Updated: Aug 26
Winning the David Ogilvy Award and Passport Scotch
In 1993, I was part of the team that won the David Ogilvy Award for Outstanding Campaign of the Year for the Direct Marketing launch of Sheraton Towers in India. It was the first exercise of its kind and a breakthrough in DM technique in many ways. No envelope line, for instance. No pictures of the hotels. Just the privacy of Japanese gardens‑ the kind you'd find in Sheraton Towers‑ , timing so much a part of Raghu Rai's great photographs ‑ a dancer caught in mid‑air for instance ‑ and the service Jeeves is so famous for.
On the walls of my study where dragons lurk, Puck grins and fairies flutter, hangs the gigantic certificate framed in O&M red with David Ogilvy's signature on it. The large enough brass plaque with my name on it ‑ a gift from Sridhar ‑ sits on my bookshelf. People who walk into my study think I got two awards.
We celebrated The DO Award with a champagne bash. I could have killed myself for missing Sridhar's speech about the winning team. I was getting all dressed up in my gold Cleopatra skirt (which I still have).
"Where were you?" said Ashok Sarath, Creative Director of O&M General,"Sridhar said such terrific things about you!"
"Like what?" I said, heart fluttering madly.
"That you're brilliant and sold yourself to O &M D in a very zany way though the rumour that you're a witch worried them at first. You brought fresh thinking into the agency and do sparkling work."
He was a particularly nice CD, wasn't he to pass the compliments along? I knew then what they mean by floating on a cloud. The champagne helped of course.
"Where were you?" said Sridhar,"I said such lovely things about you," and then he introduced me to Managing Director, O&M, Ranjan Kapur, onto whose toes I had stepped earlier while retreating from a dancing couple. And he didn't even lose his smile.
But my favourite piece of work was for Passport Scotch from Seagram. They say the client, Mr. Muir adored it and called it a `great brand building exercise'. And then he paid the ultimate compliment a copywriter could hope for from a client. He asked who wrote it.
"Our very own fiction writer," said they. And I, with my big mouth and characteristic `Jump the Gun' attitude that Sridhar used to chide me for said: "Ooooh! This will be my Passport to Fame!" Little did I know then that it was a client panel we were dealing with and the others had other thoughts: Was it too wacky?
Seagram's Passport Scotch, a Scotch `with a style all its own'. The brand name was an absolute goldmine you'd be a fool not to plumb. A Travelogue, that was it! Walter Wanderlust's adventures in mysterious lands. A character, Creative Controller, Ganguly helped me build, who embodied the character of Passport Scotch And since it was Scotch, I thought what better way than to begin it all in Scotland's famous Loch Ness? The bottle of Scotch would be interwoven into the story so closely, there'd be no story without it.
How Passport Scotch led me to the Monster that Smiled
I have always believed in never letting anything come between me and my fascinations. I have gone where no one else goes. Seen what no one else sees.
My travels begin in the home of Passport Scotch ‑ mysterious, misty, rich with legend Scotland where the faery still dwell in hollow hills. Harry, an old friend and my pet rock (without which talisman I do not travel) and I headed for Inverness where the Loch Ness flows.
With us, of course, was a bottle of Passport Scotch.
I can never get over how opening a bottle of Passport gives wings to my spirit of adventure! And what a cap! A Guala one‑way valve to be exact! So you may only pour in, never out.
Harry and I were going to try and find the Loch Ness Monster, Nessie, as she's affectionately called by the Scots.
GK Chesterton once pointedly remarked, "Many a man has been hanged on less evidence than there is on the Loch Ness Monster".
No less than Sir Walter Scot helped spread the word about Nessie.
They even sing a lay about her.
She is, you see, the world's most tantalizing cryptozooligical puzzle. And puzzles fascinate me.
Researchers and scientists have spent fortunes in their quest for Nessie.
The Bertram Mills Circus offered twenty thousand pounds for the live capture of Nessie.
