Advertising: Running in the Family There was nobody in the crowd who was not instantly enamored with the Pandey brothers. Piyush and Prasoon Pandey had an infectious sense of humor, tangible wit, and strong familial bonds. If you didn’t know them, suddenly you wanted to. If you didn’t know their work, suddenly you felt like you were missing out on something big. Every commercial was rich in color, culture, and comedy. You couldn’t help but chuckle at the twist endings and clever concepts. There was a perfect balance of familiarity and singularity. What made the ads funny were universal, and yet by shining a light on milieu unique to India you gained access to foreign lands and something new.
Family was a thread that was integral to the brothers’ success even before they started their careers. The dynamic duo began the Q and A with stories about growing up in a big family. Prasoon joked that the house was like an art school. From one end to the other their sisters were learning everything from acting, poetry and dance to singing and literature. They too were encouraged to explore these forms of expression with their parents as the major driving force. According to Prasoon it was impossible to escape learning. They were surrounded by artistry that taught them invaluable skills like how to captivate an audience and timing.
From there, their paths diverged, and it would be a difference of a decade between the brothers entering the advertising field before fate would have these two talents together again. Their first collaboration was Ericcson’s 1996 “One Black Coffee” which would go on to win India’s very first Lion. Despite them popularizing ad campaigns produced in Hindi, this first win featured western styles and a generic setting. As the two brothers continued to work together they incorporated not only a language of India, but its heart. Piyush noted the importance of “putting a frame around things you notice”, and with the next slew of commercials that’s exactly what they did. The following commercials displayed Indian markets, family structures, celebrations, and daily activities. They told the crowd that in advertising you don’t dilute; start with the culture of the locale. And it was evident that they practiced what they preached.
This was far from the only piece of advice they had to share. Before you can get to the content of an ad you have to produce a concept, and that can be trickier than it sounds. There is a delicate interplay between trusting in yourself and listening to others. Piyush was realistic about pitching ideas stating, “If you can’t sell it to one person, then you can’t sell it to millions”. Some ideas are just no good. But on the other hand, they also admitted that you must be willing to put your neck on the line for things you believe in. Prasoon recalled a disagreement with clients over an addition to the commercial that he felt would muddle the true intent of the ad. He was stuck between honoring the wishes of the clients and sticking to his better judgement. In front of the client he called his mom explaining, “A client wants me to do something I don’t believe in. What should I do?”
His mother replied, “What are you talking about?”
Prasoon turned to his client innocently and said, “Well my Mom said ‘no’, and I have to listen to my elders, so I can’t do it”. This resulted in a laugh from both sides of the conflict. The issue was promptly resolved, and the client trusted the advice and creative direction Prasoon was pursuing. The brothers also viewed this story as an endorsement for their philosophy in life that if you look too seriously at problems you won’t be able to find the solution. It seemed like this ideology went beyond the confines of life. Suddenly, the sense of humor found in the commercials all made sense.
For the Pandey brothers having fun was essential to the creative process. And with these notions running around it was no surprise that Piyush implored the audience not to be afraid of wild ideas. They reminisced about a commercial done where dialogue was replaced with sportscasters in the background to satirize bureaucracy as a messenger ran back and forth to get paperwork to the right department. Crazier ideas emerged with zombies popping out of graves, unorthodox fishing techniques, trying to steal the family inheritance, flirting with a lover separated by a pile of family members sleeping on the floor, and so much more. Even when they were facing creative droughts and deadlines loomed ahead, they looked outside for inspiration. Innovation came in the form of stories, conversations with friends, and asking “what if”. “There are no writer’s blocks: get over it like a speed bump,” Piyush prompted.
As they played videos of colleagues congratulating Piyush and Prasoon Pandey, one thing seemed for sure: they were long overdue for the lifetime achievement award. Piyush accepted the Lion of St. Mark, describing his career as a marathon. His family supported him from the start of the race and along the way his brother began to run beside him. Friends, clients, pets, and even competitors lined the sides telling him to keep running. And he insinuated that the personable pair weren’t done quite yet. With the strength of brotherhood, a knack for comedy, and a splash of culture the Pandey brothers brought India to the forefront of the advertising world and would continue to do so for the foreseeable future.