Episode 15, Part 2 Exploring Clarity & Chaos In A Creative Agency (Pt II)

In continuation to our previous episode, Divanshu once again sits down with Kunel and Sayantan from Animal, one of India’s largest creative agencies. The conversation begins in questioning the typical image of an advertising agency, one of pressure and constant time-crunch. Kunel and Sayantan myth bust certain dogmas which we had around the space, and clarified the steps they take to keep the atmosphere at Animal high at all times. Furthermore, the guests go deep on their previous projects, and outline certain big wins which were creatively fulfilling for them. Namely, they discuss in-detail projects like Adidas Originals, and Budweiser, which were exciting due to facilitating exploration of so many different mediums. Don’t miss the talk around Animal, and their mark on advertising, tune-in to Thoughtcast by Onething.

Episode Transcript

[DIVANSHU]

Hello, everyone. Welcome to part two of my discussion with Kunel and Sayantan, who are co-founders of Animal, one of the leading creative agencies in the country. I mean, not just in the country, globally, they are doing some amazing work. We’ve had an amazing first part and an amazing response to the first part of this discussion. We hope you listen to this part also so that you can understand the entire conversation and the context.

I’m sure you guys are growing and you know, you’re at a stage where you know, I won’t say that you’re moving away from the core team, but when, when you grow, your involvement in day-to-day operations and day-to-day work slightly reduces, right. And that is something that is very critical to, a creative company like yours.

That is the culture that you’ve built. As you said, you were two people and then it trickles down, right. How do you ensure that it sustains itself? You know, it’s not a two people job. It’s a collective effort. Right? How do you maintain that culture that, as you said, you know, whatever work you put outside is that which comes inside and, and culture, is something that you actually put outside. How have you worked? What is your mantra of it? 

[SAYANTAN]

The culture can change in a second. Like a few people leave and the culture is completely different, you know? Like, so the whole thing that we tried to do actually, as much as, we are quite involved with the day-to-day work of it.

Like, you know, so we understand, like we put, we put our eyes on it and put our sensibilities on it. But as much as we work with other people, they start becoming that. Like, they understand that there’s an Animal way of working.

[Kunel]

I think we’re more like gatekeepers, like, you know, so we, we control the kind of brands that come in, the kind of people who come in. And what goes out, the work that goes out, but everything else between is all built by the people. It’s all the team that’s doing. You know, that’s bringing in that sensibility. We just have to kind of course-correct it here and there, but everything else essentially is just falling in place. Just you know, coming across because they’ve kind of been following us.

They look at the work, they know the kind of, there’s a lot of discussion that, that happens on all projects and everything that, you know, so it’s, just that, I think it’s a team that just kind of evolves out of, all the work that we’re already doing. 

[SAYANTAN]

So they do the work. We, we like to take the credit.

[DIVANSHU]

I mean, old people actually you know, bind to that culture and they actually, you know, I think it’s very important for them to, be part of the company, and stay with the company for longer. I think that the foundation, that is very important to build this company or any company, you know, going ahead.

So, you know, we watch all these shows and then news and, you know, social media. All or most the advertising agencies or the way we perceive of them. There’s, there’s a pressure cooker situation. Like we see shows like Madmen and all that. There’s always that pressure, the client last minute request and extremely, you know, situations which, could make or break things for you that is that actually true?

Like, does it happen like that? Or how do you manage all that? Because clients obviously come up with requests.

[KUNEL]

Yeah, I mean, it’s true. It happens on and most products is actually the case, but, the idea is to balance it as much as possible. And make sure there’s less, late nights, less of weekends that are spent working.

[SAYANTAN]

But I would say that we understand sometimes it might be like you’re asking them to do extra things, but we’re not taking for granted and we will not let clients take their time for granted as well. But if suddenly all these things come, it could be like, if suddenly there is a job, it has this thing, which requires an immediate thing.

And of course that’s a, once in a blue moon thing. We will take care of it, we are your partners, but it cannot be that this is the way things work everyday. This is like things will, will boil over and go, and people will have to work late. And on that is, that is not accepted.

And we’ve tried to enforce and implement this system of working with. Is there a pressure cooker system? Of course there is. I think, I don’t know. It is one of the most high-pressure jobs of writing like corporate advertising is. And I think everyone sees these shows. They’re the incredible shows, but with Madmen and all, but people don’t, like clients don’t behave like that anymore.

You know what? They don’t hold us with such high regard. Like this guy will come and say the genius would say something and we, go with that. So it’s a harder job, but we’re trying to keep the pressure situation, we, to a minimum, like, I don’t think the pressure will ever go out of it because that’s the job.