The New York Zoo ‑ five hundred dollars.
BBC Television followed a `mysterious object' to a depth of 60 feet before losing it in the deep waters of this great freshwater loch that is twice as deep as the North Sea and murky with delicious peat.
It is indeed easy to get lost in peat. Particularly our peat that flavours from behind the scenes, the malts in Passport Scotch. Excuse me while I sip. Ah, the smooth, mellow, melting taste of confidence!
It was a mild summer evening. The green hills that surrounded us were deserted. The water was very blue. Just the way we like it. Harry was sitting on the rim of the boat, fishing line in hand and a glass of Passport Scotch in the other. Suddenly the blue of the water turned to frothy white. Great waves spread in huge circles throwing us off balance. Especially Harry who cried,
"What the ‑!" as he went over. Nessie looked like she wanted to help but she wasn't stupid. She was more than thirty feet long and heavy as a ship.
Harry added to the froth for fifteen minutes before I pulled him out ‑ so transfixed was I by Nessie. His spluttering changed to strange mumblings when he saw Nessie's gleaming grey humps rise from the froth. But the bottle of Passport stayed where it was in the belly of the boat along with my pet rock ‑ which is...kind of immortal. Nessie's long black tail lashed furiously, her flippers flapped and her long, slender neck rose to peer at us.
When the waves had ceased to rock our boat and Harry had settled himself next to my pet rock, I poured us a drink and raising my glass I cried, "A toast! Nessie may you outlast the pyramids of Egypt!" Cool spirit sailed like warm lava down my throat.
I could taste the Highland malt. Indeed, Passport boasts a higher proportion of famous Scotch single malts than any other blend.
And then Nessie gave me a special sign. She smiled at me, then dived smoothly without a ripple and began to cavort like a playful bottlenose whale, throwing up hills of spray. Then she was gone, down I thought, into the deep valleys and tall cliffs of the lake's bed where no sonar could reach her.
"But," said Harry back at the hotel, "the plesiosaurus has been extinct for 90 million years!"
"So was the Coelacanth," I said, "yet they've found a hundred in the Indian Ocean."
"Touche!" said he.
"It's the Passport that has brought us to this," I said,"you can't get anywhere without one."
The cool green bottle of Passport Scotch really says a lot about me...it's unconventional, it's distinctive. And the impressive coats of arms ‑ six of them‑ remind me of my noble ancestry.
The offer page read:
Your Passport to just about Anywhere
Passport Scotch invites you to embark on your own Fantastic Journey to Loch Ness in Scotland, where you'll get your chance to spot Nessie.
Big Boss (Sridhar had moved on to Bombay to handle `Integration' in O & M and visited us once in a while) said it was fun and read like something out of Douglas Adams. But why fantasy? Why not write about real life? The kind of experience our young art director had on his honeymoon in Rajasthan. He mounted a camel only to discover that he was in the middle of a thundering camel race and the camel was making all kinds of funny noises. It had really made Big Boss laugh.
"But Scotland, that's where it all began for Scotch," said I, aching inside. I get so infatuated by a new idea, my hands turn icy and my heart pumps harder.
"Yes, but fantasy? And why not in Egypt or Canada or..."
"Egypt, certainly!" I said, "maybe he gets abducted by a belly dancer. It could happen, you know...but why not fantasy?"
"Because Smirnoff does it." "Smirnoff says Anything can Happen with Smirnoff. But here you can't get anywhere without your Passport. It is so woven into the brand."
"Try real life wacky adventure," said he. "Egypt?"
Our Creative Director, Ajanta Barker, transformed the belly dancer into a Bedioun bandit. Safer ground. And she invented the bit about the bandit mistaking the bottle of Passport Scotch for a weapon.
Travels with Khoshkhesh
March 5, 1995
Egypt fascinates me. And I never let anything come between me and my fascinations.
