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Piyush Pandey on the music behind his most famous ads

In this excerpt from his new book, Piyush Pandey, chief creative officer of Ogilvy, discusses the music in his advertisements

Piyush Pandey at his home in Mahim. Photo by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Piyush Pandey at his home in Mahim. Photo by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

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I come from a state which is very popular for its folk music, and folk music surrounded me as a child. I never learnt music; I can’t play any instrument, I can’t sing to save my life, but my childhood gave me a slow course of music appreciation. Music surrounded me.

One of my sisters is a trained, professional singer. As a result, many folk musicians used to visit our house. Another sister was involved with the tourism industry, so many of these singers used to drop in at home to explore opportunities for performances. Between the two of them, they created many reasons for singers to visit my house, often resulting in impromptu, live performances. So, music surrounded me completely.

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By the time I shifted to Mumbai, my sister Ila was an established singer, performing songs for Bollywood films in addition to her intense involvement with the theatre movement. I was privileged to meet wonderful musicians and singers, some from the world of Bollywood and others from theatre. A number of classical Indian music maestros were friends of my sister’s, and I ‘attended’ hundreds of informal concerts in Ila’s house.

Between the exposure to music in my childhood and the additional exposure during my stay at my sister’s house (till I found a place to stay on my own) I all but attended many year-long music appreciation courses.

‘Open House’, By Piyush Pandey with Anant Rangaswami, Penguin Random House India, 224 pages,  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>699
‘Open House’, By Piyush Pandey with Anant Rangaswami, Penguin Random House India, 224 pages, 699

Through Ila, I met Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Ghazal singer Ghulam Ali Saab, famous Rajasthani ‘Maand’ singer, Allah Jilai Bai, and many others. When I joined Ogilvy, my boss, Suresh Malik [then creative director of Ogilvy], was a music aficionado and incredibly knowledgeable about all forms of Indian music and Western classical music – and known to most of the eminent musicians in Mumbai.

I accompanied Suresh to all recordings. Over a period of time, he explained to me his dislike for jingles and for inserting brand names into the jingles. His mantra was that music should add to the script and not repeat the script. Suresh’s work underlined the role music plays in our life; it touches your soul and engages your heart. In advertising, music makes the storylines a lot more engaging.

Think of music as a necessary add on. The music HAD to add to the storyline and could not be dealt with carelessly. Suresh, often, used to go and record the music himself with one of the big music directors. It’s a habit I got into early – and a habit that I still practice.

On a number of occasions (including the Cadbury Dairy Milk pitch and the pitch that won us the IPL account) I recorded the music and the song first and added the storyline later. …

I must share a story about the now iconic ‘You and I’ song which was the backbone of the Vodafone (then Hutch) marketing. Rajiv and (the late) Mahesh, the creative directors on Vodafone who conceived of the film with the pug and boy, planned to buy music to accompany their script.

When I first saw the film along with the client, I told the team, “Everything about your film is original. Why would you go around buying music? Why don’t you record your own? Why don’t you write original lyrics?”

I got instant pushback — “But we are not lyricists.”

I said, “Nobody is born a lyricist. I was not a lyricist. I wrote a lot of songs. Give it a shot.”

That night, Mahesh wrote the lyrics and the simple, memorable music was created with Rupert, the music director.

Spend a moment thinking about the pug and boy commercial – it’s impossible to visualise it without the song playing in your head. I had learnt these lessons earlier from Suresh Malik. Rajiv and Mahesh learnt the lesson with this experience.

Never treat music lightly. Never be lazy about music. If you can’t write something beautiful, get help from someone. Make friends with music directors, have sittings with them. Just rap with them. You’ll find the music you need and the magic that your script required to lift it.

I’ve been fortunate that when Suresh Malik shot Mile sur mera tumhara, and Desh raag I got to meet some of the artists I had first met as a youngster; there was Shivkumar Sharma, there was Hari Prasad Chaurasia, other music maestros of that ilk….