[DIVANSHU]

Yeah. Let’s be honest. We can’t take pressure it out. It’s part of any agency will be under pressure as long as it’s managed and not, you know, kind of creating that stress among team members. 

[SAYANTAN]

I think it’s, it’s. It’s good. Yeah. And we have taken like really strong measure as well. Like, you know, like really had really strong arguments.

Clients and they say on, repeat offenders, like, so to speak. But if there’s a vicious cycle of like continuous wrong working. Then there’s, the system is broken. Like you said, talent is really important and culture is important and we don’t want to be, have the culture of just like anything goes and, and we’ve taken those calls.

[DIVANSHU]

You know, advertising actually it’s changed a lot over time, you know? Probably with my last 15 years of work experience. And obviously you’ve been part of advertising exposed to advertising through various products and all that. How is it changing in terms of, this whole creator economy kind of coming in where people are becoming influencers, they’re creating their own content.

They’re vouching for products and endorsing products, XYZ. How does a company like you, you know, is impacting it or it is impacting you? Or are you seeing a new trend, of the way you’re building, advertising assets or something? Like, how is it changing things for you? 

[KUNEL]

Yeah. I think the creative economy is the future.

I mean, it’s, in some ways it’s already kind of building itself out in a lot of different ways, with the gig economy, which are started about 10 years back, it’s already, like people are working on their own and creating, we’ve got some people in-house, like influencers in their own right. And they’re working in making content right, left and center. So, and I would say that it’s going to go and it’s going to keep growing from here, you know, like. People who are like unhappy with their jobs as possibly the largest market opportunity for anyone globally transcends everything. So, I’m sure there’s going to be a bunch of companies and startups coming out of, just leveraging that in some way where we kind of bring back power into the hands of people, individuals, essentially, just people.

And, we’re all we’re thinking of evolving, the company or business in a way that is beneficial. And it works for the team in a way that they don’t have to be, working on things on projects or at least things they don’t want to be working on and rather work on people, the kind of work they want to create as an individual.

So we’re thinking of working on some platforms that we were also discussing about, and then, and that’s where we’re kind of headed. So, like I said, the evolution kind of keeps going on and, we have some ideas on the table, so let’s see.

[SAYANTAN]

Actually advertising has changed so much, you know, like I would say the new coming really coming into it, like I would say about like right before the social media really took off, what advertising really did was it provided a heft of culture in the country.

You know what I’m saying? Like all the culture of it was actually because there was no, there was no inferences. There was no nothing. It was being provided. So the stuff that you saw was like, for example, the Pepsi ads or something was like, actually like Shah-Rukh Khan thing. Like, you know, like, because you never got any access to them.

This was culture and this is, it was creating culture. So advertising and like proper advertising, what were the cultural creators. So we were actually in a much more powerful. Please in itself, but now the way it is, we don’t have that cultural heft. You know what I’m saying? Right now? I don’t think like advertising does not really create the, cultural moments that is defined.

So we borrow from other cultures. 

[KUNEL]

I mean, in terms of, uh, just, companies that can, you know, cater to this dichotomy, which is coming. You can tell that with the whole web 3 and where the NFTs and crypto and all of that is going, and, you know, the new things that are going to be born out of that, there will be a completely new way of working eventually, and we want to be ready for it when it happens.

[DIVANSHU]

So, yeah, I mean, I think it’s good to think ahead. With your strength and creative influence that you have in your mind all the time and you’ll be able to build up something nice. So, India design ecosystem is really evolved. It’s really changed. In the last 5-6 years.

We are looked at as a destination that can actually build up good products, come up with really good campaigns and all that. And there’s so many of them, what right now is the difference that you actually see your, we need to improve probably, that is happening in the west, or some trends that you want to talk about.

[KUNEL]

So, I think it has to start from the top somewhere. Like, you know , the brands, the companies, the people working in those companies. Have to start with a train that, you know, is something that’s picked upon, by the people. I am a firm believer of the whole idea that, you know people don’t know what they want until they see something that they like and love.

So it’s, it’s only up to us and brands to kind of start to end. People are doing it. Like a lot of brands are experimenting with something and we don’t have to even match up to like the West in any way. We can just find our own kind of language and build it out, made that, contemporary, something that looks like it’s coming out of an Asian country like India, and it’s still 2021.

So, you know that it speaks that language. And, we just have to find it on our own. And, I think the more we kind of, build it out, with the brands, bringing in content that’s that’s new age and contemporary, the more, people will adapt to it. And they’ll, they’ll ask for it more. 

[SAYANTAN]

Unless design goes out to the world and becomes a part of our culture of how we look at things, things will not change.

