Santosh Padhi, Founder of Taproot India
Padhi, popularly known as ‘Paddy‘, started his advertising career with DDB before a 10-year stint at Leo Burnett, where he was an Executive Creative Director and the National Head of Art. Together with his business partner and friend Agnello Dias, he started Taproot India in 2008. The agency has since risen to become one of India’s most prominent creative agencies, notching up several accolades along the way, including a Gold Clio and the title of #1 Independent Agency from India at Cannes in its very first year. Padhi holds the record for the most number of Cannes Lions (20) by an individual Indian creative from India and has won gold at almost every advertising award show. He has also served as a jury member for numerous national and international award shows including Cannes, Clio, New York Festival, and many others.
Reese: Paddy, thanks for taking the time for this interview. In your opinion, how important is music in building a brand?
Padhi: Here in India, music plays a particularly important role in our daily lives, and in our history. India has a big legacy of music. Music in India is many thousand years old, the origins of which can be found in the Vedas, which are the oldest scriptures in the Hindu tradition. You can hook consumers in many ways, like the way you tell the story, how it’s written, the way you shoot each frame, the cast etc., but the music is what binds them all together to tell a better, impactful brand story.
Reese: How important is music for you personally and for your work?
Padhi: Personally, I love instrumental, classical and minimalistic music, and prefer to listen alone or with nature around. Music is extremely important, not only in advertising, but for anything and everything in a multicultural country like India. Indian culture is deeply rooted into the various forms of music. We are an audiophilic nation. We have music for every occasion. Nothing is complete without the presence of music in our lives. Be it our lifestyle, customs, food or language. Every state has a music of its own that is unlike any other state. It is a trademark of its own identity, so unique and popular that one can easily tell you in the third second where it comes from.
Reese: Considering the emotional power of music, do you think the right choice of music can change consumer behaviour?
Padhi: Yes. Bollywood is a great example for that. Bollywood is a 100 year-old industry. It has become part of the Indian culture today. This industry has a strong influence on consumers. I wasn’t born with the Bollywood sensibility, but things around me made me get completely used to this culture. And apart from classical and minimalistic music, I do love Bollywood music too. Purely because it energizes you and has a width to it, to fit your need, right from romance, heartbreak, party, tragedy, celebration etc. Almost every movie will have a few songs and dance sequences. Many fans will watch the movie over and over again to see how the song was put to pictures. The music release often becomes the advertising medium to sell the movie, and the movie itself covers its basic cost through the music release. Such is the impact of music in India and this has been happening for more than a decade or so, aggressively, movie after movie. This should give you an idea of how crazy we Indians are, when it comes to music. Advertising is no different. We deal with the same consumers who are so used to Bollywood music that we have to be very careful that, if not better, at least we are at par with the Bollywood music in the 30-second spot. It’s very challenging, but we have been doing it successfully for years, just like Bollywood does.
Reese: Do you believe a brand should be recognizable by sound only?
Padhi: No I don’t think it’s compulsory. But as I said music has the power to bind most things together. At times I have seen the TVC look average, but with the music slapped on it, it has made me ignore its flaws completely.
Reese: What does the audio branding of the future look like?
Padhi: Considering the competitiveness in the market today, brands should try and move forward and become more futuristic. Why restrict yourself to only visual or audio? Let the brand allow consumers to touch, smell, taste as well, if possible. It’s difficult to do so through one medium alone, but through various channels, the brand should leverage all senses. At the same time, however, I don’t think we should overdo branding. The creative piece could become less entertaining or less exciting if we do. No one switches on the TV or radio to see or hear our ads. We have to be more entertaining than the programs where our ads are placed. If we are not engaging and entertaining, our audience is bound to switch channels. We all have seen many brands getting trapped into strict guidelines, into spending millions of dollars on implementation across markets and verticals where the consumer interaction is very low. The process can make the brand so structured that it becomes dehumanized. There has to be a balance of branding in any medium as brands are always less exciting than brand stories.
Reese: Can you share your most memorable experience with music and how it influenced your work?
Padhi: In the 3rd year of my professional carrier, I went for a two-day picnic to a very remote place together with a group of 7 or 8 guys. Since it was a pleasant winter, we decided to sleep on the terrace watching the beautiful sky with glittering stars (which is very rare in Mumbai). Exactly at midnight, while we were relaxing under the star-lit umbrella, we heard a beautiful tune coming from somewhere very far. It sounded re- ally interesting and instantly caught our attention. We were told it was a celebration of tribes, who resided on the mountains very far from where we were. I couldn’t understand a thing but for hours I felt the depth and power of raw, unadulterated music. During my art graduation I was told a visual is a universal language, but that night I also believed that music doesn’t even need a language.
Reese: Is audio brand design a part of your conversation when talking to a client about brand communication?
Padhi: At times, yes, though that mostly happens if the whole idea itself evolves around audio. Usually, music becomes part of the conversation after the script approval, when the director and the music director come on board and we all get together either before or after the shoot. That’s where magic happens.
Reese: A lot of people seem to think that music should be for free. Advertising budgets only allocate very little funds to music. So how do you determine how much you are willing to pay for music – licensed or scored?
Padhi: We mostly buy rights from the Bollywood producers to really connect with our audience, depending on the popularity of the song and movie, the brand usage, mediums, timelines etc. The charges are defined as per the need.
Reese: Is there a certain brand that you admire in their use of audio in their brand communication?
Padhi: We have handled The Times of India Business since Taproot was formed. That brand has done some great cutting-edge work in the past as well. When it comes to films and music, Fevicol is another (Indian) brand where the music has been well integrated to tell a brand story every time. Internationally, for years Bud Light did those wonderful radio spots “real man of genius” year after year which is still very fresh and a wonderful piece of audio craft.
Reese: Do you see a shift in how important music is becoming in your brand communication?
Padhi: I think in India it was always important, since we derive our culture from music. For every occasion, there is a different music that we play to celebrate the festival. Nothing is complete without the presence of music in our lives, be it our lifestyle, customs, food or language. I do, however, believe there is a shift in the quality of music. We are becoming better at it now. The music is becoming crisper. And we are becoming more daring. It used to be more classical, safe and nice. Now the trend has been more fusion, wild, trendy and experimental.
Reese: Where do you see the challenges and opportunities when working with music in a branded social network environment?
Padhi: I would say it’s similar to any other medium, at least in India. Digital is not as big in India as it is in the west.
Reese: How does a big idea feel? Do you recognize it immediately when it arrives?
Padhi: Oh yes, after spending 2 decades in the industry you develop an eye for those gems. Big ideas have a different glow and glitter around them, they make you feel younger and energetic. They make you feel good about being in this industry. Nothing in the world can give you the same high as cracking a real big idea that moves millions of consumers.
Photo source: http://www.newyorkfestivals.com/