Brothers in creativity

Prasoon and Piyush Pandey

Prasoon and Piyush Pandey

Piyush Pandey, who is executive chairman and creative director, South Asia, of Ogilvy India, did not join the ad industry until he was 27, having started his career in tea. However, he attributes his seamless transition to the fact that he comes from a very creative family: “My parents and older siblings were all into some kind of arts or culture and that obviously had an impact — even on a boy who was much more interested at that time in playing cricket.” Looking back, Piyush says the arrival of colour TV in the early 1980s was a pivotal moment for the Indian ad industry: “It marked the beginning of the end for the copy-led advertising that we had inherited from the British. Because India is home to so many different languages and cultures, you need advertising that people can relate to at a more emotional level.” Piyush won his first award at the Cannes Lions International Festival Of Creativity in 2002, for an anti-smoking campaign. But his breakthrough work predates that by a number of years. He looks back with particular pride at a campaign for Cadbury Dairy Milk, which transformed the brand’s fortunes in the early 1990s by repositioning the way the Indian population thought about chocolate consumption. 

Piyush has been in a senior leadership position at Ogilvy for decades. So how has he managed to balance his creative instincts with a more managerial function? “The truth is I learned a lot about leadership from my days playing cricket,” he says. “Captaincy is about staying informed but not trying to do everything. You have to be able to delegate responsibility, particularly as new areas like digital and e-commerce emerge.” While Piyush climbed the career leader, his younger brother Prasoon was carving out a reputation as a leading commercials director and now has his own company, Corcoise Films. Over the years, he has worked with a diverse group of clients, including Philips, ICICI Bank, Adidas and Fevicol. Like Piyush, with whom he often works, Prasoon talks fluently about the journey that Indian advertising has been on in recent decades: “Indian advertising has inevitably been heavily influenced by the West, but we are coming into our own. For me personally, my work has always been very rooted in Indian culture and ethos. We have this incredible history and remarkable culture, so it makes sense to take pride in that through our work.” 

Echoing Piyush, Prasoon says humour, relatable insights and evocative music tracks have proved effective ways of crossing the cultural divides that exist within India. He is fond of using rural and family motifs to communicate the benefits of anything from financial services to DIY products. 

At the same time, Prasoon’s work can be highly satirical. Powerful TV commercials for The Hindu Newspaper and The Times of India take a wry look at the political process and the ingrained bureaucracy that many believe still hampers India’s growth. 

The quality of India’s film craft is often overlooked by the international community, possibly as a result of Indian agencies having to work on tight budgets. But some of Prasoon’s work — for clients including Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket and The Hindu Newspaper — demonstrates a quality of film craft that would not be out of place on any director showreel. In the case of the IPL, his TV ads are an explosion of colour, “which reflects the fact that it is about more than just sport. The IPL is a 40-day festival and that’s what we wanted to capture,” he adds. An obvious question for Prasoon is why he has never been tempted to turn to Bollywood. While not ruling it out in the future, he says: “I love the human stories we can tell in advertising. And unlike film, you get the chance to tell so many different kinds of short stories throughout the year.” 

Given the strong emphasis that both brothers place on family, it is fitting that the two should have been able to work together for the majority of their careers. Prasoon talks of the “great pride we have in each other’s work and respect for each other’s creative process”. He cites the Fevicol work he has done with Piyush over the last 30 years as “among the most creatively satisfying for me”. Piyush, meanwhile, stresses the fact that creative disagreements are rarely acrimonious and generally provide an opportunity for self-reflection and improvement. 

As for the Lion Of St Mark, both brothers are clearly delighted to be to first Asian creatives to win the award. But they are also keeping their feet firmly on the ground. “I’ll have a drink to celebrate,” Piyush says. “But, ultimately, I’m more interested in what my local barber thinks about the work that I do.”
Prasoon adds: “We’re very humbled by this. All of our work is about real life in India — the richness of the food, the dance, the music, the culture. We adore this country and are very proud that the Cannes Lions have acknowledged our passion.”
Commenting on the Pandeys’ success, Bobby Pawar, managing director and chief creative officer at Publicis India, says: “It’s no exaggeration to say that Piyush made Indian advertising totally Indian and not a mutated form of what was happening in the West. And many of us who worked with him have gone on to become creative leaders. What can I say about Prasoon? He made the work that made my reputation, so I owe him a lot. He has been the best filmmaker for the better part of two decades and his influence can be seen in the work of others.”

Harriet Palmer