It’s been such a long hibernation and hiatus in my career, that I have even stopped thinking about it. Though I can’t afford to not think about it, with aged parents to care for, and with whom I now live in Goa. It seems like an eternity since I heard the bustle of an office; voices in the corridors and in meeting rooms, phones ringing, never-ending deadlines, the mad world that is the world of advertising now seem like they belong to another world. Even without the advent of digital advertising and the interruption of Covid, that world now seems lightyears away.
It’s too long to be a reverie, too nightmarish at times to be anything but real, when this voice I heard in my head called me away to explore another world. And for the past 16 years or more, I have been journeying in the world of brands on my own. Some of the brands I have encountered and thought and written about, I know rather well from my days in advertising many years ago. Like Xerox and American Express from Ogilvy and Honda City from Everest Advertising, both in Delhi. Others are relatively new acquaintances, but from companies that were known to me, like Chivas Regal and The Glenlivet from Pernod Ricard (formerly Seagram) also a client of Ogilvy Delhi. And still others are completely new to me, except that I’ve been in the business of advertising so long that it’s hard to call them complete strangers. Here, I would include Pepsi, Taj Hotels, Rolex, Liberty London, Titan, Waterman and Parker, Jaguar and Land Rover, Vistara, Sony, IBM, GE, etc. Besides, having been a consumer of some of these brands, including Titan watches, Waterman and Parker, Taj Hotels as well as Liberty London (about which I will be writing soon), I suppose I do understand them as brands.
In the meantime, there might be many who might be wondering what the old lady is up to. She hasn’t been heard from for so long, is she in some kind of slumber? Or worse, in some kind of trouble?
Well, on my own I have become aware over the years of all the trouble that people have been trying to create for me. They include certain unprofessional companies that I worked for (RK Swamy BBDO, Chennai and Perfect Relations, Delhi) and possibly even some old colleagues, likely many years junior to me. And yes, you could say that I have been on an extended holiday, but it hasn’t been of my own choice and volition. However, one has to make do with what one has, right? And guess what? I have been on an amazing journey so far and I have been discovering and learning new dimensions to brands that were familiar to me before, but not exactly in the same way. So, it is somewhat of a relief to report that I am not in a Rip Van Winkle slumber thankfully, even though it never ceases to amaze me how the advertising and brand communications world is being disrupted every single day.
Revisiting the world of brands
Back to the voice inside my head calling me away to explore the world of brands. I have spent the past many years of this extended holiday, thinking, reading and writing about brands. And it’s this lovely set of illustrations that I happened to see on Pixabay that inspired me to share this journey with my blog readers.
They speak to me of the experience of being on a solitary journey of discovery and exploration, of the solitude as well as the peace and joy that comes from making a new discovery, of making connections across space and time as well as days when you realise you’ve travelled a great distance and there’s still a long way to go.
So it has been, with me and my journey with brands. I have thought long and hard about issues facing certain brands, read up as much as I could about them, thought about how they might reinvent themselves, or play an important role in changing an industry. As I explored and travelled more, I discovered that brands are not just products we use, but relationships that affirm the importance of certain values in our lives.
Could they influence the way companies do business? They most certainly can, and indeed, in many cases they give meaning to business and to life. I have been applying some of the old brand-building tools from my years at Ogilvy and adding new thinking of my own to find a way that companies can put brands at the centre of their businesses in order to grow. I must add here, that I am not referring to what has been doing the rounds of marketing circles in recent years as “brand purpose”. Nor does it have all that much to do with stock markets, though I am aware that most brand valuation exercises give more than necessary weightage to market capitalisation.
As I worked on more brand strategies and campaign ideas, I could see entire avenues of business growth and fulfillment open up for those companies and their brands. My journey even told me what the future stages of those brands’ paths would look like and how they could take their customers along.
Trials and tribulations
I had spent over a decade putting these thoughts down in several notebooks, writing in longhand, which is a habit I had long fallen out of when computers entered my life decades ago. And many, I didn’t care to transcribe and type into my computer.
There were quiet periods too, lasting as long as several months when I would be busy reading and these notebooks lay inside a desk drawer, forgotten. Until I discovered to my horror one day that termites had attacked the desk and had devoured my notebooks with particular relish. My heart sank at the thought of all those years of hard work gone waste. This was nothing compared to the grief I felt at the loss of all my books to termites, about which I have already written on my blog.
At least these brand strategies and ideas were still intact inside my head and I can rewrite them from scratch, retracing my thought process of all those years ago, even if I can’t replicate them word for word. I haven’t had the nerve to have a go at it again, but I hope I will someday soon.
Meanwhile, my journey with brands was helping me in other ways. In a world exploding with information, I was concentrating my attention on issues that matter. I found that my reading too was more focused on areas that I wished to concentrate on. And most of all, it was an absolute delight to be able to rediscover the world of ideas and of writing that I had lost touch with for many years.
Soon, one thing led to another, and inspired by my cousin in Germany who had been writing a blog for a few years, I decided to give it a shot. I knew I wanted to write about issues at the intersection of economics, business, politics and culture. Not sure whether I would be able to sustain my interest in it, or whether I would even enjoy it, I started off with a free plan on WordPress. Within a couple of months, yours truly upgraded to a paid plan and then to a premium plan. WordPress would love it if I upgraded to a business plan, but since my blog is not a business though it is work, I stay content with my current plan.
