Advertising Writing – The Truth About Creativity

Prettiest when it rains!

Prettiest when it rains!

Two days at the lush campus of Northpoint, Khandala, spent amongst greenery, clouds, young minds and a super swimming pool are a great treat by themselves! Check out the photos of our session here.

Advertising has always been a field that is seen through the looking glass of awe, wonder and magic. The things that copywriters and designers do, the jingles the musicians churn up, the TV commercials that are made, have enamoured many a young lad and lass – either to embrace tightly or to reject entirely, the ability and possibility to be in this Creative field, probably the most creative field in the 21st century.

Learning to write for Advertising

Learning to write for Advertising

And yet, when I spoke about Creative writing and Copywriting to the Northpoint batch, I was compelled to tell the younger ones, that advertising is not all about creativity. That  the bread-butter of most advertising agencies comes not through the super-creativity that we associate advertising with, but regular, boring stuff. Like plainly written brochures, information pamphlets, TV ads that talk about Rs.2 off on a boring soap bar. Hours and hours are spent on doing stuff that will lead to cold, hard sales, rather than a gold at Cannes or an award in-house.

Yes, the industry is more creative, than say the banking sector. But what about when you are working on an ATM notice poster (the kinds you see inside ATM cabins all the time and never pay attention to?) that just wants to say that the interest rates on outstanding credit card amounts have been increased to 2.25%? The super creative alcohol, watches, condom ads that make into the mock-portfolio of many a ‘creative’ kinds are not the stuff that you do daily.

And indeed, even within the industry, the people are split into the ‘Creatives’ and ‘everyone else’. The creatives will include the copywriters, the designers, the musicians, the film-makers. Everyone else includes the Account Planners, the Client Servicing, the Business Development. While the Creatives will execute the final leg of the process, it is a lot of hours spent on the initial brief by the everyone else that results in a good ad campaign, as much as the brilliant twist of phrase by the copywriter or the excellent design element by the visualiser.

It is easier to learn to be creative for advertising than people think. And yet the challenges are many, sometimes, not very obvious to the inexperienced.

It is easier to learn to be creative for advertising than people think. And yet the challenges are many, sometimes, not very obvious to the inexperienced.

For a student, to understand the industry and how it works, it is essential to strip away the boundaries between the creative and the business sense. It is essential to know that creativity required for advertising is not the Pablo Picasso kinds. The creativity is not the ends by itself. It is a means to achieving sales or brand building – an objective beyond itself. The creativity required for advertising can be learnt by those who are ready to work on their language and design skills. It is not necessarily a bastion of those born with a flair for writing or design. That might just make the entry easier. But staying in the industry, doing work that is effective rather than creative, requires experience, understanding of people and psychology and the humbling knowledge that your job hinges not on how utterly awesome you are but whether you can deliver good stuff on strict deadlines. Stuff based more on client requirements than that super idea of yours.

Like Piyush Pandey told us during my convocation at Northpoint, “Advertising is a lot of fun. There are parties, glamour, celebrities. But once you finish your course and get into the real world, you will realise ki kaam bhi karna padta hai!”

Piyush Pandey at our Convocation

Piyush Pandey at our Convocation

Check out the photos of our session here.

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How Important Is It To Find Your Element?

I managed to read the book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything over the weekend. The book, written by Ken Robinson, talks about the importance of finding the one thing that you like the most and then pursuing it passionately for a fulfilling life. Paul Graham more or less says the same thing in his famous article How To Do What You Love.

Robinson’s book triggered a number of thoughts in my mind. It is full of examples of people from various fields, including sports, dance, music and entrepreneurship; the people who made it big. When I was reading about these people, I found an unmistakable similarity among all of them. They all wanted to live a meaningful life. They all wanted to achieve something. They were also determined to put in the efforts, and were passionate about the things they chose to do.

What separates these people who are so full of life from the ordinary people is not that they found their element as Robinson puts it. I think it’s the zeal for perfection and the passion for life and the passion for everything that they choose to do is what makes them extraordinary.

Our education system is designed in such a way that most of the students hardly get an opportunity to try out anything in their school days. It also defines a very linear path to success. Perform well in academics, go to a decent college, get a degree and you will get a decent job. It is only after college that people realize that it doesn’t work that way. You need to have much more than just a degree to not only get a decent job, but also to live a decent life.

Our society fosters a false notion in children’s heads that to succeed in life, you only need to clear exams with good marks. Forget extra-curricular activities, even learning and understanding of subject matter is considered secondary. Independent learning is not encouraged. Students are provided ready-made notes, have tuitions outside schools and are taught formulas to clear exams. This approach proves very dangerous as students remain weak academically as well as do not develop important life skills such as communication skills, critical thinking, or appreciation of art.

