatment that a visiting team would face in Australia. Down Under, before a big series, such a sentiment is part of a ritual called mental disintegration. Before any big series, an ex-player will fire the first salvo against the visiting team. Then a lead bowler would pick his bunny and then the Aussie press would hold forth debates on whether it will be a 5-0 whitewash or not.

Not us. We welcome the visiting team with tilak. We read his personal columns in newspapers. We invite him to endorse brands for us. We invite him to open shops, strut on the ramp and even make him an Page 3 item with a starlet.

That's why the ads seem unreal. And crass.

10:06 PM  
Blogger BulBul said...

TM, i could be wrong, but are you suggesting that a guy who starts off as an account exec cannot join the creative team/become the creative director ever? Isn't that akin to disregarding the existence of multiple (and sometimes hugely divergent) talents in human beings?

8:06 AM  
Blogger Vijayeta said...

Racist? yes. Stupid, silly and with little creativity? Yes to that too. The ads suck, simply put. They aren't even funny in a deliciously politically incorrect way! The first time i saw one on TV, i was like, WTF is that? I guess Piyush's been around long enough and won enough awards for some people to believe whatever he churns out is pure genius and he can never be questioned!

10:37 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Anonymous, I agree.

Rahul, thanks for your comment, and the insider's perspective is always very welcome. But I would have to very respectfully disagree with a few assertions.

a) Pandey was in accounts for 7 years before he switched to creative. Surely any creative talent wouldn't languish for 7 years before being discovered?

b) The champion of Hindi - this is probably the biggest myth that Piyush Pandey has built around himself.

First, Pandey is hardly a humble son of the soil, he comes from an affluent family, attended English medium public schools, and has a Masters in English from St. Stephen's. His background is no different from that of most admen in India.

Second, it is completely incorrect to say that Indian advertising was dominated by English language ads in the 1980s. I grew up in the 1980s, and an overwhelming majority of the TV ads were in Hindi.

Is there any product that used to be advertised exclusively in English and changed to Hindi on Pandey's insistence? I cannot think of any. Were there agencies turning down accounts from clients who wanted to advertise in Hindi? I doubt that this was the case.

Then why exactly is Pandey the so called champion of Hindi ads, when Hindi ads have never really needed any championing.

12:00 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Shilpa, that is certainly not what I think. Of course an individual can be great as a creative as well as an account executive. However, I was merely commenting on Pandey's career graph, where he meteorically rose in the creative field, without necessarily proving his mettle first.

Vij, well said! I agree with everything. As I said above, if Piyush is running a campaign to promote himself, he's doing a stellar job.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Rahul Ghosh said...

@TM

Let me explain...

I will try to put in perspective how it worked back then. In the 80s, the Creative Dept. of most big advertising agencies were dominated by copywriters who were primarily English copywriters. Alok Nanda, Mohammed Khan, Alyque Padamsee, Freddy Birdy, to name a few stalwarts. Most campaigns were conceived in English. That does not mean that there were no Hindi writers. They were usually the ones playing second fiddle, translating (or transliterating) the mother campaigns created by the English copywriters. There even existed a dept called the Language Dept, who's core responsibility was to action the Hindi and 15 other major regional languages translations once the mother campaigns were approved by the client. And anecdotally speaking, the English copywriters hardly took a look at the translations. Obviously. Coz they had no clue about the labguage. People in the Account Mngmt. Dept. were the ones who were in charge of this part of the job. PP in his role as an Acc Mngmt. person was actively involved in this process and soon discovered that the assembly line Hindi writers were jettisoning the core thought of the campaign in order to create a perfect translation. Being conversant in the Hindi language, he used to do the transliterations himelf and soon grew proficient at that.

In the 80s, with the explosion of the great Indian Middle Class, major clients discovered the power of the local nuance. By this time, PP has switched to the Creative Dept. and was uniquely positioned to make a difference.

The champion of Hindi, I agree is part of the aura. But PP is better known for something else. He was the one who lifted Indian advertising from it's comfort zone of jingles, emotions and real life stories to the the Holy Grail of the Idea, while keeping it's texture rooted in a very Indian idiom. He got recognised all over the world for that. Couple of years ago, PP was the Chairman of the Jury at the Cannes Ad Fest. Which was probably in recognition of the innumerable international awards that he won.

