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It bothers me when people say we can’t think beyond TV: Arun Iyer

In conversation with, Arun Iyer, Chief Creative Officer, Lowe Lintas, talks about his stepping into Balki’s shoes, creativity in digital and the Abbys. About Abbys, he said, “We have nothing against Abbys. We don’t even enter Cannes. We would never want to do anything that sabotages anything or hurt our industry”

Akansha Mihir Mota | Mumbai | February 20, 2017

Arun Iyer Arun Iyer

In a career close to 15 years, Lowe Lintas’ Chief Creative Officer Arun Iyer is overwhelmed with the position he holds and unlike many people who accidently stepped into advertising, he always wanted to be in the industry.

Replacing R Balki’s position at the agency also meant a lot of responsibilities. He believes one should not take oneself too seriously: “You just have to laugh through most of the things in life.”

In his free time, Iyer loves to play badminton and calls it his addiction. His profession allows him to travel around the world and while on a flight he watches TV shows and films. Iyer is also an avid reader and maintains a checklist of books that he has to read.

In his earlier stint, Iyer worked with Multiprint Advertising and By design. Later he moved to TBWA and handled brands such as BPL Mobile, CNBC and Fosters India. In 2003, Iyer moved to Lintas and created some memorable work for Tanishq, Surf Excel, Idea Cellular, Britannia and much more. met Iyer to decipher his views on advertising, awards and his role at the agency. Excerpts:

You now wear the hat of a CCO after Balki’s exit. How do you see this change, both for you and the agency? Did you find yourself stepping into very large shoes left behind by Balki?

Definitely! The only good part about it is that I think that Balki planned this very well. He had kind of stepped back for nearly two years before he officially announced his departure from the agency. We were pretty much running it. He helped us settle in before he formally announced his exit. It’s a huge challenge because it is stepping into the shoes of a person of his stature. But I try not to think about it because every individual operates differently. I have learnt a lot from him. At the end of the day, pressure doesn’t help ever. So you just got to do what you got to do and do it to the best of your capability and then take it from there. That’s how I live my life.

How did your clients react to Balki’s exit from the agency?

Like I said, we had planned it well. A lot of clients were very supportive because the transition was planned well. I think somewhere they have kind of gauged that this was coming. Balki had stopped fronting meetings and I would be taking them. I think clients have become extremely practical. They would miss Balki but at the end of the day, work speaks more than anything else. I was focusing to make sure that the work doesn’t suffer. Once that happens then the rest of it can be taken care of. In the initial stages, Balki was always there in the backdrop to support us. It was always a fall-back option for me and for Amer Jaleel (CCO, Mullen Lintas).

Lowe has been considered as a TV agency. Do you mind people calling Lowe a TV agency? Or do you want to correct that image?

That has been a story for a while now. Over the years we have done so much more than TV. If I were to take the last two years, a lot of them would have come from here. But people still associate us with TV because that’s what you see a lot of times. In fact, it’s overbearing because there is so much TV advertising we do that the rest of it gets hidden. We have been trying to correct the image for a while now. I think we have made some headwind and made some movement in a positive direction but we have still got a lot of ground to cover.

It’s not like that I do not have a problem but it bothers me when people say that we can’t think beyond TV because that’s not the truth. The TV baggage continues with us because it is in our heritage. We were the first agency to do the first commercial in India. We have decided not to think about it too much and let the work do the talking.

Do you think digital medium adds more value to the creative aspect of an ad other than giving the benefit of creating longer format films? Or you think digital restricts creative freedom?

Digital is a very loosely used word nowadays. In one way the medium is being used by a lot of marketers in the long format, but there is so much more that can be done with it. I personally believe that it is fully yet to come to life in our country. People are still talking about it and we are getting to the basics of content marketing. It comes with its own unique world. When the shift happened from print advertising, television was a unique world. Like that digital is a unique world today. Every individual consumes the digital world in his or her own unique way. In the digital medium, the question is how you put out messages that reach everybody and how everybody feels about it. These are the challenges of the medium. These can be looked as challenges or as even opportunities. They seem like challenges because not many people have converted them into opportunities, including us.

