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Monday, April 15, 2024

Experiments in Design Entrepreneurship

A creative man through and through, Tonnit Thomas’s love for design led him to start Tonnit Design & Advertising in the year 2008. With over 17 years of international experience in the creative field, Tonnit Thomas began his career with Saatchi & Saatchi for 3 years and then moved to Grey Worldwide in India and won several national and international advertising awards. In the year 2002, he moved to Dubai where he joined Bates Pan Gulf as creative partner. He earned recognition for his work on reputed government and retail brands like Dubai Shopping Festival, Jumeirah Beach Residence and Rivoli Group.

Not just a creative guy, Tonnit is also a great businessman and operational head. He is also founder of Artry, a Dubai based art & design forum. He has been ranked amongst Dubai’s Top 100 SME CEO’s by the Government of Dubai not once but twice. Tonnit is a strong believer of the strength of a passionate and loyal team. He credits his team for the continuous success of his agency and believes that his growth from a freelancer to where his agency today is largely due to the earnest efforts of his team. Under his leadership, Tonnit Design & Advertising continues to garner the most prestigious clients, not just in Dubai but across the Gulf Cooperation Council. Tonnits’ motto is Stefan Sagmeister’s quote “Touch your heart with Design”, which he truly, whole-heartedly believes in and it’s clearly visible in the kind of designs that his agency has created and been acclaimed for.  In the first year of operations itself, Tonnit Design & Advertising won the International Luxury Award 2009 in Monaco for its campaign for a leading client and just a couple of years later, the agency was featured as one of the top 10 published creative agencies in the region by Lürzer’s Int’l Archive’s online edition 2011.

Tonnit is known in the industry for his attention to detail and out of box thinking. He is always involved in every project the agency is working on, big or small, and that’s a rare quality amongst the senior management, but Tonnit believes in adding a personal touch to every piece of work, and that’s what goes a long way in weaving the kind of creativity that his agency does.

  1. As the founder of Tonnit Design, please tell us a little bit about starting an agency. What were the challenges? What did you see in the market that signaled your future success?

I began his career with Saatchi &Saatchi and later at Grey Worldwide in Banglore, India where and won several national and international advertising awards . In 2002, moved to Dubai when I joined Bates Pan Gulf as a creative partner, where I earned recognition for my work on reputed Government and retail brands like Dubai Shopping Festival, Jumeirah Beach Residence and Rivoli Group.

My dream was to always build a brand equity of my own. My passion for design and entrepreneurial instinct pushed me to start Tonnit Design.  With no business plan, funds & lack of space I had no choice but to start my business venture in my guest bathroom of my one bedroom apartment with a table and a laptop. Got an opportunity to pitch for a real-estate business with the best in the industry and independently won the biggest account of my life with the creative we presented.

This triggered my partner to invest in my business thus Tonnit design was born.

  1. What challenges have you faced in brand development? How did you overcome them?

Operating an agency comes with its fair share of challenges and primarily is about hitting the right notes when it comes to creative and the commerce aspect of the business. Not everyone has a business instinct and majority of the times; I have noticed that creative people lack that business instinct. You will be best equipped to handle the work that comes into the agency, but one needs to also factor in finances, administration, operations, suppliers, internal overheads, etc. To overcome the challenges of a startup one must have a proper business plan, clear business projections, cash flows, overhead plans, costs, and so on. My growth curve was no different. Made a few mistakes, learnt from them, rectified them and moved on to become better, brighter and sharper.

3.How has the popularity of the internet effected your business?

The emergence of the digital platform has certainly changed the game. While conventional media is yet not dead, digital has been thriving and getting stronger by the day. While every brand worth its salt has a digital presence, Social Media is where brands try and outdo and outperform each other. So for us as an agency there is always room to deliver creative ideas on varied platforms and digital is one of them.

4.How influenced are you by the current trends? The mass media going digital.