So naturally, conducted tours are not for me. I'd rather ride a camel in solitary bliss (accompanied by my talisman, a bottle of Passport Scotch which like my credit card I never leave home without). I named my camel Khoshkhesh. I never found out what it meant. It just sounded right.
Khoshkhesh was the proverbial ill‑tempered camel, descended from the noble lineage of Al Habin of the Many Teeth. Perpetually pouting, showing his large lethal yellow teeth and sporting that contemptuous air that has bred an inferiority complex in many a lesser mortal. He was in great shape. It is said a camel is known by the humps it has. Khoshkhesh had many.
Every once in a while, Khoshkhesh made a terrible racket and turned to look over his many humps at the bottle of Passport Scotch slung across my chest with longing in his amber eyes.
The colour of Khoshkhesh's eyes remind me of Passport Scotch with its mellow fires.
So I gave him a little sip which put a lilt in his gait and decidedly mellowed his vile temper.
We were on our way to The Temple of Queen Hatsheput, who as `Son of the Sun' wore a beard, when Khoshkhesh got distracted. What I saw was a Bedouin Bandit masked in a blue turban and carrying an ancient rifle. What Khoshkhesh saw was a tall, lithe and gorgeous she‑camel. With a great bellow,Khoshkhesh gave chase. And what a chase it was! Sand flying, Khoshkhesh snorting, the bandit howling!
The Bedouin kept craning his weather‑beaten brown neck to stare with terror‑struck eyes at my bottle of Passport Scotch. No matter what I did to stop Khoshkhesh, he refused to stop.
I can never get over how opening a bottle of Passport spurs my spirit of adventure. And what a cap! A Guala one‑way valve to be precise. You can only pour out, never pour in!
Willy‑nilly we followed the bandit into the ruins of Thebes. He finally dismounted and disappeared behind a crumbling wall, leaving his camel to the whims of Khoshkhesh who proceeded to behave as all great lovers do.
Resigning myself to my fate, I gave Khoshkhesh free rein and opening my bottle of Passport Scotch, took a sip.
With each sip I revelled in my choice of a whisky that boasts a higher proportion of famous Scotch single malts than many other blends.
The bandit who was peeping at me from behind a crumbling wall, burst into laughter. He rolled all over the sand, pointing at my bottle. Then he threw his rifle at my feet, indicating that I do the same with my precious Passport. What a dilemma! What if the bandit had another primitive weapon hidden away in his voluminous robes? What if he really thought the bottle was a rifle? What if it were just a ploy to separate me from my Passport, which he knew was something he could drink?
However, discretion being the better part of valour, I decided to let the bandit have it (after all, if one must civilize the natives, what smoother way to do it than with Passport Scotch?)
But the wily Khoshkhesh would have none of it. In a trice, love forsaken, he galloped for the bottle, picked it up with his large lethal yellow teeth and was off. And so was I.
Later, as we rested beside the seventy‑foot high Sphinx, and I raised a toast to the `Great Uh', as the Egyptians call the Sphinx, Khoshkhesh gave me a look that said: "Surely I deserve some too!" I gave him a sip.
The mysterious greenbottle of Passport Scotch really says a lot about me. And the impressive coats of arms remind me of my own noble ancestry.
As I opened my `Offbeat Traveller's Guide' to choose my next adventure in the Egyptian sands, I thought I heard Khoshkhesh whisper:
"Have Passport, will travel!"
This was the version Mr. Muir got to see.
Then someone else on the client panel said it was a little too wacky, wasn't it? To try and `tone it down a little'. I hated that. You couldn't tone it down. You could only write another version.
Ganguly tried his best to inspire me, saying I ought to watch Sean Connery in `Highlander'. But you couldn't get hold of the film. Was I ever going to be able to write anything superior to Travels with Khoshkhesh?