I agree with Robinson that you need to find where your interest lies and then pursue that interest for a happier life. But I do not agree that this interest is innate, or it can not be created/manufactured, or that we can not have multiple interests. As a child, I was not exposed to either reading or writing. But I still developed an interest in them. Most of the people who go on to become artists have a natural interest in those arts, along with the talent of course. But I also know many people who develop an interest after they get exposed to something. One of my friends took up Fine Arts because his uncle told him to. Before that he had never thought of it as a career option. But in his fourth year in college, he said that he was really enjoying it, and liked the idea of pursuing a career in it. You develop an interest in things as you dabble in them.

I think having an interest is secondary to developing a passion for something, because it can be manufactured (provided you have talent and have taken enough training for that particular thing). What is important is the positive approach to life, zeal for perfection, being open to try out new things, open to learn new things and not caring much about the conventional definition of success. Life does not have a final goal (Death can not be a person’s final goal. If it was, everybody would have committed suicide). There is no such thing as an ultimate success. We can only have short term goals. But it is very important to enjoy the process as we strive to achieve them.

Shiksha Power Creative Writing Programmes

SP Poetry Workshop Group Photo

When I used to write ads, working as a copywriter for India’s oldest advertising agency and even when I wrote my book, I always felt that I could have done with technical training in writing. While the west is choc-a-bloc with writing courses offered by individuals, institutes and universities, India is sorely lacking in them. Most established English writers in the country who have had any training in writing, seem to be trained in the west.

As with everything Shiksha Power aims to do, to fill gaps in education is a major goal. From teaching people how to communicate for growth in the corporate, to teaching children to express themselves effectively, we try to teach people things that will make their life more fulfilling and sometimes, even easier. When a lot of people started asking us to teach them to write, we came up our Creative Writing Programmes.

Creative writing is a vast area of expertise. It takes years and years for people to hone their talent and create their masterpiece. Yet, it is not a skill that is meant only for a few gifted ones. The advertising industry taught me that writing, like management skills, physical skills, can indeed be taught and sharpened. When I met Sunita and saw the way she taught kids to be natural at expressing themselves through the written word, through poems, stories and essays, we thought, why can’t we bring this to adults?

Our first venture into this area was our extremely restorative Residential Creative Writing Power Camp at Igatpuri (Check the photos here). The sun, mountains, chilly mornings, starlit skies and a lot of writing even by people who had never written earlier made sure we were going to continue with our creative writing programmes for adults as well as children.

When a lot of people who could not attend the residential camp asked us to have something in the city, we came up with the One Day Poetry Writing Workshop. We held the workshop in V.G. Vaze College, Mulund, Mumbai on July 7. Many college students and professionals participated in the workshop enthusiastically. It helped them learn the tricks of poetry writing and gain confidence as well.

Jui Feedback

We plan to have more such programmes in the future. If you want to organise one for your college/institution, please let us know. We also have a twelve session Poetry Workshop Pogramme called Poetry Sundays for 10 to 14 year kids at JustBooks Library at Hiranandani Meadows, Thane.

Ice Master – Short Story (Creative Writing Camp, May 2013)

This is a story written during The Residential Creative Writing Power Camp that was held at Igatpuri between the 24th and 26th of May, 2013. Hope you like it.

A quick note. Barf (pronounced to rhyme like Turf or Surf and not as Scarf) in Hindi means Ice.

It was only those few seconds when they unloaded him from his personal fridge to move him into the ice-cream godown that had left half his left ear looking eaten up. And he made no qualms showing his displeasure! He squinted his black button eyes in a way that made the trolley workers look at each other and wonder whether they were dealing with a cute snowman or an abominable one.

All of four feet and three fat globes of snow, including the smallest one on top for his head, Barf Master, as the new kids in Mumbai called him, was the least favourite of his master, back in the more comfortable climes of Greenland. A comfortable minus four degrees on warmer days and nippier on cooler ones, Mumbai in May was not Greenland at all! All he had got for coming here was a name he didn’t like, a melted ear and probably a heat boil on his bum.

His master, although he didn’t quite like him, had been a rich spoilt brat. He had made about a hundred snowmen last year and Barf Master was one of the earlier ones. While the newer snowmen had custom made noses and human looking eyes complete with the white of the eye and irises in various hues and colours, Barf Master was the old school kinds. Cucumber nose, old coat button eyes and three ping-pong balls for buttons on his trunk. When his master’s father’s company had decided to send snowmen for children in hotter climates to play with, Barf Master had been one of the first ones to be given away.