It will remain like. Some small shops here, there, you know what I’m saying? Where designers are flourishing, but designers only flourishes when it becomes a part of the culture, like, like I think it was Jerusalem. And you said that there was only like wreck the tile stone. 

[KUNEL]

I mean, yellow, Jerusalem stone that they use for all of their architecture.

So the city looks beautiful because there’s, there’s been laws that were put in place to make sure that it happens. Like just like in Greece or like other places like there have to be, some, you know, laws. 

[SAYANTAN]

And we tried in a small way with the Indianama. Now what we did with Indianama actually for that one edition. Which I think I’m super off actually, it’s one of my favorite things, uh, is we just took, like all local enterprises.

So like from your, from your, kirana store, barber shop shop. Yeah. And we paired them bit designers and we asked them to create a design identities for, for the Kirana store or for the dhaba something like that. So they’ve worked with these designers. This was an independent project.

This was an independent project for Indianama. 

[KUNEL]

And we try to like, and that’s when I say that it’s up to us to put that, sensibility out for other people. Because when we did that with like some of the shops that were willing to do it, the other shops came to us and they want to do it for themselves because those are the shops that refused in the first they’ll always be.

Bit of a tug of war, but as, as much as possible, we try to put that sensibility, that idea out that, you know, there is something that they can do. 

[SAYANTAN]

It comes like a, like a what’s it called, an effect like a domino effect. What I’m saying, like they say, like if more people are coming to that shop, what’s the reason get that shop looks good.

So I also want it, you know what I’m saying? So suddenly the thing of the importance of design in a very basic manner that it helps me sell more, which is a very money thing. Unless that thinking begins, then it’s just otherwise just like, you know, kids here and just making things pretty, but it cannot be, it has to become a way of life.

[DIVANSHU]

Let me just pick up from what you just said. If you see trucks on the highway. Yeah. Almost every truck had the same kind of art done, you know, and that back in the day, some guy would have gotten done and every truck looks just similar, right? I mean, there is a cascading or there’s a domino effect that happens, you know, and design gets that attention.

Like we believe, like, I think it’s part of our opening, deck. Those are the two first, the second slide that good design reduces chaos. That’s what we believe in. And I think, we as a society, we, when we say. We know people on the top. He said, the not taking design thinking as the first step, you know, they always thinking or problem now what to do now let’s get, say, designers, let’s solve it through you actually see cities in India, a better design, or, you know, these problems are less of that.

If the design thinking happened first, I don’t know if , you’re been to Chandigarh is designed in a manner. The certain tenets, certain principles are set. You can not create search structures like that. You can not let go of greenery or patches. You have to have bylines and all that. I think this is great thinking and it, stays for longer.

I mean, compared to Gurgaon where, I mean, you could just build up a building tomorrow anywhere. So, and now you creating roads from within buildings, right? So.

[KUNEL]

And once it, once it starts as a behavior or like, you know, like, like you said, in the case of the truck art, we will copy something that works right for them. The idea is you use that to, to a good cause, which is basically just copying good behavior, which is, you know, like if this works a good design starts to become mainstream and it’s working for a few, the others will copy and then use that to make sure that it’s kind of true everywhere.

[DIVANSHU]

Design is part of, a culture somewhere and it actually defines culture more. 

[SAYANTAN]

I mean, we like inadvertently, even if you don’t, if you’re not thinking about it, it’s part of culture, like it will become certain things will become a part of. But design is at the heart of it. It’s just whether you want to consciously push good design out or not.

[DIVANSHU]

Right. You know, picking up from Indiama thing. Do you want name some of the projects that you did out of, and you’re really proud of.

[KUNEL]

I think, uh, the couple of case, I mean, just.I would say like the body of work that we produced with Adidas Originals, which have been like a couple of different campaigns because they, they would launch like a product new product every, every three months or so. And we ended up creating like from, from graphics to identity, to design, to animation, to films, to events and all of that.

So a lot of different kinds of things that we got to experiment with, like launch, whether it was the launch of the Pharrell Williams collection in India, or the EQT or NMD that we launched all of their silhouettes in different ways and, they all had their own kind of positioning in their own kind of thing.

So that got us a lot of different. One other case study was working with Budweiser because Budweiser version produced a lot of them kinds of work like street wear, like Sayanthan was just talking about, have done films for them. They, they’ve been doing some new products. Now they’re coming up with some new products, which we will.

Currently, and it’s a completely new brand launch from like a social media point of view. So yeah, within great portfolio of work that we’ve done with, Bud for the last about three years or so, and another campaign that, is Bhima that we kind of, Sayanthan possibly talk about. 