And then it struck me. A message in a bottle of Passport Scotch picked up by our not so wacky character in the company of a Greek tycoon. And the Scotch? Would there be some in the bottle, along with the note which would say something dramatic about Passport Scotch. It'd have to be wrapped in plastic though. And then what would Walter Wanderlust's first taste of Passport be like? Ugh. Gangs suggested I stop getting so literal and still use the Message in a Bottle concept. The Greek tycoon, he said created just the right ambience. So I gave it a shot. But I'd go with Khoshkhesh any time.
Khoshkhesh seemed to inspire my copywriter friends, Vasu and Gopi, for one morning, not so long after Big Boss had read aloud Travels with Khoshkhesh at a creative review and Sridhar had laughed till the tears fell from his eyes, I found a little package on my table.
Are you a DOG lover? And I said sure I am. Wow, what's this?
I opened it and read: YES? Then you'll love POMPOO
Pompoo? I thought, what a strange name for something a dog could eat. Or were they taking off on the word Shampoo?
I read the letter with great curiousity.
POMPOO ‑ GAIN HEALTH< VITALITY<VIGOUR AND STAMINA!
With just one spoonful of POMPOO a day.
Wait a minute, I mused,"was I going to eat Pompoo or was my dog?"
I read further.
POMPOO is an exotic preparation of Pmeranian secretions based on ancient Egyptian medical formulae. POMPOO will bring the glow back to your cheeks and feline grace to your rheumatic limbs.
POMPOO is no modern day fad. It has worked miracles since time immemorial for Geniuses through the ages just when they were giving up hope of attaining fame.
*Archimedes took one spoon of POMPOO (by this time I knew someone was having me on) while bathing and sprang out shouting `Eureka!'
*Ceasar placed his trust in POMPOO before coming, seeing and conquering.
*A struggling Shakespeare took it to end his life and lo! Hamlet was staged the next day.
*If Newton hadn't taken a spoon of POMPOO by accident, he would never have gone under the apple tree to answer nature's summons.
*Vikram Seth mistook the POMPOO bottle for his favourite Chivas Regal. The next day he signed a million dollar contract for his `A Suitable Boy'.
*Shobha De thought POMPOO was an oral contraceptive. She bore six children, but she also got published.
LET POMPOO work its wonders for you too.fter all, behind every successful person is a spoonful of POMPOO.
Special discounts on bulk orders (1 kg. or more.)
FREE with every order‑
`I love POMPOO!' fluorescent sticker.
Surgeon General's warnings:
Should be consumed only on the prescription of registered Witch Doctor. Consuming POMPOO on the advice of an armchair witch is dangerous and can lead to unpleasant side effects:
1. A marked tendency in males to raise a leg from time to time.
2. A strong inclination to do things back to front.
3. Bouts of yowling on full moon nights
4. Vettophobia ‑a mortal fear of veterninary surgeons
5. Postmanklitis ‑an obsession for postmen's ankles.
SO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
Walk in to your nearest POMPOO outlet today. Isn't it time you went to the dogs?
Enclosed was a `Sample Satchet' of Pompoo, `not for sale'. I half expected it to be full of poo. But it was only coconut chutney. Dammit, I was no `armchair witch'. I'd given the stomach gripes to an art director who'd insisted on writing the headline and created a brilliant visual for it and neglected mine. And I was no armchair writer either. But I laughed it off. I even told Vasu it was a great job. The Creative Director laughed till she cried and asked them why they didn't create such wonderful stuff on the job.
"We don't have such wonderful products," I said.
Today you might hear a conversation that goes like this in Ogilvy & MAther Direct:
Gopi: My semi colons are getting brilliant these days.
Gangs: Semi colons, eh? My very pen is brilliant. You can't do a semi colon without it.
Gopi: You might have a brilliant pen, but Anita, she is herself brilliant. She don't need a pen or a semi colon!
I wouldn't know whether to feel flattered or insulted. Any which way, I wouldn't be anywhere else.