The children in Mumbai had loved him! Scrawny, dirty and so dark, Barf Master had never seen children like these! He had cringed the first time they came to look at him and when the naughty ones had tried to touch him. He still cringed each time. He now lived in an old and huge refrigerator that had once been used as an ice-cream godown. It was situated in the middle of a huge slum complex and the children swarmed from all over it to look at Barf Master. They had seen so much snow for the first time in their lives!

>May and June had turned out to be when the most number of kids visited him. While he cribbed and complained and cringed, he reveled in the attention he was getting. He didn’t like the kids touching him and leaving brown finger stains on his once spotless white body, but he loved the “Ah!”s and “Ooh!”s he inspired. That is why when July and August saw less of them because rains had flooded the storehouse in which the refrigerator was, Barf Master had been almost heartbroken. So imagine his relief when the kids started coming back to see him in September! He had thought, he would never see them again! Barf Master had smiled from ear to melted ear when they came to meet him and he hadn’t even cringed when a little kid had tried to lick him.

All of this changed in October. October in Mumbai was May all over again. But this time, apparently it was worse. Fewer and fewer kids had come to see Barf Master. One day when only two kids had turned up, Barf Master heard them talking about it being so hot outside that kids had been falling sick, some were even in the hospital. This was just horrendous! Barf master remembered how painful it was to lose part of his ear. He could only imagine how it would be for the poor kids. But what could he do for them?

>As night fell, he came up with a plan. He had already made friends with all the cool air in the refrigerator. He knew the cool air was just the hot air from outside that was better off. All he had to do was to tell the cool air to tell the hot air to cool off! And he did just that. While he couldn’t move from where he was, he directed all the cool air in his huge refrigerator to go off from the vents and cracks, outside, and to let the hot air in instead. While the hot air cooled in the refrigerator, he spoke to it and asked it to do the same! And boy, did that work! While it made him sweat and melt a little everyday, the kids started getting better. More of them came to see him everyday. October was getting worse, but the kids were getting better.

Till one day when the hot air came in and for some reason Barf Master started sweating and melting a little more than usual. It was a little after noon and the watchman had gone for lunch. That is when these bunch of kids walked in. There were four of them and one of them looked very sick. For all the dark she was, she looked pale. Tiny, frail thing, she couldn’t have been more than 5 years old. Listening to their talk, Barf Master came to know that she couldn’t bear the heat outside. So, they had gotten her to Barf Master’s fridge, to sit till the evening. Barf Master was sweating and melting quite a lot. He noticed the kids had left the door open. Hot air blanketed him. He could feel his cucumber nose slipping from his face.

The kids stayed there till the watchman came and shooed them away. It was almost dusk. The air was still warm and for Barf Master it was like he was in a volcano. He had melted to half of what he was. He kept sending out cool air while hot air came back in. He knew he wasn’t going to last for long, but he had to send the cool air for the kids. He couldn’t even remember what it was like at Greenland anymore, even when he tried hard.

The next day the kids came to see Barf Master in the morning, there was nothing but a pool of water, some ping-pong balls, buttons and a cucumber. They complained to the watchman who came in and saw that there was a crack in the back wall of the refrigerator. It let outside air in. And on a day when there was no electricity in the entire city, what else could happen to a useless snowman but this, he pointed to the dirty pool of water and asked the kids.

-Anish Vyavahare

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Isabel (Poem)

This is a poem from Shiksha Power’s poetry competition held in various schools in Thane. The poem is written by Sakshi Udavant, a class sixth student from the D.A.V Public School, Thane. The topic was The Bicycle Race. Hope you enjoy it.

Once there was a bicycle race
It started off with a fast pace

First was Isabel
But in between she fell

She fell in the dirt
And got badly hurt

She called her mother
To care, there was no one other

Unlucky was her ride,
So Isabel finally died

The Creative Writing Residential Power Camp by Shiksha Power

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We share our happiness, sorrows, experiences, memories… We tell stories… We express! We talk, we listen, we watch, we see, we read and we write.

Communication is the basis of all our relationships. It is the one thing that makes us who we are. We love to tell stories, and share our experiences and thoughts. But there are some who love to write them. If you are one of them, then come join us at The Creative Writing Residential Power Camp, where we will explore various ways in which you can learn to express yourself better as well as hone the craft of writing.

If you always wanted to learn to write stories and poems and never knew how to, then this camp is exactly for you. And why do it in a boring classroom when you can do it at a nice place away from the city?

The workshop is open for everyone above the age of 16 years. The primary medium of instruction will be English with a sprinkling of Hindi and Marathi.

