By John Stuart
I KNOW I’M NOT GOING TO DO JUSTICE TO THIS MAN, SO I APOLOGISE UP FRONT FOR MY LACK OF NARRATING SKILLS.
Particularly, as I am writing about one of the most talented copywriter’s I have ever worked with.
The web native I’m referring to is Indra Sinha, who I know from my days as a creative services director, back in the 70s, at one of the best agencies in town. If agencies are judged purely on the number of D&AD* awards they piled up, then it was THE best.
Indra won his fair share of these awards across a number of high profile brands, but his particular strength and passion was for issue, specifically charity advertising.His work ranged across Amnesty International, Greenpeace, the Kurdish appeal, all when Saddam Hussain was gassing his area in Northern Iraq. This became a particular personal mission of Indra’s; a campaign to raise money by highlighting the tragedy of Bhopal and to bring the corporation responsible to account.
But like many truly talented writers, he was a handful to deal with.
He could be compulsive, unreliable, erratic, eccentric (in the day, directors of the agency were entitled to company cars- Indra’s chosen model was a sit-on lawn mower) and addictive. But ultimately, when totally engaged on a brief that he was passionate about, he took you with him on a joyous journey of discovery.
But this story is about one of his addictions.
One of my less attractive tasks at the time was signing off the senior creative’s telephone bills. It was usually a bruising experience. I am talking about their home land-line. The thought of a mobile was probably at that time still exclusively in the domain of Martin Cooper’s mind. And now 63% of visits to our web site are via mobile. Anyway, I was sitting down signing off telephone bills when I came across Indra’s. The average charge across all copywriters and art director’s bills was about £20. Indra’s was (from memory) about £200! Asking for an explanation, Indra slowly took me a step at a time into a new world.
Indra was working on a campaign for BAA*
His campaign thought was to highlight the huge number of passengers going through Heathrow at any given time. This involved a melting pot of nationalities, ethnicity, languages, cultural differences and challenges brought to the smooth running of the largest airport in the world. As ever, he always wanted to research his theme in great depth, which was why much of his work was so bloody late. As part of his research for this campaign, he was intrigued to know the culture of the Navajo nation in the South Western United States; including their religious ceremonies, the role their language played in World War II, pueblo architecture and tribal customs.
He explained to me that normally such a task would have been impossible, until he began surfing the net (what?) and had found a font of information on this subject through the faculty of Native American studies at the New Mexico University in Albuquerque. He went on to explain how he had downloaded (er, and that is?) all the information he needed in the form of text and images using his personal modem (a what?). Indra explained how this device connected you to the web (?) via your telephone line and while this was a wonderful creation, it was unreliable and very slow- hence the large phone bill.
“So were you connected to Albuquerque on the phone for hours?” … “Oh no, days.”
It seemed an expensive bill at the time, but I quickly realized what this vista could open up for us across the agency. The planning, media, creative and even production departments could have access to previously unknown information. With hindsight a snip at £200.
I’m still not sure how many Navajo Indians he thought would be passing through Heathrow.
Indra has since moved out of the agency world and has published a number of eclectic books. The first was titled The Cybergipsies, and was about his addiction to the web and the fellow addicts he met while surfing. It’s still published and on Amazon.
He’s also translated from the original Indian text, two worthy books- The Kama Sutra and Tantric Sex. He gave me signed copies for educational purposes. His book Animal’s People, a fictionalised account of the Bhopal disaster, was short listed for the Booker prize and has since been acquired by one of the Hollywood studios. He continues to write advertising for worthy causes. You can read more about this interesting man on his online journal.
*BAA = British Airports Authority
*DA&D + Designers and Art Directors