IAA IndiAA awards: Suresh Narayanan quotes Kabir’s dohas to issue clarion call for slow advertising

At IAA India’s IndIAA Awards, Jury Chair Suresh Narayanan, Chairman and MD, Nestle India, was at his eloquent best, quoting dohas of Kabir to draw parallels with the world of advertising

Team BrandSutraUpdated: Thursday, September 01, 2022, 11:12 AM IST
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Suresh Narayanan, Chairman and Managing Director, Nestle India Ltd | File

When Suresh Narayanan, Chairman and Managing Director, Nestle India Ltd, the jury chair for the seventh edition of the International Advertising Association (India chapter)’s IndiAA awards, addressed the audience at the award function in Mumbai last week, industry honchos present in the room were in for a surprise.

Narayanan declared that he would speak both in Hindi and English and proceeded to deliver a brilliant speech interspersed with dohas (verses) composed by 15th-century Indian mystic poet and saint, Kabir, to draw parallels with the world of advertising.

Here we present edited excerpts from his speech:

“I will speak today in Hindi and English both. Thet Madrasi hoon, lekin zyada Hindi hi meri emotion ki bhasha hai, less English. So, I will speak in both languages as we go along. Aap kahenge ki bande ki aukaat kya hai ki aake bhashan de raha hai. Na yeh great advertiser hai, na yeh great creative director hai… Piyush Pandey nahin hai, Sonal Dabral nahin hai. Josy Paul nahin hai, or any of the other big guys in the room... koi aisa bahut bari brand isne sambhali nahin hai jo kehte ki yaar icon hai yeh industry ka… But I am a consumer of advertising and I am blessed to head a fine company and a fine team.

"I have also been the beneficiary of a lot of marketing inputs, advertising inputs, consumer inputs... and I’ve also been a salesman for the better part of my life. Therefore, I’ve been inflicted the pain of great advertising or lousy advertising. Jab maal bikti hai, toh marketing manager successful hota hai, aur jab nahi bikti hai, toh sales manager jo hai gadha hai. So I’ve been on both sides… aur main dil ki baat kar raha hoon…

Yeh pitch jo hoti hai, agency-waale humein topi pehnate hai…doosri baat jo hai, dil ki baat hoti hai, jo creative director actually kehna chahta hai …lekin usko kaha gaya hai ki problem is there with the geriatric CEO, who is conventional, and therefore to tone it down…zyada bologe to jahaj nikal jaayega!

“We are not only celebrating 75 years of free India today, but also the International Advertising Association India chapter’s IndiAA awards, instituted in 2015. For four years in a row, I have inflicted myself on the awards [as jury chair] … sorry guys, but this is the bargain that you got! The whole purpose of IndiaAA awards this year – and I want to thank Mathrubhoomi here – is that both sponsor and the property itself represent India @75.

"The awards are fundamentally meant to recognise excellence in advertising reaching out to the consumer, as measured in terms of creativity, strategy, execution and of course, the results that we were able to glean. This is the seventh edition of the IndiAA awards; and we had 200 entries across 18 categories. My role as jury chair was like Pitamaha Bhishma… I had wonderful jury members and I want to thank here personally Charulata Ravikumar, Managing Director, Accenture; Karan Shroff, Partner & Chief Marketing Officer, Unacademy; Vineeta Singh, CEO & Co-Founder, SUGAR Cosmetics – if there is one youngster I am inspired by, it is her - and Vivek Khanna, COO, Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India Limited.

“Judging 200 entries across categories ranging from Auto to Tech to Voice of Change has been a very competitive exercise, where we have really deliberated on the advertising to pick out what is different. Those are the campaigns being awarded today – the best pieces of work that we have seen. I am truly grateful that these pieces of work have come to us as a jury to adjudicate upon. Thank you for what you have achieved and where we are.

"As we celebrate 75 years of glorious freedom, as a country we have achieved a lot – socially, economically, geo-politically and in every other sphere, there is progress. We keep decrying things that have not happened, but a lot of things have happened. There are a few things that I want to leave you with – a request from a user of advertising, a proud Indian citizen… The best way to express my dil ki baat is through the dohas of Kabir, 700 years old, whose words of wisdom hold true as we celebrate India’s 75 years… It is in the spirit of ‘Bura jo dekhan main chala, bura na miliya koy/ Jo dil khoja aapna, mujhse bura na koy’

"Let’s take a look at where we are in the advertising and marketing fraternity and see for ourselves what are the things that we should have done and what are the things that we are doing and what are the things that we can learn. It’s not for me to expostulate on all of this, but to take that spirit of positive criticism and outlook, in the way we frame our minds and thoughts and the output on what the consumer sees. The consumer is transformed and changed in every sector. Consumers are not the way they were when I started my career 40 years ago. Today, there are options in everything and different ways in which the consumer is reached. I think it is important that we go in the spirit of ‘Bura jo dekhan mai chala…’

“We are also living in the age of very shrill communication. I somehow feel that woh tehzeeb chali gai hai, who respect chali gai hai… lekin kyon chali gai hai? That is not how we are… Kabir said this beautifully- ‘Aisi vani boliye, man ka aapa khoy/Auran ko sheetal kare, aaphu sheetal hoy’ Speak the kind of words that give not only your heart, mind and thoughts peace, but also give peace to others. Why have we become so shrill? Why have we become so divisive and forceful… be it organisations or teams, the boss gets to or wants to decide everything.

"This is probably important in articulating the communication that we have. There is a role that’s being played by marketers, by people like me - who approve these pitches. But there’s also a responsibility of doing good to society. Are you talking about the things you need to talk about? There are numerous examples when brands have talked about issues they’ve no business talking about. It’s time to introspect and ask ourselves if this is the pace at which we look at the best of advertising.

At the award ceremony, we saw a beautiful piece of work created by the late Suresh Mullick 30 years ago that is still memorable. It also goes back to ‘Aisi vani boliye…’ Responsibility is more on us especially at a time when bandwidth and attention spans are very low. Today, we are producing advertising and digital content that comes in a flash and goes in a flash. Sometimes I question my own team as to what we can convey in 10 seconds. When the digestion capability for content is low, we need to redefine ourselves in the industry.

"We need to go back to some long-format stories. That is how organisations are built. That’s how big brands are built. It’s important that you as creative people and brands and agencies push back and say, ‘You can’t keep doing this flash stuff and expect consumers to get it.’ Kabir said this beautifully: ‘Dheere dheere se mana, dheere sab kuch hoy/Mali seenche sau ghara, ritu aaye phal hoy’. However much you force-feed or accelerate, however deep you get into consumer insights, results will come only at the appropriate time. There is a time and there is a place for everything. People talk about fast food and slow food. I strongly urge everyone here to think about themes and stories around slow advertising.

"Our great creative directors who are here will recall that their best campaigns are reproduced only if there has been a story to tell and not when it’s been put on a digital platform for five or 10 seconds with click-baits.

"If advertising hasn’t built brands, if it hasn’t built market-share, what are we talking about? My appeal to you all as a humble citizen of this country, as a user of advertising – because I only handle phenomenal brands but I have not created all of them - is to look at some of the things I talked about, to introspect. As we celebrate 75 years of Independence of our country, it is a very, very proud moment. Let’s not fear what is to happen, but look at the future in the light of how rich our past has been. Look at the future with optimism and hope.”

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