The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, May 18, 2003
Lead Article

His hot ideas fired the thanda ads
V. Gangadhar

 Prasoon Joshi
Prasoon Joshi

THANDA matlab Coca Cola!' The single line which shook up beverage advertising and brought the 2002 ABBY Awards for the Best Copywriter and the Best Ad Campaign for the year is the brainchild of Prasoon Joshi, National Creative Director, McCann Erickson Ad agency, Mumbai.

At the recent ABBY Awards night, where Erickson stood second to O&M in the number of awards bagged, Prasoon observed, "I already got my award from the masses but getting it from the jury feels good." Featuring Bollywood star, Aamir Khan, the 'Coke' ads continued to be one of the most popular in the ad world and among the people.

It carries simple messages. Aamir features in several situations to convey the message, speaking the language of the masses. Continuing the beloved tapori (vagabond) image from the film Rangeela, he chides the waiter (Johnny Lever) who offers him some other drink, thus: 'Aadmi hein ya anda?', 'Eh, beena terrace ki building!'. This is the anything-goes, irreverent tapori speech. In another ad, Aamir Khan, a soft drink vendor, his lungi tucked up, laments in Hyderabadi Hindi the departure of a pretty girl who leaves after drinking a bottle of thanda and calling him bhaiyya:


Woh thanda peeko nikal gayeen,

Mere koon pyassa chod kein.

Prasoon's use of subtleties of language is just amazing. "This man creates out of nothing," exclaims S.K. Nayar, my Punjabi-businessman neighbour, referring to a Punjab-based ad. "Aamir's use of a rural Punjabi song,

Pani peen dey bahaane aai,

Te yaran da tashan dekh lau

is subtle, from the heart of rural Punjab and not many urban Punjabis would know that the word 'tashan' means superstition".

Real situations. The language is the one spoken by the common people. Prasoon, who conceives every aspect of the ads and writes the copy explains, "We are a talking people, I understand our oral tradition and it pays to make use of the regional dialects." For the paanch rupaiya ad, featuring Aamir as a safari-clad customer, he sat down with his Bihari friends and learnt some mild gaalis (abuses).

Much of the success of the ads is due to team work. The members are Prasoon, Aamir, director Ashutosh Gowarikar (of Lagaan fame) and Coke's Sripat Nadkarni. "Aamir is amazing. He works as hard in the ads as he does in his films, does his home work and is deeply involved with every aspect of the shoot," says Prasoon.

But there is more to Prasoon Joshi than the 'Coke' campaign. He defies the conventional western-oriented, public-school, prestigious IIM-product image of an ad man. A native of Uttaranchal and son of an Education Department bureaucrat, Prasoon studied mostly in ordinary schools in Ghaziabad. From his parents, he inherited a deep love for poetry and classical music and published his first collection of poems at the age of 17. Two more followed and he developed a liking for Khalil Gibran and Nietzche.

The passion for music has continued. Prasoon has made four albums, three of them chartbusters, wrote the title song for the film Lajja and lyrics for the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Aankhen besides writing songs for the noted classical singer, Shubha Mudgal. These were based on current issues and like the one on the girl child. He also writes jingles and sings them.

Prasoon's views on advertising, a field into which he just 'strayed', are refreshing. "I did not know much about advertising, but the idea of making a living out of writing copy excited me. I always had a knack for words and language." He spent nearly ten years at the O&M agency, where he was the favourite of stalwarts like Piyush Pandey and Suresh Mullick who created the Mile sur mera tumhara ad on national integration.

Does he find advertising creative? Explains Prasoon, "It depends on the individual. In the past, poets wrote songs eulogising the monarch. We follow the same tradition, eulogising our clients' products. Within our own discipline, we can be creative as the poets of yore. That is how I view advertising."

He finds satisfaction in public service advertising and is associated with creating ads on sensitive themes like child molestation and incest. These are print ads, representing the voices of children who cannot speak out. "Don't underestimate print ads," he tells me. "A good print ad is more personal, it makes people think more than a TV commercial. And in this nation of the spoken word, radio ads are still relevant." Prasoon has nothing against spoof advertising provided it is just fun and does not hit the competitor below the belt. "The Cola ad wars are just media hype," he laughs. "I had no problems with our rivals. We have not lost out on cricket ads`85"

Prasoon does not believe in the concept of western and Indian ads. The key to his success is to focus on the strengths of the product and highlight them. "Expensive locales are not important," he points out. "What matters is the idea. The success of an ad depends 50 per cent on the idea and 50 per cent on the craft."