If you would have asked this question two years back to a creative person, he would have said, ‘What are these five-second break bumpers?’ Suddenly the world has discovered that you could do creativity with it and turn it into something innovative. Now a lot of brands are doing so many things within the YouTube five-seconders. I think it is challenging till you crack it open. Also, the immediacy of response has happened and we have got to live with that.

Considering India’s position in terms of digital work at the moment, do you think there is a long way to go when it comes to competing at the global level?

It’s a bit unfair to compare India with the rest of the world because what came to that part of the world so many years ago has now come to India and has already covered so much ground. In that space, we have caught up really quickly with the rest of the world.

How does Lowe help its sister agency Mullen Lintas or is it on its own?

It’s totally on its own and it’s like two different agencies. After a long time, we have got an agency that has among the best talent in the country. We have got the best people in that business running the agency. That’s the attempt. We are part of the same group but they have a different office.

A lot of bigger agencies are changing their organisational structure to come under one P&L. Dentsu already works as one P&L, Publicis recently made a few changes in that respect, Ogilvy is headed towards that. What do you have to say about that?

I think it is all headed back in the direction of one agency and full-service sort of set-up. This is what the clients are seeking and agencies are trying to do it. I don’t know necessarily whether consolidating everything under one P&L is the answer to that question. Some set-ups must be having their own reasons to do it. We actually as a group have that entire offering under one roof.

Advertising is trying to bring social changes, including gender equality. Is Lowe ready and thinking of taking up a cause and working towards it year on year?

That started happening a couple of years ago if you go back to our work for Havells ‘Hawa Badlegi’ and the ‘I am not a kitchen appliance’ campaigns. We understand that advertising influences people but these are deep-rooted belief systems and take their own time to change.

My only fear is that it has become fashionable to do such kind of advertising. It is one of those things which people do to get traction online. If an advertisement even moves you an inch from where you are in the correct direction then I think the ad works and I’ll be happy. Unless there is a great brand fit and something that the brand can owe and do, there is no point in just talking about social causes. I see a lot of times that the intent is to get just the traction online and not genuinely to make a difference.

Abbys have grown, transformed and refined over the years, and implemented many corrective measures suggested by the industry. What’s that stopping you from walking hand in hand with the industry as far as participation is concerned? Why weaken a successful, home grown initiative of our own industry?

To be very honest, the intent is not to weaken anything because we are consistent in our approach. We have just decided to stay away from creative awards. Specifically with the Abbys, I don’t know what corrective measures have happened or what is it that has been done. We earlier had a problem with the jury. We also had problem with the print section of the Abbys. It’s just a joke because those are ads which everybody knows that are done for specific purposes. It becomes an unfair playing field.

All award shows are a game. You can choose to play or not to play that game. We have just chosen not to play that game because when you play that game, then you got to play it well. Now to play that game you need to do certain things. We don’t want a culture where people are sitting and thinking about ads that can go into Abbys or to any other award show. I don’t want my people sitting in a recording studio and recording a radio spot which nobody in the world would hear. I find it a horrible waste of energy.

In the present state of mind, it doesn’t work for us unless some transformation has happened. As of now the way it is structured, it doesn’t work for us. I don’t have the energy to invest in that award show as it does take an amount of focus. We have nothing against Abbys. We don’t even enter Cannes. Our global system enters our work because we don’t have the luxury of time to sit through. I think there has to be a complete rethink. It can’t be without a reason that so many agencies are staying away from Abbys.

Did you take your concerns to the Goafest Committee or Abbys Awards Governing Council to make headway? When we asked their respective chairmen about it, we were told said it’s up to agencies who they want to nominate.

To be very honest we have not reached out to anybody about Goafest at all because we are not in a mindset to participate to be honest.

There are people and agencies trying to strengthen it for the cause of the industry and hence does it mean that the non-participating agencies are sabotaging that effort?

We would never want to do anything that sabotages anything or hurt our industry. We are an agency that truly believes in the power of our industry and would always want to support anything that is for the betterment of our industry.

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