His other big contribution was establishing the supremacy of the Creative Dept. and the primacy of a creative culture in an otherwise Acc Mngme-driven Indian advertising industry. Today ex-O&M-ites head the Creative Dept of many other agencies. I suppose all these are part of the PP legacy.

2:08 AM  
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3:35 AM  
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12:38 PM  
Blogger Raccoon said...

ok, I saw those ads too and I felt they were great. I dont think those ads were racist and could have been easily extrapolated to an Australian player too, if that was an Australia vs India series.

Would you have deemed them racist if that was an Aussie instead of a W Indian?? The intent of the ads was not to show a *black* person but a person representing an opposing team.

I think y'all who're incensed at it being racist are reading a little too much in b/w the lines where there're no lines...or atleast none supposed to be.

Sure, the blacks do get treated like shit here and Indians ARE the worst when it comes to racism - but I dont think that this ad was meant to promote any of that or create a halo around Indians. It was probly unfortunate that it was a West Indian team touring when PP came up with this ad idea.

1:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

‘Racial’ advertisement plays spoilsport for Nimbus

PANKAJ DOVAL ,THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
Posted online: Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 0014 hours IST




NEW DELHI, FEB 14 : More than a month after it banned satellite TV channel AXN for telecasting an “obscene” programme, the government has wielded the stick yet again.
For, the information and broadcasting ministry has dashed off a show cause notice to private sports broadcaster Nimbus for telecasting an advertisement that smacked of “racial” abuse.


The I&B ministry on Wednesday issued a notice asking why action should not taken for the telecast of the advertisement with a tagline, “It is tough to be a West Indian in India.” “The government had received a notice from the Delhi High Court after a PIL was filed against the ad. Following this, a show cause notice was issued to the private broadcaster for violation of the advertising code under the Cable TV Network Regulation Rules,” the sources said.

Sources said action against Nimbus, which is already battling the government on the issue of live share of cricket feeds, could include revocation of licence, permission or registration.

For the first offence, the ban could be for 30 days. If the channel faults again, it will be for 90 days. If a third default happens, the punishment could be up to the period of registration.

• The I&B ministry issued a notice asking why action should not taken for the telecast of the ad with a tagline, “It is tough to be a West Indian in India.”
• Action against Nimbus could
include revocation of licence,
permission or registration

One of the ads in question shows a West Indian couple on a boat in the middle of a large and serene lake. The boatman, who constantly stares at them, suddenly stands up, throws the oar away and starts disrobing. As the frightened couple look at each other, trying to understand what the boatman means, he jumps off the boat, leaving them in the middle of the lake with no oar. The West Indian guy can be heard calling, “Hello? Hello man??”. The ad ends with the tagline: “It is tough to be a West Indian in India”, which is followed by images of the West Indian and Indian teams playing cricket. Sources said Nimbus had time till February 19 to respond to the showcause notice.

Officials of Nimbus declined to comment but said the ad had been created by O&M.

8:42 PM  
Anonymous clit.chatting said...

Hey...thanks for stopping by.
Was reading the entire discussion on Pandey here...
wouldnt say his talent his overrated; neither the awards he has won; idolising by the media, well, "we" (as a member of the same idolising media, speaking for 'em) are prone to idolising anyone who has a smart mouth. Mr Pandey does have one. Would agree with Rahul Ghosh that Pandey is responsible for the entire Hindi-sation of ads. Earlier you had Hamara Bajaj and then you went into the entire Do the Dude (or was it Dew?) and Hinglish, Yo-culture... till "badhiya hai" happened.... Uff...so much to write, runnin on a deadline thats fast running away.
do keep reading...will come back.

11:52 PM  
Anonymous clit.chatting said...

And dont stereotypes have SOME truth to them? Should we always simply say, bah stereotype?

11:52 PM  
Blogger hedonistic hobo said...

we're quite a racist bunch. that's hardly news. some indian ads are hilarious but often incredbly politically incorrect. as much as i enjoyed the aamir khan coke ads they were a bit p.ic.

10:19 PM  

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