The course will be conducted by Sunita Saldhana, a teacher and trainer for over 30 years. She has been teaching creative writing and English conversation to kids and adults both. She will be assisted by Anish Vyavahare, a published writer, former copywriter and founder of Poetry Tuesdays, a social property running for almost two years.

The cost for the course will include stay for the duration of the course, and it shall include all meals during the course of stay. The place we will be staying at includes comfortable accommodation on a sharing basis. The sessions will be conducted in air-conditioned conference facilities as well as outdoor areas.

What will you learn?
1. Learning to write stories
2. Building characters
3. Writing dialogues
4. Plot devices
5. Writing poems

When: 24 May, 2013 (Friday) to 26 May, 2013 (Sunday)

Where: Igatpuri, Nasik

How to register: Call us on 80808 25785 or mail us at ask@shikshapower.com to book your seat. Bookings will be confirmed on payment of the course fees.

MOOCs: A New Page In Higher Education

Imagine a future in which you can take lessons from the best professors in the world, have complete freedom to choose whichever course you want, attend the classes from home at whatever time you prefer, study at your own pace and that too for free. You probably think I am kidding. Well, I am not. And I am not talking about some distant future either. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), a new trend in higher education, which is generating a lot of buzz in the western countries, has made all of this possible.

MOOCs are online courses offered by various web platforms, such as Coursera, Udacity, Udemy and edX. The courses on offer range from Intro to Computer Science to The Modern and the Postmodern to Economic Issues, Food and You to How to Build a Start-up. The courses are mostly short term and each course runs for a few weeks (note- Udacity does not have a calendar based schedule).

Every course has an instructor, who sets the syllabus and looks after everything else the course consists of, including lectures, assignments and evaluation. A course is designed in such a way that students can also jump in the middle and every student can cover the syllabus at her own pace. Students are supposed to watch the video lectures put up on the website and also do the extra-reading that is suggested. Evaluation is mostly in the form of quizzes and writing assignments. Interaction among students and between students and teachers is highly encouraged. Since the courses are add-on courses and not a replacement for university degrees, syllabus is designed in such a way that students have to dedicate only a few hours a week for studies.

MOOCs is in essence an extension of distance learning. But what makes it almost a revolutionary concept is the sheer scale it can achieve at very low costs. A typical course can enroll around 60,000 students at one time. Anybody anywhere in the world with a broadband connection can sign up as there are no qualification prerequisites for most of the courses.

Internet has transformed many industries since its emergence, including music, publishing and journalism. It has changed their distribution models and revenue streams. It has democratized information by cutting down access costs. Some experts feel the same will happen in the higher education sector with MOOCs gaining traction. Cost, convenience, reach and variety of courses are some of the strong points of MOOCs. If the concept goes mainstream, it can truly democratize the education sector.

But thinking it will replace our current university education system will be foolish. University is not a place where you just learn concepts; it’s a place where you learn to socialize, interact with fellow classmates, appreciate various cultures, learn leadership skills and also have fun. Even if we talk in strictly academic terms, internet can’t be a replacement for a professor physically delivering a lecture and interacting with students in a physical classroom.

It has been just one year since MOOCs have been around in their current form. So it will be too early to make any predictions. If MOOCs have to reach to the masses, India will have to create indigenous content in English as well as regional languages. India still faces the basic problem of infrastructure i.e. access to computers and broadband connectivity, so it will be interesting to see how the story unfolds here.

Take Your Higher Studies Seriously

Our society looks at education as a passport to upward mobility and a better lifestyle. A parent, while discussing his child’s studies, said, “I don’t want my son to face the same hardships that I had to and to make it possible, I will try to give him the best education possible.”

But it remains only a dream for many families. Not because they lack access or resources, but mainly because they make wrong choices! Many students realize they have opted for the wrong course only after they start studying. They complete the course and later pursue some other course, wasting few precious years of their lives.

It is astonishing that though we rate education so highly, we are so careless about selecting a course, which may greatly impact our future endeavours. The two most obvious choices are either engineering or medicine, and the only basis for selecting them is that they offer high-paying jobs. Aptitude, interest, intellectual capacity is paid no heed at all.

We don’t understand that higher education needs to be planned. We should be clear about what course we want to pursue, which college we want to take admission in, and on what basis we make these choices. Most parents and students are clueless about what they want to do till the time results are out. Then they are left with very less time to explore. This results in taking admission to the safest courses. Safest courses are the ones which most of the students opt for, like engineering or medicine, or something that a family member or a relative is pursuing (e.g. if the father is a lawyer, chances are the child will also take up law) or the peers are taking admission to.

