Santosh Padhi or ‘Paddy’ as he is popularly known in the industry is Chief Creative Officer & Co-Founder of Taproot, that intrepid agency, which, he along with Agnello Dias, a.k.a. ‘Aggie’, another force of nature in the industry, co-founded in 2009. There has been little looking back for Taproot thereafter, which holds the record number of Cannes Lions (14 in total, including 6 golds), till date. Over the last 10 years, Taproot has risen to become one of India’s top creative agencies, bagging a string of stellar honours. Most notably, in its very first year, it became the sole agency in Asia to win a Gold Clio and was in the same year rated the No. 1 Independent Agency from India at Cannes and ranked amongst the Top 20 Independent Agencies in the World in the Cannes Survey. Taproot was rated as Best Performing Agency from India at Adfest 2010 with multiple Gold wins to its credit while it won the Best Performing Indian Agency award at Spikes Asia 2011. The agency went on to win the “Creative Agency of the Year” title at Adfest Pattaya 2013, the first ever Indian agency to win this top title. Taproot had also by then topped the Gunn Report for several years in India. In fact, Taproot won 4 Cannes gold Lions in 2013 for the Times of India farmer suicide campaign and topped the charts for India at the Festival of Creativity. Taproot was also named the Clio Indian Agency of the year in 2016, Spikes Asia Grand Prix, and Agency of the year in 2017, besides winning the Spikes Integrated Grand Prix to name a few. Taproot was also ranked among the top three most-awarded agency in India for the last 10 years, be it creative or effectiveness, both locally and internationally.There’s much more, therefore, to the creative leadership and vision of the two men who have redefined Indian advertising from within the confines of an indie agency.

“There are brands that are working to make the situation better. To be remembered and loved in the years to come, you must show up and do your bit…

Paddy, a hugely respected ad director in India, began his career in advertising nearly two decades ago with DDB. Subsequently, after 10 years as Executive Creative Director and National Head of Art at Leo Burnett, he co-parented Taproot, which became Taproot Dentsu in 2012, three years after its founding, following a 51% stake acquisition in the company by the Japanese advertising conglomerate. Paddy has worked on several top brands, such as PepsiCo, Mountain Dew, Johnnie Walker, Adidas, Times of India, Mumbai Mirror, ITC, Tata, Bharti Airtel, NGC Asia, DSP BlackRock Mutual Fund, McDonald’s, Heinz Tomato Ketchup, and Fiat India, among a host of others.

The Conqueror Papers print campaign, one of the most awarded and celebrated campaigns globally, ranked the 11th most awarded print campaign in the world by the Gunn Report 2011.

The Adidas Odds campaign, for Para-athletes, driven by Paddy and very close to his heart, was one of his most awarded campaigns. Another notable was the Johnnie Walker campaign, where Paddy helped localise the brand’s traditional international campaign. The Pepsi campaign that Paddy and Aggie helmed for the 2011 Pepsi World Cup Cricket, which gave the duo their biggest break ever, was an outstanding success, fetching Taproot the Grand Effe.  

Paddy has over the years bagged over 200 international awards, including two dozen Lions, and over 300 local awards as well as several Grand Prix titles. Not surprisingly, he was among the top 10 Creatives globally, according to the 2014 Cannes survey.

Paddy’s Conqueror Papers print campaign, one of the most awarded and celebrated print campaigns globally, was ranked the 11th most awarded print campaign in the world by the Gunn Report 2011. Paddy also holds the record for the most number of Cannes Lions (23) by an individual creative from India.

Paddy has also been on the jury for a number of national and international award shows, including Cannes Lions, Clio, New York Festival, London International Awards, Dubai Lynx, ADC, Adfest Pattaya, AdStar Busan, ANDY Awards, Kancil Malaysian Award, Chilli-SriLankan Award, and several others. He was also Jury President at Adfest for the Design and Print Craft Category. Paddy has had a rich harvest.

“These are really challenging times for our industry. And the only way to shine will be to be real, honest, loyal and hardworking. And that applies to everything — from brands to agencies and to people,” Paddy, who has been busy these past few weeks designing a Corona campaign for Free Press Journal, says in a wide-ranging interview with our Editor-in-Chief K.G. Sreenivas.

EXCERPTS:

“These are challenging times… forcing the community to focus on the core, on the idea. Going back to basics is coming in handy. And those whose basics are strong are the ones who are managing in a beautiful manner…

Creative Brands: As we speak we’ve found ourselves amidst unprecedented times. Never before in living human memory or history has humanity as a whole is faced with a crisis as colossal as this. Data is terrifying. How do you view it all?

