Updated: Aug 15
R. Sridhar and I at an Ogilvy & Mather Direct bash
R. Sridhar, the President of Ogilvy & Mather Direct where I worked as Creative Consulatnt for several years, laughed himself to tears over my campaign for a restaurant called 'Nelson's Room' at the Welcomgroup Windsor Manor, Bangalore.
Sure, during the client meeting my voice shook reading the copy and I stumbled on the word `parapsychologist'. It was all about Lord Nelson's ghost who naturally lived in The Nelson's Room in Windsor Manor and was inviting people to his restaurant because being a ghost was a lonely business. If you don't make use of a brand name with such history, you're not doing your best. Sridhar must have blushed when I blushed. But it never happened. Alas, the campaign is lost except for one piece that I still possess (I possess almost all the copy I wrote during my years in advertising.
Oh you're a Scorpio!
"Oh you're a Scorpio!" Isn't this what people say to you? Do you know why? Because they're a little awed and frightened by the sting in your tail ‑your immense Pluto power (Indira Gandhi, Martin Luther and Prince Charles ‑ all Scorpions) and your legendary (heh heh!) passionate intensity.
You love mystery. In fact, you're one person who won't say "Bah!" to a ghost like me.
As an Arian, I believe in the power of communication. That's why I keep in touch with friends like you. Someone once said about the power of words ‑
`We live by words. Love, Truth, God. We fight for words, Freedom, Country (I died for my beloved England, remember). Fame.
We die for words. Liberty, Glory, Honour.'
Just before the Battle of Trafalgar, and I made Napoleon bite the dust, I heard the coxswain, one of the best men on board the `Victory', had been so busy preparing the mail bags, he'd forgotten to include his own letter to his wife. The dispatch vessel was already under full sail.
"Hoist a signal to bring her back," I ordered,"Who knows but that he may fall in action tomorrow? His letter shall go with the rest." I did speak differently then, didn't I? Now I listen to your language when you come by for a good time. And I hope I'm speaking it too.
I think you will say I am, for I have a special invitation for you. Come by for a good time and you might just win a bottle of chilled French champagne. But first you must prove how true a Scorpion you really are with our Zodiac Personality Quiz.
Do let me know if you accept my invitation to an evening that promises to be better than `a good time'. Simply fill in the postage paid card and mail it to reach me by 12.11.90.
The Ghost Who Writes
PS: I'd love to drink a glass of champagne with you,but all I'm allowed is ambrosia. Too much of a good thing!
PPS: Sink your anchor into Scampi Arcadia. Crisp batter‑fried jumbo prawns served with a special sauce. Used to be my favourite when I could eat.
One envelope uttered the very last words Nelson spluttered as he lay dying of a shot on his ship. I forget what.
Another said :`Look what you've done to my tablecloths!' Lord Nelson, you see, is cutting them up himself and mailing the pieces to his readers who he invites along with the tablecloth tatter, so he can get the other half and a free meal.
But Nelson's Room never tried the DM route. Despite the large quartz crystal in my bag that's supposed to give you power (shamans carry it). And look at the things it does for technology today. So why can't a quartz crystal be a super conductor and a generator on another plane? But you've got to know how to use it. You're supposed to talk to it, something I couldn't manage without feeling very foolish. And you're supposed to rinse the crystal with salt and never let anyone else touch it. Everyone wanted to touch it.
And then I did something a lesser mortal would have got fired for. We were all to write public service ads for conserving petrol and the best three would be sent to our Bombay office. They would appear in the Ad Club Diary.
The strategy was to make people see the alternatives. Sridhar, very passionate, told me to pay all my attention to it. He said he'd take the office out for a buffet at the Taj if one ad made it. Lunch plus book coupons if two ads made it and lunch plus a silver coin with Ogilvy & Mather Direct emblazoned on it if three made it.
"How about a trip to the London office?" I said.
"Done! I'll buy you the ticket myself."
I wrote 46 headlines. He picked fourteen. The ones I worked out were:
One vehicle more perfect, more reliable than any ever invented. And it doesn't need petrol. The visual had legs.
Some of the best things in life don't need petrol‑ visual of roller skates.
Bipin had contributed too with ‑ `No noose is good noose' and
`Imagine life without sex. Now imagine life without petrol.'
`Does riding a bike lead to impotence?'
Everyone voted Sridhar's as the best, followed by my `Some of the best things' and Bipin's `Imagine'. I was livid.
"If my Vehicle doesn't figure, I'll leave!" I said.
Sridhar laughed and said only I could be so childish. Everyone else laughed too. But I was serious. I wrote a letter to Sridhar with the envelope line:
Must we stoop to conquer?
The other day I told you I'm proud of you. You are indeed a brilliant thinker and you have made me a better copywriter even after my years of experience. But must we stoop to conquer? Must we drag sex into everything? Must our communication depend on sex to get read?
It reminds me of sexy women selling cars and cheap, steamy bestsellers. Sure, the reader is shocked into reading the communication, but he sees through the gimmick. And he does not admire you for it.
Surely we can shock them out of their indifference in other ways. In brilliant ways that give the reader gooseflesh because they're so `Bang‑On'.
