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Interview: Zarvan Patel, founder, Ideas@work

Zarvan shares his strategy behind the quantum leaps his agency has been taking for quite some time and his future roadmap.

Interview: Zarvan Patel, founder, Ideas@work

He kick-started his own advertising outfit after gaining much accolades for various campaigns like  ‘Talk to Me’ campaign for Colgate and the ‘Express Yourself’ series for Airtel. At that time, like many among their ilk, he and his partner in crime (Prashant Godbole) operated from Godbole’s old home in Mahim. Cut to today, their ideas@work dons the feather of some brilliant campaigns like Reid & Taylor, and the recent being- the launch campaign for Big Rock. And what makes their ideas really to work is their funny bone attached to their creative side...

In this interview with Neha S of, Zarvan shares his strategy behind the quantum leaps his agency has been taking for quite some time and his future roadmap….

Q) Recently, your ‘Savitri Bai Training Institute commercial’ for Big Rock won huge accolades. So how easy or difficult it is to devise a marketing/advertising strategy for launching a new brand like Big Rock in the market?

It was exciting and challenging for us to launch a new category. The client had already put its pricing strategy in place, the marketing strategy had been mulled over for months & they shared some industry insights, as there was a huge bank of data both local and global to learn from.

The communication strategy needed to be tackled. This obviously had to fill a few parameters like a) In an already cluttered environment the campaign had to catch the attention of the target group b) The concept had to be continuable, refreshable, and most importantly enjoyable with every new execution (after all when you’re carving out a new category in the country, you want to be able to hold top-of-mind and the first-in advantage) c) From a creative agencies point of view, it is always a challenge of conveying a message in record 30-45 seconds and translating it into the greatest possible share of mind. d) Next no matter how brilliant the concept, it still has to meet the ROI challenge, and work within a budget. But personally, I believe ideas@work managed the lot.

Q) Indian ad-world has always been dominated by the big agencies with small and independent agencies having a small share of the same. But over the last two years, this scenario has changed a lot with many agencies in your ilk like CreativelandAsia, Scarecrow, Saints & Warriors, Taproot and Crayons et al making a mark with not only big clients but delivering out-of-the box work. Thus how do you think that being relatively a new agency in the market helps you to connect better with the consumers through your communication?

It's not such a new thing. MCM didn't kick off the creative revolution in India from a 30,000 sq. ft. office, at Rediffusion there's still a small plate hanging on the wall that reads "One day we will be a 1 crore agency"-Mohammed Khan. When I first visited Percept it was a hole in the wall, Enterprise was about two bedrooms larger (but with superior decor), and although Ambience was blessed with the distinction of a SOBO address with 6 talented people, I believe it was the work these agencies created, some of it legendary and enduring that helped them cross over into top 10 (size-wise) agencies. I guess it’s the same spirit that holds true for young startups (or is that the other way around). However, let's also point out, that none of these agencies ever toppled the top 3 in Rupees, Euros, Dollars or Yen.  Oh, and about the competition? ideas@work at Goafest. Yr. 1: No. 8. Yr.2: No. 4. Yr. 3: Recession (a piece of silver and a bronze) Yr. 4: (this year), No. 9. We're only No. 9. And who was it that said, ‘The work. The work. The work.’

Q) What are the insights for marketing / advertising communities for launching niche brands in the country?

"If you know your history, then you will know where you're coming from"- Bob Marley

There is virtually no strategy that hasn't already been used in the developed world.

Just new/different expressions, technologies and media. But I believe this question should be aimed at clients or marketing men - they're the ones finding the niches, by the time they get to an agency they are usually heavily invested in the project, presumably based on insight and market knowledge. Or else hey, we can arrange it.

Q) Conventionally, agencies charged 15% of the size of the account as fees, but this has reduced to around 6-10%, over the last few years. Out of which smaller agencies are said to escape the commission and also go for a single fee based on production costs. Do you think that this is probably the main the reason for MNC’s to move out their account from bigger agencies? And how does it affect the sustainability of your business in the long run?

I doubt it. Nobody on this planet is stupid enough to move an account to save pennies on an agency, when at stake is an image (read brand) worth crores each year. In fact, just the reverse, the future has always been a battle between money, media-fragmentation and relevant cut through, which more often than not is created by highly talented groups of individuals, it's people with ideas clients rely on, (at least, the ones smart enough to do a little digging when it comes to the people who really work their accounts).

Q) How do you combat the competition creeping in from the agencies opera spread thinner oveting on your model i.e other independent agencies operating in the market?

Ideas@Work has been fortunate enough to grow on the word of friends who know our work, who have worked with us and who we have worked with. We don't view new business as win or lose situation, we just see it for what it is, an agreement or disagreement of minds in a given context (for better or worse). We have been fortunate, as an agency, we have no compulsion to grow at 40%p.a., we are not CEO's, we have no shareholders to please, we're just a bunch of advertising professionals who love, yes, love something as banal as advertising. Also there's plenty of business to go around: big, small, medium. Hey, this is India.

Q) You recently launched your films division with the Edelweiss television commercials. How is it faring?

Ideas@Work Films Group was originally set up with the intention of filling a creative gap in the internet viral space. The earliest projects were the award winning animated virals for, followed by several AVs for our clients, and more recently, anything you see on TV for Edelweiss, which picked up some metal at the Goafest. We hope the next round will be the new BigRock films, which I am determined will also be Cannes winners.

Q) What are your agency’s targets set for this year in terms of a) billings b) awards?

Billings: As I mentioned earlier, we have no targets. As far as awards are concerned, hopefully, every piece of work we touch then may be at the end of the year the Gods will be kind enough for us.

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