Santosh Padhi, Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer, Taproot Dentsu.

Santosh ‘Paddy’: Tough times are upon us. Who would have thought that our fast-moving, progressive world would come to such a scary halt? The world has been preparing for a number of disasters, in fact, something like Covid-19, too. But we weren’t prepared for something of this magnitude, that could affect all of humankind. We never expected such a harsh pushback from life. I think nothing goes waste in life. I feel like this phase has taught us a great many things, which will serve us right in the months and years to come.

CB:For people, brands, and communication, these are shape-shifting times — quite likely irrevocably so. Times such as these challenge all known and tested notions of communication and branding. How do you view brands communicating with the world outside given the circumstances? Of course the lockdown may be lifted in another month or two but things are never going to be the same again.

SP: The lockdown has set us back. But the truth is, nothing can dampen the spirit of our ad industry. As far as I know, restless agencies and people within the industry are trying their best, their hardest to make the most of their creativity when it comes to partnering with their clients. They’re using the limited resources that they have at hand to bring their ideas to life. These are challenging times. And they’re forcing the community to focus on the core, on the idea. In the absence of flashy, big budget execution, going back to basics is coming in handy. And those whose basics are strong are the ones who are managing in a beautiful manner.

CB:Brands often ride the wave of societal change. Today is such a time — a time of cataclysmic change. What do you think can or will emerge out of this shall we say rubble of change — in relation to brands, brand thinking, and advertising?

SP: Initially, many brands did come to the forefront and appealed to people to stay safe, to stay inside, to maintain social distancing, to wear masks. You get the drift. But as the situation grew in intensity, many brands stepped back. There are quite a few brands that are getting the work done, that are working to make the situation better. And are doing it quietly. To be remembered and loved in the years to come, you must show up and do your bit.

We’re a strong-headed community. All of us are a little bananas, we think from the heart, and love challenges (even though we routinely crib about them). In that sense, we are blessed, because we get to solve this problem in a creative way. Just like we’ve been doing through all the time we’ve spent in this line of work. That’s the one thing we know how to do well.

CB: There is general consensus that brands abstain from advertising that takes advantage of the pandemic. In any case, given the extent of the shutdown with all production, manufacturing, and services affected like never before, most say what do we advertise anyway? Yet, brands need to be in play — perhaps subliminally. With people working from home, digital seems to have shown the way. What do you think — do you think brands need to keep themselves in play and how, so that they continue to be relevant on the other side of the pandemic?

SP: Like any passionate, greedy professional, I might say that yes, we should be aggressive and keep communicating, so that the categories we function in don’t feel the impact. But it would be stupid to suggest to all of our brands to keep going the way they were before. Each brand is built on certain values and only if the times call for it and allow it, should we take those values forward, keeping the right tonality in mind.

From Taproot’s latest print campaign on the Coronavirus for Free Press Journal.

Some categories have taken a massive beating, as the timing is genuinely not right for them. The lifestyle category, which was on the rise, with our fast-moving young nation, has remained unmoved. The health and wellness categories are already in demand, as are some of the e-commerce and digital products/apps. It’s important for them to have the right tonality when it comes to how to approach the market. Since today, the consumer sentiment is very different from how it was ten weeks ago.

But other categories like household goods, electronics, automobiles, etc. have decided to stay mum and not have their presence felt on any screen during this phase. Others are trying too hard, without, I think, even giving a thought to why — maybe the lure of cheaper media or of great deals is attracting them. There are some who are behaving as if nothing happened and they’re continuing with the same tonality. While others are making you feel even worse than you already do by filling the screen with negativity and topping it with bad production value. This is where a true professional can shine — one who thoroughly understands the TG and dares to say no, who has the guts to stand for what they feel is right when it comes to their partners and brands. Sometimes, a few well left balls are better than getting a wrong edge to the bat.

https://youtu.be/hSfE6XDUvzk
The ‘I am Mumbai’ TVC for Mumbai Mirror that Paddy and Aggie hold very dear in their oeuvre.

CB:This near-apocalyptic event has, shall  we say, redefined everything that we had taken for granted. Consumption, wastefulness, extravaganza, environmental plunder, stress and anxiety-ridden lives. In more ways than one, it’s likely to transform, if not completely so, every known paradigm of life, let alone business and commerce. It cannot be business as usual. Where do you think the business of ‘life’ and the life of ‘business’ can converge and seek balance?

