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Ad land’s Young Guns: Sunetro Lahiri, The Glitch

Featured in this edition of Ad land’s Young Guns is Sunetro Lahiri, Creative Director - Mumbai, The Glitch. Lahiri started his career with The Glitch and has been with the agency since January 2012, having joined as a Producer. He was promoted to Manager, Brand Strategy a year later and then Senior Manager, Brand Strategy.

Lahiri was made Associate Group Head in July 2014 and then Senior Group Head, Brand Strategy and subsequently Creative Director for Mumbai.

What does it takes to climb up the ladder in advertising? Here’s Sunetro Lahiri in his own words...

How did you get into the role you are serving?
I’ve never believed in defining my goals tangibly. My goals have always been metaphysical in that I’ve only always yearned to be a storyteller.

And the journey I’ve traversed academically and professionally has seen me undertake multifarious iterations of the same. So, from telling stories of people and cultures as a sociology student, to crafting narratives for sartorial, cinematic and culinary art forms as a journalist to finding expression as a film-maker, stories and their varying formats have always excited me.

Advertising just happened to be a beautiful culmination of all these narrative tendencies for me, wherein all my storyteller hats finally got a runway to show off at a creative madhouse like The Glitch.

What particular skill sets do you think you bring to the table?
Being a storyteller… and everything that it entails. I’m all about the various aspects of storytelling: the art of visualising, the commerce of words, the science of audience insight & perception, and most importantly, the confidence of delivery, that’s my game.

One campaign that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of? Please take us through the making of the campaign.
While it’s difficult to pick up from my many progenies, I’ve been really proud of my work in the beauty segment. One such example would be the Lakme Makeup Pro app, India’s first real-time makeup simulation app, wherein right from the UI/UX, to the design to the christening, the journey was truly satisfying and rewarding.

This was a perfect example of innovation meeting insight to fructify a truly novel idea that has changed makeup trial behaviour in India completely.

While working on the creatives how do you prepare yourself? What goes on in your mind?
It’s a pretty clear series of steps for me actually!

Step no 1: Read, watch, listen, study, research. Get inspired or go home.

Step no 2: Remind myself that we’re communicators first and artists next.

Step no 3: Divorce the ‘I’ from the idea and commence at the point of a consumer’s needs, wants & insights.

Step no 4: Let the brand into be the glory picker. If the brand wins, everyone wins. This, by the way, does not translate to ‘agree to a client no matter what’.

Step no 5: Make sure the first idea is moved away from consideration. If I’ve thought it, someone else surely has!

Step no 6: Love the creative enough to defend it, but with logic.

Step no 7: Be objective enough to see its flaws.

Step no 8: If a feeling of freshness and novelty isn’t achieved, the idea isn’t quite there yet.

Step no 9: Test the idea out. Instead of postulating and theorising why & how the idea can work, I always find a way to test relevant unbiased people, who haven’t been part of the idea creation, give their opinions on the same.

Step no 10: Go with the gut instinct… EVEN IF it means inconvenience and starting from scratch.

Icons in advertising you look up to and how they have influenced you and your work?
Oliviero Toscani is my foremost inspiration in the messages he sent out in the early 90’s as part of the Benetton campaigns. Decrying racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia through mere artistry of imagery is what I call a coup de foudre of messaging. The greatest advertising work is that which ruffles feathers and latches onto the pulse of the masses to craft a story for the ages, a bildungsroman of consciousness.

Jason Sperling has been another of my inspirations in the ad world. Humour and wit are prime drivers for me to judge engagement. Be it his work on the Honda portfolio or the Mac vs PC masterstroke, narratives don’t get as quirky as Sperling’s ditties. To keep the quicksilver wit intact in a field where literally everything changes in weeks is something I strive to master everyday.

Finally, while not an advertiser, rather an ANTI-advertiser, Banksy is his best own marketeer. What a story! What a mythology! And all of that to be backed up by the work… creative geniuses don’t get better than this!

What are the five most productive things that you do in your everyday routine?
•    Cycle & gallivant around… it’s the perfect palate cleanser for me.
•    Read like a butterfly, write like a bee, Watch like a butterfly, visualize like a bee.
•    For every 3 items on your to-do list, add “... something new” to at least 1 of them. Cook something new, listen to something new, try and find tiny ways to break your routine.
•    Find time for people… no matter how busy you are, no matter how much of a creative one man army you are.
•    Find time for yourself… no matter how happy you are, no matter how satisfied you are. It’s important to listen to yourself in silence.

Do you think a career in advertising is a viable one in the long term?
As long as there’s supply of a product and demand for the same, and a market which allows competition, marketing shall thrive. As long as people think beyond needs and into wants, advertising will flourish.

It may change form and format, but marketing will never die.

What does it take to succeed in a career like advertising?
The flair to tell a story.
The commitment to see a story through to its end.
The maturity to see the difference between art and advertising.
The ability to reboot and adapt constantly in an industry that’s erratic and constantly evolving!
The skill to know more, learn more and amass more every day.

What would be your advice to youngsters planning to enter this industry?
You can learn softwares. You can learn skills. You can bolster your language. You can buffer your confidence. But if you don’t have accountability, ownership and commitment, this isn’t the field for you. If you want your 9-5 comforts, this isn’t the field for you.

Also, you REALLY don’t need an advertising degree to be an advertiser! Very often we feel beholden to the academic specialisations we chose to give everything to, including hefty wads of money. Advertising is one of the most open-armed professions in the world. All you need is the ability to craft an idea and express it well.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Holding a legacy to be proud of. Leading an army of marketing wizards to be proud of. Raring to scale the next mountain with the same fervour as the 19-year old on his first day of work. And infinitely more at peace with myself. And some kaching wouldn’t hurt too!

Is there any agency/ organisation that you would like to work with in the future?
My strategy has never been to work with ‘organisations’ per se… it’s been to work with people who push my boundaries and limits. People teach you more than organisations do. I’ve been very fortunate to have had amazing mentors and colleagues. From Sam & Aditi from my Kolkata days, to Varun, Pooja & Rohit here at The Glitch, to having truly adept compatriots and colleagues who inspire me everyday, that’s been and will be my only seek.
 

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