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Rising Star: Chirag Raheja, Creative Director, Infectious Advertising

What 29-year-old Raheja, who started his career just seven years ago with Saatchi & Saatchi, loves most about advertising is that there’s not any single way of coming up with ideas. He never says no and even if he doesn’t know how to do something, he figures out somehow

Chirag Raheja

A commerce graduate from H.R. College, Mumbai, with an advanced diploma in Advertising, Chirag Raheja, 29 was clueless about what he wanted to do in life till his final year at college.

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It was during his advertising course when he decided to make a career in the A&M space. After graduating in 2012, he worked as a trainee writer at Saatchi & Saatchi for little under a year.

“After I got my degree, I showed up wide-eyed and bushy-tailed at the Saatchi & Saatchi office in Mumbai. As I waited nervously in a room lined with Cannes trophies and certificates for jury service, I had no idea who I was about to meet. A few minutes later someone walked in, introduced himself as Ramanuj Shastry, CCO of the agency. He handed me a ‘copy test’ and asked me to come back with it in a few days,” Raheja said.

Raheja said that in 2013, Shastry left Saatchi to start his own hot shop ‘Infectious’ with partner Nisha Singhania.

“I got a call on a regular Thursday from Ramanuj. When I met him at a Bandra coffee shop, he said ‘I can only pay you so much, but I promise we'll do some kickass work’. And after seven years of working at Infectious, all I can say is that he wasn't lying,” said Raheja.

Raheja said when he joined Infectious; the agency was a team of five including him, one account executive, a copywriter, a visualiser, Singhania and Shastry, with a combined experience of 53 years. “I had Nisha and Ramanuj to teach me firsthand, can’t get better.”

“Infectious was different, there were no attendance sheets, no leave records, no HR breathing down our necks. Nisha and Ramanuj trusted us and expected us to behave like responsible adults. Looking back, I feel, it was a motivational masterstroke. A sense of ownership and pride kicks in, making you strive to do your best. They had been operating at the highest level so meeting their standards wasn't easy. But they were patient and showed tough love when it was needed,” Raheja said.

He said the ‘Chak Chak Chabao!' campaign for Tasty Treat, the snacking brand of the Future Group in 2018 was the most memorable campaign for him to have worked for. It was a celebration of ‘mindless munching’, which is India’s national pastime. The agency did two raps, partnered with the rapper 'Kaambhaari', a whole year before ‘Gully Boy’ made rapping ‘cool’ and made a film that the audience lapped up. The second one had Varun Dhawan grooving in it.

He said though the campaign was a resounding hit, it just didn’t fall into our lap. We had worked on at least eight different concepts before we hit on ‘Chak Chak’. We tossed weeks of work into the bin before that. But I guess hard work pays off, he said.

Speaking on his biggest strength, Raheja said, “I never say no. Even if I don't know how to do something, I wade and figure out how. I'm not ashamed to ask for help and I don't believe anything is impossible.”

He was selected to serve as Mentor and Juror at the One Show's Creative Bootcamp for freshers in 2018. “I remember being the youngest on the panel. And that's something I'm immensely proud of,” said Raheja.

He doesn’t see himself walking away from the creative field and if not in advertising, he would probably be in the finance field.

The one thing he loves about advertising is that there's no single way to come up with ideas. “I can think anywhere and at any time. Anyone can inspire me and can help me write. It's unconventional freedom if you ask me. That's what I enjoy the most,” Raheja said.

He believes advertising is the business of life and most inspiration is drawn from everyday experiences. For instance, if someone grew up with a stern father, they would surely be able to come up with compelling nuances around the father-child relationship, which could help make a great film.

Besides this, he follows a lot of creative directors and agencies from around the world and tries to decipher their line of thought.

“One trick I've learned is writing backwards. So if I'm working on a print ad and I can't think of a good headline, I'd start writing the body copy. Whatever note I end my copy on, I know my headline needs to lead to that. So that's one way to find direction,” said Raheja.

In his free time, he loves watching historical drama and enjoys writing poetry. Besides literature, he finds solo-travel to be exciting, and he has binged on the streets of eight countries.

According to Raheja, a good campaign is one that can make one feel beyond the mist of clever headlines and stunning visuals. At the heart of the idea, there needs to be an evocative truth and it can be funny or emotional or both. “As Indians, we are an emotional folk. We think with our minds but we listen with our hearts. And any campaign that can stir us will likely be successful.”

He suggests younger writers should be bulletproof as people will always be waiting to shoot down their ideas but they need to be able to take it and need to have an 'unputdownable spirit', because that's what breeds great creative.

Speaking on how different is content marketing than traditional advertising, Raheja said, “Content marketing gives us more opportunity to be relatable. Sometimes, a single print ad or billboard isn't enough to cover the length and breadth of the story you want your product to tell.”

“Plus, traditional ads have to push to people — like a newspaper is delivered to people's homes, regardless of whether they care about your ad or not. It's a hit or miss situation. In content marketing, people tend to come to you. Good content creators have massive followings. So it's easier to get your audience's attention when they've come looking for a story. All you have to do is make it relatable.”

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