Since time immemorial, we have been hijacking the lives of other creatures. The rat race, mired in money and fame and comfort and growth, has only made matters worse. We had forgotten what it meant to share our world with them. Now, it’s lovely to see them reclaim these spaces. I hope that we continue to see them do this. And that the lesson we’ve taken away from this is to be less selfish and be kinder and more willing to share our world with others.

The city tends to suck a lot out of you
and makes you more practical and rational than emotional. I think that maybe we’ll now see our hearts leading the way more than our minds.

These times have also meant more time with our loved ones and the opportunity to get to know them better. I’ve also noticed how much our patience levels have increased drastically — you’ll probably notice it when you’re talking to a friend or relative and compare it to how you were before. I feel (and I hope I’m right) that we’ve also become more emotional and more sensitive. The city tends to suck a lot out of you and makes you more practical and rational than emotional. I think that maybe we’ll now see our hearts leading the way more than our minds.

I also believe that we’ll seek wisdom in how our grandparents and their parents before them lived. And it will seep into our lifestyles, our food habits, our work ethic. Even our “namaste” is being adopted the world over. And it won’t be long before it becomes the new symbol of cool.

The Pepsi campaign that Paddy and Aggie helmed for the 2011 Pepsi World Cup Cricket — against considerable odds — was an outstanding success, which fetched Taproot the Grand Effe. The Taproot duo regard the campaign as their “biggest break”.

This phase has also forced us to become self-reliant. So many of us have learnt so many new things, just in order to survive and live well. I hope we take these learnings forward. They won’t just make us well-rounded individuals but will also serve as stress-busters for some. Take fitness, for example. We’ve seen how the fitter ones are the ones who have managed things better and more efficiently during this phase. And this will maybe cause those whose fitness is lacking to take it up seriously. So, probably our non-athletic nation will take baby steps towards becoming fitter.

CB:Any meaningful or impactful economic recovery in the near future seems improbable, given that recession-like conditions had gripped the world economy much before the pandemic struck. Many had prophesied that it would be worse than 1929 — that gold standard of recession. The pandemic and the recession together will leave in its wake large-scale structural, financial, social, and political implications. How do you see the way forward for the advertising industry and brands to play a meaningful role in an effort that will necessarily have to be a collective one?

The bottom of the pyramid has always been a solid, stable base for a nation like ours. The ones who make it are the ones who make the nation, who hold the top cone up, who put immense heart and soul into everything they do. Unfortunately, it is they who have suffered the most.

Over the years, we’ve seen how they’ve been taken advantage of. And now, in their absence, we are beginning to understand how much they add to our personal and professional lives. I hope that we all emerge from this with more respect for them. Respect which turns into actions. In the months to come, they’ll be the ones who will emerge the heroes, as they’ll give the nation and us the extra push that is much needed.

The bottom of the pyramid has always been
a solid, stable base for a nation like ours. The ones who make it are the ones who make the nation, who hold the top cone up, who put immense heart and soul into everything they do. Unfortunately,
it is they who have suffered the most…

India can be the new China in certain sectors. Currently, seeing the way the world is pushing back on China, we may have an opportunity to start the export industry afresh. We should take a page out of our neighbours’ books and put our best foot forward in the months to come to give ourselves a step in the direction towards prosperity.

HOW ‘TAPROOT’ SPROUTED

It was ‘Roots’ in the beginning. We had announced it to the world at large. Almost instantly came a call from a BTL agency in Delhi claiming clash of nomenclature! So much for inaccurate legal advice. We didn’t want any more embarrassment. So Aggie and I then spun out a creative acronym — TAP (The Aggie Paddy combine), where ‘Tap’ represented “free flowing creativity”. Fledgling founders soon reclaimed their ‘roots’ so to speak when they quickly prefixed ‘ROOT’ with ‘TAP’. It was thus how we zeroed in on ‘Taproot’.

As I mentioned earlier, “precaution” is going to be a keyword going forward. So categories aligned with that will definitely do well. While others will have to work on rebuilding and strengthening their relationship with consumers. Going forward, brand loyalty will take a beating, as consumers’ priorities will have undergone a sea change and we’ll see this reflected in consumption patterns. These are really challenging times for our industry. And the only way to shine will be to be real, honest, loyal and hardworking. And that applies to everything — from brands to agencies and to people.