Let's keep the sex for selling contraceptives and talking about AIDS. I had to write this or burst. Because I'm proud of our agency. MY heart still misses a beat when I see ‘Ogilvy & Mather’ at the door.
I went to our hot shot Account Supervisor Tina (who always said I had a fairy tale mind) with the letter. She understood Sridhar well, She said to go ahead and give him the letter if I felt strongly about it.
I handed him the letter and left the room while he read it. Then he called everyone in and passed the letter around. There was stunned silence as everyone read.
"I respect her attitude," he said
"I agree," said Anu.
"Have you seen the Lintas ad that got rave reviews‑ `Picasso would have thought we've got balls'.
"Yes, a take off from the one abroad‑ `Balls to Picasso'", I said. "But it doesn't revolt the senses, it amuses one. Besides, it's to do with Picasso's cubism."
"Nonsense," said he."We admire other people's sexy ads ‑ but go chicken when it comes to writing them ourselves."
"Do it subtly, relevantly," I said.
"I don't think Sridhar's line is gimmicky," piped up the injured Bipin.
"That's because you've written a gimmick yourself!" I said
And everyone said “Oh!"
"I admire you," said Sridhar,"but you have no right to cast aspersions on other people's talents."
"I'm not calling Bipin a lousy writer. I just don't agree with that particular line."
"Anyway, I'm glad one of us had the guts to say no, so we could have a stimulating debate." And he shook my hand.
And then Tina and Nalini, our Data Base Director and Sridhar went out to lunch together.
Lunch over, Tina announced that Sridhar was calling us into his room again. I was rather nervous. She said he was upset about what I'd said about the lack of creative brilliance in the ads.
"Oh no!" I said.
"Don't worry, we'll play it by ear. You ought to take your stand."
"Nalini, aren't you going to back me?" I said.
"Of course I am. Woman power and all that!"
"Does everyone know what happened?" began Sridhar. By then those who didn't know, knew. He proceeded to read my letter out in pin drop silence and a lot of hanging heads and blushing cheeks.
"I admire Miss Saran," said he when he finished it. “It took a lot of guts to say that." He held out a package to me.
I was dazed. I took it. "I thought you were going to whack me with it," I said.
He laughed, his brown eyes twinkling
"Thanks for being such a sport!" I said.
"Open it. Read out the dedication."
It was Anthony Storr's `Churchill's Black Dog, Kafka's Mice And other phenomena of the Human Mind'.
His note said: `To a lady with guts and committment. In admiration. All the best ‑ Sridhar.'
"How sweet!" I said. It was interesting how I came across as a `Lady' despite my wild ways. I rushed towards him. He looked surprised.
"Just one kiss!" I cried.
He waved his arms about and said, "No, no, no!" laughing all the time.
But I wouldn't take no for an answer and putting my arm around him, kissed his beard. "I always wanted to do that!" I said.
There was chaos. Squeals of hysteria like in a rock concert and a chatter never before heard. Sridhar, still laughing, rubbed vigourously at his beard.
Later Sridhar told me he told everyone in General how I fought with him but not to make it a habit or everyone else would revolt so they could get books.
"You didn't tell them about the kiss?" I said.
"I'm a shy man," said he.
However, I wasn't always `Bang‑on'. Sridhar bit my head off on ANZ Grindlays ‑ having asked me to try my hand at writing for banks, so I could truly be a versatile writer. Figures make me numb. And then he apologised for doing so. Next I presented a campaign on a copier to him. I was very excited about it. It had humour, it was original, I had drawn the visuals myself.
“I have no idea about what you’re trying to say. Irrelevant brilliance!” And he stormed out of the room.
A week later he called me in, said he loved the work I was doing and announced they'd done something extraordinary for me. Something they had never done before. And it was because I was committed to them and they were committed to me.
"We decided we'll help you realise your full creative potential. The Management Council spent three and a half hours discussing you because they are concerned. Which other agency would?"
"No one else would," said I. My hands were sweaty and cold.
"Well, Miss Saran, it is time for you to blush." He began to read:
“Very sincere Indusputable loyalty to O&M Direct. Creative sparks Many good ideas ‑lot of productivity. Makes an impact. Quick worker. Warm hearted ‑ but when cornered can be vicious. Lateral thinker. Enthusiastic. Good command over the language. Able to relate unorthodox ideas relevantly‑ it's what creativity is all about.
“Works well with visualisers. Can work to a verbal brief. Researches well when interested enough. Good non‑commercial writer ‑ Oh Dee aar! (Oh Dee aar! was our in-house newsletter which I edited). Takes criticism well when she can understand it. Not a run‑of‑the‑ mill person. Extraordinary. Childlike, innocent.
"Anyone with all these strengths would leave others behind," he continued,"but there are limitations that keep you from realising your potential." I thought, now for the negative stuff and braced myself. He read again.