[SAYANTHAN]

It came out in the first half of this year, and actually did really well for us.

It did, it got a lot of attention, um, and it really showed us, showed again, demonstrated the possibility. When, good intent really meets good, good client. Good intent comes from both sides from the creators, like from us, but also from the clients. Right. And then finally, of course, execution, you know, when, which has to happen at the, which is so important, but when there’s good intention, when there’s trust, and then there’s an openness to work and collaborate together, it’s some of the work that can happen.

And I think it really showed, how well it did really demonstrated to us the importance of that. So yeah, I think that’d be some of the work we’ve done. There are also other works like, Kunel and I have a bit of a history with, with Airtel and not all of it. Good.

[DIVANSHU]

You guys did Airtel black, right?

[SAYANTAN]

Yes. So, the identity projects for, so we, we redid the, social, I didn’t treat for them because they refresh for them. 

[KUNEL]

So because they are two being the scale at which they work with, they have a lot of touch points in a lot of places that they send their creatives in and multiple agencies that they work with for release, whether it’s digital, offline, online.

So we worked on an entire VIS guideline for them, which is something that is cohesive, that will work across verticals.

[SAYANTAN]

 I don’t have to come because, because socially, because the early one wasn’t actually suited for this proliferation of social media. So that’s what they wanted to do.

[KUNEL]

Yeah. And yeah, Airtel black essentially then was born out of it. So that’s part of the larger identity piece that we’ve done for them.

[DIVANSHU]

Are you guys doing anything? Through design thinking through creative thinking, anything to do with social causes, something.

[SAYANTAN]

We’ve worked for UNICEF quite a bit, actually. And I think we had the roster of the worldwide agencies. So we do like to work, work on it and it’s important to us. We do wait for the right projects to come along, but yeah, we have done quite a few projects actually for, for Unicef for Amnesty, for UNICEF New York. And, I think for, Ghana and, for quite a few.I think headquarters all over, all over the world, actually. 

[DIVANSHU]

Right. So moving onto the last part of the conversation, I mean, lot of the audience that we have would be, you know, young designers, creative designers who want to, you know, start their careers. Part of this domain, do you want, them to know or them to be aware of certain, future trends or certain way the industry’s moving and they should start building their career towards that?

[KUNEL]

I think I would say, and Sayanthan can add. So I would say like, I mean, I just, I think just do what you want to do because a lot of people try to do something that is kind of doing really well on like say social or other places. It kind of dilutes. What, what was it about them? You know, like this, so it says good to follow what they really want to do and everything else just comes and falls into place.

[DIVANSHU]

That’s what you’re gonna expect from our creative. 

[SAYANTAN]

Like, if it’s true, like I think, and I think we, we, at this stage in, in the world, when anything you do well, you can make money out of it. So really understanding yourself is, is the most important thing. It’s not just like, and there’s so many trends to do.

So instead of just blindly following trends, just understand what is it that, that gives you the most joy and it gives you the most pleasure and go for that. And everything else, like he’s saying will, will fall into place. 

[Kunel]

Yeah. And for the first time, ever that’s legit. Like that’s, that’s working for like a lot of people look around you, like it’s everywhere.

So yeah. You just have to add it. I grew up, people are like very shy. Like they don’t put, they don’t put work out. I’ve been telling a lot of people at Animal as well, like to put stuff out, to keep working, keep . Yeah. I don’t know. This generation is like possibly just to exist as like hard work.

[DIVANSHU]

I think opening up the world on a social platform or various platforms. I think it has its pros and cons. I mean, let’s do open the world, but it has built anxiety levels, and unit has built that conscious. Will I be accepted or not?

Probably for some other time.

[SAYANTAN]

But, it is hard work though. It is, it is. There’s no like, Hey, when you put us out dates, Like, there is no, like, I’ll do it for like two, three days then, I’ll do my summer vacation and then I come back, I’ll do it, you know that. 

[KUNEL]

But at that point, like, you know, that’s why like doing what you love is, is the only way you could do it.

Because if it’s, if you’re following the trend, then it’s pressure for you. Then you then have to be. The way that the fact that you have to be at-it means that you’re working towards something that’s not naturally you. So if it’s actually not really work, it’s nothing, it’s not following this or following that.

It’s just you doing your own thing. And sometimes it will kind of, you know, like, catch fire. Sometimes more and most times it won’t possibly, but that’s fine. Yeah. As long as you’re happy. Yep. 

[DIVANSHU]

Thank you guys. It has been a super conversation, not just for me. I think for the audience who would be listening to this, uh, we’ll keep coming back with, uh, such conversations.

Keep listening, keep watching. Uh, thank you and subscribe to the podcast.

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