The influencer: Why Alyque Padamsee is relevant in our digitally-led world

Lintas. Home of the creative giant, Alyque Padamsee. Birthplace of innumerable iconic brands and campaigns. Even a rookie like me could feel the creative frisson that powered the agency when I joined it, though the founding father had moved on by then. It did not matter that I never got to meet him; you could not work in Lintas in the ’90s and not know every minutiae about the God of Advertising. The corridors resounded with folklore, the conference room mirrored his brilliance, and every single person walked around with an aura that comes from living in the presence of genius. If I sound a tad over the top, let me put this in perspective: I needed only two words to justify my decision to be a professional copywriter to my irate father. Alyque Padamsee.

Ad guru. Theatre don. Author. Activist. Philanthropist. And most of all, visionary. He constantly loomed one step ahead of the curve; not just in terms of ideas that broke the mould, but all the way down to their brilliant execution. In auditoriums and boardrooms alike, Alyque was ‘lit’. And that says it all — a term coined by today’s 20-somethings that best describes a man old enough to be their great grandfather. Yes, he was pretty darn ‘woke’ too, doing everything he could to erase religious divisiveness, pushing for women’s rights and a corruption-free governance. He is hailed today as ‘the brand-father of Indian advertising’ for transforming inanimate products and services into living brands. The legacy he leaves behind though, might be bigger than the super brands and mega markets he helped create. It can be found in the prescient communication dictums he introduced us to, each one still relevant in these digital times.

The influencer: Why Alyque Padamsee is relevant in our digitally-led world

You are your own brand

Decades before Instagram, Twitter and Facebook introduced us to the phenomenon called followers, Alyque had a loyal tribe of disciples. An influencer par excellence, his approval or lack of it, changed the destinies of people, brands and companies. His carefully-curated public profile drew media, clients, theatre fans and the general public to him. Alyque was the brand ambassador not just for Lintas, the agency he spearheaded, but for the entire advertising industry in the ’80s.

Brand communication is a two-way street

Alyque redefined brand communication. He turned a one-way product monologue into a conversation between the brand and its consumer. He used focus groups to listen to what the consumer had to say, and then created a product experience that engaged them and gave them a legitimate reason to interact. The Liril waterfall film was literally that: a Bollywood-fuelled fantasy of the harrowed Indian housewife, looking for a five-minute respite in her shower. It was iconic for many reasons, mostly because it opened up an interactive relationship between brands and their users. Today, this is the building block of digital marketing, which focusses on people, their problems and needs, and not the product.

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Alyque Padamsee with members of the Mumbai film fraternity during a march against terrorism in New Delhi, December 2008.

Ad man Alyque Padamsee’s alternate world on the stage

 

Connect with real people for real insights

If you want to know your brand, get to know its consumer. Lalitajee, the astute Surf lady who became the spokesperson for the ’80s Indian housewife, was based on Alyque’s mother. Which is what made her so real and credible. Cut to today, where instant consumer feedback and reviews literally drive digital marketing. A brand is only as successful as its data analytics.

Women are decision makers

Alyque knew what women wanted: they wanted to be heard; to be seen in all the roles they played. To fantasise about frolicking like heroines under waterfalls (Liril); for sex to be more than just a housewifely chore (Kamasutra); to be savvy householders who safeguarded the health and nutrition of their families (Dalda, Complan). But most of all, they wanted to be acknowledged as discerning decision makers. Alyque nudged the Indian female consumer out of the shadows, and gave her a strident, unapologetic voice.

Metrosexual isn’t a bad word, wear it with swag

Hundreds of sheepish Indian men finally found the nerve to quit sneakily using the fairness cream that belonged to the woman in the house. They went out and bought their own Fair & Handsome, after Alyque convinced Emami that was a market waiting to explode. He didn’t just give them a product they were yearning for, he gave them societal acceptance. The men’s personal care shelves in the supermarkets have been groaning under the weight, ever since.

The influencer: Why Alyque Padamsee is relevant in our digitally-led world

A product has a lifecycle, but memes live forever.

We all love memes, those memorable captures that go viral and turn something or someone into an overnight phenomenon. Alyque’s compelling storytelling in his ad films created memes literally every time he raised his creative baton. The 80s and 90s resounded with Lalitajee’s temple tapping, (Bhai sahib, Sirf ki kharidari mein hi samajhdari hai.. , the endearing Cherry Charlie’s Chaplinesque tap dance, the Liril water nymph’s la la lala …… and so many other ‘snapshots’ that got locked into the memory banks of viewers and consumers, to be replayed over and over again, creating rock-solid brand recall.

Political campaigns are no different from brand campaigns

Way before celebrity image consultants or social media managers became a thing, Alyque had been appointed Communication Adviser to then Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi. He may well have been responsible for introducing the power of branded communication to Indian politics. A staunch supporter of the India Against Corruption movement which later morphed into AAP, he was the man behind their strategic ‘Sweep Them Away’ campaign.

Nothing grabs eyeballs like a bucket of cold water

We are all unlikely to forget the ice bucket challenge on Facebook. The world watched hundreds of people across the globe dunk themselves with ice water, to raise $115 million dollars towards research for ALS. Who would have imagined the power wielded by a simple bucket of water? Alyque did, years ago, in an Advertising Review presentation. The video part of his presentation happened to end on an ad film that culminated with a bucket of water being tossed. At that precise moment, the audience watched Alyque take a bucket of water right in the face, on stage. They watched in stunned silence as the showman took off his glasses, wiped them clean and proceeded to continue with his presentation. It was his seamless transition from the screen to the stage where he stood. Almost as seamless as his transition from theatrical genius to brilliant adman.

Priya Mirchandani is a Lintas alumnus, independent writer and editor.

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