The only son of middle-class Bengali parents, for Siddhant Lahiri, the emphasis was always on having a stable career but he was also a curious child with a creative bent of mind.
“While doing my graduation what I really wanted was the right mix. I wanted something that would give me the stability and the respect involved with a corporate career but I also wanted to balance it out with something that would allow me to be a little more creative, something that was a little more right-brained,” said Lahiri.
This quest for the perfect balance led him to MICA (formerly, known as Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad) where he specialised in Strategic Planning. Advertising, Lahiri feels, was a very natural progression from there.
“I always used to wonder why people do what they do. After completing my course at MICA I discovered that people were willing to pay me to ask that same question,” laughs Lahiri.
After passing out of MICA, Lahiri joined DDB Mudra in Ahmedabad as a planner.
“At Mudra Ahmedabad I worked with a lot of entrepreneurs for clients. Working with the entrepreneurs was really exciting because I got to get in at the ground level.”
From DDB Mudra, Lahiri went to JWT, Delhi. JWT, in Lahiri’s own words, was a completely different experience from his DDB Mudra days. While at DDB he was working with small entrepreneurs, at JWT he was handling some of the biggest brand names in the world. He later moved to JWT Mumbai where again he was working for the big guns. In the five years he spent with JWT, Lahiri handled Pepsi, Hero MotoCorp, Unilever, Godrej, Good Knight, Roche Diagnostics and Parag Foods, among many others.
He joined Rediffusion Y&R’s Mumbai office about three months back. Speaking about his experience working for Rediffusion, Lahiri said, “My experience here has been very different from what it was at JWT. Rediffusion is very interesting to me because it is a lot more entrepreneurial. Also, right now Rediffusion is trying to write a second chapter for itself and that is a very exciting time for any agency. I find this interesting because it allows me to contribute a chapter. I am not just a cog in a very large wheel here, this place allows me to make a big difference.”
Lahiri believes that all his favourite projects have been challenging.
“My mother used to say that things are either challenges or opportunities and very often they are both. I have had the privilege of working for brands across the spectrum. From tiny brands who were trying to figure how to survive to larger brands who are struggling with being relevant to a rapidly changing audience, each stage of working for these brands has been exciting and very challenging.”
When asked to pick a favourite from the repertoire of work that he has done, Lahiri says it’s like choosing between his children.
“A lot of the challenges have been very exciting. From trying to introduce India to a new kind of insect repellent in Good Knight Fast Card, to trying to make a brand synonymous with cow ghee for Gowardhan Ghee, to fighting for renewed relevance with Indian youth for Pepsi, to trying to get more diabetes to check their sugar levels more regularly for Roche Diagnostics – I have been fortunate to have had so many opportunities to influence behaviour. All of these are campaigns very close to my heart. I take a lot of pride in them.”
Lahiri believes that strategic planning is the right mix between logic and magic and the fact that it challenges him is what he likes best about the profession of his choice.
“I deal with analysis, excel sheets and numbers, but it also allows me to come up with ideas to change behaviour. I find challenges very exciting. The challenges that this industry throws at me every day aren’t just about how to drive sales, for me the real challenge of advertising is the challenge of changing behaviour.”
When not trying to change behaviour, Lahiri likes to spend his time doing theatre, watching movies, reading and travelling.
“I am a huge cinema nerd. I have been into movies since I was very young because my dad had a transferable job so every couple of years we used to shift basis. It was very difficult to make friends and lose friends and after a point in time it is very difficult to break into circles. So, the only thing that gave me constant company was cinema and therefore movies are a big passion.”
Teaching is another passion and he has been a visiting faculty at MICA, K J Somaiya Institute of Management Sciences and Research and Xavier’s Institute of Communication.
Owing to his father’s profession Lahiri has travelled a lot and believes that being the “perennial outsider” has helped him in understanding people better. He also believes it to be his biggest strength.
“I have been a perpetual spectator and the “perennial outsider” for so long that I feel I have a heightened ability to understand people, their motivations and behaviour. Every planner has to observe the world and its absurdities and co-incidentally because of my upbringing I have an edge there and I enjoy doing that.”
His weakness according to Lahiri is an inability to shut up and making bad jokes at all the wrong times.
What would he be doing if he hadn’t become a planner?
“When I was very young, I discovered there was something called the Coffee Board of India and that they offer an MBA in coffee tasting. I was very tempted to do that for a long time. I can’t imagine a better life. So, I think if there weren’t any conditions on me and if I could do anything I wanted, I would spend my life drinking coffee on a little cottage on the hills of Coorg while getting paid for it,” says Lahiri, taking a sip of his second cup of coffee.