Between blogosphere and brands
It was a small step, but an important one. It’s been almost two years (October 2020 would be my blog’s second anniversary) and I have enjoyed every moment of it. I try and write an article for every week of every month, and also share other snippets on writing and language (authors’ quotes on reading and now, Owl About Words) as well as my thoughts on culture and travel in Writings on The Wall.
Is anybody reading them, is the question. Well, I have a small group of followers of my blog from within the blogging community on WordPress and a small group of subscribers to The Whistle, my free monthly newsletter, whom I invited and signed up, and I am equally grateful to both sets of people for helping me continue to write and share my thoughts. Their moral support gives me encouragement, every bit of which is needed.
I also started the Owl Wisdom Podcast linked to my blog in January this year, where I talk about issues similar to those that I write about on my blog. All of which is meant to give readers “a wise-eyed view of the world”, as I like to refer to it. I share all of these on social media as well, primarily LinkedIn and Twitter, where I hope people are reading and listening and enjoying some of it.
Meanwhile, my work on brands continues on a parallel track and I continue to think and write about brand-related issues, including on my blog. In fact, I find that my work on brands and my blog content seem to be converging these days, and like water they seem to flow and ripple into each other. Some of it is by design, since I believe that brands too live and thrive at the intersection of business, politics and culture.
There are times when it feels like nobody is reading or even remotely interested in what I have to say, but that is par for the course. I realized when I started blogging, that what I write about is likely to interest a very narrow band of people who care about similar issues. When I share a blog post on social media and it vanishes into the blackness of cyberspace, I am prepared for the fact that there might be just one soul out there who might read it. And if I am lucky, he or she might wait for my next article.
Anybody out there?
Sometimes, out of that black emptiness, comes a lone voice of approval: a like, a comment, “good piece” or an email saying the person enjoys reading my blog posts. Whatever it is, it is enough to keep me going. Enough for me to keep writing and stay in touch with my craft. After such a long hibernation, that is absolutely critical for a career-focused woman like me.
What is more important is my work on brands and where that journey will take me. It would have been my “bread and butter work”, had I still been actively working in the advertising and brand communications business. I only hope that all the years of thinking and writing that have gone into this exploration will not be in vain and that there will be light at the end of this very long tunnel.
And while I do feel exiled at times with my thoughts and ideas on brands on this solitary journey, there is no denying that the journey has been worthwhile. I have learned a lot during this exploration, and am glad for it. I am, of course, deeply indebted to my parents who have been extremely encouraging and supportive even though they don’t know much about the advertising and brand communications industry.
I keep hoping that I will soon be able to get back to work in a good organization and look after my aged parents as I have always been determined to do. But I have been prevented from fulfilling that responsibility towards my parents. Besides, a job requires serious discussion, and I haven’t had the benefit of one with any company as yet. I haven’t had the opportunity to discuss my thinking on brands with anyone, except with an old friend (a former marketing executive, turned CEO) who I thought might be a good sounding board for my ideas. However, I don’t think he was able to grasp the full import of my thinking then, even though those were the early stages of my brand journey.
After a series of career missteps that I have made which have cost me 16 years of my career and my life, I am certainly not willing to take up any assignment that is offered to me, if it is not in line with the direction in which I would like to take my work. At the same time I am aware of the pathetic, mischievous attempts being made to meddle in my life and my work by trouble-makers whom I have nothing to do with, since leaving their circuses in Chennai and in Delhi 16 years and 13 years ago, respectively. And any discussion with those organisations and their bosses is out of question. As a matter of principle, and also because having worked in these organisations, I know that there is nobody there capable of a meaningful discussion on brands, not even at the highest levels.
Yet, they persist. Including by trying to make me someone else… my younger sister, my parents, my grandmums, ex-in laws, old colleagues, friends, relatives… almost anyone will do, as long as it helps them cover their tracks and their unprofessional work ethic. They will continue to guess, second-guess and make stupid assumptions about me and my work.
It has taken a lot for me to maintain my sanity and my stand, against this almost daily onslaught. I might mention here that four years ago, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and after two years of treatment and medication I have come out of it relatively unscathed. This, when I have responsibilities towards my parents. My parents too are not free from this meddling; they are affected by it every single day. Friendships and families are being torn apart with this relentless meddling for so many years.
I wish people would mind their own business and leave me alone to do my work, which is what I try and stay focused on. After 16 years of being out of work, I am glad to say that I am ready to lead again. But not on a path that drags me back to where my career was 20 years ago at Ogilvy or elsewhere. I have new thoughts and ideas for brands and that is what I intend to explore. Not only will my work be taking me in a slightly new direction, I would like to decide what brands I work on, who I work with, and a chance to pick my own team when required. And for all this, I am thankful to this new journey with brands for having taught me to listen to the inner voice.
Almost every night I go to bed, thanking that little voice inside my head that called me away all those years ago.
All the illustrations featured in this article are by someone who goes by the name Cdd20 on Pixabay