During my career, I cannot remember or count the number of tracks that we created for a pitch or for a presentation which went on to be the final track with no further changes. We invest in a track and win an account that we handle for years to come. Over the years, we’ve used tracks to give the client a better ‘feel’ of the idea behind the communication. In the majority of cases, it has worked for us. Suresh never taught us to do ‘cheap’ music — he taught us to do good music.

And this lesson came to my rescue in 1994, when I wanted music to support an idea I had for Cadbury Dairy Milk for a critical presentation, when we were defending the account. I discussed the idea with Louiz Banks. He was pressed for time as he was leaving for Kolkata for a performance. We rushed to the studio and recorded the track. The track, presented at a pitch, supported Kuch Khas hai hum sabhi mein for more than 7 years.

There’s something so real in everyone/there’s something so real, ask anyone/it’s you/it’s real/and the feeling is right/there’s something so real in the taste of life

That’s all the lyrics said – it was the music that brought the idea to life.

We’ve won accounts on the basis of music alone. We were pitching for the Tata Cement account and I’d worked with Suresh Wadkar to create a memorable track for the campaign idea. We presented to a committee headed by Aditya Kashyap who was the MD of Tata Cement at the time. He heard the music and his face lit up. He stopped the presentation and said, “This account is yours.”

That is the power of music.

Suresh understood the power of music and the role music played in communication better than anyone else I’ve met. When we were commissioned to create a film to show national integration (the film depicted leading sports personalities through history), Suresh dispensed with lyrics, believing that there was no need for them.

The output was a 3-minute film showing various sportspersons carrying the Torch of Freedom with music playing in the background. It was brilliant music, created by Louiz Banks, with inputs from Suresh. The process involved conversations on the telex machine; 10-foot-long telexes from Suresh to Louiz, explaining exactly what was required. Not surprisingly, the track became a hit across the country….

The most important lesson that I’ve received from Suresh was when I was grappling for an idea for a campaign for the National Literacy Mission. As Suresh saw me struggling, he said to me, “Don’t create a song about literacy. Find a parallel.”

And I let my mind wander with this new provocation and I remembered a track that we had created for the Sunlight detergent powder launch conference. This track, which was used only once, was recorded with Kavita Krishnamurthy and Suresh Wadkar. The song was about the rising of a new sun and of the world coming alive. Thanks to Suresh, I saw a perfect connect with the objectives of the Literacy Mission.

I asked Levers if we could use this track – a track that they had paid for but would never use again, underlining that it would be used for a public cause. Thankfully, Levers agreed without a second thought. What was a one-time investment for Unilever, ran for 6-7 years and gave wings to the literacy campaign. Good music isn’t always expensive – one has to be creative.

We didn’t have to buy music for Suresh and Xerxes Desai’s Titan campaign idea because the copyright rules allowed you to use Mozart’s 25th Symphony (which is the common thread in all Titan ad films) without any royalty payment. We’ve been using the same music for over 35 years now. We have allowed it to be flexible, changing instruments, changing the beat, making it more contemporary than classical, and so on – but it’s always recognisable, now, as the ‘Titan’ tune.

Suresh first, followed by many creative teams that followed, enjoyed the experimentation with the track (encouraged by Xerxes and the Titan team) – and loved the intrigue that it caused. Whenever a new Titan ad was launched, consumers would look up as soon as they heard the first few bars, knowing that it was a Titan ad. But they never knew what the story would reveal. On a few occasions, we used just a few bars towards the end of the ad.

Imagine this: a great symphony created by one of the greatest Western classical composers of the world, being used to market watches to the common citizen of India.

There are many great successes rooted in music. As with Cadbury, we’ve spent a lot of time on music for all Asian Paints campaigns. Two decades ago, we approached AR Rahman to compose the music for the film (through Rajiv Menon, the director of the film). Rahman, then a budding musician, went on to be a winner of an Oscar. The track Rahman composed was so good that when had to create a Diwali film in Hindi, I wrote the Hindi lyrics to his track – and it worked beautifully. That’s the power of music.

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Excerpted with permission from 'Open House', By Piyush Pandey with Anant Rangaswami, published by Penguin Random House India.

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