Each year new trends emerge in design & creative businesses, recent trends have been influenced by media, technology, the fashion industry and usability. For instance, semi-flat design, key input of 3D/ CGI, isometric patterns, courageous colors,colourtransitions, split content, videos everywhere, logo trends,infographics, animated logos are a few. Another creative trend has been to somehow balance the past, present, and future on the same plate. Taking something that ignites a feeling of nostalgia and relating it to something futuristic is really picking up. Typography is key and an integral part of any design trend.

  1. What changes have you witnessed in the Creative Industry that has impressed you?

When we started foraying into advertising, there were few mediums of expression when it comes to the creative industry. But the modern-age creative landscape is a different ball game altogether. Technology has played a paramount role in changing the fortunes of many industries. And design and advertising has definitely been transformed due to tech-driven tools and innovations. Trends these days are changing rapidly than ever before, and in today’s world of digitization there is one forming every hour. Having said that, I truly believe that no matter which device you use, at the end of it all, the true hero is the germ of the idea. A good idea shines bright and survives every onslaught that comes its way. And every now and then you see that one star that touches your sensibilities and makes you sigh: wish I had thought of it.

  1. How do you see brands utilizing the creative medium to increase brand awareness or to engage consumers?

At the end of the day it is about communication. The medium and the message need to go hand-in-hand to create an impactful impression. Integrated marketing is the key in this day and age. Every touch point (OOH to mobile) matters and helps in crafting a piece of communication that influences behavior, creates a following and ultimately converts the TG into an endorser of the brand. Every strategy differs based on where the brand stands in the market; a leader and a new entrant will have different approaches and dynamics. So consumers will engage when they relate and when they relate, they adopt.

  1. Would you like your agency to be recognized for a certain type of work or are you open to executing different styles?

We are in the business of visualizing great ideas and transforming the ideas into design, for the past nine years we have been known for our exceptional quality of creative, consistency and design capabilitiesacross the region. We certainly work on what’s best for the brand, and that is our core focus. We do not believe in sticking to one style, because that will make us stagnant. In fact we love exploring, experimenting and finding a visual language that best suits and solves the brand’s current marketing problem.

  1. What kind of legacy would you like to leave? What are your future plans?

Tonnit Design has great goodwill and reputation within the creative fraternity in Dubai.  Like many agencies, our vision is to take TD globally and create various  creative & design verticals including digital, 3D imaging, creative content, packaging design, product design, retail space design, title design, motion design and many more. The idea is to collectively take it forward with a team that’s ready to fly. I believe that a strong team can sail smooth and sail further. The future plan is to almost run it independently where talent collaborates, grows and sets new benchmarks within the industry.

  1. The creative economy of UAE is also pacing up. What do you think about the future of media business?

The UAE’s rapid progress stems from its leadership, that always wants to innovate, create and flourish within the region and ultimately in the world. When one talks about the Creative Economy of UAE, one needs to understand the fabric of the administration. The UAE has risen past many of its fellow Arabic neighbors and countries due to its investment in various fields and industries. Be it social, political or environmental, the UAE’s Creative Economy is at par with the best of the world. As far as the future of the media business is concerned, it will continue to thrive as the country continues to grow and capture the world’s imagination.

  1. Does strong networking help in setting up a creative business in the multicultural population of UAE? How difficult was it for you to introduce this creative and progressive business in the Dubai market?

Creative entrepreneurship is, after all, a business like any other looking to make profits. Networking is of extreme importance in the creative industry because that’s what usually gets you most of your initial jobs. At these initial jobs, the creativity and innovativeness of the enterprise and budding entrepreneur needs to speak for itself. But to be able to reach that stage, the best route to take is one equipped by a strong business network. Businesses thrive on relationships at the end of the day, and networking is the oxygen that keeps every business alive, specially advertising. Like every business, ours also faced many challenges (the 2008 recession) but we did manage to stay afloat. Determination and the zeal to succeed have made us resilient, innovative and adaptive as an agency within one of the most multicultural cities of the world: Dubai.


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