The biggest mistake that students make is that they don’t follow their interests. Most of the time, they can’t only recognize what their interests are. One of my friends was pursuing B.Sc., but later realised that she did not like it. She likes to read, write, sketch and is a bit creative in the usual sense of the word. Hence, later she shifted to BMM after wasting one year in Science. But most of the people are not so daring. They stick to the course even if they realize that it’s not for them.

Parents and students both need to be sensitized about how they make career choices. Students need to find out what they want to do in life and where their passion lies. It will avoid disappointments and resentments later in life.

Another Brick In The Wall

It has become a cliché to say that we have two Indias: one the English speaking, resource-rich urban India and the other semi-educated, resource-constrained rural India. If we look at the condition of education in our country, the same two Indias can be observed there too.

Schools in villages lack basic amenities, such as libraries, access to water and toilets. Some schools even lack playgrounds. The quality of teachers is really bad. It affects students’ learning and they falter in basic skills like reading, writing and arithmetic. No doubt, the same problems can be observed in cities too, but the condition is not so dire.

Villages offer a great opportunity in outdoor learning, if only teachers are ready to use the available space. You don’t need to have hi-tech facilities to impart education, you just need a bunch of teachers who are passionate about their work and are capable enough. But sourcing these kind of teachers has proved to be a challenge in villages as well as cities.

Village schools rarely pay attention to the extra-curricular activities. Only a few students get to participate in events like elocution, essay writing or group singing in inter-school competitions. Schools never hold intra-school events. Reading is not encouraged. Teachers don’t try to make the classes interactive. And as a result holistic growth of a child does not become possible.

Students face the biggest problem while learning English. Teachers themselves aren’t fluent in the language. Some of them can’t even read and write properly. So students obviously suffer. Plus unlike their urban counterparts, students don’t have parents who speak in English. They don’t get English newspapers at their doorsteps every day and they don’t watch English programmes on TV. More than 80 per cent students go to vernacular medium schools (though this number is decreasing gradually), so there is no exposure to English at all. And as a result, you have a large number of students who can’t read, write or understand even basic English.

It doesn’t help that higher education in India is in English and therefore rural students face a huge setback once they reach there. The odds are so heavily stacked against these students that most of them just about survive in degree courses.

The government is spending a lot of money on schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan; but most of it is wasted on things which are not needed. The government can’t recognize the micro problems that a school faces and the teachers who do are not given the leeway to address them. It is also a common complaint of the teachers that all the additional duties (various surveys, census data collection, election postings, etc.) imposed on them by the government greatly hampers their productivity.

The government and other actors in the education system need to understand these problems and try to find solutions, if we have to ensure better future for our children.

What if you forgot A for Apple after the 1st standard?

Most of our school and college days go in preparing for exams. Is that bad? Is that wrong? It’s not, but it definitely is boring! How about if most of these days were spent in learning, and not just the syllabus?

Our education system is much derided for its focus on rote learning, and rightly so. We care more about marks and less about actual learning. We don’t care if students have understood the concepts or not, as far as they are able to put them on paper howsoever.

Talking about rote learning in this Times Of India post, columnist Meeta Sengupta says,

Every trained teacher knows that at the very least the learning they impart must include these four components – Knowledge, Skills, Attitudes and Behaviours (KSAB). Memory merely speaks to the first part. It is a tool that supports a part of Knowledge absorption and dissemination, not even contributing to building the body of knowledge. Such learning does not support the ability to create, build and sustain; it ignores the need to encourage a child’s curiosity and talent; and worse, rote learning restricts learning to past knowledge.

Focus on rote learning is more dangerous than we may imagine, as the evidence is there for all of us to see. If only we would pay close attention to this malice, we would not be shocked by the surveys which declare 80 per cent of our new graduates unemployable. Yes, all these years of yours in school and college have been mostly wasted.

The problem lies in our thinking, or the lack of it. We don’t allow critical thinking in our education system or even outside. Students don’t know why they are studying what they are studying. They are not allowed to explore. They are not encouraged to go beyond books and learn on their own. It is imbibed in their minds that marks are paramount and they will guarantee them a successful life ahead. This lie is further entrenched by the rewards and praise heaped on top scorers at home, schools and in society. As a side-effect, it takes the fun out of studying and students become mere competitors in an unknown and meaningless race.

As a system, our pedagogy focuses on very narrow objectives. Marks become more important than holistic learning. How do we change this? Giving grades instead of marks is a step in the right direction. It should be followed with introducing projects in the curriculum. We should also encourage group learning in schools. This can be achieved by giving group projects. Classes need to be made more interactive. Teachers also need to be told that their job is not to create toppers, but learners.

What do you think? Can this be achieved? If yes, how?