“Zero on strategy. Backbiter. Short tempered. Can't work under pressure. Can't get along with lots of people. If not interested, will write shit. Clock watcher. Doesn't listen well. Doesn't read a brief fully. Jumps the gun. Too talkative‑disturbs others. Immature, childish. Grumbler. Can't write for all kinds of clients. Fond of self promotion. Depends on the opinions of other people, not her own logic. Dependence on Sridhar.”‑ He said he didn't know why and smiled.“Contemptuous. Poor attention to detail. Takes criticism personally.”
"Everyone does," he added. I agreed.
“Very bothered about authorship.”
"Now, Miss Saran. I want you to do something, cross out the ones you don't agree with. You don't need to explain yourself...it's very interesting. I've never done this before." I thought he was being very fair and after some thought, crossed out 10 out of 21. Wasn't it wonderful, I was two up on my strengths and now it was 23 against a mere 11 negatives!
"You could tackle each negative month by month. I suggest you do the difficult ones first. It'll make the rest easier."
"I'll do two a month," I said.
"This will help you get perfect," he said. "You are in your thirties now. Do you want to be left behind? Don't you want to progress?"
"It takes a lot of guts to see yourself objectively across the table and I admire you for it. Are you sure this doesn't make you uncomfortable?"
"No way!" I laughed.
"Maybe I'm trying to play a trick on you."
"I don't believe that."
"I'm glad you trust us. I appreciate the others too for doing this exercise for you. They are all with you."
"I appreciate it very much."
"Are there things you would like us to help you with?" he said gently.
"I have to do it all by myself. Except the listening bit. They must be patient and explain things I don't understand."
"All right. You must take charge of yourself."
"Funny, I'm so in charge in my personal life."
"You ought to be professionally too. I'll tell you what. Write down a few steps to tackle each negative and show it to me. This will clarify things."
It did. For starters I stopped saying "I have this brilliant idea!" Instead I went about saying:"I've got this...this...this idea!" while my eyes said brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! It worked. They filled in the gaps for me with the dread word themselves.
Not so long after, Sridhar said I was making progress and he was happy with the way I wrote the `logic track' in my letters and questioned briefs. "I wanted you to blend your magic and freshness with cold logic and reason. I knew you didn't have a defeatist attitude and wouldn't run away."
Oh no, I wouldn't. I had finally found the creative freedom I'd been looking for. Here was an agency that could spot a promising risk when it saw one and was willing to take a chance on it. It's risk taking that makes men great.
And one such instance was Mcdowell's Premium Whisky excitingly named Sir Bedivere's Cask.
So of course I was going to write about Sir Bedivere. And the best way to do it would be humourously. But would my readers know of the knights of The Round Table? Would they find my brand of humour funny wondered the account executives who, after all, were the ones who presented creative to the clients.
"Well, if they don't know Lancelot, let's tell them", I said.
There was no offer and no response sought. But respond they did to our amazement.
The covering letter explained how the President of the company had come across some interesting ancient manuscripts while hunting for a befitting name for his new brand of whisky: a couple of letters from Sir Bedivere to Lancelot. The P.S. explained the phrase ‑`Champion of the Whistle' as the person who could hold out longest in a drinking bout.
'Dear Lancelot, what ho!
What a fitting name you have, old friend! You lance a lot, making many a brave knight bite the dust. And you also drink a lot.
Which reminds me of my wine cask. When you return from your Quest
for the Holy Grail, be my guest.
Many a time you have come to the end of my wine cask only to find more wine. You called it The Cornucopia.
I'm writing to you because I wish to apologize for waking you up in the odd hours of the night to save a damsel in distress. You see, for lack of water, I had to dowse you with my wine. And I wouldn't call it a waste. But old friend, Lancelot, I meant you no ill will. So let's have The Champion of the Whistle bout again and I'll know you have forgiven me.
I end here,
Your friend, Bedivere.
P.S:I have this strange feeling that I'm going to make history!'
Sridhar found the PS funny.
Letters we'd never asked for flooded in addressed to the President. `From one Lancelot to another', began one.
The second mailer followed.
What ho, Lancelot!
So you won The CHampion of the Whistle again. My gauntlet off to you!
But the worst has happened, old friend! The treacherous Morgan Le Fay gave our beloved King Arthur a magic draught to drink and he had no sooner drunk it than his eyes were opened to the intrigue between you and his lady, Guinivere! Although I do not think the King is vindictive, I can see the jealousy in his eyes.
We must do something quick to dull the pain, soften the anger. Our poor King, he loves both Queen Guinivere and you so!
I have the solution. Merlin tells me there is such a drink called a `Cocktail'. It's all mixed up. He says a Toltec (Aztec) noble discovered it and sent it to his king by the hand of his daughter, Xochitl. Thus the word, `Cocktail'.
Well, our great Wizard, Merlin, has kindly given me the secret cocktail recipe. He says it mellows hearts and strengthens the bonds of friendship. I'm going to call this drink Merlin‑O in his honour.
So why not gift a cask of Merlin‑O to King Arthur? He needs it.
Your old friend, Bedivere.
Christine Krishnaswami, a lady well known in writing and theatre circles had this to say:
`May I congratulate you on the talent and imagination of your copywriter. The brochure and copy would tempt even a teetotaller, which I'm not.'
She promptly got a few free Sir Bedivere's Casks. And I was on top of the world.