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Interview: Santosh Padhi, Chief Creative Officer & Co-Founder, Taproot India

Last year wasn’t a great year for India. But this year, too, I did not see great commercials which can go and make a mark at Cannes. The weakness is that although we come up with great ideas we have very poor execution”

Shachi Tapiawala | Mumbai | January 14, 2013

Santosh Padhi

Santosh Padhi, Co-Founder of Taproot India, has been rated by people like KV Sridhar ‘Pops’ as the best art director in the industry. This year, Paddy, as he is popularly known, has just been appointed to the prestigious Executive Jury of the New York Festivals International Advertising Awards and also as Jury President at Adfest 2013.

Along with his colleague and other Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Agnello Dias, he has driven Taproot to the topmost league of Indian creativity. Paddy started his advertising career 18 years ago. After a 10-year stint at Leo Burnett, he started Taproot with Aggie, and it was ranked amongst the Top 20 Independent Agencies in the world in a Cannes Survey last year, and also rated as the ‘Best Performing Agency from India’ at Adfest 2010. Global advertising giant Dentsu took notice of the strength of Taproot and bought a 51 per cent stake in the agency last year.

Shachi Tapiawala of caught up with Paddy for a free-wheeling interview where he talks about Indian creativity, global ad standards, what makes Taproot tick, etc. Excerpts:

How would you describe Taproot India’s journey in 2012? Was it your best year since inception?

I think when we started in 2009, it was the best. 2010 was better than 2009. So, gradually we started getting better. We got more people on board. But definitely we have to pass 2013 and have a great 2014. So if you ask me, 2009 was the best year since our inception.

You have just been appointed Jury President for Adfest 2013 and made a part of the Executive Jury of New York Festival. How does it feel?

I have judged many advertising awards shows like Cannes, Clio, NYF, Adfest before, but for the first time I have got an opportunity to be a Jury President and I am already feeling the pressure as I need to hold the entire jury together. But I am excited at the same time.

The big industry news of last year was Dentsu buying into Taproot. What has changed post the acquisition?

I think when we got into this acquisition, it was already decided that since we were looking out for a merger, there was a very clear principle on which it had to happen: that they would not interfere in our work pattern. And that is what even Dentsu agreed to. In other words, when things were not working out for us, we would approach them and they have stood by whatever they have said. As for financial support, I do not think they have completely taken over Taproot as it is not a 100 per cent acquisition – and that’s what we wanted because we know how to run the company and we would like to continue like this. We always wanted to keep this control as we have a big commitment to the company.

Has the pure creativity that you and Aggie (Agnello Dias) are known for become somewhat curtailed because of your being a part of a large entity like Dentsu?

No, in fact I think for NourishCo, the JV between Tata Global Beverages and PepsiCo India. We both have jointly pitched for it. We have come together to strengthen ourselves and do something better.

We have seen a lot of combined business acquisitions by Taproot-Dentsu. How is this arrangement working out?

NourishCo is the only project in which we have worked together. We will come together as and when needed in future as well.

Do you see more independents like Creativeland Asia and some others selling out to big network agencies?

Some people have the vision to continue the way they think it is right. We thought it was the right time for us to join hands which would make us stronger. So, it all depends upon the agency and the company as to what they want to achieve and their overall vision. It is very difficult for me to say what is right for another agency as it is completely upon them.

Let me embarrass you a bit…Is Taproot only about Aggie and Paddy? There doesn’t seem to be a second line of defence or a creative B team in the agency…

I would not say it is about Aggie and Paddy because when we started working, we got younger blood who were far more aggressive and wild and were able to hold their point, it worked better for us and every work that came to Taproot. If something is needed in a week’s time, at times it’s impossible for the two of us to do everything, hence the brief goes to other team members. It’s like a Dhoni alone cannot win a cricket match unless other cricketers in the team also perform well – and that is what we are doing at Taproot.

Coming to your second point, we are trying to invest in new talent as it is very important for us to find junior Aggies and Paddys who can carry forward the Taproot philosophy for a longer period of time and provide better work to the world.

After a poor Indian performance at Cannes Lions in 2012, you were of the view that Indian creativity is growing at a much slower speed in comparison to other countries. Now with the opening of entries for 2013, are you hopeful when you look at the work this year?

Last year wasn’t a great year for India. But this year, too, I did not see great commercials which can go and make a mark at Cannes. In the past nine to ten month, from what I have seen, we don’t have great TV or integrated campaigns but we have always been doing small little things that have surprised the world and I hope India keeps doing these small little things.

What is the key differentiator when you compare the standard of Indian creativity with the rest of the world?

Our market is very different compared to the US or the UK as there is a very lateral behaviour. Whereas in India, when you travel 2 to 4 hours there is a change in language, taste, preferences and mentality. I think it is a very complicated country and somehow I would like to thank the senior people who have managed to crack these regions. Somehow in 40-odd years we have managed to crack this complexity and that is a great achievement. So when you try putting this case study to a foreigner, they would think ‘You guys are something else!” We as an industry have lots of strengths and weaknesses. Our strength is in our ability to crack the complexities of the Indian market, as I said. In the South we have Tollywood that works, and in the North there is a Dabangg kind of mindset.

The weakness is that although we come up with great ideas, we often fall short in execution. We are not even close to what the global standards are. We need to do a lot to match up and catch up. But some of the ideas we have produced are mind blowing! When it comes to execution we lag as we want to take the idea by replicating it and finish it before the deadline.

For Taproot it has become almost routine to pick up major international and national awards – 3 Gold medals at Effies, Cannes Lions, Abbys... What is the secret behind this success? I mean there has to be something that is working much for the agency…your comment please.

Taproot has considered every brief as an opportunity and every time we get a brief, we try to beat our past record and raise our bar. We believe in the philosophy of Great Work= Great Monies, Great Work = Fame, Great Work = Awards and Glory. So, every time we get a brief, we try and convert it into fabulous work.

Now that India is embracing new technologies gradually with the rise of digital advertising, is it likely to impact the conventional grammar and mindset of creative people like your colleague Agnello Dias and many others like him?

Some years back, print was the lead medium in India and TV had not developed. Suddenly everyone was able to afford it and found it entertaining, so all those people who did long copy transformed themselves not the mediums! Around 80 per cent of the people delivered. I do not feel the time has come yet when digital has become the medium. But the day that happens, the creative people will transform from TV to digital. I think that is the time when the digital medium will become a hero. I think every medium has challenges and we need to overcome them.

May I ask you which TVC or ad campaign of 2012 did you like the most and remember the most? Any reasons why?

It would be unfair to mention just one. I liked the Cadbury Gems ‘Umarless’ campaign; it used a humorous storyline to reach out to a different target audience, the older people, that they too like to have Cadbury Gems. The insight of the brand was to expand their category audience and hence switched on to the older generation too – whenever there is chocolate, a 30-year-old man would also behave like a kid! This is what Cadbury has experimented with. I feel more big brands should break the barrier as it is not only about an agency replicating a TVC idea and getting a relative share. Whenever you do something drastic, people would appreciate it. Apart from that, I loved the Tanishq Diwali ad campaign and the Parallel Journey of Nike. There are a few pointers which grab your attention and those campaigns have it.

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