Introduction

Raj Nair is the CEO & Chief Creative Officer of Madison BMB. He has lead multiple award winning campaigns for Cadbury (Celebrations, Halls, Eclairs), GIC, Ceat Tyres, Shoppers Stop, Blues Bizaar, BPL Audio, SKF Bearings, Parke-Davis, HSBC, United Spirits, Asian Paints Royale, Morphy Richards, Askme.com, NIIT, HyperCITY, Jiyo Parsi, CarTrade, Vistaprint, Radio One, to name a few. He has won over 300 Indian and International awards (Cannes, One Show, New York Festival, Asia Ad Fest, Spikes, The Cup, London International, Abbys, Pepper, Ink, Kyoorius, CAG, etc.). He has been playing prestigious and responsible roles as the Jury Member Ad Stars South Korea 2017, Jury Chairman Print Craft Abby 2017 & 2016, Jury Member Abby 2006 – 17, Jury Member Direct Cannes Lions 2011, Jury Member TV New York Fest 2006, Jury Member Pepper (Multiple since 2006).

After 25 years in the business, he is as hungry for new challenges as ever.

Interview Excerpts


The honest truth is, in advertising, like in any other form of communication, it’s never about the length of the story. But the story itself. You may have any duration. But if your story isn’t compelling, people will give it a miss, turn the page, change the channel, minimise the window… you get the idea. Take youtube’s unskippable 5 or 6 seconder. You have to say what you want to say and register the brand on the viewer’s consciousness in a positive sense and you have a princely 5 or 6 seconds to do that. For TV, the average length of 30 seconds would hold sway. Then again, you could be going the long format way and creating film content that could even be up to 8 minutes long. Take the amazing example of The Hire, a series of short (of 8 minutes average duration) films created by BMW back in 2001 and 2002. Being BMW, they used directors like Tony Scott, Guy Ritchie, John Woo to name just 3. This was the most compelling early example of branded content. Edgy, quirky stories made solely for consumption online via a microsite known as the Hire.com. But the point is, it’s all about the story. And only about the story.

During my 17 years at Contract, I grew from a copywriter to a Group Head to a Creative Director to Delhi Creative Head, to finally, for the years before I left, to become Mumbai and South Creative Head. During the stint, one of the most cherished brands I worked on was Shoppers Stop (and even their short-lived denim store Blues Bizaar). From 1995 to 2012. During this time, Shoppers Stop and their advertising grew from strength to strength. Whether one was creating a brand campaign or a promotional sale campaign, a lot of inspiration and creativity was followed in equal measure by blood, sweat and tears to ensure a great creative product. The positioning for the brand, the trademark writing and the stunning black and white visual imagery were crucial in contributing indelibly to the brand’s ethos and persona. Especially the Start Something New rebranding exercise that Shoppers Stop underwent in 2008. A great, great brand, that I am personally privileged to have contributed in helping it grow to the stature it has today.

Another example is Royale Luxury Emulsion which I started working on in 2003. The first brand ambassador was Akshaye Khanna followed by Saif Ali Khan, whose association with the brand has lasted since 2004. Whether the messaging has focussed in the early days on the brand-building positioning – Some things in life deserve a Royale Wall – or focussed on more hard-nosed functional benefits like having the ability to withstand surface damage, courtesy a protective vinyl covering, the communication always had an aspirational quality that consumers found witty, charming and very enjoyable. This has helped make Royale the indisputable leader in luxury emulsions today.

In fact, from Madison BMB I continue to work on the Royale Bathrooms brand with Asian Paints, helping them craft the communication journey for the Royale bathrooms brand now.

Just like in the case of writing features for film or tv, advertising communication involves garnering an understanding of who you are writing for, you have to identify your target and identify your product’s key differentiators and figure out what need gap you are going to plug in the consumer’s mind. You have to wear multiple hats for multiple products and the hat that fits the product (and consumer) best, gets the job done.

It’s about identifying a latent need in a consumer’s mind and finding (ideally) the uniqueness in the product that fills the need gap. So the strategic work to help find the purpose for the product is crucial as ultimately that will always result in clearer and hopefully, more creative communication. Keeping things clear and simple in strategic intent and finding the most creative expression for it goes a long way towards creating time-tested, memorable communication.

Advertising? Adventurous? Ruthless? I think you have been watching too many episodes of Mad Men. Advertising, like any other profession, is made up by the many exceptionally talented people across multiple disciplines and levels of seniority.

I think everyone in the industry has their own set of experiences, good and bad, memorable and forgettable, life-changing or life-numbing but this would be true of any industry and nothing particularly unique to advertising.

Do I love my work? Even after 25 years, absolutely! As far as emotional experiences go (or fun or harsh ones for that matter), there are way too many to recount as way too many moons have been spent in the industry.

However, one instance does come to mind. For that year, Diwali bonuses had not been paid to anybody. The effect of this was quite telling on the despatch staff. So the rest of the office, at the suggestion of a young account executive, responded out of the collective goodness in their hearts to collect money – everyone was invited to contribute whatever they could, in hundreds or thousands – and donate it to them. Needless to say, the despatch staff were overjoyed. And overcome by the generosity of the rest.

I am whatever is required of me, in the situation. Because one cannot always only be one way or the other. So I have been called a bunch of things like extremely friendly and unassuming, totally cussed and impatient, well-spoken, short-tempered, pig-headed, easy-going… you get the picture.

There was a young writer who had the most amazing idea which I brought to fruition by pulling favours with a well-known director. The work went on to win big at international and domestic awards. However, he later pointed out to me that he could not believe that I jumped up on the back of his bike to go meet the director, just because I did not have my car. And I remember telling him, hello, that’s actually the simplest thing I could have done. He still had to come up with the amazing idea!

I think it is never possible to immaculately structure a work-life balance. You work at work. You work at family. You work at keeping everything together, in the best manner possible. I have a lovely family with a gorgeous wife Kalpana, two lovely daughters, Nitya who is 17 and Udita who will turn 13 in April. We also have two cats Yoda and Mojo. We all work towards bringing each other happiness, in things that we do for and with each other. We make sure we take holidays together, short and long. We try to contribute meaningfully to each other as often as possible. There are no formulae applied. But there definitely is no lack of intent and effort.

There are many.

My first pet cat Patuni (don’t ask about the name), while growing up in Kolkata.

Learning to fly a kite. Watching the kite soar in the sky brought me inexplicable joy.

Kicking the neighbourhood bully in the nuts, running home, telling my mother about it, getting hauled off by my ear to the bully’s house to apologise to him, but still laughing because he was still in tears.

Having the best comic collection in the neighbourhood and also the best taste in books and music. We had a mini-library of sorts at home, because my father and I would literally go scouring various parts of Kolkata to buy the best second hand books. My father inculcated the joy of reading in me, early in my life.

Being told by my class 9 and 10 teacher that I could write in English. I had no idea at that point of time that I would turn this into a living.

Having goals for both the short-term and long-term is necessary and keeping them firmly locked in your sights, even more so. Also, since it’s always the drops that make the ocean, making each day a little better also helps in a big way.

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