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Agency Life

Storytelling in India

Storytelling in India

Natasha Smith

Natasha Smith

September 26, 2018

The art form is rooted in Eastern culture, history, and ancient literature.

"The proof of what culture can do for creativity in our industry has never been so evident as it is these days."

Nima Namchu, Chief Creative Officer at Havas Mumbai, explains how to use compelling narratives to capture audiences in the Far East.

 

So tell us about your background.

My father wanted me to pursue a career in medicine, but I ended up as an illustrator with a magazine before stumbling upon writing, which eventually led me to knocking on the doors of an advertising agency and writing a copy test.

That was in ’93.

Since then, I’ve been around a few agencies: Sista’s, TBWA Anthem, Leo Burnett, Capital Advertising, McCann Erickson, Publicis India, Contract Advertising, Cheil India, and now Havas India.

What do you believe helps to foster creativity?

A group of earnest people who take pride in what they do. Absence of the fear of failure. And a problem that needs solving.

How can people overcome feelings of being uninspired?

I don’t know how the others do it, but I’ve found that continuously working at solving a problem, with some short breaks by doing something completely unrelated, helps me arrive at something inspiring. Sometimes.

Who, or what, inspires you?

The 20 minutes spent every morning with my eight-year-old daughter while we wait for her school bus. Watching the work from others during commercial breaks. And I get inspired every time The Rolling Stones go out on the road.

How does a culture—whether in an agency, an industry, a city, or a country—impact creativity?

There’s no denying the impact of culture on creativity. You see that in design, in the stories that you read, and the songs you listen to on your playlists.

The proof of what culture can do for creativity in our industry has never been so evident as it is these days. Women are taking on lead roles in reel and real life.

"When it comes to people, good is great."

What’s the most effective way for a brand to tap into the culture?

Engage with groups that drive change in the community. Participate in their lives. Be authentic. Be human.

How might storytelling in Mumbai differ from, say, Hong Kong, Brisbane, Paris, or New York?

In a country which is the birthplace of epics, such as the Mahābhārata and the Ramayana, and the Buddha, the art of storytelling isn’t a new phenomenon. For thousands of years, these stories and parables have been used to mold the mind, society, and culture. Marketing in this country has done much of the same; brands, too, have shaped minds and culture with their stories.

The difference here is that the 30-second television commercial is still the way to tell a story simply because of the medium’s immense reach. But with mobile penetration rising exponentially, the cost of data heading in the opposite direction, and with corporate social responsibility (CSR) gaining much more importance than it has ever been, storytelling is no longer a one-way street. The days when the Indian consumer will co-author brand stories might be just a few days away.

How is the storytelling the same?

A good story is one which consumers call their own and doesn’t change.

What advice do you have for young creatives who want to break into the business or who, eventually, want to move into more senior positions?

Whether you are a young creative starting out or a senior person looking to hire young creative talent, try and work with people who aren’t just great at what they do but are also good human beings. When it comes to people, good is great.

"The proof of what culture can do for creativity in our industry has never been so evident as it is these days."

Nima Namchu, Chief Creative Officer at Havas Mumbai, explains how to use compelling narratives to capture audiences in the Far East.

 

So tell us about your background.

My father wanted me to pursue a career in medicine, but I ended up as an illustrator with a magazine before stumbling upon writing, which eventually led me to knocking on the doors of an advertising agency and writing a copy test.

That was in ’93.

Since then, I’ve been around a few agencies: Sista’s, TBWA Anthem, Leo Burnett, Capital Advertising, McCann Erickson, Publicis India, Contract Advertising, Cheil India, and now Havas India.

What do you believe helps to foster creativity?

A group of earnest people who take pride in what they do. Absence of the fear of failure. And a problem that needs solving.

How can people overcome feelings of being uninspired?

I don’t know how the others do it, but I’ve found that continuously working at solving a problem, with some short breaks by doing something completely unrelated, helps me arrive at something inspiring. Sometimes.

Who, or what, inspires you?

The 20 minutes spent every morning with my eight-year-old daughter while we wait for her school bus. Watching the work from others during commercial breaks. And I get inspired every time The Rolling Stones go out on the road.

How does a culture—whether in an agency, an industry, a city, or a country—impact creativity?

There’s no denying the impact of culture on creativity. You see that in design, in the stories that you read, and the songs you listen to on your playlists.

The proof of what culture can do for creativity in our industry has never been so evident as it is these days. Women are taking on lead roles in reel and real life.

"When it comes to people, good is great."

What’s the most effective way for a brand to tap into the culture?

Engage with groups that drive change in the community. Participate in their lives. Be authentic. Be human.

How might storytelling in Mumbai differ from, say, Hong Kong, Brisbane, Paris, or New York?

In a country which is the birthplace of epics, such as the Mahābhārata and the Ramayana, and the Buddha, the art of storytelling isn’t a new phenomenon. For thousands of years, these stories and parables have been used to mold the mind, society, and culture. Marketing in this country has done much of the same; brands, too, have shaped minds and culture with their stories.

The difference here is that the 30-second television commercial is still the way to tell a story simply because of the medium’s immense reach. But with mobile penetration rising exponentially, the cost of data heading in the opposite direction, and with corporate social responsibility (CSR) gaining much more importance than it has ever been, storytelling is no longer a one-way street. The days when the Indian consumer will co-author brand stories might be just a few days away.

How is the storytelling the same?

A good story is one which consumers call their own and doesn’t change.

What advice do you have for young creatives who want to break into the business or who, eventually, want to move into more senior positions?

Whether you are a young creative starting out or a senior person looking to hire young creative talent, try and work with people who aren’t just great at what they do but are also good human beings. When it comes to people, good is great.

Natasha Smith is the strategic communications manager for Havas Group. She happily represents 404 in the 212.

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