An advertising veteran’s showreel of commercials, life and learnings

12 May, 2020: In an energising evening, John Thangaraj navigated the students at Krea through multiple interesting experiences from his expansive stint in the world of advertising.

From a childhood spent admiring stalwarts on the pages of Brand Equity each Wednesday, John Thangaraj, National Planning Director- FCB Ulka terms his entry into advertising, an accident.

An accidental choice that has culminated in numerous classic and heart-warming campaigns that go right into the pages of history in the world of advertising. In a stirring session, John took us through his early days in advertising and traced the changes that have marked the field over years.

“Advertising has moved away from being witty or clever. Today it is about authenticity”, with these words John described how audience is no longer looking at getting impressed and instead seeks empathy. Of how advertisers now shoulder a huge responsibility of being careful and less-indulgent while focussing on consumer problems and ROI in business.

Sketching culture as the backdrop against which advertising lives, John emphasised on how the era of brand building has deconstructed itself to one of brand dissolution. Using the metaphor of a rock, he explained, traditionally an advert would showcase the rock becoming a bigger, thicker and heavier version of itself. Fast forward now, the adverts attempt to put the rock through a grinder, make it into a fine powder and sprinkle it all over the consumer culture.

In the mix of the interaction when enquired about his recent newspaper column on the lockdown, John pointed out an idealistic view on the situation. “The lockdown has shown us there can be a better world. We need to exercise common sense and not follow the norms of a pre-COVID world.”

He shed light on how COVID-19 has pushed advertising to work harder as ROI becomes more critical during these troubled times. Yet, at the same time also driving advertising into fresh arenas where emotions of love, empathy and sensitivity surpass the unidimensional focus on driving sales.

Addressing the students and their interest in the field, he pointed out the need for skills in communication, self-confidence, clarity of thought and hunger for diverse interests as core to the profession. He broke down the misconception, the more esoteric one sounds, the more intelligent you come across and laid out the ground rule of simplicity and clarity within communication being the key. He encouraged students to be keen observers of human behaviour.

“The beautiful thing about advertising is, the more diverse POVs you put into the mix the better the output.” He illuminated that a distinct advertisement always arrives from an amalgamation of various points of view.

He also observed, the past decade witnessing a shift from sell based advertising to societal based advertising and introducing the global narrative of advertising as a tool for social change

The climax of the evening lay in the incredible case studies John showcased, punctuated by campaigns that weren’t just immensely successful but also celebrated the heartening emotions of courage, honesty and empathy scattered across the rich cultural setting of India.

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