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Storyboard18 | “Even in a digital era, brands have to be built on big ideas,” says Arvind Sharma

Ad veteran and Leo Burnett's former chairman and CEO Arvind Sharma receives the AAAI Lifetime Achievement Award for 2021.

November 16, 2021 / 04:02 PM IST
Former Leo Burnett chairman and CEO Arvind Sharma has won the 2021 AAAI Lifetime Achievement Award.

Former Leo Burnett chairman and CEO Arvind Sharma has won the 2021 AAAI Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) will confer the AAAI Lifetime Achievement Award for 2021 on advertising veteran and Leo Burnett's charismatic former chairman and CEO Arvind Sharma. This is the highest honour to be given to an individual in India for his/her outstanding contribution to the advertising industry.

Sharma, an IIM Ahmedabad alumnus, led Indian agency Chaitra’s transition into the arm of Leo Burnett Worldwide in the country. Over two decades, Sharma built Leo Burnett into a creative powerhouse. During his time the agency became one of the biggest recruiters from IIM Ahmedabad, MICA and other major B-schools.

With over four decades of experience, he has handled both global advertising businesses such as McDonald’s and P&G, Coca-Cola-owned Thums Up and Maaza as well as homegrown brands such as Bajaj Auto and Ultratech Cement.

In 2004, the BJP had the high-decibel 'India Shining' juggernaut. But the Congress-led UPA came up with the winning campaign slogan "Aam aadmi ko kya mila". It was a slogan that Sharma helped coin, en route to a meeting in Pune. But the agency head's first turn as copywriter was on Coldarin's “Yeh kya haal bana rakha hai”, which ran for two decades.

In an interview with Storyboard18, he talks about some of his work, having no regrets and shares advice for young professionals entering the ad business. Edited excerpts.


What are some of the pieces of work that you’re most proud of?

I was in the advertising business for nearly 40 years. There are many pieces of work that I’m really proud of. Some that immediately come to mind are Coldarin - ‘Yeh kya haal bana rakha hai, kuch lete kyun nai’ - that was actually written by me. So were 'Aam aadmi ko kya mila', the campaign behind UPA's 2004 unexpected win and the Ariel Mother-in-law ads.

I'm also proud of Promise toothpaste, Vicks Action 500, Vicks Cough Drops, Thums Up 'Taste the thunder', Maaza ‘Har mausam aam’, McDonald’s ‘Purane zaman ke daam’, Complan’s ‘He’s a growing boy’ and 'Latkeram', Glucon-D- ‘Sun sucks out body glucose' and Tide 'Chaunk gaye'. Some of the other campaigns which became popular over the years include Ultratech ‘Engineer’s Choice’ and HDFC Life 'Sar utha ke jiyo'.

What is your biggest regret?

I have none. I was planning to stay in advertising for five to seven years and then I ended up spending 40 years in advertising. That’s proof of how much joy the business gave me.

I conceptualised the whole Goafest and I was the first Goafest chairman as well. I was also on the board of industry body Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) for many years including my stint as its chairman. We are proud of the fact that the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) came out on top when compared to the National Readership Survey (NRS) for over a decade. All in all, I had a wonderful time and some achievements along the way. I’m proud of having been associated with an enormous set of people on the agency, client and industry side.

What is the advertising business lacking today and how can it be fixed?

Today, digital marketing has become an enormous amount of volume of work though it often lacks planning, thought and creativity. Frankly, while the media can change, the principles of advertising don’t. Even in the digital era, brands have to be built on big ideas. Lots of rapidly produced ads without sufficient thought and creativity had not built a brand in any era and nor will it build a brand in the digital era. Whenever a digital plan or campaign is being planned you still need that insight and the broad big idea on which you will get hundreds of connections, reactions and responses. You need that big idea right at the beginning of the campaign otherwise huge amounts of money will be wasted.

One piece of advice you’d like to give to professionals entering the ad business?

Advertising is a business of establishing empathy with people. You have to put yourself in people’s shoes and think about what they care about, what concerns and excites them and build your communication based on that.
Saumya Tewari is Assistant Editor of Storyboard. Storyboard is Network18's flagship platform focussed on the advertising & marketing community and a leading source of news and analyses on the business of brands.

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