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Moving with the Consumer
Surina Sayal

orty-year-old Bobby Pawar has spent almost half his life in advertising and nearly a third of his career in the US. The man who worked with ad geniuses, Neil French, Rick Boyko, and Steve Hayden, came back to India after a seven-year stint to join Mudra as national creative director last year. Now, exactly a year later, he has been elevated to the position of chief creative officer.

Pawar is easy to chat with, has a keen sense of humour and readily shares his life’s experiences. Not many know that Pawar was a computer engineering dropout. He got into advertising when a friend told him, it paid well and was interesting. His first job - after his graduation was with a small agency called Jaison’s.

But his real advertising journey, he believes, began in 1992 at Tara Sinha Associates, which later became Tara Sinha-McCann Erickson. His interest in ads grew and his early mentor was Govind Sajnani, a freelance copywriter there.

After spending about a year and a half here, he moved to Rediffusion. “I interacted with some bright minds. Arun Nanda and Shantakumar were there. There was a great bunch of young guys thrown together - Rensil (D Silva), Harshad Sharma, Anup Chitnis and Rahul Bose (the actor) who was the senior-most there. It was fun and we tried all sorts of things.”

From here he moved to O&M, when Sonal Dabral hired him as a copy supervisor. With Piyush Pandey and Ranjan Kapur taking charge, O&M was aiming to become the hottest agency in the country. “That’s an amazing fight to be part of,” he says.

It was here that Pawar got to work and interact with Neil French, the regional creative director. Pawar is all praise for French’s style of working. “It’s like you’ve unlocked the secrets of the universe,” he says. While French was ruthless and would rip the work apart, the lessons he taught were great.

Four years and a ton of awards later, Pawar wanted to “find another wall to bang your head against, because you’re never as hot as you think you are.” That’s when Anil (Batwal), his partner and Pawar decided that they wanted a bigger playground and play with guys who’ve done bigger things.

French convinced them to join O&M New York. They had to move there and learn a different culture - what kind of buttons to push, what kind of humour works - and discipline.

“Over there, the director shoots the film and walks away, the agency has to edit it, do the colour, the transfer, the music everything. So you better know everything - that’s why the discipline comes in. If you come back with a film that is not working, chances are your job is gone, because about half a million dollars is at stake. You have to get busy and go in to the nitty-gritty of things,” he says.

The New York experience taught him many things, both professionally and otherwise. “Just after moving there I thought the only way I could learn the culture was by wandering around in the city and by watching all the bad TV I could,” he says. He learnt to appreciate low-brow entertainment. “Popular culture was made there,” he remembers.

Four years after O&M, he moved to BBDO Chicago which also needed to be turned around. In 2006, it was rebranded as Energy BBDO. “We started experimenting on ideas that were not centred or attached to any media at all.”

Pawar feels that while creativity always has been defined by originality, it also needs to be 'authentic’. He gives Nike’s example. The role that it plays in people’s life is to 'inspire’ them to be a little more athletic in their everyday lives. The product delivers something else. If you have a brand story to tell, you can always find a way to put the product in it, but the story of the brand is paramount.”

Madhukar Kamath, managing director and CEO, Mudra Group has this to say about Pawar: “Bobby thinks beyond the 30-second commercial. He thinks creative business solutions in a media neutral way.”

Pawar will be the creative head right across the board, for Mudra Advertising, Mudra Marketing Services, and the recently launched Mudra MAX (Media and Content). His creative duties will cover Tribal DDB India, Rapp Collins India, Primesite, Kidstuff Promotional Marketing, Multiplier and Mudra Health and Lifestyle as well.


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