Local Advertising and the (bad) Indian Influence

I remember attending a presentation by the regional creative director of McCann Erickson India (whose name I shall keep to myself), a couple of years ago in Colombo. The event was organised by the advertising fraternity riding on the brand mantra hype, trying to bring-in international knowledge and wisdom to the local ad-scene.

I wasn’t impressed by the presentation or the work – and not so surprisingly, nor was my colleague who was relatively new to the world of advertising. We Lankans, seem to think that the Indian creatives are the best, and seem to be hiring them, offering a lot more than the talented locals could ever bargain for. I know for a fact, some of the Indian imports are indeed international rejects – once I was surprised to find out an Art Director who was kicked out of an agency in Dubai was working as a Creative Director at one of the leading international agencies in Colombo. I was the Head of Creative (Activation) in Ogilvy & Mather Dubai at that time, and was aware of this particular person’s work.

Most of the Indian creative rejects (and I mean ‘rejects’ – with respect to my colleagues who I know are brilliant) are great repairmen, they steal ads and ideas from all over the world including the archives and the annuals. They fix them nicely to fit, and sell to the local agencies and the clients alike – camouflaged as their original work. No one, I mean no one human, is capable of remembering or keeping a tab on all the great work produced all over the world every year – so there’s no way we could find out before its too late. Unfortunately.

Sri Lankan advertising fraternity must stop emulating the Indians. Following the Indians is not the only way to get to the New York Festivals or Cannes. We must take a good look at ourselves, our rich culture and heritage, our great literature and communal values, habits and norms, get the insights and we could easily find a million ways to communicate effectively and creatively. Entrust our talent with the challenge, believe in them – I know we DO have quite a few good local creative young-guns who are quite capable of delivering outstanding work.

Yes, we do not have formal training in advertising, nor do we have ad-schools. Yet. But there are quite a few Sri Lankan creatives who carved their names in the international arena, perhaps we should import them for lectures and seminars, not the second-rate creatives from other countries.

But then again, that’s just me dreaming. My wishful thinking – I know it wouldn’t ever happen: I forgot that our ‘ego’ is bigger than the Jaguars we drive. Ooops. Besides, why a Sri Lankan, when the foreign names look glamorous in the agenda, anyway..?

Enough said. Here’s an example to illustrate how our ad industry gets influenced by the second-hand Indian garbage. Perhaps its my imagination, perhaps its sheer coincidence, or perhaps its just the truth. I shall let you do the math.

2008: Ole Plus launches a ‘light’ version. A billboard campaign appears all around town. One of the executions shows the label slipped at the feet of the bottle.

2005: McCann Erickson Mumbai wins a gold medal at the New York Festivals for Diet Coke press advertisement. There’s a bottle of beautifully-photographed Diet Coke, and the label is falling loose.

Creative team is led by the gentleman I mentioned above and there are two art directors and two copywriters for an ad that doesn’t even have a solitary word of copy. Perhaps it needed four people to perform the tedious task of flipping through numerous annuals.

I dare to say that because:

2003: Orangina – the famous French citrus juice – launches a ‘light’ version. The ad shows the bottle – you guessed it – with the label fallen at the feet. This campaign was well remembered by many, and of course won quite a few awards. Including the New York Festivals, if I’m not mistaken.

Stealing an idea or a concept can be defendable and harder to detect as long as the style of execution remains vastly different from the original. Pea-brainers do that, while the no-brainers go for the outright robbery:

PS: Coincidences do take place, I have seen them happening. But I would be surprised if the Regional Creative Director (SE Asia) of McCann Erickson and his team of four were indeed ignorant or unaware of the Orangina ad.

Lets talk about Olé Plus, later.


  1. Don't you think that you're being a bit unfair on the Indians? I'm sure there are many Indian CDs who are frauds, probably as many as the SL CDs, but I doubt that has anything to do with them being Indian. I've worked with several Indian CDs and found them to be a mixed bag. No better or worse than other expat CDs.

    While I agree that not everything Indian should be emulated by SL advertising, you must admit that they've done damn well at the international ad shows. What I have found useful when working with Indians is their experience with the big multinational clients. Working on a big national brand in India is like working on a big international brand, and sadly most Sri Lankans don't have that under their belt.

    I think SL agencies need to find a good system of getting our creative people international experience. And I don't mean sending them to Adfest or a couple of workshops. We need to send 'em for stints in the region similar to the way Levers, CTC, Nestle and other big clients do with their marketing buggers. 'Til we can do that, I'm afraid we can't garner the sort of clout that those Indian CDs bring to the table.

  2. Hi David, I do agree with you. I must also draw your attention to the fact that I was talking about the creative rejects, not the great Indians in advertising. Many international agencies have internal training programmes, but they would not take notice of us until we produce some outstanding work. We needs guts, we need balls of steel, and of course we need creative leadership that identifies, nourishes and guides raw talent. Creative leadership is a questionable topic – especially in a market where one becomes a "Creative Director" by default, or with age. Most of them wouldn't even know the difference between a graphic designer and an art director – let alone coaching the juniors.

    We are the ones who have created this oasis for international creative rejects, nobody else.

  3. I think what I disagreed most with was that your post seemed to insinuate that most Indian CDs or ECDs here in Colombo are rejects. Certainly we're not going to get one of the great Indian creative guys down here. We don't have anything to offer them -- money or work. But we've had some rising stars work here in Colombo in the past -- Juju Basu, Sumanto Chattopadhyay, etc -- so I think it's fair to say that what we can afford is the second or third tier of creatives. Weeding out the rejects and frauds should be part of the recruiting process.

    What you must have noted I'm sure, however, is that all of the international ad show placings Colombo agencies have nailed (finalists and metal) have come under expat ECDs (I'll leave out the Triad win 'cos that wasn't an original idea).

    It's clear that SL creatives haven't yet reached a level of experience (not creativity) that scores high internationally, and that's something we need the expats for (and Indians are probably the closest to us culturally).

    The international ad agencies with offices in Colombo will certainly provide training if the local office is getting somewhere in local ad shows. You don't have to be scoring at an international level. But it also means a commitment from the local partners (often financial) towards that training. Heck, an exchange programme will be more than sufficient. Brand managers at Levers and nestle go over to work, not just train, so ad agencies can do it too.

    "Creative leadership is a questionable topic – especially in a market where one becomes a "Creative Director" by default, or with age. Most of them wouldn't even know the difference between a graphic designer and an art director – let alone coaching the juniors."

    I assume you're talking about local CDs -- and if so, then you've made another argument for why we need those expat ECDs.

    The ad industry's like all other SL industries -- why aren't we building beautiful cars, or wowing the catwalks of Paris, or sweeping the cinema box offices even regionally?