Category Archives: Pedagogy

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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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?

The Day I Became a Teacher

I was all of fourteen. It was 5th of September, 1979, Teacher’s Day. I was in the tenth standard and as usual the teachers had gone for a picnic, leaving us, the tenth standard students to run the school.

I was in charge of the kindergarten. I had been told to ensure that all the kids wrote down the alphabets. Everyone complied, except one little girl, Monica, who was just sulkily staring at her note-book. When I asked her why she was not writing, she just shook her head stubbornly, without saying a word.

But the rest of the class yelled out, “She can’t write. She is a dumb head.”

I was shocked to hear these little five-year olds talk like that. “Who says she is a dumb head?” I asked.

“Our teacher, Miss Margaret,” they replied.

I felt an uncontrollable surge of anger towards Miss Margaret. “How can anyone call a baby a dumb head?” I wondered as I looked at little Monica who had hung her head in shame.

I put my arm around her and said, “You are not a dumb head. You are my friend. And so friend, tell me, what do you like to do?”

She looked up at me with eyes round in surprise and not a little fear. Then she whispered, “I like to draw.”

“And what do you like to draw?”

“Houses”, she said.

“Okay”, I told her, “Let’s see. If you can draw your ABC just like I am doing, I will let you draw a picture of a house for me. I will take that picture home and keep it on my fridge. Okay?”

Still full of wonderment, she nodded and “drew” the alphabet neatly in her book. After that she drew a beautiful house and garden for me.

I showed her book around the class and said, “See, Monica is not a dumb head. She is an artist.”

The beatific smile on the child’s face was all the reward in the world.

This was my first experience of how we as teachers can make or break a child. All it needs is a few words to build up someone’s confidence and confidence is a mighty motivator.

I tasted power that day in that kindergarten classroom. I realized that I had the power to change the way a person thinks about himself. I could make people believe in themselves. I could help people succeed.

And in that moment was born my dream. I decided there and then that I would be a teacher… not of academic subjects but a teacher who would teach people to be confident and believe in themselves. I would help people succeed in life.